Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour (B).  The principal creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Hodgson, is on the road doing live shows in venues around the country.  I think I heard this is supposedly going to be Hodgson’s last road show.  Anyhoo, my sister and I caught the show last weekend in Dallas’s fancy opera house.  The show is basically a live recreation of an episode of the MST3K TV show, with Joel and his two robot sidekicks (Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo) riffing on a terrible movie and occasionally taking little breaks to do (allegedly) comical skits.  The terrible movie for our show was a cheesy 1986 Karate Kid rip-off called No Retreat, No Surrender (featuring a young and villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme, Timecop), and the riffing was very amusing.  I’d probably give the show a B+ or an A- based on the riffing, but the skits were unfortunately unentertaining (just like they usually were during MST3K’s TV run).  Note that Joel is the only person from the original show involved in this production; the robots are voiced by two new guys, and two new actresses participated in the skits.  I think it was a pretty clean show, too, if you’re thinking about taking the kids.  Definitely worth catching if they come to a town near you.  Looks like they’re about to do a bunch of shows in Florida if you’re down that way!

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX

Untamed Youth (B).  This delightful youth-exploitation film from 1957 stars blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren (Girls Town) as a would-be rock-and-roll singer.  Unfortunately she and her sister are arrested in some backwater burg, and the crooked judge sentences them to be slave labor on a farm run by the judge’s co-conspirator.  Entertaining episode, and the disc features a short interview with Mamie as a bonus feature.

Hercules and the Captive Women  (C).  This is a cheesy European Hercules flick from 1961.  The title is inapt because there are no captive women in evidence.  Sure, the evil queen of Atlantis is trying to sacrifice her daughter to the gods throughout the whole movie, but that’s just one woman.  (Apparently the movie was sometimes called Hercules Conquers Atlantis.)  Anyway, this is a pretty average outing for Joel and the robots, and the extras on the disc are also unremarkable.

The Thing That Couldn’t Die  (A-).  Now we’re getting somewhere!  Mike and the bots have a great time skewering this 1958 horror cheapie.  A cute-ish blond girl is doing a little water-witching around her aunt’s dude ranch when she discovers an old chest containing the 400-year-old head of some evil guy who got himself executed by Sir Frances Drake.  The head can hypnotize people into doing its evil bidding, and of course its top priority is getting the water witch to find his long-lost body!  The riffing is great, and even a couple of the host segments are funny as Mike encounters the supposedly super-intelligent Observers.

The Pumaman  (B+).  Another fan favorite, this is a super-cheesy 1980 superhero movie about a guy who supposedly has the powers of a puma and who must use them to fight evil forces led by the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence (whose name is misspelled Pleasance in the credits).  The guy is more Greatest American Hero than Superman, and his Aztec mentor constantly has to bail him out of trouble.  The extras on the disc are a bit unusual.  One is a complete and unriffed version of The Pumaman; why anyone would want to watch it, I can’t imagine.  The other is a lengthy interview with the actor who played the Pumaman.  He was a New York City lawyer who tried acting for about ten years and then went back to lawyering.  He was a good sport to be interviewed for the disc because he really didn’t appreciate the MST3K guys making fun of this movie!

Rifftrax Live: The Giant Spider Invasion

The Movie Snob takes in another Fathomevents event.

Rifftrax Live: The Giant Spider Invasion  (A-).  This is the last Rifftrax Live event of the year, and it’s a good one.  The opening short clip is fairly meh; it’s a bizarre explanation of how the nation’s telephone system worked back in the days of party lines and rotary phones.  Did I mention it involves lots and lots of creepy marionettes?  But the main event more than makes up for the lackluster appetizer.  The Giant Spider Invasion is a uniquely terrible 1975 monster movie starring Alan Hale (Skipper on TV’s Gilligan’s Island) as the sheriff of a small town that’s getting invaded by some extraterrestrial tarantulas and one truly giant spider that will eat you if you cooperate by climbing up into its mouth.  They riffed this movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it was one of the all-time great MST3K episodes.  This all-new riffing experience from the Rifftrax guys was just as funny.  If you can’t catch it at the theater (there’s an encore performance tomorrow night), it’ll be worth downloading from the Rifftrax website.  Warmly recommended . . . unless you have arachnophobia.

Rifftrax Live: Star Raiders

A new review from the Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine  (B).  The movie riffers were at it again recently, and, although you can’t see it in the theater like I did, you can download this treasure directly from the Rifftrax website if you so choose.  The show opens with a short about telling the truth (although the real lesson seems to be “don’t throw rocks at a towel hanging on a clothesline right in front of a window”).  It’s fine.  The feature is a low-budget sci-fi movie that I have to assume went straight to video.  Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers fame stars as Han Solo Saber Raine, a roguish mercenary/spaceship pilot who gets hired to help rescue a prince and princess who have been captured by some bad guy in a mask.  Yes, it is a cheesy Star Wars rip-off in the vein of Krull or Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, but somehow it got made in 2017.  The riffing was average, but the fact that it was ripping off a beloved 40-year-old movie from my childhood made the movie strangely endearing to me.  And Casper’s blond sidekick was kind of cute.

