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

Mystery-Science-XXX 75If you’re a fan, that’s great, because every set delivers pretty much the same reliable pleasures.

Mystery-Science-XXX 500

Few things are as reliable as DVD releases of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K to its friends)—like the show, they are exactly what they are, with an essential similarity that overrides changes in in-studio characters and personnel and the specific movies included in each set. If you’re a fan, that’s great, because every set delivers pretty much the same reliable pleasures. If you’re not a fan, that’s also fine, because you don’t have to worry about what you’re missing—you already know and have decided to spend your recreational viewing hours on something else.

By the numbers, MST3K XXX includes episodes from seasons 1, 5, 9, and 10, with one featuring Joel and three featuring Mike, with two Pearl appearances thrown in for good measure. The movies include a black-and-white 1950’s American sci-fi, a sword and sandals “epic,” a Eurotrash version of a decent American movie, and an unredeemable 1970’s color horror film whose awfulness boggles the mind.

The Black Scorpion is a super-cheap giant insect film shot in Mexico with Anglo leads Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Mara Corday (Tarantula) and stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien (King Kong, Mighty Joe Young). An earthquake has created a new volcano, and local authorities have observed an improbable number of violent human and animal deaths in the vicinity. The culprits? Gigantic prehistoric scorpions whose underground lair has been exposed by the earthquake. It’s all very silly, but predictably enjoyable, and even the unfinished special effects (the original producers ran out of money) can’t bring it down.

Outlaw of Gor is something else again—a padded and plodding sword-and-sandals epic based on a series of novels by John Norman set on a mythical and extremely sandy planet where women choose to be the slaves of men. That particular point doesn’t come up in Outlaw of Gor, which features the pecs of Urbano Barberini, Jack Palance in a really silly hat, and Russel Savadier as the most annoying sidekick ever. And a little person, of course (Nigel Chipps as, I kid you not, “Midget Hup”), because can’t have a sword and sandals flick without one of those. The story is beyond silly and involves Barberini and Savadier traveling to the planet of Gor in their car (!), Barberini becoming involved in all kinds of palace intrigues, and everyone saying the name of Barberini’s character (Cabot) seemingly as often as possible.

The Projected Man is a British version of The Fly, with good actors working with dreadful material. Paul Steiner (Bryant Haliday, who also co-founded Janus Films) and Christopher Mitchell (Ronald Allen), with the assistance of Patricia Hill (Mary Hill), are developing a machine to transmit matter through space, Star Trek-style. Funding politics and personal jealousies lead to a premature demonstration of the device, which ends in failure, and Steiner then has the bright idea of trying it out on himself, with unfortunate consequences. This non-gem also features a parade of nearly-indistinguishable blondes and some hapless burglars whose importance to the plot I never did figure out.

It Lives By Night, also known as The Bat People, features a bat scientist (Stewart Moss) who becomes a bat person after being bitten by a bat in Carlsbad Caverns. You might think that is every biologist’s dream—imagine being able to literally see the world through the eyes of the creature you study—but it doesn’t work out so well for him. This movie doesn’t work out so well for the audience either—it looks about as cheap as a film can, with lots of blatantly repeated stock footage of bats and tourists—and we don’t get nearly enough of its one big draw, makeup by Stan Winston. However, the Law of MST3K (the worse the movie, the better the riffing) applies, and Mike and the ‘Bots produce some of their wittiest repartee in response to the teakiness of the lead actors (how Marianne McAndrew, who plays the scientist’s wife, got cast in a major role Hello, Dolly! is one of those mysteries that must be left for another day).

The extras are particularly good in this MST3K release. Accompanying The Black Scorpion is a featurette that examines both the film itself and how it came to be distributed by Warner Brothers (they wanted to cash in on the 1950s horror boom without actually producing their own horror movies). Outlaw of Gor comes with three featurettes, discussing the Gor novels (written by a fellow Cornhusker, I’m sorry to say) and the production of this film. The Projected Man also gets its own making-of featurette, Shock to the System, while It Lives By Night must make do with an extended trailer for “The Frank” music video. | Sarah Boslaugh

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