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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

New On Video: Sea Serpents and She-Creatures in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIV

Posted By on Tue, Dec 8, 2015 at 12:00 PM


It’s alive: Joel Hodgson’s Kickstarter to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000 has surpassed its initial $2 million goal. It’s currently at the $3.5 million needed to produce six episodes, and if it can reach $5.5 million by Dec. 11, there’ll be 12 new episodes altogether. The new cast has also been announced: Jonah Ray is in the new host, Felicia Day will be the new baddie Kinga Forrester (granddaughter of Pearl and daughter of Clayton), and Patton Oswalt will be TV’s Son of TV’s Frank. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Jonah Ray; I had to stop listening to the Nerdist Podcast because he always dominated conversations with stories about how much he was into punk rock as a kid — among my pet peeves is straight guys droning on about how punk rock totally saved my life, maaaaaaaaaaan — but I’m excited that the new Mad is female, and Patton Oswalt rocks my world.

So it’s a transitional time for MST3k, making it appropriate Shout! Factory released Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXXIV last week, which captures the show in a similarly transitory period in 1997.

The four episodes on this set are two from the Joel era, The Saga Of The Viking Women And Their Voyage To The Waters Of The Great Sea Serpent and War of the Colossal Beast — both of which I’ve always considered average at best — and two from the Mike era, The Undead and The She Creature.

The two Joel episodes also include introductions by Frank Conniff (now Patton Oswalt’s TV dad!), and there’s also a terrific, full-length documentary about the indie movie studio American International Pictures called It Was a Colossal Teenage Movie Machine: The A.I.P. Story. Meanwhile, War of the Colossal Beast is best known now for including the short Mr. B. Natural, which raises whimsy to terrifying new levels. It also introduces a character who would recur in later live-action segments and result in some distasteful “she’s a dude" jokes, but, well, that’s how these things go.

The more interesting episodes are The Undead and The She-Creature, both from the show's first season on the Sci-Fi Channel in spring of 1997. When Sci-Fi originally picked up Mystery Science Theater 3000 after they were canceled by Comedy Central, the new network had two dictums: all the movies they did had to actually be science fiction, as presumably befit the network's name, and they all had to be from Sci-Fi's stock of Universal International movies. They weren't inappropriate choices for the show — Revenge of the Creature, The Leech Woman, The Mole People, The Deadly Mantis, and The Thing That Couldn’t' Die — but these first five movies were also thuddingly mediocre and didn't give the writers much to work with, resulting in a somewhat lackluster beginning to this improbable new season.

Episode 6, Roger Corman's The Undead, broke the cycle; it was an independent film released by American International, and the change from Universal to American made all the difference. It wasn't the first truly classic episode of the Sci-Fi run — that wouldn't arrive until the Episode 10, The Giant Spider Invasion, still one of the all-time MST3k greats — but The Undead was a necessary course correction.

Episode 8, The She-Creature, was a similarly important step in the show finding its new voice. (And make no mistake, the Sci-Fi years are a very different show — and, in my opinion, better show — than the Comedy Central years.) It's another American International Picture not unlike The Undead, but the host segments codified the new Mads as being Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy), and Brain Guy (Bill Corbett), the trio that would remain through the end of the tenth and final season in 1999.

But as much as I loved the Sci-Fi channel years, the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 will be its own beast, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Even with Jonah Ray.

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Sherilyn Connelly


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