DVD Review: “Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXIX”


And the riffs just keep on coming. Between the news that the Rifftrax guys will be hosting a new miniseries on the National Geographic Channel and the latest release of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVD sets from Shout! Factory, it’s a good time to be snarky.

After 28 installments and over 100 films, the Shout! Factory sets have this down to a science; like its predecessors, “Vol. 29” features four films, spanning the MST3k-verse from the uneven first season through the Golden Age on Comedy Central, and finally one from the Sci-Fi Network years. Sprinkle some bonus features on top, and you’ve got some cheesy goodness in store.

Original host Joel Hodgson, who seems to have really embraced the “MST3K” legacy in recent years, provides new introductions for the first two films in the set, “Untamed Youth” and “Hercules and the Captive Women.” “Untamed Youth” is a classic ’50s troubled-teens drama with Mamie Van Doren, who appears in a new interview on the disc talking about her experiences as a ’50 starlet. (It does not sound fun – when she wanted to start a family, the studio immediately dumped her.)

The “Hercules” movies are among my favorites in “MST3k” and “Captive Women” is classic Italian-dubbed sword-and-sandals badness. The disc also includes a surprisingly engaging interview with artist Steve Vance, who draws the delightful ’50s-style mini-posters that Shout! Factory includes with each film.

“The Thing That Couldn’t Die” (not to be confused with “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”) is a slow-moving late ’50s horror film. The disc includes an entertaining making-of doc — at one time, strangely, an overstretched Universal Pictures shut down production on every film except this one, because it was so far under the radar.

But the jewel in “XXIX” is one of the best episodes of the Sci-FI Channel era, “Pumaman.” An incredibly cheap “Superman” knockoff from 1980, it boasts some of the worst “flying” visual effects imaginable, and a hero who wears a cape and sensible slacks. It is pure gold, and the disc includes an interview with star Walter G. Alton, Jr. How Alton became Pumaman is an odd story — he was a New York attorney who, when his firm refused to make him partner, decided to take a break and try acting. After “Pumaman,” he wisely went back to the law.

Alton also continues a run of MST3K “stars” who clearly bristle at the idea of the show making fun of their work. To quote from the opening theme song, they should really just relax. The show and the disc sets have brought a whole new audience to films that would have otherwise been forgotten. The Shout! Factory disc even includes an “Un-MSTied” version of “Pumaman” in its original form, although anyone who could sit through that would really be some kind of superhero.