Rifftrax: Octaman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax: Octaman (B-).  I caught the latest Rifftrax live show last night, and if you are so inclined you can catch a rebroadcast at your local theater on April 24.  As you call tell from my grade, I’m not going to insist that you go.  It’s OK, but it’s not one of the gang’s greatest hits.  The appetizer is a short featuring McGruff the Crime Dog in an anti-drug screed.  It’s fine.  The main event is a monster movie that resembles a lamer version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  (No surprise, since writer-director Harry Essex also wrote the screenplay for . . . Creature from the Black Lagoon.)  The riffing was fine, but it never reaches giddy heights.  Octaman is only 80 minutes long, so the whole show was only about an hour and thirty-five minutes long.  One of the funniest bits was the song the guys sang at the very end of the show recapitulating the whole movie in three short verses.  Let’s see if the next Rifftrax live show, Star Raiders on June 6, is better.

Mystery Science Theater: 25th Anniversary Edition

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

I have more time on my hands these days, so I’m digging into my large collection of unwatched Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs.  This collection, which would be Volume XXVIII but for the 25th Anniversary Edition tag, contains six episodes rather than the usual four.  I think the last two episodes described below had already been released on DVD as standalone episodes.  Anyway, let’s get to this solid but not spectacular collection….

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (Volume XXXVIII).

Moon Zero Two  (B-).  This first-season offering features a 1969 production from Hammer, the famed low-budget British horror studio.  The movie is a cheesy “western in space” set on the moon in the early 21st century.  A charisma-free space jockey is recruited for two seemingly independent jobs—help a nefarious plutocrat crash a sapphire-laden asteroid into the far side of the moon and help a beautiful woman find out what happened to her missing brother, a mining prospector on . . . the far side of the moon.  Although the movie is generally terrible, the core ideas aren’t awful, some of the special effects seem pretty okay for the era, and female lead Catherine Schell really is gorgeous.  (She would go on to appear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and TV’s Space: 1999, and she kept acting regularly into the 1990s.)  Anyway, the riffing started out pretty strong in this one, but it petered out as the movie went along.  Hence, the lukewarm grade.

The Day the Earth Froze (B).   This is a decent episode.  It starts with a short about a trip to the circus.  The main course is a weird old Finnish-Soviet movie based on a Finnish fairy tale.  A witch kidnaps a fair maiden to coerce her brother, a famed blacksmith, into building the witch a gadget called a “sampo” that can apparently make whatever you want it to.  Then the fair maiden’s boyfriend tries to steal the sampo, leading the witch to steal the sun, thereby threatening to freeze all the nice villagers.  Solid riffing, solid episode.  The real prize on the disc, though, is a short documentary featuring interviews with the original cast members about how MST3K first got started on a local cable channel in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  It really was interesting.

The Leech Woman  (C).  The riffing is only average on this weak 1960 horror movie about a woman who gets hooked on a potion that temporarily restores youth—but unfortunately requires an ingredient that can be obtained only by means of murder!  Extras on the disc include a decent documentary about many (or all?) of the people who acted or provided voice work on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a short interview with Mary Jo Pehl about her life post MST3K.

Gorgo (B).  Next up is a cheesy 1961 Godzilla ripoff set in Ireland and London.  Decent riffing makes for an above-average episode.  One of the movie’s stars, William Sylvester, actually went on to have a major role in 2001: A Space Odyssey as Dr. Heywood Floyd. And Leonard Maltin makes a special guest appearance on MST!

Mitchell (B).  This was the last MST episode featuring Joel Hodgson as its host.  Joe Don Baker (Mud) stars as Mitchell, a disheveled slob of a cop who plays by his own rules, bucks the police chief, and makes it his mission to nail some sleazy guy for murdering another sleazy guy who was burglarizing the first sleazy guy’s house.  Pretty good riffing, plus Linda Evans (TV’s Dynasty) co-stars in the movie and has to endure a sex scene with the unappealing Baker.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (B-).  This was the first MST episode to feature Mike Nelson, who had been a writer for the show for a while, as the host.  The film is a 1962 horror movie about a doctor who has been dabbling in unorthodox experiments.  His love for weird science pays off when his fiancée is decapitated in a car crash; he puts her head in a lasagna pan and keeps it alive in his laboratory while he creepily trolls various nightclubs for a suitable replacement body.  Amusingly, the final title card at the end of the movie changes its name to “The Head That Wouldn’t Die.”  The disc contains a short feature about Joel Hodgson’s leaving MST and a short interview with an actress who appeared (very briefly) in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

Rifftrax: Space Mutiny

The Movie Snob is back.

Rifftrax: Space Mutiny  (B+).  Ahoy, gentle readers!  I have not blogged in a while, owing to various family-related issues that have kept me out of the theaters.  But my sister was in town last week, and we managed to hit the multiplex for the latest Rifftrax live show.  You can catch a re-broadcast of it this coming Tuesday, June 19, and I give this one a hearty thumbs-up.  The opening short was pretty lackluster, something about a boy and his dad visiting a mysterious magic shop that may actually be magical!  But the main event is Space Mutiny, a 1988 sci-fi cheesefest that was actually riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1997.  The riffers did a fine job, but the movie alone would have provided plenty of laughs.  The plot is largely incomprehensible, but it’s something about a mutiny aboard a giant spaceship that happens to look exactly like the 1978-79 era Battlestar Galactica.  Don’t miss it!

Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party  (B).  Last night Fathom Events delivered another live show by the Rifftrax usuals (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) and a slew of guest stars (Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and a fellow who was new to me named Paul F. Tompkins).  I assume that by now you know what these shows are–comedians who specialize in riffing on bad movies and other video material.  This time around they aren’t riffing a full-length movie, but rather a bunch of “educational” shorts from I don’t know when–roughly the 50s through the 70s.  Although this wasn’t one of the riffers’ greatest performances ever, I did think it was a solid outing with plenty of decent laughs.  I would say the funniest shorts were (i) an old black-and-white number about a woman who graduates from secretarial school and works her way up in some bland office job, (ii) another black-and-white film about a surly high-school boy whose conscience is trying to get him to stop griping about everything, and (iii) a p.e. film featuring a bunch of dejected elementary-school kids being forced to roll and bounce big rubber balls around for no apparent reason.  I know they sound terrible, but they’re pretty funny when the riffers make wisecracks about them throughout!  The show will be rebroadcast on June 20, so head on over to fathomevents.com if you want more information.

Rifftrax Live – Samurai Cop

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Samurai Cop.  (B+)  This is a solid effort by the riffers at Rifftrax.  (I saw the live show last night, but you can catch a rebroadcast next Tuesday night if you like!)  They started with an amusing short, an old black-and-white educational film in which a surly student learns about good manners from a preachy chalk drawing come to life.  Samurai Cop itself is a terrible 1991 knock-off of Lethal Weapon and other buddy-cop movies.  A Japanese gang with almost no Japanese members is getting into the L.A. drug scene, and a muscle-bound samurai cop with long, flowing hair and no discernible martial-arts skills comes up from San Diego to help out.  He and his African-American sidekick mostly drive around shooting people, but the samurai cop occasionally takes a time out to awkwardly hit on or make out with various women who are unfortunate enough to cross his path.  The riffing was very funny, and the movie was amusingly inept in its own right, so I give it a solid thumbs-up.

Be aware, however, that the Rifftrax show is rated R.  I was surprised to see that on my ticket, and it turned out to be because the movie has a lot of profanity in it–also some clumsy sexual banter, and some scenes in which the hero and heroine make out while wearing very small swimsuits.  (According to IMDB there is nudity in the original movie, but the Rifftrax folks deleted that out.)

To my surprise, the red-headed gal who runs with the bad guys in this movie was Gates McFadden’s stand-in on Star Trek: The Next Generation and actually had small parts herself in no fewer than 43 STTNG episodes!  How about that?

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers  (B-).  Well, I didn’t actually see this 2016 show live; I just recently saw it on DVD.  But I was really, really looking forward to it because the guys riffed Time Chasers back in their Mystery Science Theater glory days, and in my mind it was one of the funniest MST episodes of all time.  Time Chasers itself is a hilariously low-budget 1994 time-travel movie about Nick Miller, a nerdy physics professor in Vermont who turns his little single-propeller airplane into a time machine with what looks like a Commodore 64.  Unfortunately Nick’s physics prowess far exceeds his common sense, and he rashly sells his invention to an evil corporation called GenCorp, embodied by its tangibly evil CEO J.K. Robertson.  The scene in which Nick visits the CEO in his “office” – a stairway landing in what I’ve read is the opera house in Rutland, Vermont – is one of the all-time greats.  So, Nick has to do more time traveling to try to stop himself from selling the time machine to GenCorp in the first place.

Unfortunately, the riffers just don’t do as good a job shredding Time Chasers as they did on Mystery Science Theater so many years ago.  While watching the movie, I often remembered the wisecracks from the MST version, and the new jokes just weren’t as good.  Don’t get me wrong—it was still an entertaining experience, if only because the movie itself is such a target-rich environment.  I just thought the Rifftrax version didn’t live up to the MST original.  There’s also a short about a chimpanzee that becomes a fireman, but it was nothing in particular to write home about either.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVII

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII.

The Slime People (D).  This first-season offering just isn’t very good.  The movie is horrendous, about a handful of humans trying to survive an attack on Los Angeles by subterranean slime people.  Tedious in the extreme, and the riffing isn’t all that great either.  The highlight of the disc is actually a short interview with a woman who was in the movie, reminiscing about the experience and how horrified she was when she first saw the finished product because it was so bad.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (C).  This second-season effort is not great but at least it’s better than The Slime People.  The 1961 film is a Cold War relic mainly about a spy sent to Moscow to figure out if the Soviets are planning to launch a nuclear attack.  Answer: Yes.  The first half of the movie features some pretty funny riffing by Joel and the robots, but they seem to lose steam towards the end.

Village of the Giants (C).  This okay episode features an old movie starring a young Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), a very young Ron Howard (TV’s Happy Days), and a timeless Toni Basil (the 1982 hit song “Mickey”).  Howard is a brainiac kid in the little town of Hainesville.  He accidentally invents a substance that, when eaten, makes the consumer grow to enormous size.  Unfortunately, Beau and his gang of unpleasant punk teenagers get a hold of the growth formula and proceed to terrorize the town.  Expect lots of unconvincing special effects and lots of whining from Beau’s gang about how adults are always pushing young people around with their rules and such.

