It has been a pretty good year for MST3K fans, what with Shout! Factory rolling out a series of DVD reissues of classic episodes (especially the great MST3K Vs. Gamera box). They’ve closed out their year of MST3K activity with Volume 22 of the series, a fun release that covers a nice range of bad-film subjects as it delivers riff after riff on its brain-melting targets.
There are two Joel-era episodes in this set, both of them revolving around re-edited and dubbed Japanese releases from the dreaded Sandy Frank. The first is Mighty Jack, a feature edited from a Japanese television show of the same name that mixed James Bond-style “cloak and dagger” thrills with lots of gratuitous miniatures. The plot is rendered incoherent by the re-editing so it’s basically up to Joel and the bots to freestyle like crazy. Thankfully, they are up to the task and reference everything from William Faulkner to Bootsy’s Rubber Band, even managing a nifty riff about Ice Station Zebra that incorporates references to Howard Hughes. There is also a great between-segments skit where Joel pitches undersea adventure movie ideas and goes so crazy he scares the bots.
The second Joel-era episode features Time Of The Apes and it’s one of the all-time favorites in MST3K history. The subject matter is another headspinning Japanese t.v. show-edited-into-a-film monstrosity that rips off the Planet Of The Apes series, with a little Land Of The Lost thrown in for extra psychotronic brain-shock. The end result is a perfect storm of a selection for the Satellite gang: daft and incoherent from the re-editing yet also fast-paced and full of goofball spectacle. Joel and the bots rise to the occasion, chucking out every simian-themed riff and pun they can think up and also weaving in an array of fun pop-culture references (one of the best is a monkey-themed rendition of “Stayin’ Alive” to accompany one character’s strut). The between-segment bits are consistently great here, especially an educational film-themed bit entitled “Why Doesn’t Johnny Care” and a hilarious condensed version of Inherit The Wind.
The Brute Man is a Mike-era episode from 1995 and a bit of a mixed bag. Things start off with a short entitled “Chicken Of Tomorrow”: it doesn’t offer a lot of gag opportunities but the crew wrings it for laughs, poking fun at the dark side of chicken farms for the chickens (imprisonment, quick death, etc.). There’s also a funny Dirty Harry reference if you pay close attention. As for The Brute Man itself, it’s a grotty little horror programmer that exploits the disfigurement of its star Rondo Hatton. The group carefully avoids poking too much fun at his affliction and humor is mostly mined from the film’s incredible amount of padding (especially the “creeping” scenes) and the goofball behavior of its “heroic” cops. Left-field references here include Ric Astley and Chained Heat.
The Violent Years is much better. Another Mike-era episode, this one also incorporates a short film. This time the short is “Young Man’s Fancy” and it captures the Satellite crew at their subversive best: they have a blast imposing randy sex-themed humor onto a hopelessly square little film that uses a sitcom plot as an excuse to sell the wonders of “modern technology.” The main attraction is just as entertaining, offering an Ed Wood-penned film that blends the juvenile delinquent expose with a sappy, stiffly acted attempt at message drama. The crew has much fun with the tame “racy” moments of the film, especially a scene where the juvenile girl gang, uh, takes advantage of a male robbery victim. The framing bits are particularly loopy, especially a surreal bit with Tom Servo in drag as a singer having a panic attack(!).
In short, fans makes out nicely on this collection of MST3K episodes and get to enjoy a few different eras of bad-film history in the bargain. Along the way, the Satellite gang shows off the durability of their approach to bad-film riffing – and it’s enough to make one wish today’s cult-movie wiseacres had this depth of pop culture knowledge and sharpness of wit.