Over ten seasons MST3K pumped out nearly two hundred episodes and a movie. That’s a lotta TV. While recognized for it’s uniquely ingenious brand of humor it should be noted that the show pushed out high quality puppet humor for a decade.
Shout! Factory honors that work ethic with a regular production of DVD sets and the 33rd edition meets the grade. The release features another quartet of previously unreleased episodes as well as gaggle of special features. Each disc has its own case with new art from Steve Vance (as well as mini posters) and animated DVD menus (featuring mini puppets). There are trailers and MST3K Hour Wraps thrown in as well.
Volume XXXIII follows the trend of previous sets in trying to include a range of episodes from the show’s lengthy run. The selection is pretty good, with a couple of early-ish efforts complimented with two Mike-era ‘sodes. Of the four only one is average or below, so if you’re looking to grab one of these (admittedly pricey) sets this one has a high overall quality.
Daddy-O (and short “Alphabet Antics”)
(1958 – Director: Lou Place)
The first disc houses the gestalt of a quality MST3K episode. A silly movie, clever riffs, decent-to-good host segments and a short film for added bonus.
Similarly, Daddy-O is a film that lands right into the show’s forte –a poorly produced movies of the 1950’s. A huge bulk of their source material came from that wonderful decade of film, and it’s as much as part of the fiber as the sci-fi slant.
Our hero, Phil (Dick Contino), is a truck drivin’ barroom singer that gets tied up with some criminal type in a scheme to avenge his friend’s fiery death. This movie purportedly rubs up against the phenomenon of beatnik culture but quickly devolves into some sort of crime drama; something close to the infamous EC Comics of the same era. The movie boasts some amusingly horrid writing, scenes and lines that Joel and the Bots scrutinize fervently. They mock Phil’s odd-fitting clothes, the crime boss’s uncanny rotundity (and resemblance to Orson Welles) and the female lead’s (apparently Contino’s then-girlfriend) willingness to share fruit. This is just a strange flick, not wholly terrible, but full of cringes. Oh yeah, and the legendary John Williams composed his first ever score for this one.
The short that plays before Daddy-O has some great lines. “Alphabet Antics” is apparently stock footage smashed together as an education film. There is no theme to the thing, it just relates a letter to a seemingly random object or concept. It’s pure madness! The host segments are incredibly focused, with a heavy concentration on deconstructing the banality of the main event.
The special feature “Beatnik Blues: Investigating Daddy-O!” follows the episode’s theme of quality: not top tier but absolutely up to snuff. Despite its title the bonus material doesn’t get too deep into the movie itself; rather it’s more of an overlay of the studio business of the 1950’s.
Best line from the short:
P is for plagiarism by Ogden Nash.
Best line from Daddy-O:
Cop: “We could have made it a lot worse on you Phil, I’d say you’re pretty lucky”
Look at this shirt! You call this lucky?!
Best line on the hodgepodge nature of the editing:
The cutaway caught fire!
Earth vs. The Spider
1958 – Director: Bert I. Gordon
The first episode in the set is from Season 3 and so is this one, and it follows the same pattern of content and quality set by “Daddy-O.”
Another movie from 1958 Earth vs. The Spider, alternatively known as just The Spider is one of those Bert. I Gordon flicks that has provided numerous hours of material for the jokesters of MST3K. This one boasts one of Gordon’s favorite gimmicks, the giant-sized creature antagonist, and on the real the special effects aren’t terrible. That doesn’t help overcome the incredibly boring, vanilla, cheesy plot which includes a 30 year old man in the role of a highschooler.
“Speech -Using Your Voice” is the short that runs before the bland giant arachnid jaunt. It’s a hokey self-improvement film and is stewarded by a Professor E.C. Buehler, a man who had no idea that decades later he would receive copious amounts of mockery doled out by former prop comedian and some puppets.
Along with the rest of the episodes the host segments are much like “Daddy-O,” film-focused, but this time there is a layer of surrealism which defines the MST3K brand. The in-movie jokes are good, or good enough, there are true lolz moments, but for the most part the film lacks a great highlight or stretch to riff. The kinda-protagonist of Earth vs. The Spider is a high school science teacher who twice helps save a couple of teenagers from the clutches of the titular spider. A ridiculous amount of the movie takes place inside a strangely lit cavernous lair and it’s doesn’t absolutely kill the zingers but it also doesn’t offer up a lot of fodder either. This is, at most, the second best giant spider movie the show ever did.
“This Movie Has Legs: Looking Back at Earth Vs. The Spider” digs into the history of the flick and the specifics of Bert I. Gordon vision. Various film historians relate some interesting tidbits on what was once thought to be a major studio film, and also explain the particulars of the special effects, including how those weird cave scenes were coaxed and created.