The Deadly Mantis  (B).  My grade may be slightly inflated because of the weakness of the other movies in this collection.  This is a 1957 creature feature about a giant praying mantis that was frozen in arctic ice millions of years ago.  Somehow it gets defrosted and runs amok killing people.  There is very little plot beyond finding and killing the mantis, which seems to take an unduly long time.  The riffing is pretty good.  The two extras are an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl and a short documentary about Mantis producer William Alland, neither of which is of any special interest.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI.

The Magic Sword.  (C).  I don’t know, somehow this one just should have been funnier.  It’s a lame 1962 swords-and-sorcery flick in which Sir George (Gary Lockwood, 2001:A Space Odyssey) has to defeat an evil wizard (Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles) and rescue a beautiful princess (Anne Helm, Follow That Dream).  There’s so much material to work with, like George’s six assistant knights who get killed faster than bugs in a Raid commercial, and his inept sorceress foster mother, I don’t know why it wasn’t funnier.  The really amazing thing is that director Bert I. Gordon, whose movies were regularly skewered on MST3K, agreed to sit down for a documentary short about his career.  What a good sport!

Alien From L.A.  (D).  Yes, this is the 1988 cheesefest starring Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland (Necessary Roughness).  She plays a clueless loser named Wanda who, through a series of ridiculous events, finds herself playing Indiana Jones in the lost city of Atlantis, far below the earth’s surface.  I think the director made her inhale helium before she read every line, because her voice was impossibly squeaky.  Unfortunately, the MST guys couldn’t do much with this one.  It just wasn’t very funny.

The Mole People.  (B).  This is a pretty good episode.  Some archaeologists (including Hugh Beaumont of Leave It To Beaver fame) find their way into a subterranean world inhabited by an ancient race of albino Sumerians.  The top archaeologist, a square-jawed John-Wayne soundalike, subdues the entire race with his trusty flashlight and courts a comely non-albino lass who happens to be among the mole people.  Pretty entertaining, with some laugh-out-loud riffs.  A decent short documentary about the film also appears on the disc.

Danger!! Death Ray.  (B).  Another pretty good episode.  The movie is a terrible 1967 rip-off of the James Bond movies.  Our “hero” is a pretty-boy spy with the unlikely name of Bart Fargo.  As one of the riffers comments, there is absolutely no tension or suspense at any point during the movie.  But the riffing is the point, and it’s pretty good.  The disc includes a short, choppily edited interview with Mike Nelson as a bonus, but it doesn’t really add much value.

Rifftrax Live: Mothra

The Movie Snob riffs on the riffers.

Rifftrax Live: Mothra  (C).  I thought this was a mediocre effort by the fellows at Rifftrax.  They started with an okay short in which a little boy learns lessons about personal hygiene from a bizarre nighttime apparition called “Mr. Soapy.”  The main feature was the Japanese monster movie Mothra, about a giant moth who destroys a bunch of Hot Wheels cars and styrofoam buildings after two tiny (like Barbie-doll sized) women get kidnapped from Mothra’s tropical island.  The movie was, of course, quite ridiculous, but I didn’t think the riffing was particularly great.  Part of the problem was that the movie was so incessantly loud it was occasionally hard to hear the jokes.  Also, I thought the riffers used a little more off-color humor than they usually do, and I didn’t think it was very funny.  So it was a bit of a let down, on the whole.

MST3K: Volume XXV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV.

Robot Holocaust (B).  Even though it was an episode from the first season of MST, which was a bit spotty, I enjoyed this one.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I would have thought this movie was funny even without any riffing at all.  It’s an 80s-era sci-fi movie that’s sort of a mash-up of Star Wars and Mad Max, and it is hilariously bad.  The budget must have been nonexistent.  Some highlights are some monstrous “sewer worms” that are obviously nothing more than sock puppets, and the monstrous spider of which we are allowed to see only one leg.  Also fabulous is the female henchman of “the Dark One.”  She’s kind of pretty, but she can’t act to save her life, and she adopted (or actually had) a bizarre accent that sounded like a speech impediment.  Well worth watching.

Kitten with a Whip (B).  This is a pretty entertaining episode.  The movie being riffed is a 1964 flick starring Ann-Margret (Viva Las Vegas) as a troubled juvenile delinquent and John Forsythe (TV’s Dynasty) as the unlucky fellow whose house she decides to hide out in after escaping from juvie.  Ms. Margret overacts terribly, but she is nicely counterbalanced by Forsythe’s remarkably bland performance.  Definitely worth seeing.

