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Friday, July 19, 2013

'Mystery Science Theater 3000 V XXVII:" Post-Comic-Con Communists, Prehistoric Monsters, and Slime People Oh My!


Shout Factory's release of "Mystery Science Theater 3000 V XXVII" (MST 3K) in the not-too-distant future, specifically next Tuesday, gives MSTies a great chance to maintain the spirit of Comic-Con after that awesome event ends. This collection is one of the best of the numerous MST 3K sets that Shout has released.

Folks who show Shout particular love by buying V XXVII from get a bonus DVD that includes the show's shorts segments from "The Phantom Creeps," "Undersea Kingdom," and early black-and-white "General Hospital" episodes.

The rest of us, including lowly DVD reviewers, must be content with the terrific mini-movie posters that Shout includes with every "MST 3K" set. These genuine collectors items are newly created masterpieces that put beloved "MST 3K" cast members in the action of the films around which the episodes in the set are centered.

Aside from being one of the most clever and hilarious series of all time, "MST 3K" is notable as one of the first shows to demonstrate the extraordinary potential of both local and basic cable television.

A very boiled-down description of the concept of "MST 3K" is that average-Joe Joel, followed by the even bigger dullard Mike in later seasons, is trapped on a space station-like satellite and forced to watch truly terrible films to test his endurance for schlock. These characters survive this ordeal by riffing on the movies and performing skits with the robots that Joel built for that purpose.

The series started on a local Minneapolis TV station and moved to the Comedy Chanel, which later became Comedy Central, in the late '80s. It later aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, which became SyFy.

The Beau Bridges/Tommy Kirk '60s juvenile delinquents on a rampage grow to roughly 50-feet tall and terrorize a town largely devoid of adults film "Village of the Giants" is the best of the four incredibly awesome episodes in this set.

Having an "The Andy Griffith Show" era Ron "Opie" Howard star as a young scientist who creates the "goo" that leads to the Beau and his gang growing provides ample opportunities to riff on that classic sitcom.

Another great series of riffs relate to "Giants" characters using a gumball machine prompting the gumball-machine appearing robot Tom Servo to become very agitated regarding these scenes of his mother undergoing intense abuse. Having said maternal figure give it up for a coin particularly upsets Tom.

The gumball machine bit and copious "Aunt Bea" jokes are hilarious, but the absence of any reference to "Taylor made" concoctions or even to "Cunningham in my office now!" or to Ralph and Potsie are a little disappointing.

The episode is terrific as well because of the hilarious series of skits related to mad scientist Dr. Forrester laying off his dim-witted lab assistant "TV's Frank" just to be evil. Having occasional guest-star Torgo from the "MST 3K" classic "Manos: The Hands of Fate" apply for Frank's job and a separate montage of Frank's physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Forrester are some of the more memorable moments of that episode's bumper segments.

The special features on this disc are a new interview with "Giants" star Joy Harmon and the theatrical trailer for that film.

"The Slime People" earns second place in the ranking of this set that will have MSTies wetting themselves with excitement. This 1963 tale of subterranean generally humanoid creatures with turtle-like armor emerging in Los Angeles is so bad that it is good. These siblings from another strata quickly erect a dome around the area in an attempt to create and maintain a habitable atmosphere.

The film's heroes are a small but not especially intrepid group who spend their time in this early biosphere battling the creatures. Self-conscious riffs on the implausible aspects of the film and on early '60s pop culture that include references to dreamy Fabian, who is the Justin Bieber of his era, greatly add to the entertainment value of this offering.

Those of us who are Tivoing this summer's series "The Dome" but have not watched any episodes yet can only hope that that Stephen King tale is half as entertaining as "The Slime People."

The special features on this disc are the theatrical trailer for "The Slime People" and a new interview with that film's star Judith Morton Fraser.

"The Deadly Mantis" comes up an incredibly close third in V XXVII. It has a terrific combination of the wonderfully horrible '50s monster movies that "MST  3K" riffs on so well and the aforementioned hilarious skits that air just before or just after commercial breaks.

The actual film "The Deadly Mantis" is an "homage" to the better-known and more successful film "Them!"

The "Mantis" plot is that nuclear testing 1,000s of miles away releases a giant praying mantis from ice near the North Pole. After attacking a nearby radar station, said mantis ultimately makes (presumably) his way to the continental United States in a tour that includes visiting some of the top attractions in Washington, D.C. Of course, soldiers ineffectively battle said mantis during that journey.

The more then-timely and hilarious jokes from this 1997 "MST 3K" episode revolve around Republican leader John Sununu abusing his position as Bush I's chief-of-staff and a joke about Republican candidate Bob Dole's unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign.

The only disappointment regarding the riffs is that the multiple reports of "Bogies," i.e. unidentified flying objects, in relation to the mantis appearing on radar screens do not prompt any Bacall jokes.

Further, the theme of the bumper skits and the skits themselves are above-average even for "MST 3K." This plot line begins with Mike inadvertently playing a major role in completely destroying earth and leads to the gang's tormenter using a space-travel capable Volkswagen bus to chase them across the universe.

The special features associated with that offering include a look at the career of "The Deadly Mantis" producer William Alland. Mr. Alland's cinematic opuses include many movies that aired on "MST 3K" and are included in Shout's "MST 3K" collections.

Alland's celluloid cheese includes "Mole People" from "V XXVI," which Unreal TV reviewed a few months ago, and the "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" sequel "The Revenge of the Creature" from "V XXV," which Unreal TV also reviewed.

Even more notably, Alland produced "This Island Earth," which was the movie that the Best Brains at "MST 3K" chose for the mid-90s feature film version of the show. Shout is releasing its highly anticipated Blu-ray/DVD version of that film on September 3, 2013. Unreal TV will review that one as well.

The fourth place but still good "Rocket Attack USA" movie deals broadly with Cold War paranoia regarding Soviet espionage activity and general weapons capability. Specific concerns relate to speculation regarding nefarious purposes behind the USSR's Sputnik space satellite. This ineffective propaganda piece is slow paced, and the riffing has amusing moments but is surprisingly generic and lacks remarks regarding the deprivation and oppression associated with Soviet-era Russian life.

One of the more hilarious skits in "Rocket Attack" has Joel and the 'bots meeting their Soviet counterparts. Having then-"MST 3K" head writer Mike play the human member of the Soviet team provides a small glimpse of things to come.

The special feature on the "Rocket Attack" DVD is a look at the life of the post-"MST 3K" life of series star Trace Beaulieu.

The results of these four experiments regarding the extent to which humans can endure "the worst we can find" from Hollywood are that they prompt some of the best comedy that ever aired on the small or large screen.

Any fellow MSTies or "muggles" with questions or thoughts regarding "MST 3K" are encouraged to email me. Folks are also invited to connect via Twitter by locating @tvdvdguy.