The people at Shout! Factory have really settled into a nice groove with their box sets of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The episodes always look good, the sets are smartly packaged and the producers provide new bonus material that makes the discs worthwhile even if you know the episodes’ quips by heart. MST3K Vol. XXIV is latest set in this line of reissues and it maintains the standard of quality that Shout! Factory has built up with their presentations of MST3K.
To begin with, the transfers look and sound great: there is only so much you can with ’90s era, pre-digital video material but all the episodes here are free of any video or audio blemishes. Each episode gets its own disc, with all of them sporting original artwork featuring Crow and Tom Servo for the covers of each individual case. Small printed reproductions of these covers are also included in the main slipcase as an added bonus. As always, the discs feature original animated menus in which Crow and Tom Servo act out scenarios using audio snippets from each episode: these bits are consistently hilarious.
That said, the real draw here is the extras – and each disc in MST3K Vol. XXIV has something to offer the show’s fans. The disc for The Sword And The Dragon adds a couple of educational film segments from the MST3K archives, “Snow Thrills” and “A Date With Your Family.” As is often the case when the Satellite of Love crew riffs on educational films, the riffing gets very darkly humorous and subversive. Brace yourself for references to everything from murder to alcoholism to Nazis. These bits represent the humor of the show at its edgiest.
Samson Vs. The Vampire Women sports two original featurettes. The first is a new entry in the ongoing “Life After MST3K” series focusing on T.V.’s Frank, Frank Conniff. He discusses the reasons behind his exit from the show, his extensive career as a t.v. writer (which includes Sabrina The Teenage Witch and The Drew Carey Show) and a recent return to MST3K-styled projects. He’s a good natured subject and offers some interesting insight into what life is like for a t.v. writer.
The other featurette is “Lucha Gringo,” a briskly-edited piece from Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. In just under 12 minutes it manages to cover the history of Santo films and how K. Gordon Murray got involved in the American release of Samson Vs. The Vampire Women. It skillfully blends film clips and stills with commentary from cult movie experts as well as a few comments on the strange allure of Santo movies from MST3K regular Kevin Murphy. The Samson disc also throws in a vintage t.v. spot for the film that offers a nice reminder of how exploitation merchants once sold these items.
Fugitive Alien offers two bonus items. First is a set of MST Hour wraps for that repackaging of this episode, offering the usual fun of Nelson acting as a doddering, AMC Channel-style host. The other item is a fun video introduction by Japanese pop culture historian August Ragone that offers the history of Fugitive Alien‘s parent t.v. show, Star Wolf, in around six minutes. He discusses how basically the show was designed to cash in on Star Wars, making it the Japanese equivalent of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century or Battlestar Galactica. Ragone has an excellent command of his material and delivers it with light, self-deprecating humor (listen closely for a hilarious final admission at the end).
Star Force: Fugitive Alien II offers the best disc of the set in a featurette entitled “Sandy Frank Speaks.” Frank is a t.v. distributor who earned infamy amongst the MSTies via the several brain-melting movies he released to t.v., thus unwittingly providing a stream of perfect fodder for this show. Frank speaks freely about his career here, dishing up a rags-to-riches tale of a guy who wanted into the film business and ended up becoming a pioneer of independent television distribution instead. His career includes everything from Name That Tune to Battle Of The Planets and he discusses it all in a charming, old-showbiz manner that will educate the viewer about how t.v. distribution worked in the pre-cable era. Fans of the show will also be amused to note how he quickly and uncomfortably breezes past the question when he is asked his opinion on MST3K! The end result is a historical moment for MST3K fans and it benefits from the snappy editing and deft manipulation of clips and graphics by editor/producer Daniel Griffith.
In short, the MST3K fans need to make some space on their home video shelves because MST3K Vol. XXIV is another strong addition for their collections. The good episode selections and the worthwhile extras ensure they will find it worthwhile.