Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 6
Some films are so bad that we, the audience, must embrace their badness, celebrate just how awful they are. The leaders in this commemoration of cheesy films is Mystery Science Theater 3000, or to dire hard fans, simply MST3K. The premise is so simple it is genius. Joel (Joel Hodgson) is shot into outer space by his evil boss Dr. Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and forced to watch horribly bad movies. Joel copes by creating robot sidekicks Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy. As Joel and his friends watch the films we see them in silhouette at the bottom of the screen openly mocking the films. This series started as a little gem on a University channel, became a cult hit on Comedy Central and finally lived out its life on the Science Fiction channel. It does what we all have done, sit there and throw quips at some of the absolutely worse films of all time.
Stuck on the Satellite of Love, Joel and his wise cracking robots do not fall prey to Dr. Forrester’s sinister plan, the revel in it. As we watch them and the first row of the Satellite’s movie theater the film is played and we get to sit by and laugh along with them. The comments come fast during the film. Each a reference to some pop culture icon, some extremely subtle, others hit the point fully over the head. Each of the robots has a unique personality. Tom is the more acerbic, almost hateful at times, acting superior to the ones on the screen. Crow is like the kid in the school yard that will basically take any dare, the one that would eat anything for a quarter. Joel is easier going, often caught up in the wide sideshow. Each episode has something going on besides the current film ‘experiment’. On the satellite they put on fashion shows, or fight holographic clowns. Back on earth at the Gizmonic Institute, Dr. Forrester and his toady Frank devise new bizarre ways to conquer the world.
The volume six collection offers some of the best of the fourth and fifth seasons of the show, before Joel was replaced by Mike Nelson. Joel’s take on the humor is dryer that his successor Mike’s was. We get three episodes and a collection of mock shorts, each will keep you laughing each time you view them.
First there is ‘Teenagers from Space’ from season four. Joel and the robots make fun of a little flick about a spaceship landing on earth, looking for a place to breed their dangerous food, the gorgons. Actually the gorgon is nothing more than a lobster and the teenagers all look about thirty five. On earth Dr. Forrester tries his hand at ventriloquism while Joel and the robots create the first scratch and sniff report cards.
Next up is The Gunslinger, from season five. This was a creation of the king of the grade ‘B’ flick, Roger Corman, a tale of a woman that becomes sheriff while falling in love with the hit man sent to kill her. On the Satellite the gang play pony express while on earth the evil Forrester creates a day planner that explodes the user’s head. There is nothing like a Corman flick for a venue like this. Check out the salon’s dancing girls and remember that the credits of the film actually list a chorographer.
The last MST3K episode in this collection is Attack of the Giant Leeches, also from season four. We also get Joel and the ‘bots poking fun at the short The Undersea Kingdom. This episode features Mike Nelson as one of the ‘holo’ clowns; Mike would go on to replace Joel in later episodes. This is another case of the attempt to merge the beach blanket films with the horror genre, often with disastrous results as seem here.
Finally there is a collection of short films derided by the group, Mr. B’s Lost Shorts. These little gems are great fun and nicely round out the volume six collection. Here we see those little short films that where usually played in school, the joys of band practice, how those in the fifties saw the future, each one is a blast from the past and hilarious.
The humor here is uneven but that is part of the charm. You never know when the next priceless gem of a comment or sight gag will appear. The series itself is done on the extreme side of cheap and the embrace it. When an object is floating through ‘space’ there is absolutely no attempt made to hide the string. In fact they opt for thick string instead of the more usual fishing line just to drive the point home. There is nothing taken seriously here. The humor is irreverent holding nothing sacred.
There is something about this series that touches a very human quality, ‘I know I’m better than this’. We get to be kids again, wasting a summer weekend with our friends at the movies, no responsibilities, just making fun of everything. MST3K sow a lot of empty seats to the left of Joel and the bots, just like the more than half empty grind houses out our youth. This series always took me back to those days and thankfully Rhino has preserved this classic now that it has all but disappeared from the cable networks.
I used to enjoy this show on Saturday morning. After a week at work it was a relief to tune this series in and tune out the real world for a couple of hours. Thanks to Rhino’s release of these box sets Saturday morning comes any time you need it. The video is nothing special, the films are often in horrible shape with obvious defects abounding. That is part of the whole experience, the feel of sitting in a broken down neighborhood theater watching the film with your buddies shouting out at the screen. The audio also reflects the low budget charm of the series.
Forget any production values, dismiss any hope of high brow humor, just get this collection and let your inner child revel in the experience.