Revenge of the Creature (B+).  This sequel to The Creature From the Black Lagoon isn’t all that terrible—it’s just kind of dull.  But the riffing is quite good, and occasionally hilarious.  Watch closely, and you’ll see a very young Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) in an uncredited role.  (Actually, the MST guys point him out, so I guess you don’t have to watch all that closely.)  The disc contains a few extras, including a reasonably interesting documentary short about director Jack Arnold, who directed several other movies of greater note, including It Came From Outer Space, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Operation Double 007  (C+).  That’s right, this 1967 movie is called Operation Double 007 in the credits, but for some reason it’s labeled Operation Kid Brother on the DVD box.  It’s a shameless rip-off of James Bond movies, right down to starring Sean Connery’s younger brother Neal as a spy.  Well, he’s not really a spy; he’s a plastic surgeon and hypnotist who gets recruited into being a spy.  It also features some of the minor players from the Bond movies, including Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (Moonraker).  The riffing is decent, but this episode is the weak link in this collection.  An introduction by Joel Hodgson doesn’t really add anything either.

Rifftrax: Sharknado 2

From The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax: Sharknado 2  (C).  The guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 are at it again.  This past Thursday, they did a live riffing show on Sharknado 2: The Second One, and it will be repeated this coming Thursday.  This time, sharknados (that is, tornadoes stuffed with sharks) are bearing down on New York City, and once again it is up to Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering, Sharknado) to save the day.  And it is up to Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett to make fun of the movie the whole way.  As I recall, their commentary on the original Sharknado was very funny, but something just seemed a little off this time around.  There were moments of hilarity here and there–many of which involved co-star Tara Reid (The Big Lebowski) and her fondness for plastic surgery–but overall, it was a pretty mediocre outing for the Rifftrax trio.  I hate to say it, but I recommend skipping this one and waiting for the next installment of Rifftrax live in October — some sort of rock and roll and kung fu movie called Miami Connection.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV.

Fugitive Alien (B+).  I got several big laughs out of this “movie” that was cobbled together from a Japanese TV series.  The “movie” is about a human-looking alien named Ken(!) who accidentally kills a fellow alien, becomes a fugitive from his own species, and joins a crew of human space travelers for some space-going adventures.  Oh, and because Ken killed her brother, Ken’s former lover is legally obliged to track him down, kill him, and take his head back to their home world.  Good riffing from Joel and the robots make this episode a treat.

Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (C-).  For some reason, this sequel to Fugitive Alien never really takes off.  The “movie” is just as bad as the first one, but the riffing never really gets going.  The really shocking thing is that Sandy Frank, the man responsible for importing these Japanese creations (and others, like Gamera) to America, actually agreed to be interviewed for this disc!  He comes off as a real wheeler-dealer kind of guy, and he has very little to say about his treatment at the hands of MST3K.

The Sword and the Dragon (B).  In this episode the guys riff on a 1956 Russian movie about a medieval peasant hero who rises up to help his prince defeat invading Mongol hordes and their three-headed dragon.  It’s a pretty good episode.  As extras, they’ve bundled onto the disc two MST3K shorts that weren’t originally associated with this episode, “Snow Thrills” and the truly hilarious “A Date With Your Family.”

Samson Versus the Vampire Women  (B).  This Mexican import is truly bizarre.  For about half the movie, it’s a standard, if lame, vampire yarn.  Some lady vampires need to abduct a specific young woman and turn her into their vampire queen, while the woman’s professor father, her fiancé, and the local police ineffectually try to protect her from the sinister but attractive vampiresses.  Halfway through the movie, a masked wrestler (complete with tight pants, cape, and no shirt) named Samson just shows up in the professor’s study and makes it his mission to defeat the vampires.  And nobody seems to think it is odd. The riffing is not bad, but the oddness of the movie alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

MST3K: Volume XXIII

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII.

King Dinosaur (B). This episode starts with a short, and as usual it is even funnier than the feature film being riffed. The short is “X Marks the Spot,” a production of the New Jersey Department of Transportation about a guy whose terrible driving lands him in an afterlife courtroom where he is half-heartedly defended by a sort of guardian angel. The feature, King Dinosaur, is a pretty good episode about four scientists who travel to a “lost continent” kind of planet. The disc also features a long and decently interesting bonus documentary about Robert Lippert, who produced some MST3K fodder such as Last of the Wild Horses.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (D). Wow, this movie is really, really horrible. Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) stars as the evil Fu Manchu, and he is masterminding some incomprehensible scheme to destroy mankind by turning all the oceans into ice, while simultaneously taking over the opium trade from a castle in Istanbul. Seriously, this movie is worse than Manos: Hands of Fate, it makes so little sense. And is so badly shot and edited. Even the guys on the Satellite of Love can’t make it entertaining. Skip it.

Code Name: Diamond Head (B). This is a decent episode in which the guys riff on a 1977 TV pilot about spies in Hawaii. Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) plays the villain, a master of disguise. I didn’t understand why the guys kept calling him “Lovejoy,” but apparently it was a TV role in which McShane played a “loveable rogue and an antiques dealer.” (IMDB.com) The episode kicks off with an amusing short, “A Day at the Fair.”

Last of the Wild Horses (C-). This weaker-than-usual episode riffs a lame Western about a beefy would-be stagecoach robber who gets mixed up in a range war between a wealthy rancher and a bunch of little ranchers. Kind of like the 1% versus the 99%, but with horses.

MST3K: Volume XXII

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII. Another collection of DVDs of one of my favorite TV shows.  The idea is that these clever guys play really bad movies and make funny comments about them throughout.

