Shout! Factory reaches into the B movie vaults again to pull out Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV. This time around, the episodes are all from The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central seasons, before Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie and the show’s run on Sci Fi Channel, which is great for latecomers to the MST3K phenomenon.
The revolving crew of the Satellite of Love returns in their awe-inspiring 15th collection of the most hilarious episodes from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Join Joel, Mike, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot as they supply their own playful brand of commentaries on some of cinema’s most misunderstood “masterpieces.” Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV contains these classic episodes: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, The Girl in Lovers Lane, Zombie Nightmare, and Racket Girls.
Season 1’s The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy is the oldest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode to be commercially released, and is only the second episode in the entire series (if you don’t count “Season 0” on KTMA-TV, the Minnesotan public access station where Mystery Science Theater 3000 got its experimental start). The clumsy, anticlimactic battle that results when the film’s obligatory mad scientist sends his cardboard creation to steal the mummy’s ancient, magical pieces of costume jewelry is a true WTF moment, as is an early version of Tom Servo voiced by original MST3K cast member J. Elvis Weinstein. This episode features the short Radar Men from the Moon, Part 1: “Moon Rocket”, the first installment in the Radar Men from the Moon serial, part two of which appears on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV‘s The Mad Monster. It was the first short to be sent up by MST3K, and reintroduced pop culture to the cornball sci-fi adventures of Commando Cody. Bonus features on this disc are Glimpses of KTMA: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps I and The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy Promos. The scrapbook is a selection of host segments from the KTMA season that reveal the prototype designs of the ‘Bots and the Satellite of Love set. Crow is the most evolved puppet at this point, just needing moving eyes and a straightening of his downward-curving bowling pin nose to match his future self, but Gypsy’s version 1.0 looks more like copper scaffolding than her ultimate purple model and is apparently dumb as a post. Tom Servo, shaped roughly like his later incarnation, is named “Beeper” after his wordless manner of speech, and even Joel looks different with his longer, 70s-styled hair. The promos for The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy are ads that ran on TV to announce MST3K‘s premiere on the The Comedy Channel.
Disc one also carries a trailer for The Film Crew — Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (“Tom Servo”), and Bill Corbett (“Crow T. Robot”)’s short-lived follow-up project to MST3K before founding RiffTrax — which Shout! Factory has available on DVD or free online via their YouTube Channel:
The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark (DVD, YouTube)
The Film Crew: Killers from Space (DVD, YouTube)
The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo (DVD, YouTube)
The Film Crew: The Giant of Marathon (DVD, YouTube)
Season 5’s The Girl in Lovers Lane is infamous for fans’ divided reaction to it. A “troubled teen” film about two drifters and their comic misadventures in a small town, the laughs develop an uneasy undercurrent in the last act when the love interest of the main drifter suffers a brutal demise. Despite the attack scene itself being edited from the movie, the fate of the leading lady would be quite the downer in the hands of less skillful comedy writers. The musical number in this episode, “What a Pleasant Journey”, which sees Joel and the ‘Bots trying — and hilariously failing — to perform a train song, ably deflects the anvil The Girl in Lovers Lane tries to drop on an otherwise enjoyable outing, as does the host segment at the end where Joel challenges Crow and Tom to come up with one positive thing they took away from the movie. The bonus feature on this disc is Behind the Scenes: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps II, candid and fascinating footage of the writers and production crew as they go about a typical day of creating the show.
Season 6’s Zombie Nightmare, the only colour film in Volume XV, is generally regarded as one of host Mike Nelson’s strongest episodes. Shot on the cheap in Canada, it’s the type of 80s teen horror flick that begs to be riffed on, much like the classic MST3K episode Soultaker. Adam West (Batman) stars as the corrupt police captain, and Tia Carrere (Relic Hunter) makes her feature film debut as one of the teenagers targeted by the vengeful zombie. Stereotypical representations of voodoo abound, the most amusing being the neighbourhood voodoo priestess’ “mystical” voice. The bonus feature on this disc is Zombie Nightmare = MST3K Dream, interviews with stars Frank Dietz (“Detective Sorrell”) and Jon Mikl Thor (“Tony Washington”) in which they reveal their inner MSTie. Dietz’s cheerful, fanboy enthusiasm is endearing as he describes how mortified, yet simultaneously flattered, he was to have his “bucket of cheese” movie pop up on MST3K‘s radar.
Season 6’s Racket Girls is preceded by the popular educational short Are You Ready for Marriage?, in which naive high school sweethearts from the 1950s are lectured about the evils of rushing into marriage. After watching the counsellor explain relationships with the aid of a rubber band, you’ll never hear the word “boing” the same way again. Racket Girls has a nominal gangster plot, but is obviously just an excuse to ogle scantily clad, real-life women wrestlers. The long, tedious bouts in the ring are only made bearable by Mike, Crow and Tom Servo’s ringside commentary. Bonus features on this disc are Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu in a Sneak Peek from the Upcoming Hamlet A.D.D. (they voice cartoon robots, appropriately enough, alongside Star Trek‘s Majel Barrett-Roddenberry), and a Racket Girls Promo (in which the film is referred to by its alternate title of Blonde Pickup).
As in previous sets, the DVDs are packaged in slimline cases and come with mini-posters of the illustrated covers. The animated menus, individualized for each film, are of the usual high quality, especially the Zombie Nightmare hot tub scene that incorporates sound clips of the ‘Bots. Topical humour is cleverly employed in the box set description on the back of the slipcase:
Global recession got you down? Here’s one investment worth making: spend some time watching Joel, Mike, Tom Servo and Crow suffer through their own crisis as they are forced to watch movies with even less value than your 401(k). Yes, the Satellite of Love is launching another orbit of four more of cinema’s own toxic assets, where the market for wisecracks is as robust as ever. If laughter were currency, you’d be set for life.
Shout! Factory is open to suggestions for which titles to include in future box sets, so e-mail them your lists of favourite episodes or post them on Shout! Factory’s Cult Faves message board. The official MST3K website teases, “Watch for a most special Volume 16 this fall, but meanwhile, enjoy the remaining weeks of summer and we hope you include a little MST3K in your plans.”
Order now at Amazon.com:
Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV
The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark
The Film Crew: Killers from Space
The Film Crew: Wild Women of Wongo
The Film Crew: The Giant of Marathon
Or order directly through the Shout! Factory website.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Film Crew are distributed by Shout! Factory. For more Mystery Science Theater 3000 information, please visit The Official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Website and Satellite News: The Official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Fan Site.