Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. 1 (Shout! Factory, NR)

dvd MST3000v1The Creeping Terror is a strong candidate for the worst film of all time, giving masterpieces like Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster and Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda a run for their money.

 

 

I don’t know who said it first, but it’s still true: A good putdown is a thing of beauty. That’s the secret of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K): not just making fun of bad movies, but elevating the common practice of making fun of bad movies into an art form. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that more people are familiar with the show, and its general attitude, through home video than first-run TV. Single episodes were released on VHS, then on DVDs, and in 2002, Rhino began the now-standard practice of releasing DVD sets including four uncut episodes.

That first collection, which went out of print but has recently been reissued by Shout! Factory, includes four films distributed by Crown International Pictures: Bloodlust! (1961), The Skydivers (1963), The Creeping Terror (1964), and Catalina Caper (1967). While this collection lacks the variety of some of the later releases (at least three of the four films were shot in California, and three come from season 6), they still offer plenty of chances for Joel, Mike, and the bots to exercise their wits.

Bloodlust!, directed by Ralph Brooke, is one of the many adaptations of Richard Cornell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game.” St. Louis native Wilton Graff gives a pure waxworks performance (his beard and silk dressing gown do most of the acting) as the psychopathic Dr. Albert Balleau, who has turned his private island into a game park with humans as well as animals featured as prey. Stop me if you’re heard this one before, but four good-looking young people, including Robert Reed (Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch), decide to explore the apparently deserted island. They first meet a worried older couple (Lilyan Chauvin and Walter Brooke), then come face to face with human evil personified, i.e., the doctor and his minions. Booby traps and taxidermy ensues.

Skydiving as a popular recreation got a big boost after World War II, thanks to all the surplus parachutes available for civilian use. The Skydivers, directed by Coleman Francis (who enjoys the rare distinction of having all the movies he directed featured on MST3K episodes), seems to have been an attempt to cash in on the presumed popularity of skydiving. A couple (Anthony Cardoza and Kevin Casey—the latter is female despite her name, so no early gay pride stuff going on here) runs a skydiving business in the middle of nowhere. Various things happen—a marital affair, attempts to sabotage a plane (unsuccessful) and a parachute (successful), a jump gone wrong, and some surprising gunplay by employees of the FAA—and there are many invitations to have coffee (a Coleman Francis trademark). The story does not make a lick of sense, but there is a fair amount of skydiving footage, which might have been thrilling in 1963 (albeit less so today).

The Creeping Terror is a strong candidate for the worst film of all time, giving masterpieces like Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster and Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda a run for their money. Director/editor/actor Vic Savage raised money to have it made by trading on the fame-by-association of the scriptwriter, Robert Silliphant, half-brother to the successful TV and film writer Stirling Silliphant. Savage also sold the right to appear in the film, and you can imagine the kind of acting talent that maneuver attracted. The most notable thing about The Creeping Terror, however, is that much of the original dialogue track was damaged, lost, or never created in the first place, so that an incongruous voiceover explains what is happening for much of the film.

The story, such as it is, involves a monster that came from outer space and looks like a carpet sample come to life, with a mouth in its stomach that swallows people whole (although they have to help out by pulling themselves in, just as the victims of the giant octopus in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster had to pull the beast’s tentacles around themselves). The demise of various photogenic and sympathetic victims (including the obligatory girl in the bikini) force local law enforcement, the military, and science to band forces against it. There’s also some nonsense about communication with distant galaxies, but believe me, it’s not worth the bother.

Catalina Caper (1967) was one of the last of the beach party movies and makes no argument that the genre should be revived. The story is silly as you would expect, involving gangsters stealing a Chinese scroll crossed with a lot of gyrating teenagers in swimsuits. Still, it’s fun to watch, and the presence of several legitimate actors, including Tommy Kirk, Ulla Strömstedt, and Lyle Waggoner, plus musical performances by Little Richard, Carol Connors, and The Cascades, make it a cut above the other movies in this collection.

While I love the snarky commentary during the films, I’ve never been a huge fan of the skits between segments; the theme song, on the other hand, is an earworm for the ages. But in the spirit of something for everything, I will note that the skits include TV’s Frank (Frank Coniff) marketing Tupperware, Mike and the Bots square dancing, a takeoff of Love, American Style, and a show choir competition. Two industrials are also included—“Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm” and “Why Study Industrial Arts”—which provide fine fodder for the wit of the host and the bots.

This release is a bit light on extras, but there’s one definitely worth a look: “The Crown Jewels,” a 17 min. documentary about Red Jacobs and Crown International. Besides that, there are several trailers: an extended trailer for The Creep Behind the Camera (a 2014 film about the con-man Vic Savage, who directed, edited, produced, and acted in The Creeping Terror), and a Q&A session from Screamfest 2014 about The Creep Behind the Camera. | Sarah Boslaugh

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