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Featured TV on DVD Review: MST3K: XIX

November 7th, 2010

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XIX - Buy from Amazon

Teaching us Roman numerals one four-disc set at a time. The latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 dvd release, titled XIX, features a couple Monster movies and a couple Devil movies. I wonder if the films were chosen because of their names, or if it was just a coincidence. I'm going with coincidence.

  1. Robot Monster - 1953
    Season 1, Episode 7 - January 2nd, 1990

    The show starts with not one, but two episodes of Radar Men from the Moon. Episode Four is called Flight to Destruction and it has the Moon Men preparing to attack the Earth, except they are out of money, so they plan to kidnap Commander Cody. Episode Five, Murder Car, with the kidnapping plot gone awry, they decide to steal the payroll from a factory, but when one of them is caught, they have to rescue him before he talks to the cops.

    Robot Monster is the film with the man in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet for a head. For a lot of fans of B-movies, that's all they need to know, as that's one of the most famous B-movie monsters of all time. In the film, a family is on a picnic near an archeologist dig site when the youngest kid discovered an alien invasion has killed off all of humanity, except for his family and a couple scientists. But Ro-Man, the gorilla monster, is intent to kill off the rest of them.

    Radar Men from the Moon, i.e. the "Nipple, Nipple, Fly" Show, is suitably stupid for MST3K, but two in a row is a bit much. (Back-to-back episodes does allow the gang to point out how the end of one episode doesn't match the beginning of the other, which is one of the great cheats in these shows.) Robot Monster is one of the worst movies ever made, and that provides more than enough entertainment. That said, it is an early episode for the show and the cast and crew are still finding their legs, so to speak, so the riffing isn't quite up to the speed it will be later on. Host segments include invention exchange, role-playing gone wrong, surrealism, and finally facts about Ro-Man. For an early episode, these are quite strong as well.

    The extras on the DVD start with an interview with J. Elvis Weinstein. He talks about the MST3K episode and how they avoided doing this movie because it is such an iconic bad movie that it seemed too obvious to riff it. There is also an interview with Larry Blamire, who talks about the movie and the skills needed to make a good bad movie. Finally, there's the trailer.

    Good target, solid riffs, strong host segments, good extras. For an early episode, this is a strong effort and a good way to start this set, but not the best episode on the DVD.

  2. Bride of the Monster - 1956
    Season 4, Episode 23 - January 23rd, 1993

    The episode starts with Hired! a short film about a struggling salesman and his boss who doesn't know what's wrong.

    Bride of the Monster is an Ed Wood / Bela Lugosi / Tor Johnson collaboration with Mr. Lugosi playing Dr. Eric Vornoff and Tor Johnson playing his assistant Lobo. The good doctor is trying to create a race of superhumans with radiation. His lair is protected by the deadliest of monsters, stock footage of an octopus. After several suspicious deaths, the police, a reporter, and a strange German man come to investigate.

    Host segments include the invention exchange with the Tough Love Chair, a musical version of Hired!, and something to do with waffles and advertising. If anyone can explain that last one, don't tell me. I don't want to know.

    This is arguably the best episode on this DVD; in fact, it's one of the best episodes in the show's run. It helps that it is an Ed Wood film, which means it will have a lot worth riffing, but Bela Lugosi is also quite good in it. The host segments were mostly very strong, with the Hired! musical standing out.

    There is a 27-minute long featurette on Ed Wood's career, and the making of this movie in particular. It also looks at how Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, and Tor Johnson starting working together. There are an impressive number of people interviewed, including some that worked with Ed Wood during the making of this movie. There is also a 6-minute featurette on the invention exchange and a couple other topics.

    This episode is so good that it is a major selling point for this set and for some harcore fans, it won't matter what the rest of the episodes are.

  3. Devil Doll - 1964
    Season 8, Episode 18 - October 4th, 1997

    The Great Vorelli is a ventriloquist / hypnotist who seems to have a contentious relationship with his dummy. That's because the dummy is actually his assistant, which he previously trapped in the dummy. He's going to use the same powers on Marianne, a beautiful heiress, for two nefarious purposes. Firstly, to give his assistant a companion, so he will be less of a pain in the ass. And secondly, to get a hold of her fortune.

    Host segments include both the gang of the Satellite of Love and Pearl and her two minions trying to throw a party. The Satellite people run into trouble when Tom Servo blows their budget on a window. (Don't ask, I can't explain his insanity.) While Pearl has trouble explaining the concept of a Toga party to ancient Romans. (Don't ask, there's too much to explain, but it has to do with time travel.) Later Crow tries to make a deal with the Devil, for a doll collection, while later still they set up a microbrewery and turn it into a British pub.

    Not the strongest episode on the set, as the movie is more dull than bad. Trying to make a monster and failing can create an entertaining mess. Trying to go for mood and failing is not as fun. There are still some solid riffs, while the segments on Crow's decent into Satanism are fun, but overall it is just an average episode.

    Richard Gordon, the executive producer, sits down for a nine-minute interview. There is also the trailer.

    Not the worst episode on this DVD, but not the best either.

  4. Devil Fish, a.k.a. Monster Shark, a.k.a. Shark: Rosso nell'oceano - 1984
    Season 9, Episode 11 - August 15th, 1998

    The most recent movie on this set, both in terms of when it was made and when it aired on the show. It was one of many Jaws rip offs. An undersea monster attacks tourists, swimmers, etc. while a marine biologist, a dolphin trainer, and an electrician investigate. However, it turns out the "Devil Fish" is the result of a generic experiment by the military to create a really silly looking monster and they are determined to cover up the deaths.

    After taking 2500 cruise ship reservations, Pearl and her minions have to entertain two early birds. Mike and the gang try and determine if dolphins are smart or dumb in the least diplomatic way possible. Mike mocks and electrician. And Pearl tries to make the gang appear a little more Italian for their cruise ship guests. But she overdoes it on the ethnic stereotypes.

    Movies with a lot of underwater scenes are incredibly hard to get done right, because underwater scenes tend to be very slow. This movie is no exception. The monster is very stupid looking, which is a bonus for fans of MST3K, but it's not as strong as Bride of the Monster was. The host segments are hit and miss, with with the dolphin bits working better than the cruise liner gags.

    Extras include a nearly hour-long Q&A at a convention with Joel Robinson, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl talking about the origins of the show. If you are interested in the history of the show, this is a great extra.

    Overall, this is a strong episode, but I don't consider it among the best. That said, the extra is fantastic.

Finally, the box set comes with a figure of Gypsy, the robot, which is quite massive, as well as the usual mini-posters.

The Verdict

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XIX has one below average episode, one average episode, one above average episode, and one classic. At least that's my opinion and others might rate two of the episodes as classics. The extras include four short interviews and one much longer featurette, and an hour-long convention Q&A session. Compared to a lot of MST3K releases from the past, that's excellent. If you are a fan of the show, this is an easy recommendation, and I hope the next releases have just as many extras.

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