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Friday, July 6, 2012

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXIV: Vampires, Folk Heroes, and Aliens Oh My

The '80s/'90s Comedy Central/SciFi Channel series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (MST3K) is a brilliant show that prompted many of us to slap our foreheads and say "why didn't I think of that?" It also arguably is a much cooler cult show than the "Star Trek" or "Stargate" franchises.

Shout Factory has given me and my fellow Misties a great treat in the form of releasing DVD sets of MST 3K every few months. Volume XXIV is coming out at the end of July 2012. The theme of this collection is truly horrible foreign language films that have been inexpertly dubbed into English and inflicted on American audiences.

Knowing Shout, I predict that the 25th volume will be even more spectacular than the 20th Anniversary volume that was the first Shout Factory MST 3K release.

MST 3K used the concept of a mad scientist, replaced later in the series by his even more diabolical mother, trapping a human on the Satellite of Love that orbited earth before breaking free mid-series. The purpose of this evilness was to see how many truly horrible films from the 50s through the 80s that Joel, followed by Mike, could choke down before going insane. As I have written before, I would have been foaming at the mouth within a week.

In true Bugs Bunny fashion, the reluctant astronaut (with the help of his robot friends) turned things around. The trio mercilessly, and hilariously, heckled the film of the week with comments that literally referred to everything from Oedipus Rex to the '60s cartoon "The Flintstones." The riffs come so fast and furious and some are so subtle that you really need to pay attention.

The SOLers supplement their constant remarks with equally hilarious skits that often relate to the film. An example from "Fugitive Alien" in Volume XXIV was Joel helping his robot buddies understand the plot of this confusing low-budget Japanese scifi flick that was cobbled together from episodes of a Japanese television program and then very badly dubbed into English.

On a side note, our friends at Shout thoughtfully included the MST3K episode of "Star Force: Fugitive Alien II." I am saving that one as a tasty video dessert for Sunday evening.

Volume XXIV also has the hilariously awful "Samson vs. The Vampire Women," which Crow the robot stated was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case.

Samson was a silver-masked Mexican wrestler who apparently was the Batman without any cool gadgets of our neighbor to the south. The vampire women were a flock of undead hags who needed to capture their queen's descendant to restore the group's beauty and power.

The painfully bad plot, cheesy effects, and horrible acting provided Mike and the 'bots plenty of material, much of which was directed at the aging and tall and lanky raven-haired Cher.

"Samson" was also special because it was the last episode that had the Igor-like sidekick Frank after a five-year run. All that I will say regarding that storyline is that it seemed that it inspired the writers of "Stargate: SG1" when one of their actors wanted out after five years.

In typical Shout Factory style, a great extra on the "Samson" DVD was an interview with Frank's portrayor Frank Conniff, who discussed his post-MST3K career as a writer and cameo actor and his involvement with the MST3K like "Cinematic Titanic."

It is worth noting as well that the over-acted and horribly low-budget Russian folk tale "The Sword and the Dragon" in Volume XXIV came to the U.S. courtesy of Shout Factory's favorite schlockmaster Roger Corman. Corman is the Orson Welles of movies that failing UHF stations used to show at 3:00 a.m. if they could no longer afford the broadcast rights to "She's the Sheriff."

Recognizing the appeal of Corman's truly horrendous films, Shout Factory created its "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line; Criterion Collection it ain't.

I knew that I had to get the latest member of the cult classic line "Black Oak Conspiracy" when I saw the cover art of the shirtless redneck covered in blood and wearing ripped jeans while holding a smoking shotgun. The tagline "Leaving Town Was Easy. Coming Home Was Murder!" cinched it for me.

The "plot" of "Black Oak" revolved around stuntman Jingo Johnson finding on returning to his small tow that there is "a hotbed of corruption and land swindlers abetted by a crooked redneck sheriff." There is no indication of a Duke boy anywhere in sight.

I am saving "Conspiracy" for a day that I really feel like an especially good bad film.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding MST 3K or Roger Corman is encouraged to email me.