Unless you've been living on another planet yourself, you're probably familiar with the premise of Mystery Science Theater, the legendary TV series that involves a stranded astronaut and two robot friends who are subjected to watching an endless array of bad movies. Each 90 minute episode involves showing a B movie as the trio toss out hilarious wise cracks at the expense of all involved in the making of these cinematic embarrassments. The latest boxed set release from Shout! Factory features three (relatively) upper crust duds and one of the more traditional entries, a low-budget sci-fi flick. Here is a break down of the 4-DVD set:
OPERATION KID BROTHER- Ironically, whoever holds the rights to this 1967 Italian spy movie could make a fortune by simply releasing it "as is" on DVD. However, the only pseudo-release comes through the Mystery Science Theater set. As with all the titles, the film is edited down dramatically to fit a 90 minute slot that also includes another mainstay of the show: comedy vignettes featuring the bizarre characters who are regulars on the series. Still, half a water-down Kid Brother is better than none at all and if you haven't seen this infamous travesty, you're in for a treat. The film was cobbled together during the height of the spy movie rage to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films. Nothing unique about that. Seemingly every actor in the world sent word to their agents that they wanted to play a spy. The novelty behind this film is that the producers cast Neil Connery, brother of you-know-who, as a Scottish plastic surgeon with the power to hypnotize at will (don't ask!). Connery had no acting experience prior to finding himself in this rather lavish production that boasted exotic locations and an inspired supporting cast that included Bond regulars Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee as well as other high profile alumni from the series including Daniela Bianchi, Anthony Dawson and Adolfo Celi. The blatant attempt to exploit the Connery name is apparent by the fact that the catchy, guilty-pleasure title theme song is called O.K. Connery (it was composed by Ennio Morricone!). Additionally, Neil Connery plays a character creatively named Dr. Neil Connery. There are all sorts of cryptic references to the notion that he is the brother of 007, which of course doesn't stand up to scrutiny because 007's name is James Bond, not Sean Connery. Nevertheless, the funniest aspect of the movie is the most unintentional: the dubbing. It appears everyone but Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee are dubbed, including (inexplicably) Neil Connery himself. He's supposed to be Scotsman and is even seen wearing a kilt in one sequence, but is dubbed with a baritone American accent! The film is goofy fun throughout. I recently met Neil Connery in Scotland and he maintains a good sense of humor about the production, saying it was a pleasant experience even though he was appalled to find his voice had been dubbed. It's fine to have Kid Brother released as an MST 3000 edition, but let's hope there's a legit release in the works of the entire movie. The kitsch value alone would ensure brisk sales.
Kitten With a Whip- The inclusion of this mainstream entry as an MST 3000 edition is outside of the genres the series generally worked with, as related by series star and creator Mike Nelson, who explains the show generally concentrated on B horror and sci-fi flicks . However, the movie is so over-the-top bad that it merited inclusion in the show's Hall of Shame. Ann-Margret, then an up-and-coming star, had already had major success with State Fair, Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. Good thing, too, because it's doubtful we would have heard much more from her had this guilty pleasure been the vehicle for her screen debut. The 1964 B&W film stars John Forsythe as David Stratton, a straight-laced, pillar of the community family man living in San Diego. He's being groomed by local politicians as a likely candidate for office and is expected to vie for the nomination in a forthcoming state senate race. With his wife and kids away on a vacation, Stratton becomes embroiled in a bizarre situation when he finds a scantily-clad, rain-soaked young woman named Jody literally sleeping in his bed, having broken into his house. Jody explains she was being abused in a home for teenaged girls and had to flee for her life. Stratton makes the mistake of trying to assist her, but soon realizes she is actually wanted for burning the home down and attempting to kill a matron there. He finds himself being set up in a blackmail scheme that would destroy his family life and political ambitions, with matters complicated by the fact that Jody will accuse him of rape, which is even more damaging because she is under-age. Defenseless, Stratton has no choice but to allow Jody and a trio of bizarre and potentially violent delinquents take over his house, wreaking physical and emotional damage. The whole enterprise goes hilariously off-the-charts when the gang ends up driving to Tijuana where Stratton coincidentally runs into virtually every possible person who he does not want to encounter, with the possible exception of The Three Stooges. In more skilled hands, the basic premise could have been an effective one, but director Douglas Hayes (who was a well-regarded screenwriter) encourages Ann-Margret and her young co-stars to go over-the-top at every possible opportunity. The string of coincidences, bad judgment calls and overall ineptness on the part of Stratton only emphasizes how incredibly frightening he would be in political office. Only Forsythe emerges relatively unscathed and the ironic end does pack a bit of a dramatic wallop but the film can generally be regarded as an embarrassment for all concerned and well worth the MST 3000 "tribute".
Revenge of the Creature- This 1955 monster flick is acknowledged as another off-beat entry for inclusion in the show, as it was produced by Universal and boasts relatively upscale production values. The sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon finds the titular monster captured and put on display in a Florida aquarium where he is gawked at by scientists and public alike. The fish-faced fiend ultimately breaks free and terrorizes the locals, including the prerequisite teens on Lover's Lane. The film is noted primarily for providing young Clint Eastwood in a bit role, but as these streamlined versions of the films are edited severely to make room for comedy sketches, I don't believe the Eastwood footage made it into this version, or I blinked and missed it. The film is goofy fun but nowhere near as enjoyable as those truly bad B movies turned out by other studios. John Agar is the hunky leading man and Lori Nelson is the sexy girl who the monster inevitably ends up carrying into the drink.
Robot Holocaust- This 1986 title is far more the norm for the MST 3000 crowd. A micro-budgeted howler about a post-apocalyptic world in which humans serve as slave laborers for the Dark One's power station. I'm not sure what the Dark One is, exactly, but he's apparently non-human and he's a humorless dude who arranges for gladiator-like fights to the death among the slaves. Into this mix comes a rebel from the outside world who attempts to stir up a revolution. There are the usual Star Wars-inspired robot clones, all of which look like someone you might see at a Halloween party. New York locations include Central Park, probably because it's a place where people who look like aliens from another world wouldn't draw much attention from passers-by. The film's 79-minute running time feels like that of Doctor Zhivago after you get past the first half-hour's worth of unintentional giggles but the performance of the "actress" who plays the villainess helps the climax attain a certain greatness in the annals of bad movies in that it is perhaps the worst performance ever committed to celluloid. For that reason alone, the entire set is worth adding to your library.
This release is packed with extras including interviews with the show's Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson and cast members Bill Corbett and J. Elvis Weinstein. An unexpected gem is the documentary Jack Arnold at Universal, a serious tribute to the director who brought to life some of the studio's most enduring monster movie classics. It's unusual to see such respect paid to a filmmaker in an MST 3000 release, but it's certainly warranted.There are also the usual cool mini-posters created by artist Steve Vance.