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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII (2010)

Shout! Factory
DVD Released: 3/16/2010

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/23/2010

The good folks at Shout! Factory have brought us another collection of episodes from the best show ever where a bunch of wiseacres sit and watch movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII brings us four more examples of how the universal practice of talking back to the screen could be elevated to an art form.

Here's an overview of the episodes included:

The Crawling Eye (1958) -- Original airdate: 11/19/89 -- Well, here it is, the first network episode of MST3K (the previous episodes had aired on a local station). Unfortunately, we can clearly hear the first-time (sort of) jitters. As with Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, this episode picks a movie which is actually highly-regarded by some. A group of travelers, Allan Brooks (Forrest Tucker), Sarah Pilgrim (Jennifer Jayne) and Ann Pilgrim (Janet Munro), arrive in the town of Trollenberg, only to find that a cloud has parked beside the mountain and locals are being be-headed. Brooks aids local scientists and they find the titular monster in the cloud. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny moments here, but the pacing is all wrong. In the classic episodes, the joke flies fast and furious, and if one falls flat, you'll probably like the next one. But here, the riffs don't come quickly enough. It's like those audio commentaries where we can tell that the speakers are too busy watching the movie to speak. The guys let the characters talk too much and don't interject enough jokes.

The Beatniks (1960) -- Original airdate: 11/26/92 -- If you look at the span of MST3K, you'll see that the movies were split between horror & sci-fi movies, and "cool" movies from the 50s and 60s. The Beatniks falls into the latter category. Tony Travis stars as Eddy Crane, a young hoodlum who holds up convenience stores with his friends. That life changes when talent agent Harry Bayliss (Charles Delaney) hears Eddy sing. Soon, Eddy is singing on TV and being offered a recording contract. Unfortunately, his friends haven't learned to control themselves and they continue their lives of crime. At the outset, this felt like one of those episodes which was going to give the guys enough to work with, but the movie is so earnestly serious that everything works out OK. While not as good as an awful sci-fi movie, the non-stop "hep" action keeps the laughs coming at a good pace. Of course, the funniest joke here is that the movie doesn't seem to have any idea what the definition of "beatnik" is. Instead of berets and bongos, we get groovy music and the one psycho guy who loves getting in people's faces.

The Final Sacrifice (1990) -- Original airdate: 7/25/98 -- This lousy movie would prove to be one of the most popular of the later years of the show. Why? Would you believe because of a character's name. And that name? Zap Rowsdower. The movie concerns an "evil cult" (a bunch of guys in tank tops and ski masks) who are chasing a nerdy teenager (Christian Malcolm). He has a map that he inherited from his dead father. He turns to a drifter named Zap Rowdower (Bruce J. Mitchell) for help and weirdness ensues. The movie fancies itself an action-adventure, but it's really just a bunch of guys running around the Canadian wilderness. Mike and the robots have a field with this movie. As noted above, they run with the Rowsdower name. They also produce some classic jokes concerning the "cult", the boy's wimpy demeanor, and the overall Canadian-ness of the film. Consistently funny, this is the best of the set.

Blood Waters of Dr. Z (1975) -- Original airdate: 5/2/99 -- As with The Beatniks, this one doesn't show much promise, as the beginning is so weird. Obviously, some of the film was shot MOS and we just watch a man walking around while voiceover plays. But once that man, Dr. Leopold (Marshall Grauer), turns into a monster, the movie really picks up. As the goofy monster, who carries a spray-bottle with him, terrorizes the locals, a group of people try to stop it. MST3K is at their best when they find a theme and run with it. Here, they play on the fact that Dr. Leopold had been experimenting on catfish when the monster was created. There are a ton of jokes about catfish doing odd things, as well as seafood jokes. They also mercifully attack this oddly made movie. There are many laugh-out loud moments here.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII DVD set contains four discs. The video and audio quality varies here. The episodes are all presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the video of the interstitial scenes is fine, although The Crawling Eye shows some artifacting. The movies vary in quality and part of the charm of the show is that they use prints which aren't well-preserved. The DVDs feature a digital stereo audio track. For the most part, the audio is fine, and we can always hear the guys very clearly. However, I had to increase the volume on The Crawling Eye and The Beatniks so that I could hear the movie itself.

The set features a smattering of extras on each disc. The Crawling Eye -- In "Special Introduction by Joel Hodgson" (6 minutes) the show's star and co-creator describes the events surrounding that first episode. He reveals that it was the first scripted show and admits that it comes off as slow. The "Original Trailer" for The Crawling Eye is also included. The Beatniks -- "The Main Event: Crow vs. Crow" (35 minutes) has a ComicCon panel session with Trace Bealieu, the original voice of Crow and Bill Corbett, his predecessor. The two talk about their involvement in the show and discuss how they approached the character. "Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps" (5 minutes) has Mike Nelson dressed as an older man who appears to be hosting a show on A&E. I'm not sure when this aired. The "Original Trailer" for The Beatniks is included. The Final Sacrifice -- "Bruce J. Mitchell Interview" (9 minutes) is a chat with the actor who portrayed the infamous Zap Rowsdower. This is an odd interview, as A) he talks about the movie as if it's a serious film and he shares anecdotes as if they are truly interesting, and B) while he's aware of the fact that the movie was on MST3K, he's never seen the episode. Blood Waters of Dr. Z -- "Original Promos" (1 minute) contains three TV commercials for the flick, under its original title, Zaat. These promos promise many things which aren't in the movie. The "Original Trailer" (2 1/2 minutes) also uses the Zaat moniker and presents some wild claims. He wants to pollute the universe? Also, the picture here is remarkably clear. Lastly, we get a "Photo Gallery" which contains lobby cards and promotional materials.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long