It’s astonishing to me that XXXVII (37!?!?!) volumes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have been released on DVD via Shout! Factory’s four-episodes-per-set scheme, and that’s still not all the episodes that exist. A great many have been released, of course, and several have come out in single-edition sets (and some now-out-of-print sets are getting re-released), but it seems like we should be almost out of episodes, let alone four of the funniest in one box set. This round of DVDs is a good mix of genres and, as per usual, contains some great special features both about the show and the movies themselves. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
The set is an even split between Comedy Central episodes and Syfy Channel episodes, one Joel episode and three Mike episodes. I’m a kid of the Syfy era, so those two especially feel like warm hugs, but all four had me rolling in the aisles like I hadn’t in a good long while…s. Rhyme.
420 – The Human Duplicators
From arguably the funniest Joel season of the bunch, producing such megahits as Teenagers from Space, a trio of Italian Hercules pictures, and the immortal Manos: the Hands of Fate, The Human Duplicators finds an alien—played by future Bond villain Richard Kiel—taking over a professor’s mansion-basement laboratory, and makes android clones to infiltrate the government. Joel and the bots sing songs about being duplicated.
This disc has the least amount of extras, but it does contain the wraparound host segments from the MST3K Hour, which was when Comedy Central had an hour to kill so it would show half the episode’s movie stuff at a time. These are hosted by Michael J. Nelson playing a criminally insane version of A&E host Jack Perkins. Incredibly weird and hilarious.
705 – Escape 2000
The penultimate Comedy Central episode—the shortened season 7—found everybody working at the top of their game with some of the funniest riffs I’ve heard. The movie, an Italian Escape from New York ripoff, was actually titled Escape from the Bronx (since it was a sequel to 1999: The Bronx Warriors) but for some reason was re-titled for the version the TV show could obtain. Anyway, it’s got some amazing sequences featuring a loud gang member Mike and the bots call Toblerone, a woman who they think is a devil-possessed vampire, and about a million jokes about telling people to “leave the Bronx.” The mads segments have Dr. Forrester trying to put his mother, Pearl, in a home…but actually he just traps her in a child’s toy house.
The extras for the three Mike episodes are essentially the same, so I’ll list them once: each of these has an introduction/retrospect on the episode by Mary Jo Pehl, a writer on the show and the actress who portrayed Pearl Forrester. She’s got a lot of fun memories about working on each of the episodes. Also included on each is featurette on the making of the movie in question, talking to experts, critics, or people actually involved in the production. These are all great, as extras producer, Ballyhoo Pictures, always does an A+ job.
817 – The Horror of Party Beach
The first Syfy Channel year saw 22 episodes and, in addition to having Pearl be the main mad scientist, the departure of Trace Beaulieu the season prior meant Crow had to change voices, to writer/Brain Guy performer Bill Corbett. During this first year, Syfy mandated that there had to be some kind of narrative arc to the host segments, so it saw Mike and the Satellite of Love being chased through time by Pearl, beginning the season in a Planet of the Apes-like world, then going on to a world made up of ghostly Observers who carry their brains in a pan, and eventually—as in this episode—landing in Ancient Rome. These are pretty funny, and it’s around this time that the complete Mads team of Pearl, Brain Guy, and Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) really began to gel.
The movie itself is a weird little anomaly from the early-’60s; it’s half beach party, teeny-boppers-on-the-beach dance movie, and half radioactive chemicals creating a hideous fish beast movie. To say nothing of the monsters looking like their mouths are overflowing with hot dogs, the best stuff in the episode involves riffs about the teen surf rockers and the biker gang evidently headed by Johnny Mathis.
819 – Invasion of the Neptune Men
Finally, we have the episode just one removed from Party Beach, Invasion of the Neptune Men. This was a Japanese film by Toei Studios aimed at kids, which saw a seemingly normal guy—a friend of young children everywhere—become a superhero named Space Chief who, in his awesome custom car, must destroy the eponymous Neptune Men. When it was shipped to the U.S., the distributors cut out some stuff, but then had to add back in stock footage to fill the TV time slot. So the result makes little sense, though it is cool to see future action star, Sonny Chiba, assaying the friendly Space Chief.
This was a thing Toei did a fair amount of; the episode before Party Beach was another such production, with almost the same plot but different characters, called Prince of Space.
Images: Best Brains/Shout! Factory