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Featured TV on DVD Review: MST3K: XVII

March 14th, 2010

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVII - Buy from Amazon

Mystery Science Theater 3000 started way back in 1988 on KTMA before moving to Comedy Central (a.k.a. The Comedy Channel) the next year. In total, the series lasted more than a decade and nearly 200 episodes. This week, Shout! Factory is releasing Volume XVII, which contains episodes from practically the show's entire run. When making the first season, they didn't bother with things like securing the rights to the movies they were mocking, so these will never be released. Some were revisited during later seasons. However, this volume does have...

  1. The Crawling Eye, a.k.a. The Trollenberg Terror - 1958
    Season 2, Episode 1 - November 28th, 1989

    Two sisters who perform as a psychic act travel by train, but when they learn the train's next stop is Trollenberg, the younger is irresistibly drawn to stay there. Meanwhile, a U.N. inspector arrives to check out an observatory, only to learn of a series of "accidents" on the nearby mountains have left some climbers with their heads no longer attached to their bodies. Locals think these might be attacks by some kind of monster, and these attacks mirror recent events on the Alps. Are these accidents connected? And do they have anything to do with that giant, radioactive cloud that seems to move on its own?

    This is the first of the scripted MST3K episodes, ever. At times you can tell. It's not a bad episode, per se, but the timing is just a little... off. This extends from the riffing off of the movie to the host segments (intro, invention exchange, etc.) As Joel Hodgson mentions in the interview, all the ingredients are there, they just need practice putting them all together. In fact, there's a noticeable improvement in the riffing from the beginning of the episode to the end.

    Extras include a six-and-a-half minute long interview with Joel Hodgson, which is billed as an introduction to the episode. He talks about how with this episode they transitioned from an improv show to a scripted show. And he does mention some of the growing pains. So not only is the episode important in the history of the show, but the extra also helps to put it in the proper context.

  2. The Beatniks - 1960
    Season 5, Episode 15 - November 25th, 1992

    The episode starts with the second installment of General Hospital, a short about... I'm not sure. I don't think I've seen the first installment. All we see here is an awkward engagement party that ends prematurely when the groom-to-be is called away to the hospital.

    The main feature is a film called The Beatniks and is about a group of young thugs that terrorize local small businesses and harass motorists. One of these thugs, Eddie Crane, celebrates their latest haul of loot by singing along to a jukebox. A talent agent overhears him and offers to sign him to a big contract. But will his friends' jealousy prevent him from rising above his criminal roots to become a respectable singer?

    The movie is part of the "misspent youth" B-movie genre, which is not the genre that is normally associated with MST3K (the show thrived mostly on Creature Features). However, it is suitably bad and provides more than enough fodder for riffing, while in the years since The Crawling Eye the writers and the performers have improved upon their trade. Also, the host bits are better than the previous episodes (the invention exchange and the condensed life of a 1950s rock star are particularly funny).

    The extras start with The Main Event: Crow vs. Crow, which is a 35-minute long interview with the two men who played Crow on the show: Trace Bealieu and Bill Corbett. There are also five minutes of Hour Wraps, which were used when the show was in syndication as The Mystery Science Theater Hour and featured Michael J. Nelson as Jack Perkins.

  3. The Final Sacrifice, a.k.a. Quest for the Lost City - 1990
    Season 10, Episode 10 - July 25th, 1998

    Some creepy guy and his cult of thugs chased a man through the cold Canadian woods before killing him. Seven years later, these same evil men chase the man's son after the son finds a map that is needed to rule the world.

    One of the few movies featured on this show that was made after MST3K begun. If a movie was made in the 1950s or 1960s, then it has an excuse for being quite bad, as the technology just wasn't there for a lot of the special effects. However, this can't be used as an excuse here. With a reported budget of just $1500 (and that's not a typo) they didn't even bother with special effects. I tend to prefer the "Creature Feature" films for MSTing, because of the bad special effects, but this is still a great episode and there are plenty of ways to mock it. As for the host segments, there are a lot of laughs from the "Canada Song" to the two Hockey Hair segments.

    The only extra on the DVD is an interview with Bruce J. Mitchell, who played Zap Rowsdower. He's definitely not embarrassed by the film, although he doesn't have delusions about its quality.

  4. Blood Waters of Dr. Z, a.k.a. Zaat - 1975
    Season 11, Episode 5 - November 28th, 1989

    A mad scientist is determined to use stock footage of fish and voiceovers to take over the world. It's the usual story of a scientist whose methods were laughed at looking for revenge, and a mate.

    This movie is inept in every way, which in most ways is perfect for MST3K. Not only is the plot predictable and the execution bad, but nearly all of the characters are infinitely mockable. As for the skits, they are mixed. The chewing tobacco ones were unnecessary, but the evil voiceover skit was spot on. The experiment in adding nudity to Glengarry Glenn Ross warrants further testing.

    "Sargassum: the weed of deceit!"

    The only extras on the DVD are the promos, the trailer, and the image gallery for the movie. Boy did they oversell the movie.

The Verdict

I don't think any of the episodes on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Collection XVII are instant classics. For instance, The Crawling Eye still shows signs of growing pains (although it is important in the history of the show and its inclusion is appreciated). That said, while there might be no real instant classics on this DVD, there are also no real duds either. Extras range from just a little bit of promotional material to a 35-minute interview session and bonus footage from the show's syndication. For fans of the show, it is absolutely worth picking up.

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