Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Vol. XXV (Shout! Factory, NR)

dvd mst3k

This formula works so well that the series hardly missed a beat when Joel was replaced by Mike and the robots were voiced by a succession of actors.

 

 

Next to watching a really good film, perhaps the greatest pleasure in a cinephile’s life is watching a really bad film and making fun of it. That’s the not-so-secret formula behind the continuing success of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K to fans), which ran on television from 1988 to 1999 and lives today on DVD. The setup is that Joel (Joel Hobson), an amiable average guy, is trapped on a spaceship and forced to watch really bad movies so that Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) can discover the world’s worst movie, and then use it as a secret weapon to drive everyone mad and take over the world.

Joel built some robot friends out of spare parts—Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot—and together they watch a series of B-movies and make wisecracks about them. The movies are broken up by skits in the studio, but it’s the movie commentary that really sells the series. In fact, this formula works so well that the series hardly missed a beat when Joel was replaced by Mike (Michael J. Nelson), and the robots were voiced by a succession of actors over the run of the show.

MST3K Volume XXV (Roman numerals in honor of the many sword and sandals “classics” included in the series, no doubt) includes four feature films, plus several special features. The winner in the “so bad it’s good” contest has to be 1964’s Kitten with a Whip, an exploitation flick featuring neither kittens nor whips. Ann-Margaret, just a year removed from her squeaky-clean role in Bye Bye Birdie, plays Jody, a semi-psychotic juvenile delinquent who, with the help of several of her JD friends, holds a respectable politician (John Forsythe) hostage in his own home, and then forces him to take her and her friends to Tijuana, Mexico.

Operation Kid Brother is a 1967 parody film starring Sean Connery’s brother Neil as a plastic surgeon and hypnotist (seriously!) who fills in as a secret agent when England’s #1 choice in that department is not available. Several actors featured in real Bond films appear in this one, including Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Adolfo Ceili (Largo in Thunderball), and Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in Dr. No).

Revenge of the Creature is a mediocre 1955 follow-up to Creature of the Black Lagoon, in which the Gill-Man is imprisoned in a sort of SeaWorld establishment and studied by Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and his improbably gorgeous student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson). The creature falls for Helen, of course, and improbabilities ensue; with such a script, even director Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, the original Creature from the Black Lagoon) couldn’t save this film (nor could Clint Eastwood, in an uncredited appearance). Tim Kincaid’s 1986 Robot Holocaust is the only real clunker in this collection—it’s not so bad it’s good, it’s just plain bad, and making fun of it seems like piling on.

The skits between movie segments haven’t aged all that well, and I found myself fast-forwarding through them and just watching the films themselves. I did get the theme song stuck in my head, though, so don’t say you weren’t warned. This is a four-disc set with about eight hours total of material. Extras include introductions to each film by Mike Nelson or Joel Hodgson, a feature on Jack Arnold’s work at Universal, a “Life After MST3K” segment by J. Elvis Weinstein and Bill Corbett, and mini-posters for the four films. | Sarah Boslaugh

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