A satirist is only as good as the material they are satirizing. The object of humorous scorn has to inspire obsession, an intense need to ridicule and a bizarre sense of affection in the satirist – all at the same time. If the satirist can find this kind of target, they can truly make magic. This truism can be observed in the voluminous back catalog of Mystery Science Theater 3000: they skewered dozens upon dozens of movies over the years with skill and efficency but only a handful of mindbending cinematic oddities inspired them to heights of platinum-class lunacy.
Ask any MSTie to create a list of such films and it’s inevitable that the majority of the lists will include at least one Gamera film. This kiddie-oriented series of Japanese giant monster films (kaiju eiga to the faithful fans) represents their subgenre at its most maniacal extreme and the MST3K crew took to these films like wisecracking ducks to water. Five key Gamera-oriented MST3K episodes have been recently collected in the appropriately titled MST3K Vs. Gamera box set – and these episodes represent some of the finest work ever done by these quip-spewing bad cinema archaeologists.
Part of the reason for the success of these episodes was that the people behind the show had already road-tested their chops on these films during their embryonic pre-Comedy Central stint at cable channel KTMA in Minnesota. Once they had the opportunity to study the films and weave their satirical riffs into actual scripts, they were able to establish a distinctive and well-crafted take on the demented yet kid-friendly charms of the Gamera series.
Gamera was fittingly the first of five episodes built around the Gamera series in Mystery Science Theater 3000. The gang has a blast sending up the annoying the nature of Kenny, the film’s kiddie hero, even including a segment where Crow and Tom Servo list their grievances toward the young hero after getting caught torturing a Kenny voodoo doll. There’s also a hysterical bit where Tom Servo, who has an odd affection for turtles, sings a mawkish ballad to the pet turtle in the film only to have it hijacked by Crow.
Gamera Vs. Barugon came next. This was the attempt at a more serious, adult-oriented Gamera film and the crew has fun satirizing this odd approach. The lack of a “Gamera and kid” storyline takes away some of the group’s best satirical targets but they were sharp enough by this time to get great material out of simple scenes – a seconds-long scene of four women playing kotos is enough to inspire 3 funny quips. There are also witty riffs on Barugon’s transformation scene and his dog-like appearance. The between-film bits are particularly good here, with a funny “toy soldiers” commercial parody tailored to the Gamera films and an unexpected but hilarious send-up of T.G.I. Friday’s-style chain restaurants and their desserts.
By the time the show made its way to Gamera show #3, Gamera Vs. Gaos, all the stock elements of the series are firmly in place: kids driving the storyline, the idea of Gamera being a friend to all children and adult characters serving as straight men to the child-centric plots. It offers a sturdy source of material for Joel and the bots to quip about, with the most inspirational targets being the chubbiness of the young hero, the bizarre method the scientists use in an attempt to dispatch Gaos and two minutes’ worth of “highlight clip” padding at the end of the film. The best of the between-scene skits is a bit where Joel tries to do an “arts and crafts” segment, only to have it disrupted by kid-unfriendly suggestions from Crow and Tom Servo.
Gamera Vs. Guiron is considered by some to be the best of MST3K’s Gamera shows and it’s easy to see why. The riffs are consistently amusing from start to finish, especially the multiple sets of improvised lyrics the gang creates for a piece of sing-song musical score used in scenes with the kid heroes. The gang also gets a lot of mileage out of comparing its Anglo kid actor to Richard Burton, opening the door for a ton of witty Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? references, and the awful dubbing, especially the flat yet twangy voice used for one of the aliens. There are also several great riffs on the Gamera theme song, which is done in an English version, a gibberish Japanese version and a showtune version by “Michael Feinstein” (a killer Mike Nelson cameo).
The final entry in this set is Gamera Vs. Zigra and it offers plenty of choice material. Favorite comedic targets here include one young moppet’s obsession with drinking Cokes and a head-scratcher of a padding scene that involves a Sea World employee and a hotel owner fighting over who gets to buy a supply of fish. The non-film sketches are pretty choice here, including a segment where the crew shares their Gamera-inspired dioramas with the audience and especially the bit where they meet the grown-up versions of the film’s kiddie heroes.
In short, MST3K Vs. Gamera is a treasure trove for fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Joel and the bots bring their a-game on each of these episodes and ther results are downright brilliant in places. It’s a must for anyone who enjoys this show, not to mention anyone who grooves on the accidental surrealism of kaiju eiga.