The end of March has brought 2012’s first install­ment of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in box set form.  Those who love the show in both its Joel and Mike eras will be hap­py to note that MST3K Vol. XXIII is anoth­er box that divides its time even­ly between the two, offer­ing two episodes from each era for the fans.  The results show how the group deals with a vari­ety of chal­leng­ing cin­e­mat­ic detri­tus, rang­ing from good-bad to bad-bad.

King Dinosaur is the first of two Joel-era episodes on this set and it fea­tures the crew bat­tling a par­tic­u­lar­ly insipid 1950’s sci-fi pro­duc­tion from Robert Lippert.  It’s the kind of sci-fi that asks you to accept a park as anoth­er planet’s land­scape and footage of lizards as “dinosaurs.”  It doesn’t give the play­ers the kind of mate­ri­al a quirkier bad film would offer so the results are mid­dling but they riff away mer­ri­ly, pok­ing fun at Lippert and the film’s exces­sive padding.  There’s also a fun extend­ed gag involv­ing the song “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”  That said, the twist­ed achieve­ment here is how they get a shock­ing amount of mileage out of a small ani­mal who serves as the team’s mas­cot, lead­ing to a fun­ny host seg­ment where an awful kid­die song called “Joey The Lemur” goes wrong.  Remember that bit because it will be revis­it­ed lat­er in this set.

The oth­er Joel-era episode is The Castle Of Fu Manchu, which is built around one of Harry Alan Towers’ cheap-o pot­boil­ers with Christopher Lee act­ing as the tit­u­lar vil­lain.  Jess Franco does the direct­ing hon­ors and the results are cheap and oft-inco­her­ent.  The crew has a tough time at first get­ting a hold on it, some­thing they acknowl­edge in host seg­ments where they try to per­form skits but end up break­ing down in tears because they feel so demor­al­ized.  However, plen­ty of fun recur­ring gags devel­op as the film crawls along: Tom Servo announc­ing dif­fer­ent mid­west­ern cities over the many estab­lish­ing shots of dif­fer­ent land­scapes, a string of ref­er­ences to how one char­ac­ter resem­bles Burt Young, fez-hat­ted vil­lains inspir­ing a series of Shriner gags and riffs built around the fact that Fu Manchu’s daugh­ter resem­bles both Suzie Wong and Marlo Thomas in That Girl.  Viewers should also lis­ten out for inspired one-off jokes that ref­er­ence Blue Velvet, The Hunger and Where’s Waldo.

Last Of The Wild Horses is the first of two Mike-era episodes in this set.  It’s prob­a­bly the least of the episodes in the set, not because of the crew’s input but because the film, a west­ern with a dia­logue-dri­ven horse rustling plot, is as dull as it is bad.  Thus, there isn’t much for the crew to riff on but they deliv­er some inspired quips dur­ing the final half, includ­ing a fun­ny recur­ring gag about El Cid and a bit where they mis­hear a name as “Johnny Pooper” and do a sopho­moric but very fun­ny bar­rage of riffs on that name.  Better yet, there is a real­ly inspired fram­ing device for this episode where Tom Servo and Gypsy are acci­den­tal­ly trans­port­ed into an alter­nate uni­verse and try to get out: in said alter­nate uni­verse, Mike and Crow are evil and Dr. Forrester and Frank do the movie-watch­ing and between clip gags, includ­ing singing “Joey The Lemur” from the King Dinosaur episode(!).

Code Name: Diamond Head is the oth­er Mike-era episode in this set and it’s an inspired per­for­mance all around.  It starts off with an edu­ca­tion­al short, “A Day At The Fair,” and its whole­some-as-apple-pie por­trait of rural Americana allows Mike and the bots to unleash an array of twist­ed gags (a shot of a fam­i­ly sedan prompts the shout “Hitler’s death car!”).  The main attrac­tion is one of Quinn Martin’s less-inspired pro­duc­tions, a sort of spy-show ver­sion of Hawaii Five-O with Roy Thinnes and Ian MacShane.  The Satellite crew takes delight in pok­ing fun at the show’s lack of action, the incom­pre­hen­si­ble spy jar­gon, the over-emphat­ic musi­cal score and the fact that MacShane had been in Lovejoy.  A fun recur­ring gag in the between-film seg­ments has Tom and Crow being shown what it would be like if they didn’t live with some­one as nice as Mike (the best shows them liv­ing with the mar­ble-mouthed singer from Crash Test Dummies).  The riffs fly fast and furi­ous in this episode, mak­ing it a keep­er.

In short, MST3k Vol. XXIII shows the Satellite Of Love crew work­ing with a diverse array of cinematic/televised rejects and respond­ing in a con­sis­tent satir­i­cal mat­ter.  Each episode has at least a few killer riffs and some of them work up an impres­sive head of steam.  In any event, the MST3K fan base will be hap­py with what is on offer here.

(Note: this set also has sev­er­al spe­cial fea­tures that will be cov­ered in the DVD review for this set — that will be post­ed on March 29th.)

MST3K: Vol. XXIII

MST3K: Vol. XXIII

MST3K: Vol. XXIII      ***All orders of MST3K: Volume XXIIIcome with a free MST stress ballavail­able nowhere else!Order your copy today­to guar­an­tee deliv­ery of yours!***Much like the coun­try that spawned it, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a melt­ing pot. In every imag­in­able gen­re, Joel, Mike and their robot pals Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot have seen the promise of cin­e­ma muti­lat­ed by medi­oc­rity. Nowhere is this high­fa­lutin con­cept more hilar­i­ous­ly exem­pli­fied than in this 23rd col­lec­tion of episodes from the beloved cult com­e­dy tele­vi­sion series. You want a Western? It’s here. Space adven­ture? Look no fur­ther. We’ll even throw in a failed TV pilot and a bare­ly coher­ent sci­ence fic­tion-hor­ror-thriller. All gen­res are treat­ed with equal dis­re­spect by the luck­less crew of the Satellite of Love. They pledge alle­giance only to fun­ny, with jus­tice — SoL style — for all.Titles Include:King DinosaurThe Castle Of Fu ManchuCode Name: Diamond HeadLast Of The Wild HorsesBonus Features:New Introduction By Frank ConniffThe Incredible Mr. LippertVintage MST3K Promos Life After MST3K: Kevin MurphyCode Name: Quinn MartinDarkstar: Robots Don’t Need SAG Cards4 Exclusive Mini-Posters By Artist Steve Vance