It seems like Mystery Science Theater 3000 is on everybody’s lips these days, what with their Kickstarter campaign and their annual Turkey Day marathon online, and it feels good that movie riffing with robots is a thing that hasn’t gone away in the 15 years since the show went off the air. With 197 episodes in the original run, it’s easy to go back and revisit things. But getting the newest set from Shout! Factory, Volume XXXIV, proved one thing: there’s even old episodes of the show I haven’t seen, which is like discovering buried treasure.
The newest set is a tribute to films made by perennial independent company, American International Pictures, whose remit was always to make low-budget, quickly made movies specifically catering to the teenage market in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. They were incredibly prolific and began the career of one Mr. Roger Corman, whom I very recently decided is a misunderstood genius. All four of the episodes in the set feature AIP movies—two directed by Corman—and also includes a really great documentary about the company. More on that in the moment.
I was surprised when I realized that three out of the four episodes were brand new to me. Like a lot of these sets, two of the episodes feature Joel, both from season 4, and two episodes feature Mike, both from season 9. I truly can’t tell you the joy I feel when I watch an episode I haven’t seen. And I won’t. So there. The episodes in the box set are:
The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, yes, that’s one title, a movie from 1957 directed by Corman in which, as advertised, a boat of beautiful Viking warrior women go to slay a sea serpent. Except it’s mostly just them talking and bickering and stuff. Elsewhere in the episode, Joel is obsessed with pancakes.
War of the Colossal Beast, the 1958 sequel to the 1957 film, The Amazing Colossal Man, in which a bald man becomes a giant and walks around tiny sets. That one was also an episode of MST3K earlier in the season. It’s a Bert I. Gordon movie, which means there’s a lot of optical effects that look really bad. Mike Nelson plays the Colossal Man, Glen, in some wraparound segments that are really funny. It also features the immortal short, “Mr. B Natural.”
The Undead, the second of the Corman films, is about a woman who goes under hypnosis and wakes up in the time of witch trials and dungeons and stuff. I guess? This movie really doesn’t make a lick of sense, which Mike and the bots discuss in depth. I think I laughed the hardest at this one. Also, in the wraparound segments, Pearl and Bobo are trapped on the planet of the Observers and Tom Servo is the smart one.
The She-Creature, the final episode in the set, is the one I’d actually seen before. In it, a carnival hypnotist named Dr. Carlo Lombardi regularly hypnotizes his wife, somehow leading to a monster from the depths of the sea coming ashore and murdering people. Also the guy who played Brack in This Island Earth is in it and they constantly make fun of how flat, lifeless, and one-note he is. So that’s fun.
All of these episodes are great and have the requisite jokes per minute. When I think of AIP movies, they just seem to go together with MST3K, probably because they did so many of them through the years. Aside from a couple of short intros by Frank Conniff on the two Joel episodes, and trailers from each movie, there is only one true special feature, and it’s a winner: It Was a Colossal Teenage Movie Machine: The AIP Story. A feature-length documentary tracking the history of the company from inception to the eventually disbanding of it—specifically about its two founders, James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. It also talks about the different movements in the company’s tenure, and features great interviews with Roger Corman himself, the legend! If you’ve ever wanted to know about how much effort and creativity went into making B-pictures, then look no further.
So, you’ve got four excellent episodes and a documentary. I’d say that’s a definite “You ought to buy this” recommendation from me. I mean, I’ll probably always say you should pick up more MST3K, but when Shout! puts out great extras like this, it’s even better.
Images: AIP/Shout Factory
Kyle Anderson is a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com, as well as a massively huge MSTie. Follow him on Twitter for more such snark.