The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 9 (1989-1998)
"You know how some movies inspire you to make your own movie? This one inspires me to make my own gravy."- Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) on The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies
Stars: Mike Nelson, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Kevin Murphy
Other Stars: Josh Weinstein, Bill Corbett, Mary Jo Phel
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language and innuendoes)
Run Time: Approx. 375 min.
Release Date: 2006-05-16
DVD ReviewIn the not too distant past, there was this show named Mystery Science Theater 3000 about a guy—at first his name was Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), later replaced by Mike Nelson (uh... Mike Nelson)—shot up into space by an evil mad scientist named Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and forced to watch bad movies. For science, I guess. Evil, mad science. Easing his pain were a few robot buddies, including Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), Crow T. Robot (Trace Beaulieu again) and Gypsy (Jim Mallon). And it was on for like ten years, and I was way too invested in it (literally—all those bulky VHS tapes weren't cheap, and they are still taking up valuable shelf space in my closet). And now it has been off the air for six years, but every once in a while, Rhino releases a few episodes on DVD. And it is good. This particular boxed set features two Joel episodes and two Mike episodes, so everyone will be happy.
An episode from the roughhewn Season One starts things off, and while it's a fairly monumental one (the source of one of the series' most enduring catch phrases—hi-keeba!), I always find these a hard sit. The cast is slightly different—TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) had yet to begin his tenure as Forrester's henchman, and filling in is the sneering Josh Weinstein, who also provides Tom Servo's voice in place of Kevin Murphy, who took over the role in the second season. The show never had much of a budget, but the first season's production design makes the subsequent years look like Star Wars. And, most unfortunately, the riffing in the theater is funny but draggy—Joel and the 'bots seem to be sitting and watching the movie (an Z-grade post-apocalyptic sci-fi thing called Women of the Prehistoric Planet), interjecting only the occasional comment. It's not a bad show, simply because the movie is sort of watchable, but it doesn't hold up to the later installments. I do love the host segment involving Cambot's invention of a Sit-Com Simulator, which produces uproarious laughter at everything the characters say, whether it's funny or not. I believe it was later purchased by the producers of Full House.
The second season episode Wild Rebels is more my style, featuring as it does a gang of greasy, be-leather jacketed bikers (never a bad thing!). An incompetent racecar driver (he manages to explode his car in the first 30 seconds of a race) is asked to join a criminal gang and ends up working as a police informant. It doesn't go very well, but at least a lot of unappealing people wind up dead. The best host segment involves a commercial for a breakfast cereal inspired by the movie, complete with catchy jingle. Elsewhile, Joel shuts down the ship's "higher functions," allowing Gypsy, the show's previously dim-witted purple, squeaky-voiced robot, to do more. She's still kind of dumb, though.
The next installment, a Mike-era episode from Season Six, starts off with the short Keeping Clean and Neat, a 1950s instructional film outlining the obsessive cleaning regime of a young boy named Dan, who is ordered by the narrator to scratch his flesh raw in the shower (Tom: "Use pumice on your tender nipple buds"), shine his shoes, clean his closet, and conduct three spot-checks in the mirror before leaving for school. Girls don't get off any easier, and are reminded to brush their hair "at least 100 strokes," or, offers Mike, "Keep brushing and brushing and saying the name of our lord and savior." Following that is an honest-to-goodness Ed Wood film called The Sinister Urge, about a string of murders linked to a racy photography business run by a scary, hard-edged woman named Gloria. It's watchably incompetent, which is about the best compliment anyone could pay Ed Wood—his movies are bad in a way that's utterly compelling, at least when there are tiny robots in the corner of the screen. I also got a chuckle out of Gloria's rather charming smut operation, which involves three pleasant-looking women in conservative, ill-fitting bathing suits smiling for a kindly, doddering old photographer. The 1950s: when most people had to settle for the concept of porn rather than any explicit reality. A better time? Discuss. Host segments reveal Frank probably shouldn't be allowed to see violent movies, as one inspires him to become a cackling madman. He's not very good at it.
Finally, from Season Eight we can all enjoy The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies (with a title like that, how could we not?). The plot involves a crazed fortuneteller lady who turns men into zombies when they refuse to, er, get to know her better in the biblical sense. There are also a lot of strange dance sequences involving ladies in granny panties. You wouldn't know it from the dingy print, but the cinematographer on this thing was the Oscar-nominated Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot McCabe and Mrs. Miller for Robert Altman. There's a funny host segment in which Crow and Tom plan to join walk-a-thons for organizations with absurdly long acronyms. Like "Helping Children Through Research and Development" isn't "HCTRAD;" it's actually the acronym for the group's 44-word title, which I shall pass on transcribing.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: If you've ever seen this show, you know the video quality isn't really an issue. The film prints are suitably blurred and scratched, but the host segments, which were shot on video, are fairly bright and colorful, even the Season One episode, which aired nearly 20 years ago.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
|DS 2.0||English Stereo||no|
Audio Transfer Review: The simple mix is serviceable. Speech and songs come through clearly during the host segments, while in the theater, the riffing is always audible over the sometimes scratchy film audio.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 80 cues and remote access
Packaging: Book Gatefold
- Introductions by Irene Tsu and Conrad Brooks
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThough I don't count any of the episodes in this latest set as personal favorites, more Mystery Science Theater 3000 on DVD is never a bad thing. If you're a die-hard, the mix of shows (spanning the first through eighth seasons, and including some of the more well-known installments) will probably be a big selling point, and watching Mike and the 'bots mock an Ed Wood film is sort of like seeing them return to the mothership, right?
Joel Cunningham 2006-06-26