In their day, the snarky ‘bots of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” took their fair share of hits from respectable movie lovers, who didn’t like the idea of somebody making a living making fun of the works of others. If you were a film purist who couldn’t bear the thought of seeing a movie presented in the wrong aspect ratio or, heavens, colorized, the notion of having the screen image partially obscured by three silhouettes pointing out how the leading man looks like Jeff Conaway would be unbearable.
But now that the show’s long gone, and Shout! Factory has been putting out four-DVD boxed sets like the current “Vol. XXVI” with regularity, it strikes me. Suddenly, a series that made fun of bad movies has now become the primary source of preserving them.
Think about it. Is there any way, without the “MST3K” stamp of disapproval, that anyone would have released the cheesy ’80s flick “Alien from L.A.,” starring a squeaky-voiced Kathy Ireland, on DVD? Or the ’50s sci-fi film “The Mole People,” assembled from meaty chunks of stock footage? Or the wan Italian James Bond ripoff “Danger!! Death Ray” Or the Bert I. Gordon not-bad swords-and-spells epic “The Magic Sword”?
Nope. But they’re all here in this collection, affectionately riffed upon by Joel, Mike and his bots. The fact that the show set such an amiable tone from the get-go, rarely getting mean as they cheerfully skewered one lame special effect or bad performance after another, has added to its longevity. You can appreciate these films for what they were, even if you wouldn’t dare try and sit through them without a “MSt3k” commentary track. Of the four, “The Magic Sword” is my favorite, just classic Joel (“Must . . . get . . . to . . . crappy . . . special . . . effect!”) “Alien From L.A.” is initially fun but the movie is just so bad it becomes a slog to get through, even with the jokes.
“Shout! Factory” has been beefing up the extras on these discs as well. “Alien From L.A.’ includes a rather sheepish and apologetic interview with director Albert Pyun, who laments that he didn’t have CGI at his disposal back in the ’80s, and that the film was apparently used to help launder money out of the country. Well, at least somebody made money off of it. “Magic Sword” has a rather flat interview with Gordon; the opportunity to really do something fun and interesting with Gordon’s entire B-movie oeuvre, from “The Amazing Colossal Man” to “The Giant Spider Invasion,” seems to have been missed.
However, I did enjoy the 15-minute documentary on the “Mole People,” which told the backstory on how the film was slapped together, including the insight that censors of the era wouldn’t allow mixed-race couples to live happily ever after, even if the races were human and alien! The “Death Ray” disc also includes an interview with Mike Nelson, who tells how he went from “MST3k” to the new Rifftrax, with side forays into movie reviews and novel-writing. Nelson said the only job he’s coveted but never had was when he worked at TGIF’s and was never promoted to line cook.