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

Mystery Science_Theater_75For those of you who are fans of the connecting episodes, here are a few highlights from this set: Roger Whitaker pays a visit, Frank develops a combination perambulator/lawn mower, Joel invents a pipe with a built-in sprinkler system, and Tom Servo puts on an art show.

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The seemingly endless vaults of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 are back with another 4-disc release, following their tried-and-true formula of one film with something of special interest, one Eurotrash flick, one bad-special-effects sci-fi flick, and one wild card. Why mess with a winning formula? Harboring such subversive thoughts could get you shipped into outer space with only bad movies and robot friends to keep you company.

The special interest film in this collection is Untamed Youth, a 1957 teen exploitation/musical film starring Mamie Van Doren and her collection of extra-tight sweaters. The setup: two upright young ladies, Penny (van Doren) and Jane (Lori Nelson), are hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where they play to make it big in the music business. Unfortunately, they get arrested (for skinny-dipping, no less) and sent to a local work farm to live in crummy bunkhouses and slave away for farm owner Russ Tropp (John Russell), although they seem to have plenty of energy to sing and dance once the workday is done. Tropp ensures a steady supply of labor by dating the local judge (Lurene Tuttle), who sentences vagrants to work for him, while the judge apparently hasn’t a clue that his interest in her might not be due to her intrinsic charms. This film was ruled as “Objectionable” by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and how could you pass up a recommendation like that?

Hercules and the Captive Women is the Eurotrash entry, and it ticks off all the requirements of a sword and sandals flick, including a hunky bodybuilder (Reg Park), shorty-short tunics, a goofy plot with imaginative mythological references, questionable special effects, and unintentional humor (I lost track of how many times someone said “Uranus” in just the pronunciation most likely to elicit giggles from 12-year-olds). Even for the genre, the plot doesn’t make much sense, but I can assure you that Hercules does travel to Proteus and Atlantis, free a woman (Laura Efrikian) trapped in stone (misleading title alert—it should really be Hercules and the Captive Woman), fight some monsters, and have a face-off with an evil queen (Fay Spain). If you can overlook gaping holes in the narrative, this is not a bad film for the genre, and it’s mostly good fun.

In the bad special effects category, we have The Thing That Couldn’t Die. The young and attractive young Jessica (Carolyn Kearney) has a talent for dowsing, meaning she can locate underground water by following the vibrations from a forked stick. However, sometimes she turns up other stuff, such as an old box holding the head of an executed sorcerer (Robin Hughes, who also played Satan in the Twilight Zone episode “The Howling Man”). The head is not only alive, but has telepathic powers, and murder and mayhem ensue. This one gets points for general weirdness (how many films use dowsing as a plot device?). Besides, often bad movies inspire the best riffs, so you can’t ever really lose when it comes to MST3K flicks.

Rounding out the set is The Pumaman, which actually scores in two categories—Eurotrash and bad special effects—while also having the saving grace of Donald Pleasance (the psychiatrist in the Halloween series, in case you haven’t seen a horror film since 1977) as its villain. Otherwise it’s pretty bad, with a plot about an ancient Aztec mask that gives its wearer the ability to control the minds of others, a magic belt that confers puma-like powers (night vision, superhuman ability) as well as some standard-issue superhero powers like super strength and flight. The real wonder is how this one got made (in 1980 yet)—did director Alberto De Martino known that MST3K was just around the corner and would need material?

I’m not the hugest fan of the connecting episodes in MST3K—I mainly watch for the riffing during the films (and sometimes the films themselves, of course). For those of you who are fans of the connecting episodes, here are a few highlights from this set: Roger Whitaker pays a visit, Frank develops a combination perambulator/lawn mower, Joel invents a pipe with a built-in sprinkler system, and Tom Servo puts on an art show.

Extras on the DVD include interviews with Mamie van Doren and Walter G. Alton, Jr. (a lawyer who was also the star, so to speak, of The Pumaman), new introductions by Joel Hodgson, a feature on poster artist Steve Vance and a slide show of his work, a feature by film historian Tom Weaver on The Thing That Couldn’t Die, the non-MST3K version of The Pumaman (why?), a feature about the Nanites (the little organisms that look like dogs built out of computer chips and were featured in some of the connecting episodes), and an interview with Joel Hodgson about his “Riffing Myself” one-man show. | Sarah Boslaugh

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