Now that “Mystery Science Theater” has a future, “Vol. XXXIV” looks to the past

MST3K-3

“Oh, come on! How can it be American and International?” — Joel Robinson

The seeming geographical contradiction at the heart of the B-movie kingpin studio known as American International Pictures seems only a minor flaw, especially comparing it against the studio’s long and rich history of getting teenage audiences in the ’50s and ’60s to part with their money by any means necessary. In other words, movies like “Earth Vs. The Spider” and “The Beginning of the End” were perfect fodder for Joel and the ‘bots to riff on on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

So, it’s only fair that AIP gets its due on the latest DVD boxed set from Shout! Factory, “Vol. XXXIV.” Not only are all four movies in the set all black-and-white cheesy classics from American International — “Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Undead” and “The Sea Creature” — but the primary bonus feature on the set is a full-length 90-minute documentary on the studio called “It Was A Colossal Teenage Movie Machine!”

“War of the Colossal Beast” is kind of a fun ripoff sequel to the superior “The Amazing Colossal Man,” with the tragic super-sized Glenn Manning turned into your standard rear-projection ’50s movie monster. “Viking Women” is an early Roger Corman film whose aspirations to be a fantasy epic it clearly lacks the funding to achieve. In the documentary, one author notes that the poster for “Viking Women” is “absolutely spectacular, promising something that it absolutely does not deliver.”

In fact, the real must-haves on the boxed set may not be the movies, but a couple of the short films preceding them. “It’s Home Economics” and “Mr. B. Natural” are two of the funniest shorts the riffers have ever done, with the androgynous music lover “Mr. B” a favorite recurring “MST3k” character on the level of Torgo.

The documentary delves into all four of the films in the set, as well as the many, many other films AIP cranked out during its tenure. The larger-than-life Samuel Z. Arkoff (who John Goodman patterned his character after in “Matinee”) has been considered the face of AIP for many movie buffs. But the authors in the film ensure that equal credit go to his producing partner, Jim Nicholson, who was in many ways the one savvy enough to see that, in post-war America, it was smart business to make movies for teenagers while Hollywood was still focusing on movies for their parents. The studio would churn movies out fast and cheap — all four of the movies in the DVD set were made in late 1956 and 1957, and were just a fraction of the dozens of movies the studio churned out.

This is an interesting time for a “MST3K” boxed set to come out that looks back affectionately on an old movie studio. For years, fans have had to be content with the idea that “Mystery Science Theater” was a cult ’90s TV show that only lives on on YouTube and these DVD sets.

But creator Joel Hodgson announced this fall that he’s bringing the show back with an all new cast (including Jonah Ray and Patton Oswalt), and has a Kickstarter going to raise funds to produce 12 new episodes. (The Kickstarter ends on Friday, and is currently over three-quarters of the way funded, meaning at least six episodes are go for launch.)

Suddenly a show that was all about the past — nostalgia for a ’90s show that had a certain nostalgia for movies of the ’50s and ’60s — has a future. For diehard fans like me, there’s something a little nerve-wracking about that uncertainty — will it be as good as the original, or is it better to leave the past in the past? Nerve-wracking — but for fans used to referring to their favorite show in the past tense, it’s an exciting time.

 

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