Of teenage cavemen and deathstalkers: “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXV” on DVD


Roger Corman’s “Teenage Caveman” is one of the best movies ever made about teenage cavemen, and it is definitely the best movie ever made called “Teenage Caveman.” (In one of the strangest remakes ever, Larry Clark of “Kids” was commissioned to make a version for Cinemax in 2002. Surprisingly for a Larry Clark film, it featured a lot of teenagers getting high and having sex.)

The original “Teenage Caveman” is one of those movies where the title was more memorable than the film, which is why it made perfect fodder for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Shout! Factory included it on the 35th (!) installment of its four-movie DVD sets, out this month.

As the behind-the-scenes documentary included with the DVD will attest, the film isn’t that bad, and amid the stock footage from other prehistoric movies and ridiculous costumes is a pretty earnest movie about the dangers of nuclear war, and a brooding performance by a young, about-to-hit-it-big Robert Vaughn as that teenage caveman. And the film has a dilly of a twist ending that will seem familiar to “Planet of the Apes” fans — even though it predated Pierre Boulle’s novel by five years.

The “Vol. XXXV” installment is unusually high on earnest “message” movies, the other being 1960’s “12 to the Moon.” It’s a typical ’50s mission-to-space movie, but the hook is that it’s astronauts of all different nationalities suiting up for the big journey. Unfortunately, having all these races and creeds living together in perfect harmony makes for kind of a boring film; the narrator of the making-of featurette, in an unusually candid moment, suggests the screenwriter knocked out the script in a weekend.

The less said about the generic “Being from Another Planet,” a ’70s horror movie with all the pacing and production values of an episode of “Captain Marvel,” the better. But I was pretty delighted by the swords-and-sandals film “Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell.” The movie is ripe material for Mike and the ‘bots to rip on, just ridiculously campy and silly from start to finish.

But what really delighted me was the bonus featurette, an interview with actor Thom Christopher, who played the villain in the movie. Gen-X sci-fi fans may remember Christopher as sort of a cut-rate Spock named Hawk on the second season of “Buck Rogers” with Gil Gerard. He turns out to be a really fun interview, fondly remembering the “Deathstalker” shoot as being a hoot, because all the actors knew the movie was ridiculous and just decided to have a good time together.

I’m all for bad movies that strain for seriousness like “Caveman” or “12 to the Moon.” In many ways, the unearned pretentiousness makes the most delicious meals for “MST3K” to feast on. But it’s the “Deathstalkers” of the world, conceived in silliness, remembered by audiences and cast alike with a wry fondness, that hold a special place in our cheesy movie-loving hearts.

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