Not Too Different From You Or Me

This week, Shout Factory released the 27th (!) volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the comedicus emeritus of movie-parody shows, recently selected by Entertainment Weekly magazine as the 79th greatest television show of all time. For those not in the know, the show details a hapless flunky (show creator Joel Hodgson for the first half of the show’s run; head writer Mike Nelson for the second) trapped on the space station the “Satellite Of Love” with his robot pals Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy and Cambot, forced by evil forces — Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu), TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) and, later Forrester’s mother Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl) — to watch the worst movies in the world. Fortunately, they’re able to crack wise at the on-screen shenanigans, paving the way for the likes of the Sklar Brothers and comedian Doug Benson to do the same to sports events, TV shows, you name it.


We start with 1963’s The Slime People (Episode #108), a bargain-basement horror film directed by ‘40’s and ‘50’s actor Robert (The Steel Helmet) Hutton. The good news? The eponymous “Slime People” — subterranean amphibian men — are genuinely creepy, up there with “The Mole People” as the weirdest monster designs in drive-in cinema. The bad news? Everything else about this movie is absolutely dreadful, from the stiff acting to the bizarre plot (something about a wall of “solidified fog” that covers all of Los Angeles, justifying Hutton’s over-use of fog machines that completely obscure everything that’s happening on the screen) to the abrupt “we ran out of money” ending— which turned out that way because… Hutton ran out of money after nine days’ filming. The film is preceded by an episode of the serial Radar Men From The Moon. The Slime People is one of the first-season episodes of the series and the MST3K production values look just as cheap as the movie it mocks. Extras include the bombastic theatrical trailer and an interview with star Judee Morton, who details the difficulty of the shoot and how sleazy co-star William Boyce kept hitting on her and fellow actress Susan Hart.


Things go from bad to worse with 1958’s Rocket Attack U.S.A. (aka Five Minutes To Zero) (Episode #205), a Cold War oddity about international spies uncovering a Russian plot to destroy New York City in a nuclear strike. Written and directed by veteran nudie filmmaker Barry Mahon (best known for films like The Diary Of Knockers McCalla and International Smorgas-Broad), the movie is supposed to be a cautionary propaganda film— only one where the characters are so stupid (lead John McKay is the least convincing spy in history) that you end up rooting against them. Joel and the ‘Bots have a field day with the extremely broad Russian characters — one of them, ostensibly playing Nikita Kruschev, talks like Boris Badenov — and bemoan the over-the-top grim ending. Fortunately for them, the show opens with a chapter of The Phantom Creeps serial with a slumming Bela Lugosi, so it’s not that bad. The sole extra here is an interview with Trace Beaulieu, where he details his post-MST3K job as comic-book writer, America’s Funniest Home Videos staffer and organic farmer!


Village Of The Giants (Episode #523), a 1965 sci-fi comedy from exploitation veteran Bert I. Gordon, is a step up in quality and laughs as Mike and the ‘Bots watch little Ronny Howard (whose character name is, yes, “Genius”) accidentally create a formula that turns all the rebellious teens in town into thirty-foot monstrosities! Teen Disney actor Tommy (The Shaggy Dog) Kirk stands up to over-sized bullies including Joy Harmon, pre-“Micky” pop star Toni Basil and a hammy Beau Bridges. The joys of the film include the giant teens somehow managing to clothe themselves with rugs and carpets and eating one tiny bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken after another. Speaking of chicken, the bit where “Genius” turns a regular hen into a massive clucking monster — its cooked drumstick being an obvious oversized plastic prop — is one for the ages. Check out the groovy soundtrack, performed by Phil Spector and Neil Young collaborator Jack Nitzche. The extras here include the trailer and an interview with spacey star Joy Harmon, who sadly hasn’t aged well.


After the show moved to the Sci-Fi (now SyFy) Channel in 1997, most of the films came from the Universal Studios library, given that Universal owned Sci-Fi at the time. Only recently have the Universal titles been cleared for home video release and, thank goodness, because without them, we wouldn’t have 1957’s The Deadly Mantis (Episode #804), a giant-bug movie that’s so chock-full of stock footage from other films that it feels like a patchwork. The monster in question is a massive praying mantis, released from melting polar ice caps due to a South Seas volcanic eruption and it’s up to Craig Stevens, the star of TV’s Peter Gunn, to prevent it from making it to civilization. Unfortunately for filmmaker Nathan Juran, who’d later direct The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, the scenes where the bug — an impressive puppet in close-up — flies to Washington D.C. are unintentionally hilarious; you can see right through the obvious overlay. Still, compared to the likes of The Slime People and Rocket Attack U.S.A., this is positively Shakespearean and enjoyable even without Mike and the ‘Bots (who take advantage of how sexist all the male characters in the film seem to be). Extras include an introduction by writer/Pearl Forrester actress Mary Jo Pehl and a terrific mini-documentary on Universal sci-fi producer William Alland by Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictutres.


Making its Blu-Ray debut this month is The Incredible Melting Man, a 1977 sci-fi/horror thriller which also was riffed on MST3K back in 1996 (and is rumored to be in the pipeline for a future Shout set). Directed by William Sachs, who’d later make the trash classics Galaxina and Van Nuys Blvd., the film details the torments of Steve West (Alex Rebar), an astronaut who, after an ill-fated voyage to Saturn, returns to find his flesh melting off his bones. Possessed by (of course) a hunger for human flesh, West becomes the Melting Man, a gooey creature designed by future Academy Award winner Rick Baker (with the assist from budding makeup geniuses Greg Cannom and Rob Bottin). The Melting Man scenes are appropriately slimy and gruesome, but too much of the film is taken up by a subplot involving veteran character actor Burr DeBenning as Dr. Ted Nelson, who tries to find a cure for West’s condition before it’s too late (Spoiler Alert: It’s too late). Look for director Jonathan Demme and The Hills Have Eyes star Janus Blythe in bit roles.


Scream Factory puts out a fantastic version of this drive-in staple, with a fantastic HD transfer (which occasionally reveals how many scenes were filmed day-for-night) and a solid DTS soundtrack. The disc is full of great extras, including a commentary by Sachs (where he reveals that he intended the film to be more of a comedy and that he constantly fought with the meddling producers), a featurette where Sachs details more of his troubles with the production and, best of all, a fun look back at the film with Rick Baker, who details that he shot himself in the foot when, asked to do the picture after he had just wrapped Star Wars, he requested an astronomical fee, figuring the producers would turn him down— only for them to agree to his salary, forcing him on the production. Greg Cannom appears in a smaller featurette and the disc is rounded out by trailers, a photo and poster gallery and a radio spot.


The titles in the next MST3K box set (due sometime this fall) have just been released, so look forward to Moon Zero Two, The Day The Earth Froze, The Leech Woman and Gorgo, as well as a bonus disc containing Mitchell and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, both of which were standalone releases from previous MTS3K distributor Rhino (it’s uncertain if the bonus disc will come with retail copies of the set or those purchased directly from Shout Factory).


You can buy Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Volume XXVII from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory. If you purchase from Shout, you’ll get the “MST3K Serial Variety Pack Bonus Disc” that stitches together the riffed installments of “The Phantom Creeps,” “Undersea Kingdom” and “General Hospital.”

You can buy The Incredible Melting Man from Amazon or directly from Shout Factory.

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