Mystery Science Theater 3000 Will Never Die

It was a bittersweet announcement from Shout Factory last year that, while they were still dedicated to distributing the remaining episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, due to licensing issues, Volume XXXIX is probably the last regular collection we’ll get (for completists, there are eleven episodes yet to make it to home video). But Shout comes through with the win with both The Singles Collection, a five-movie, one-short-compilation set, and the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Season 11, which aired last year on Netflix. It’s a huge jump from 1989’s first-season film The Crawling Hand to the sparkling HD releases of Season 11, but creator/star Joel Hodgson is still at the creative till and both sets are definitely worth your cheesy movie-loving while. 

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The Singles Collection is a compilation of a number of single-movie releases from when MST3K was distributed by Rhino Home Entertainment— and a shorts compendium that includes such classics as the surreal “Once Upon A Honeymoon” and “Out Of This World,” which pits bread drivers against Satan (!) as well. While there are still three single-release titles that haven’t been compiled in a set (Beginning Of The End, Red Zone Cuba and The Wild World Of Batwoman, all of which are available separately from Shout Factory and downloadable from Rifftrax), long-missing titles like the Richard Kiel caveman yarn Eegah and the earnest juvenile delinquent film I Accuse My Parents are available once again, complete with trailers and a plethora of special features that include intros with Joel Hodgson, host segments from the old Mystery Science Theater Hour and two new mini-documentaries.

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All five movies in The Singles Collection have their moments— while The Crawling Hand suffers from being a snoozer of a film and part of MST3K’s first season when they were just getting their sea legs, titles like the hilariously dated biker flickThe Hellcats and the holiday camp classic Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (itself riffed by Joel Hodgson’s post-MST3K  group Cinematic Titanic) hold up well. Eegah,where producer-director Arch Hall Sr. (using a pseudonym) sticks his earnestly charisma-free son Arch Hall Jr. in the lead role of a teen rocker against Richard Kiel’s fish-out-of-water caveman, delivers huge unintentional laughs even without the zingers thrown at the film by Joel and robot pals Tom Servo and Crow. Just the sight of Hall Jr.’s colossal pompadour (which simultaneously fascinates and terrifies the Bots) and Kiel’s hilariously fake beard are enough to keep one interested in the piece.

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But it’s I Accuse My Parents (which Joel mentions in the intro is a favorite of comedian Drew Carey) that’s the surprise winner here— a 1940s melodrama about a good student who finds himself led astray by a femme fatale while his neglectful parents booze it up is so broadly drawn that it opens itself up to almost instantaneous ridicule. Starting off with the ever-so-earnest short “The Truck Farmer,” this episode delivers big laughs from start to finish, with most of the riffs bouncing off Jimmy (Robert Lowell), the hapless lead of I Accuse My Parents, who goes from winning a big essay contest (which apparently must have been a big deal in 1944) to being ignored by his hard-drinking parents to working as a shoe salesman to unwittingly being a stooge for a gangster so obvious — except to Jimmy — with a pin-striped suit that matches his pencil-thin mustache. Jimmy is so dense that Joel and the Bots even put together a mobile of his thought processes as a visual aid. The film was directed by the incredibly prolific Sam Newfield, who also directed MST3K episode fodder Mad Monster, Lost Continent, and Radar Secret Service. Newfield is also the subject of the fascinating Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary “Man On Poverty Row: The Films Of Sam Newfield,” where film historians Ted Newsom, C. Courtney Joyner and others analyze not just Newfield’s career (spanning over 100 features and shorts!) but his place in the world of B-movie and early TV history.

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A most pleasant surprise is the (separate) DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000— Series 11, which streamed on Netflix last year, with no guarantee of a physical release. Season 11, which was bankrolled by Shout Factory and crowd-funded by Kickstarter (with the most successful Film/Video campaign on the platform to date), was picked up by Netflix, delivering 14 episodes — including a Christmas one — and showcasing a new cast, including comedian Jonah Ray (as lead “Jonah Heston”), Baron Vaughn as Tom Servo, Hampton Yount as Crow T. Robot, web video pioneer Felicia Day at Dr. Kinga Forrester (the daughter of the classic series’ Dr. Clayton Forrester) and comedian/actor Patton Oswalt as Max, aka TV’s Son Of TV’s Frank. That’s not even mentioning cameos from the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Joel McHale, Jerry Seinfeld, Mark Hamill and original MST3K cast members Hodgson, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Mary Jo Pehl.

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All 14 episodes are included in this set, running the gamut from giant-monster movies (the 1961 Danish killer serpent epic Reptilicus) to swords-and-sorcery yarns (Wizards Of The Lost Kingdom and its sequel, not to mention yet another Hercules film), trips to the prehistoric past (The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core), disaster tales (the unintentionally hilarious Rock Hudson vehicle Avalanche), sci-fi epics (Starcrash), a welcome Christmas episode (1966’s The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, directed by South Pacific star Rossano Brazzi) and two of the best MST3K episodes in a long time— the Bigfoot saga Cry Wilderness and 1981’s Carnival Magic, an exceptionally sleazy kid’s movie about carnies, grifters and a genius chimp — who “speaks” in voice-over, natch — that makes you sad for everyone involved (even notorious B-movie director Al Adamson). It takes a little while to get used to Jonah and Felicia Day’s mugging gets a bit old at times, but you quickly warm to the new MST3K, which feels much less like a reboot and more like an extension of your favorite show. Shout Factory’s new Blu-Ray set showcases all of the episodes in high-definition (with 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround audio mixes) along with the feature-length documentary “A Good Test Case: Bringing Back MST3K” from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

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While we wait for possible news on any potential MST3K sets from Shout Factory, news has come through the Umbilicus that Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 12 has been renewed by Netflix and will air most likely early next year. Huzzah! Hi-Keeba!

 You can buy Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents The Singles Collection from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.

You can buy Mystery Science Theater 3000— Season 11 on Blu-Ray from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.

You can buy Mystery Science Theater 3000— Season 11 on DVD from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.

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