Best line from the short:
He’s got it all wrong, he’s the dummy AND the ventriloquist.
Best line about the movie’s poor attempt at gore:
He died as he lived: with jelly all over his face.
Best line that I felt goofy for laughing at, but oh well it was funny:
“There’s an opening down here!”
Oh cool, fill out an application.
Teen-Age Crime Wave
(1954 – Director: Fred. F. Sears)
More 50’s! The generation of beatniks, wacky sci-fi, and juvenile delinquency! The notion of lost ways and hopeless futures is nothing new, and Teen-Age Crime Wave, in name alone, points to the classic sentiment that lawless youths are a societal crisis. If the makers of this movie were trying to make a take a position regarding the terrors of the criminal lifestyle then they shouldn’t have made the antagonists the most likeable characters.
I actually watched this episode a couple months ago on cable though I’ll admit I was half paying attention. This season five Mike-era episode is super funny, the jokes hit hard from the beginning and the writing as a whole is extremely on point. The plot starts out well enough, Mike and Terry, a poor man’s Bonnie and Clyde committed to scoffing in the face of consequence, engross themselves in a crime spree which is halted once Terry is jailed. Trapped in the maelstrom of their dastardly ways is the innocent Jane, an extremely pretty girl who essentially whines and cries throughout the entire movie. The storyline bombs out when it spends the last two thirds in the home of an old farmer and his wife when the trio is forced to lay low following a murderous escape. Terry, played by Mollie McCart, is a good time, they paint her as a social ill but in 2015 she’s a comic book-reading badass chick who I want to be my girlfriend.
This episode is a golden at some points, and it is stocked with callbacks to previous episodes including one from “Daddy-O” (“Want some?”). The host segments have a couple of jewels, particularly the singing ode to the doughy men of yesteryear. The end credits employ a gimmick that is an exact replica of one used in “Daddy-O,” so it’s pretty strange these two eps ended up in the same set.
The disc’s special features are bountiful and thorough, “Film it Again, Sam: The Katzman Chronicles” is about the film’s producer and his legacy in Hollywood. Historians dig into his defining trait: his coveted ability to make a profitable, watchable, though often unremarkable, film. A telling indictor of this: Despite him operating heavily in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s he only had two movies riffed by MST3K.
“Tommy Cook: From Jungle Boy to Teenage Jungle” is a retrospective with the actor who plays bad seed Mike in the movie. Cook was a child radio and serial star and worked in the acting field for several decades. He gives a little bit of background on “Teen-Age Crime Wave” but not before talking about himself and weirdly reciting stories for about fifteen minutes.
Society didn’t give me enough bullets!
Best line employing a funny accent:
Where to, ladies? Just kiddin’ yer goin’ to prison.
Agent for H.A.R.M
(1966 – Director: Gerd Oswald)
We move forward a decade and there remains a constant: bad movies.
A large chunk of some of MST3K’s most brilliant efforts are housed in the eighth season, and “Agent of H.A.R.M” is right smack in the middle of it. I laughed a whooole bunch at this low-budget goof of a movie.
The story follows human Pepe Le Pew, Adam Chance, an operative for H.A.R.M, and his unspectacular mission to stop the use of a spore-gun that melts dudes from the inside. There are some vague plot points involving some ill-defined antagonists and Chance smoothly sputters his way through all of it. Naturally, there is plenty for Mike and the Bots to rag on. They never let the weak tea 007 forget his failure by repeatedly buzzing the James Bond theme during mundane events and consistently riffing on his cardigan-wearing ways. The voice of Bill Corbett as Crow was sorely missed in the Volume XXXII set so I may have had a bit of extra love for this episode.
The host segments are top tier. In Season 8 they gain a touch of continuity as they follow the Satellite of Love from planet to planet, worlds subsequently destroyed in its wake. In this episode Mike is put on trial by cosmic forces for his crimes of global genocide and it’s purely classic. In particular, Kevin Murphy as Professor Bobo is marvelous as Mike’s lawyer.
The special feature is “Peter Mark Richman: In H.A.R.M.’s Way” a one-on-one with Adam Chance himself. The prolific (like forreal, dude was in an episode of everything in the 70’s and 80’s) TV actor dips a little into his career but also talks a good bit about Agent of H.A.R.M. too. Apparently, he made the choice to style his hair like that, and yes, he does regret it
(Adam Chance scribbles on something)
Dear medical examiner,
Put my friend in the best pail money can buy. Well, looks like I’m running out of room.
Adam ‘H.A.R.M.’ Chance
Best lines that accurately riff the movie’s quality:
(sudden zoom on a random gadget)
One of those!
(knock on the door)
That could be any one of the other two characters!