Even before the show went off the air in 1999, Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes have been coming out on home video. The first full episode, “Cave Dwellers”, was released on VHS all the way back in 1996, and the first DVD put out by Rhino was “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” in 2000. Since then, dozens and dozens more episodes have been released, changing over to Shout! Factory once Rhino was no more but, like many an outdated thing, a great many of them have gone out of print, the Red Ring of Death equivalent for digital versatile discs.
In 2002, volumes of three or four episodes were released in box sets. Currently, we’re up to Vol. XXXIII, but everything prior to Vol. XIII is out of print, all part of the Rhino years. A few of the episodes in these sets have been released individually, but certainly nowhere near all of them. Which is why I’m very happy that Shout! has reissued the very first volume, Volume I believe it or not, in a nifty, cleaned-up format and with brand new special features.
The set features one Joel episode — “#204 – Catalina Caper” — and three Mike episodes, all from Season 6 — “The Creeping Terror”, “Bloodlust!”, and “The Skydivers”. All four of them, interestingly enough (and not at all coincidentally because that’s how licensing works) were films produced by Crown International Pictures, which was known for sub-AIP, sub-Corman productions. A lot of winners here, you understand.
Catalina Caper is a favorite of MSTies everywhere as being a very atypical film for the show, even by Season 2 standards. It’s a 1967 musical comedy about young people on a beach starring a slumming-it former Disney star, Tommy Kirk (you know, he was The Shaggy Dog). It also, miraculously, features performances by Little Richard, who I guess was on his way out by 1967 or something, because why on Earth would he be in a movie called Catalina Caper?
The Creeping Terror is much more in-line with the general MST3K vibe. It was a weird, crappy B-sci-fi/horror auteur piece from 1964 from the mind of writer/director/star Vic Savage (a pseudonym if I ever heard one). It concerns a town besieged by a giant, hairy slug creature from outer space, which is stalking the countryside and is seemingly impervious to stuff like bullets and shouting (there’s a lot of shouting). Mostly, this movie is just an excuse to film scenes of a badly designed monster eating people, like a girl in a bikini, people at a hootenanny, a man and his grandson fishing, couples necking in their car, etc. Obviously, it’s ripe for riffing.
Bloodlust! is one I owned on VHS tape back in the day, if you can believe it. It’s a 1961 “thriller” that has the dad from The Brady Bunch and his three friends hiring a drunk to take them on his boat to an island so they can have a clam bake. Unfortunately, the drunk is being paid to bring people there so a rich guy can hunt them for sport. A clam bake almost happens three times though. This episode also features one of the best shorts, “A Visit to Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm”, wherein Mike and the bots construct a narrative in which Uncle Jim is a right-wing nut job who’s starting a militia and will beat the kids mercilessly if he’s “riled.”
And finally we have, from 1963, The Skydivers, written and directed by MST3K favorite, Coleman Francis. Like all of Francis’ movies, this one features things he could get access to: an airfield, airplanes, helicopters, and people who don’t act very well. There’s lots of scenes of people jumping out of planes, like the title suggests, and then a lot of other weird and confusing things. At the beginning of the episode TV’s Frank describes the movie as like “Manos without the lucid plot.” This one also has a short, “Why Study Industrial Arts?”. That question is not adequately answered.
The new extras include a short documentary about Crown International, trailers and Q&A for Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu’s project The Creep Behind the Camera, and some theatrical trailers.
All of these episodes are hilarious and absolutely worth a buy. They’ve not been in print for probably a decade and perhaps if this set does well, provided the licenses can be re-obtained, we might get similar reissues of other sets. That’d be super great. Until then, keep circulating the tapes.
What other Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes would you like to see reissued? Let us know in the comments below!
In the meantime, watch yours truly dissect some of the worst cinematic offerings out there on Awesomely Bad Movies: