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Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI (Shout! Factory, NR)

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dvd MST3K-XXVIIf this is the sort of thing you like, then you will enjoy these movies—and if not, then this particular collection won’t change your mind.

 

There’s nothing wrong with a formula if it’s well executed and delivers what it promises, and the classic television series Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K, to those in the know) employed a winning formula that nearly always delivered the goods. Take a bad movie, add a steady steam of wisecracks, hold it all together with a charmingly amateurish frame story, and lather, rinse, repeat. Judging from the last several DVD releases of this series that I’ve reviewed, there’s an additional formula involved in making up each four-DVD MST3K set: Include at least one enjoyably bad movie, one that actually has something going for it, and at least one—possibly of a Euro-trash nature—that even wisecracks can’t save, then add in a sprinkling of extras to please both fans of MST3K, and of bad movies in general.

Release XXVI does not disappoint. The so-bad-it’s-good slot goes to Virgil W. Vogel’s 1956 The Mole People, featuring the ever-wooden John Agar and Beaver’s future dad Hugh Beaumont as archaeologists who discovers a beneath-the-earth colony of Sumerians and their mole-people slaves. The cheesecake factor is supplied by Cynthia Patrick; real-life professor Frank Butler provides a nonsensical “scholarly” introduction, and Alan Napier is barely recognizable as the High Priest of the mole people. If the plot alone is not enough to give you a terminal case of the giggles, the costuming and painted backdrops will surely do the job—and, of course, it’s all the more fun with Mike and his robot pals.

The Magic Sword, directed in 1962 by Bert I. Gordon of The Amazing Colossal Man fame, includes some good actors (Basil Rathbone, Estelle Wilwood, Gary Lockwood) and is enjoyable if you happen to be about eight years old (I didn’t see it at that age, but I have it on good authority that, as a kiddie movie of the time, it wasn’t bad). The story is all about the evil sorcerer Lodac (Rathbone) capturing the beautiful princess Anne Helm to feed to his dragon, and the efforts of knights Liam Sullivan and Lockwood to rescue her. Of course, our noble friends must face a series of trials created by Lodac, and are aided by the usual plot tokens, including (of course) a magical sword. Winwood provides some campy humor (I kept thinking of Bewitched every time she was on screen), and Joel and the ’bots have their usual good time, as well.

Less rewarding are the European cheapie Danger!! Death Ray (dir. Gianfranco Baldanello, 1967) and the simply bad Alien from L.A. (dir. Albert Pyun, 1988). Danger!! is a worse-than-average spy flick starring muscleman Gordon Scott as Bart Fargo (one for the all-name team, at any rate), who is trying to get back one of those contrary-to-the-laws-of-physics death rays that seemed to pop up frequently in 1960s films. It’s been heisted by a band of terrorists of the variety that were also a staple in spy films of that decade, but neither hilarity nor suspense ensue, and even the wisecracks of Mike & Co. can’t save this clunker.

Alien from L.A. is the answer to the trivia question “What was Kathy Ireland’s first film?” but it makes her so annoying and unattractive, with big glasses and a squeaky voice, that you sort of wish it could be wiped from our collective memory. Alien does have a thematic tie-in with Mole People, however—Ireland’s character Wanda Saknussemm (seriously) discovers an underworld civilization while searching for her lost archaeologist father. You do get to see some of Ireland’s charms at the very end of the film, but honestly, you’d be better off perusing a few Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues if that’s what you’re after.

Extras included in the box set include interviews with Bert I. Gorton and Albert Pyun, features on Mike Nelson and on the making of The Mole People, and four mini-posters by Steve Vance. Like the other MST3K DVD sets I’ve seen, if this is the sort of thing you like, then you will enjoy these movies—and if not, then this particular collection won’t change your mind. | Sarah Boslaugh

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