Shout! Factory has released a 24th volume of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes as a 4 DVD set. In case you've been on another planet yourself since 1988 when the show premiered, the bizarre premise finds a man and his two robot friends/sidekicks who are trapped by a larger than life villain and forced to watch an endless array of bad movies. The episodes are bookended by silly comedy sequences involving these characters, among others. These original comedy bits don't appeal to me, but there is no doubt they appeal to the show's hardcore fans. For this viewer, the real treat in any MST3000 episode is to cut to the chase and watch the bad movies along with the hostages. The episodes are cleverly filmed in that the viewer has the vantage point of someone who is sitting behind the trio in a theater. You see their silhouettes in the row in front of you. From minute one, the three trade sarcastic wise cracks about various aspects of the feature film. It isn't enough for a movie to be bad to merit inclusion in an episode...it has to be spectacularly bad, and the producers do a great job of tracking down largely forgotten clunkers and giving them new life (though not as their makers would have intended.)
In this boxed set, the "highlights" include Fugitive Alien and Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (yes, it merited a sequel.) These are bottom of the basement Japanese sci fi productions that were dubbed into English and imported to the USA by producer Sandy Frank. The films are patently awful by any standard and this gives the trio of "critics" plenty of ammunition to provide very amusing commentaries. Also on the bill is Samson Vs. the Vampire Women, an unintentionally hilarious Mexican horror film that combines the titular hero, a real-life masked wrestling sensation known south 'o the border as Santo, with a plot line that involves a bevy of gorgeous bloodsucking femme fatales. The best of the lot, however, is The Sword and the Dragon, a Soviet era historical "epic" that Roger Corman turned into an English-dubbed sword and sandals action flick. In doing so, Corman must surely rate alongside Ronald Reagan as one of the key figures to have brought down the Soviet empire. Comedy is funny thing...People will laugh hysterically when watching a movie with a group, but you're lucky to get a slight giggle if someone watches the same film at home, alone. In the case of The Sword and the Dragon, which features the worst dubbing of any movie in history, I actually found myself laughing out loud despite the lack of fellow bad movie lovers around me.
The set contains many extras including an excellent interview with producer Sandy Frank, who once feuded with and sued the series for running his bad old movies. They must have come to terms because Frank is fully cooperative. Surprisingly, there was much more to his career than importing a few B movies from Japan. He was major influence in the Golden Age of TV and produced some of the top game shows of all time. He's not lacking in ego, but he comes across as the kind of guy you'd love to have a drink with just to hear these tales of a bygone era of show business. There is also a recent interview with show cast member Frank Conniff and an excellent documentary about the history of the Mexican wrestling craze and how it was transferred to the silver screen. All that plus some cool commemorative poster art pieces for each film,