Time of the Apes  (C+).  This episode is only fair.  Apparently the Japanese went totally ape over Planet of the Apes back in the day, and somebody created a Japanese TV series in which an accident projects a woman and two kids into a future epoch that is, well, the time of the apes.  Then a fellow named Sandy Frank took bits and pieces from the TV series, dubbed them into English, and called the resulting mess a movie.  There are a few funny moments, but it’s not a particularly great episode.

Mighty Jack  (B).  This is another Japanese import cobbled together from a  Japanese TV series.  This one is about an international team of spies devoted to peace and justice, and the evil forces that they must do battle against.  The bad guys have the sinister name “Q,” but the good guys are saddled with the ridiculous name “Mighty Jack.”  The “movie” is amusingly preposterous, and the riffing by Joel and the robots is pretty funny too.

The Violent Years  (A).  This disc is clearly the highlight of the collection.  It’s a twofer.  The disc opens with a longish short called “A Young Man’s Fancy.”  A dorky college guy brings his buddy home for a holiday, and the guy’s boy-crazy little sister Judy sets out to woo him through the magic of electric kitchen appliances.  Very funny.  The feature film was written by the infamous Ed Wood and is yet another 1950s morality play about the direct line between parental neglect and murderous teenaged delinquency—by a gang of girls, in this case!  Also very funny.  The special features on this disc are interviews with Delores Fuller, who was Ed Wood’s girlfriend, and Kathy Wood, Ed’s wife from 1956 until his death in 1978.

The Brute Man  (B).  The disc opens with a short called “The Chicken of Tomorrow,” which is very amusing like most MSK3K shorts.  The feature film is a horror movie about a disfigured and possibly insane criminal who goes around murdering people.  Oddly, he is constantly referred to in the movie as “The Creeper,” and never as “The Brute Man” that I can recall.  There is a long bonus feature about the actor who played The Creeper, Rondo Hattan, and it is actually a sad story about how he developed the disfiguring disease of acromegaly after serving in the military during World War I.  Another extra is an introduction by cast member Mary Jo Pehl who expresses some regret that they did this movie.

MST3K: Volume XXI

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXI.  This is collection of five episodes rather than the usual four, and it has a clear theme: every episode is a terrible Japanese monster movie starring the giant, fire-breathing turtle named Gamera.  And every episode features guys in rubber monster suits, duking it out over models of Tokyo or wherever.

Gamera  (B-).  Our story begins with Gamera, which introduces our protagonist as a prehistoric leftover who emerges from the Arctic ice after being awakened by some Cold War foolishness.  Unfortunately, Japan pays the price for the superpowers’ misdeeds, as Gamera goes on a traditional rampage of destruction.  (Yet, for some reason he saves the life of a chubby, annoying, turtle-loving little kid named Kenny.)  It’s a pretty decent episode.

Gamera v. Barugon (B) marks Gamera’s switch from villain to hero.  Criminal treasure hunters bring a mysterious egg back to Japan from a tropical island, and when it hatches a giant, frost-spewing lizard, only Gamera can save the day.  I think this is the only Gamera movie that didn’t prominently feature an annoying child telling the military how to handle the crisis.

Gamera v. Gaos (B-) pits Gamera against a humanoid pterodactyl sort of beast that can shoot lasers out of its mouth.  The child-hero is called Itchy, and he’s even more annoying than Kenny was in the first Gamera movie.

Gamera v. Guiron (A-) is the masterpiece of the Gamera series.  The dubbing into English is particularly bad, and the monster is a hilarious-looking beast with a big knife blade coming out of his head.  The two villains are a pair of Japanese women whose dubbed voices are hilariously broad and Midwestern sounding.

Gamera v. Zigra (B+) is almost as good as Guiron, with a fish-alien named Zigra who comes to menace Earth because we humans are polluting it so badly.  Even better, Zigra has a minion, an attractive Japanese woman who accompanies him to Earth and quickly swaps her spacesuit for a bikini in an attempt to fit in with the natives.  As always, it’s up to Gamera to save the day.

MST3K: Volume XX

A new review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX.  This boxed set of episodes came out in March 2011 and features four episodes from the Joel Hodgson years of the show.  It’s a decent collection but doesn’t have any episodes that stand out as particularly awesome.

Project Moonbase (C+).  The episode from MST‘s first season kicks off with two more episodes from the terrible TV series Commando Cody & The Radar Men From the Moon.  Maybe they’re just wearing me down, but I thought these episodes were fairly entertaining.  The main event is a terrible 1953 sci-fi movie about an American space mission to orbit the moon and a foreign spy/saboteur who manages to con his way on board.  There are a couple of astonishing things about this movie.  First, sci-fi legend Robert Heinlein (author, Starship Troopers) has a writing credit (although I understand that he dissociated himself from the project long before it was finished).  Second, the good old-fashioned sexism of the day is truly mind-boggling, as the mission is placed under the command of a woman (Colonel Briteis, pronounced “Bright Eyes) who leans on her male second-in-command to do pretty much everything of consequence during the mission.  The pre-launch scene in which a general threatens to give her a spanking is particularly priceless.

Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II  (B-).  These two episodes are cobbled together from a short-lived 1984 TV show called The Master, which starred Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) as an aging master ninja who roams about America looking for the daughter he apparently never knew he had.  He teams up with the often-incomprehensible Timothy Van Patten (TV’s The White Shadow), who’s the half-brother of the beloved Dick Van Patten (TV’s Eight is Enough).  I’m not clear on whether the TV eps were ever actually released as movies too, but here the MST gang simply stuck two episodes together for each “movie” they rip apart.  Demi Moore (Ghost) and Crystal Bernard (TV’s Wings) are among the guest stars who were unlucky enough to have to pretend to fall for the unappealing Van Patten.  Decently entertaining episodes.

The Magic Voyage of Sinbad  (B).  Schlockmeister Roger Corman (producer, Dinocroc) bought the rights to this 1953 Soviet movie and dubbed it into English for the least Arabian Sinbad the world has ever seen.  This is the most entertaining episode of the four, with lots of good riffing on our square-jawed hero’s outlandish quests to bring riches to the poor people of Copasand, to find the fabled Bluebird of Happiness, and finally to escape from the undersea kingdom of the henpecked King Neptune.  According to an interview with MST cast member Trace Beaulieu, this is one of the most popular MST episodes ever, and it really is pretty good.

MST3K: Volume XIX

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX.  They have been releasing new volumes of the MST3K collection faster than I can keep up with them lately.  This is a pretty good collection.

Robot Monster  (C-).  This first-season offering is clearly the weak link in this set.  It starts with two weak episodes from an old TV show called “Commando Cody: Radar Men From the Moon.”  The main event is a little better, a post-apocalyptic movie in which a tiny handful of human survivors are menaced by the alien being responsible for the catastrophe.  Apparently the earth was conquered by a single guy wearing a diver’s helmet and a super-padded gorilla suit.  The gang hadn’t yet hit its stride on its riffing technique, but the movie was sufficiently bizarre as to sort of make up for it, plus the heroine was pretty cute.  There’s also an entertaining bonus feature, an interview about Robot Monster with a film director named Larry Blamire.

Bride of the Monster (B).  This disc starts with an entertaining short called “Hired”, brought to you by Chevrolet.  Apparently selling cars door to door was pretty hard back in the old days!  The feature film was directed by the notorious Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space) and starred a fading Bela Lugosi (Dracula) as a mad scientist trying to create a race of atomic supermen.  It’s a pretty funny episode, and there’s an entertaining bonus feature about Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi, and the making of this awful film.

Devil Doll (B).  This is a better-than-average episode about a creepy ventriloquist and his spooky dummy Hugo.  And as a bonus there’s an interview with the now very elderly producer of the movie.  I guess he took it in stride that the MST3K crew ridiculed his movie mercilessly.  He’s very mellow throughout the interview, and he insists it was a financially successful movie despite (or perhaps because of) its small budget.

Devil Fish (B).  Another good episode, this one is a 1980’s era Italian production in which a bunch of random Europeans are supposed to be Floridians facing off against a prehistoric half-shark/half-octopus creature that is terrorizing the coast.  The Satellite of Love crew has a good time riffing on the horrible editing, heavily synthesized soundtrack, and of course the lovably European actors and actresses.

MST3K: Volume XVIII

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII.  Another collection of four episodes of the beloved TV series.

Lost Continent  (B-).  This episode from season 2 is famous for its extended — and I mean REALLY extended — sequence of rock climbing by a band of intrepid explorers led by Cesar Romero.  I had heard about it before, but never seen it, so I was glad to fill the gap in my MST3K knowledge.  On the whole, this is a decent but not great episode.  In the movie, Cesar Romero and some other guys including the guy who played Ward Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver” go looking for a crashed military rocket, and they discover a prehistoric jungle where toy dinosaurs still roam the earth.  Some decent riffing, but the skits are all totally skippable.

Crash of the Moons (B).  Solid episode featuring a “movie” cobbled together from three episodes of 1950s TV series called “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.”  Two inhabited planets are going to crash into each other, and stoic space ranger Rocky Jones must persuade stubborn Queen Cleolandra that it would be better to evacuate her people than to let them die in the collision.  John Banner, who played Sergeant Schultz on “Hogan’s Heroes,” appears as the king of the other doomed world.  As a bonus, the show starts with a short clip from a very old “General Hospital” episode.  Good stuff.

The Beast of Yucca Flats (D).  The featured movie actually deserves an F.  It is such a terrible movie that even Mike and the robots can’t do much with it.  Tor Johnson stars as a Russian scientist accidentally turned into a homicidal beast by an atomic test explosion.  The director is so inept that he apparently couldn’t make a synchronized soundtrack, so all the dialogue is spoken by characters who are off-screen or turned away from the camera.  Some entertainment value is provided by the preceding shorts “Money Talks!” and “Progress Island, U.S.A.”

