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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