“Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXVIII”: Warm up some Turkey Day leftovers



For fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” November is December and Thanksgiving is Christmas.

Since the show was originally on the air in the 1990s, MST3K fans have been trained to get hungry at Thanksgiving and the annual “Turkey Day” marathons that Comedy Central would put on. For a full day, the network would show non-stop episodes of the show, and for several years included bonus segments in between the movies. If you thought your relatives were insufferable before, wait until you had to entertain them in the living room (the one with the good furniture that you were normally banned from), knowing that the marathon was going on in the TV room upstairs.

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The “Mystery Science Theater 3000” cast is reunited. And it feels so good.



(Photo courtesy of City Pages)

It was somewhere in the fourth hour of my five-hour drive up to Minneapolis that I wondered to myself whether my apparently lifelong devotion to “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was worth it.

I was driving from my home in Madison up to the State Theatre in Minneapolis for the live broadcast of the Rifftrax Live “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reunion” show on June 28. In the ‘90s, this would have been a no-brainer. It’s fair to say I was obsessed with the show – had just about every episode on videotape, MST3K Info Club card in my wallet. Many a Saturday night was built around takeout Chinese and a new episode of “MST3K.”

But that was then. Now I’ve got a career, a wife, kids. I watch and write about the DVDs from time to time, and have headed to the local movie theater for a Rifftrax simulcast event from time to time, which is a lot of fun. But it’s not essential to me in the way it was 20 years ago.

And yet still, I went to Minneapolis. And I’m so glad I did. The event will be rebroadcast in theaters on Tuesday, July 12, and if “Mystery Science Theater 3000” has meant anything at all to you over the years, I highly recommend you go.

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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.

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Celebrate Turkey Day the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” way


I think it was on Turkey Day 1992 that I first discovered “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Home for the holidays, my parents’ house in suburban Denver had a different cable provider than the one I had back in Chicago. Sneaking up to the TV room with my brother, he turned on Comedy Central and this cheesy Japanese sci-fi movie.

Only there were these silhouettes at the bottom . . .

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Recipes for failure: Behind the making-of docs for “Mystery Science Theater 3000” movies


With 29 DVD editions and four movies in each edition, you’d think Shout! Factory would be running out of bad movies to put in its “Mystery Science Theater 3000” boxed sets by now.

But nope, “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXX” is out in stores this week, and still has some top-level cheese in it, from the cut-rate swords-and-sorcery of “Outlaw of Gor” to the classic ‘50s giant-insect shocker “The Black Scorpion.”

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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.

One more Turkey Day with “Mystery Science Theater 3000”


Happy Turkey Day!

To the general populace, Turkey Day is just another way of saying Thanksgiving. But to a select few, the phrase conjures more than just images of turkey, cranberries and your Uncle Dan talking with his mouth full. For “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans, Turkey Day was truly something to celebrate.

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The anti-cynical tonic of Cinematic Titanic

CT Group Shot

Did anybody ever deliberately start watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on purpose? It feels like every fan I run across (myself included) has an origin story with the cult ’90s TV series that sounds like this: “There was this show on, and I didn’t know what was going on! But it was just so funny, and I just kept watching more and more and more . . .”

That was from the woman sitting next to me at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee for “Cinematic Titanic,” which features five of the creators/performers of the series, including the trio that begun it back in its Minneapolis public-access days — Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and J. Elvis Weinstein, along with Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl. (The trio who ended the series on Syfy in 1999 — Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett — went on to start the equally worthy Rifftrax.)

Rifftrax has focused on doing new commentaries for famous and recent films that can be synced up to your DVD, as well as live nationwide broadcasts. Cinematic Titanic has kept its focus on old movies, mixing DVD releases with live shows like the Pabst Theatre two-night stand.

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Blu-ray review: “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie”


It could be the plot to some cheesy sci-fi movie that Mike and the ‘bots would make fun of on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” — two identical alternate universe, one where everything is happy and cheery, the other where we see those exact same events through a much darker and more sinister lens.

Those two universes, as it happens, are the two “making-of” featurettes that appear on the Shout! Factory DVD/Blu-ray release of “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie,” which just came out this week after a long, long wait from fans. Taken together, the extras provide an instructive lesson in dabbling with potent forces of evil — in this case, a major motion picture studio.

The movie came out in 1996, somewhat bridging the gap between the cult TV show’s Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel years. Universal Pictures thought they could turn the TV show into a cheap but profitable franchise for themselves, while the creators of the show thought that successful live “riffs” of the show before audiences proved that it could work in a group theater setting.

The first featurette, released at the time of the film’s release, shows a Satellite of Love crew happily working on the film. The second, made for this Blu-ray release, delves into the constant struggle that the MSTies had with Universal executives to make the film. Having signed onto the film, Universal insisted on having input into seemingly every decision, including approving or vetoing individual jokes (a Bootsy Collins reference was changed, bizarrely, to a Leona Helmsley reference) and test-screening rough drafts of the film to death. (It’s grimly ironic that the movie trailer touts that the MST3K crew “can make jokes without a censor” in the film, since the meddling from Universal was much more pervasive than anything the show had gotten from Comedy Central or Sci-Fi.)

Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy, along with showrunner (and UW-Madison grad)  Jim Mallon, complain openly about the arduous process, and it’s clear that they regard the finished product as a compromised thing. “The joy of doing this was strained terribly through this odd, arbitrary process.” Mallon said.

That said, the movie itself comes off, as Murphy puts it, as a “better-than-average” episode of the TV show, with significantly better production values given to the host segments, which were shot on a much bigger studio space. The movie that the guys riff on, “This Island Earth,” is actually a pretty good scifi movie, and overall the image pops on Blu-ray in a way most episodes of the TV show just wouldn’t. The release also includes deleted scenes (axed by the studio, naturally) and you get a taste of the cover version of the MST3K theme song done for the movie by Dave Alvin.

In the end, I’ll bet the experience of making the movie was so painful for Mike and the gang that I doubt they’ll ever pop in a copy of the Blu-ray release. But for fans, its an essential part of the collection, and a surprisingly revealing look at the hazards of letting outsiders into your strange little world in the hopes of achieving mainstream success. Better to stay on your own Satellite of Love, unreachable by the mad scientists down below, doing it on your own terms.