Jack Frost  (C).  I remembered this episode as being hilarious, so plainly on re-viewing I found it a disappointment.  It’s a Russo-Finnish movie about a lovely peasant girl with a wicked stepmother, a young man who gets turned into a bear by a mushroom elf, a wicked witch, and of course Jack Frost himself, a Santa Claus-like fellow whose magic sceptre freezes (and kills) anything it touches.  It’s a bizarre movie and a decent episode, but no better than average.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XVII

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII

The Crawling Eye. (B-) This box set starts with the very first scripted episode of MST3K ever. Despite being from the first season (obviously), this is decent episode. Mountain climbers are mysteriously dying and disappearing near a little Swiss village, and a mysterious radioactive cloud may be concealing the cause. A girl named Ann Pilgrim, who’s kind of cute except for seeming to have too many teeth (Crow remarks that she could eat corn on the cob through a picket fence), seems to have a weird psychic link to the aliens behind this strange phenomenon. As a bonus feature, this disc contains a short interview with Joel Hodgson about the making of The Crawling Eye.

The Beatniks. (B+) According to the original trailer, this 1960 release promised to explore the mysterious wave of rebellion and mutiny sweeping across America’s youth. In fact, there is hardly a beatnik in sight; just a gang of punks who apparently rob the same convenience store over and over. One of them improbably gets “discovered” for his singing talent, but his shot at stardom is threatened by the sociopathic tendencies of one of the other gang members. Entertaining episode, with an equally funny short clip from an old General Hospital to kick things off.

The Final Sacrifice. (A) This is a true MST3K classic. A scrawny little teenager named Troy is going through his deceased father’s old stuff when he is suddenly attacked by a horde of doughy, black-masked assassins. He escapes with a rather vague map drawn by his father, and he falls in with a drunken drifter with the totally awesome name of Zap Rowsdower. Seems there’s a murderous cult out there that really wants to get its hands on Troy’s dad’s old map. The film is Canadian, which gives Mike, Crow, and Servo all the more fodder for their riffing. This one is not to be missed.

Blood Waters of Dr. Z. (B). In this terrible monster movie, a former Nazi scientist (now transplanted to Florida) comes up with a chemical formula that turns him into a monster that looks more or less like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He plans to use other diabolical chemicals to turn fish into an aquatic army, although that part of the plan never really seems to go anywhere. At the same time, he plans to turn his formula to turn a human woman into a suitably scaly mate for himself. Meanwhile, a redneck sheriff and some hapless young scientist-type people try to figure out who or what is behind the terrible killing spree. Pretty amusing episode.

MST3K: Volume XVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob

MST3K Volume XVI. Another collection of four episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Corpse Vanishes. (D) This episode was from MST3K’s first year on regular cable TV, and sadly it is just not very good. Kevin Murphy had not yet taken over as the voice of Tom Servo, so that was a big strike against it right there. The movie is a lame horror movie starring Bela Lugosi (Plan 9 From Outer Space) as a mad scientist who kidnaps young brides and uses their blood to keep his frightful hag of a wife alive. There’s also a short, an episode from an old-timey space opera called “Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon.” Lame episode, best forgotten.

Warrior of the Lost World. (B) This is a much more solid effort from a few years later. The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a bearded nonentity rides around on an annoying talking motorcycle and begrudgingly helps some rebels against a fascist dictatorship led by the always-reliable Donald Pleasence (Pumaman). I was astonished to see Persis Khambatta in the credits—she played the totally bald navigator in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I thought she had virtually no other film roles after that. Then I started thinking maybe this was a renamed version of a terrible movie I saw back in the 80’s called Megaforce, which she was in, but no, apparently that was a different terrible movie. Anyway, this was a pretty entertaining exercise for the guys on the Satellite of Love. As a special bonus, we get a short interview with the director of Warrior, and to his credit he doesn’t really try to defend his movie.

Santa Claus. (B-). Not a bad episode. This is a Mexican Christmas tale depicting Santa as a snoopy old guy who lives in a castle on a cloud with a doddering old Merlin and lots of children from all over the world. A junior devil named Pitch is sent to Earth on Christmas Eve night to tempt children to behave badly and try to impede St. Nick’s progress with diabolical pranks. Amid all the goofiness is a surprisingly touching story about a poor little girl named Lupita who just wants a dolly for Christmas. (Even Tom Servo has to concede that she is “aggressively cute.”)

Night of the Blood Beast (B-). Another decent but not spectacular episode. In this old black-and-white sci-fi movie, a rocket pilot returns to Earth–dead. And a hideous alien has somehow stowed away on his ship. The other five people who work at NASA try to figure out what is going on when the dead guy comes back to life and is revealed to have alien babies incubating inside of him. Some decently funny riffs from Mike and the robots.

The Oozing Skull

DVD review from The Movie Snob

The Oozing Skull, brought to you by Cinematic Titanic (D+). This was apparently the first DVD release by Cinematic Titanic, which is a gang of some of the creators of Mystery Science Theater: 3000. It works just like MST3K; they play the movie and riff on how bad it is. You can see their silhouettes as they do it. The Oozing Skull is truly a terrible movie, about a mad scientist who is hired to perform a brain transplant to save a dying president from somewhere in the Middle East or Asia. But the riffing is just not all that entertaining. I think the MST3K guys may just have been a little rusty, because when I saw them live here in Dallas a while back, they were just hilarious. Give this one a pass.