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Thursday, July 10, 2014

DVD Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXX

I am always happy when a new volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is released. This show is so much fun to watch. If you are unfamiliar with the series, the premise is simple: a man and some robots are stuck in space and forced by a mad scientist to watch bad movies. To make it through their ordeal, the man and two of the robots poke fun at the films. That’s basically it. It’s like watching people watch Rocky Horror. It sounds like it should be terrible, but it’s totally wonderful. Volume XXX contains four episodes, each on its own disc, as well as bonus material. While previous volumes have included two Joel episodes and two Mike episodes, this one includes only one Joel episode and three Mike episodes. Does that mean we’re running out of Joel episodes?

Disc 1: The Black Scorpion

The Black Scorpion is an early Joel episode (with even just a little bit of an explanation of what’s going on at the beginning of the show). This is when Josh Weinstein was doing the voice of Tom Servo. The Black Scorpion begins with shots of volcanoes and lots of narration, leading the guys to joke: “And then tragedy struck. We ran out of stock footage.” When two characters find a damaged car, one asks, “What could do this to a car out here?” Crow responds, “Well, I’m no insurance adjuster, but a big truck or the neighborhood kids could have.”

The gang applauds every time the two men introduce themselves, and they do it often. When a woman asks the two men how things are in town, Crow answers: “Well, the milling festival is over, ended in a weird steak fight. Found a baby, though. Gave it to a priest. And that pretty much sums up where we are in the movie.” That part cracked me up so much that I had to watch it three or four times. It’s Crow’s delivery of “Found a baby, though. Gave it to a priest” that is so bloody funny.

During one of the breaks, the gang goofs around with subtitles while trying out their Spanish. This episode has a few references to M.A.S.H. and references to Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

This DVD includes Stinger Of Death: Making “The Black Scorpion,” which provides some information on some of the creative team behind The Black Scorpion, including Jack Dietz, the producer, and Edward Ludwig, the director. The DVD also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc 2: Outlaw

Outlaw is one of the first Mike Nelson episodes. Outlaw (also known as Outlaw Of Gor and Gor II) is a terrible science fiction film that stars a very bored Jack Palance. The gang of course does Jack Palance impressions throughout the film, and all of that stuff is great. This is a seriously funny episode (often the worst films make the best episodes). At the beginning of the film, someone says, “Gor is a harsh world, and she breeds harsh people.” Tom Servo adds, “But the rents are reasonable.” Crow says, “Sorry, folks, we simply could not afford to have special effects.” There is a seriously annoying character in the film, and it’s not long before the gang starts chanting, “Kill him.” When a woman kisses this character, the gang jokes, “Mmm, you smell like comic books.”

After the cheapest sword prop is stuck into a bad guy, the guys joke, “A sword, a gel pack, and a stunt man all for a dollar twenty-five.” Not only are the props cheap, but they’re handled poorly. At one point the hero throws a sword at a villain, and it clearly hits him hilt first. So the villain turns the sword around to correct for the mistake, leading Mike to say, “Oh, thank you, I’ll just stab myself here.” And about one of the sets, they joke, “The world’s first successful paper mache village.”

This episode has one of the best break segments of the series. The gang sings a delicious song about breasts that even includes a reference to an old television commercial for Slinky. And there are plenty of pop culture references in the episode, including references to Jesus Christ Superstar, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Happy Days, Star Trek, They Live, The Who, Supertramp, It’s A Beautiful Day (the gang sings, “White slave in a golden cage”) and Emerson, Lake And Palmer.

This DVD includes three special features. The first, Writer Of Gore: The Novels Of John Norman, is an interview with Richard Curtis, John Norman’s agent/publisher. John Norman is also a teacher, and under his real name has written two works of philosophy. It’s interesting that the rising tide of feminism was to blame for the fall in popularity of the books. The second special feature, Director Of Gor: On Set With John “Bud” Cardos, is an interview with director John “Bud” Cardos. He’s not on a set, as the title seems to suggest. This is a new interview, in which he talks about the sets and the actors and so on. The third special feature, Producer Of Gor: Adventures With Harry Alan Towers, is an interview with Danny Lerner, who was the production manager on Outlaw. He talks about Harry Alan Towers, who also produced Fu Manchu movies, plus Jess Franco’s films. Lerner also talks a bit about certain cast members.

Disc 3: The Projected Man

The Projected Man is a later Mike Nelson episode, featuring Pearl, and with Bill Corbett doing the voice of Crow. The Projected Man is a British film, leading to lots of delightfully bad accents from the gang as well as their repeated use of the word “knickers.” At the beginning when a woman parks her car, Crow jokes, “Ah, parking – what a way to establish character and create tension.” When the woman’s watch spins backward, the gang jokes, “Kcot kcit, kcot kcit.” There’s a character named Mitchell, which allows for references to the film of that name, which MST3K tore apart in an earlier episode. And when one characters says, “Mitchell, I want you to regard what I’m about to say as highly confidential,” the guys quip, “I’m a shemale.”

The Projected Man is a rather dull film, and the gang constantly rips on it for that. When one character gets a bit upset while on the phone, they remark, “The bickering explodes across the screen.” And when scientists demonstrate their work by trying to project a rat from one cage to another, Crow says, “Yes, no more tedious carrying rats across the room.” When Mitchell says, “He was obviously trying to project himself,” Mike adds, “Into a different movie.” There is a little bit of excitement, however, when a cute blonde slips out of her clothes, leading Crow to exclaim, “I declare this movie suddenly great.”

There are pop culture references to Duran Duran, The Beatles, Petula Clark, Charlie Parker, Pete Townshend, and This Is Spinal Tap.

The DVD includes Shock To The System: Creating The Projected Man, a short featurette in which film historian Tom Weaver talks about the film, including how the director was fired and replaced. The theatrical trailer is also included, but it’s full screen so the edges are cut off.

Disc 4: It Lives By Night

It Lives By Night is one of the final episodes of the series, and is a film about a man who begins turning into a bat after being bitten by one. At the beginning, when a woman is shown in bed next to a man who is tossing and turning, Crow quips, “Alanis Morissette – no wonder he’s having a nightmare.” (I appreciate that, because I cannot think of a more irritating singer than Alanis Morissette.) When the man chooses work over pleasure with his wife, Mike responds for the woman, “I’ll hit the snooze button on my biological clock.” When this couple strays from a cave tour and immediately gets into trouble, Mike says, “Finally an excuse to drink my urine.” Later, when a doctor hands a nurse a used needle, the gang jokes, “Here, dump that in the ocean.” When the woman stops the man from leaving the hotel room, she says, “No, the police may be watching,” and Crow adds, “I told them they could.” When the man begins acting like a bat, Crow says, “It’d be a better movie if he had gotten bitten by a cow.” Indeed.

There are lots of Mary Tyler Moore references in this episode, due to the female lead’s resemblance to her. There are also references to Eyes Of Laura Mars, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Joe Cocker, Olivia Newton-John, Ozzy Osbourne (when a bat is on screen, the gang jokes, “Please, just hide me from Ozzy Osbourne”) and Wings (the gang sings, “Bat on the run”).

This disc includes a trailer for “The Frank,” which has a funny Star Wars reference.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXX is scheduled to be released on July 29, 2014 through Shout! Factory.

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