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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Science Fiction > Horror > TV > The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 12 (Rhino DVD)

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 12 (Rhino DVD)

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras/Films:

 

The Rebel Set C+/C-

Super Agent, Super Dragon B+/D

The Starfighters B+/C+

Parts: The Clonus Horror B/B-

 

 

Note: Volume 10 has been reissued with a change, but that has not changed the pattern of these releases yet.

 

 

Watching the four movies that comprise Volume 12 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 brings to mind the more innocent time of the early 60's and the proliferation of Chiller Theater shows in major television markets throughout the country.  Whether John Zacherle in New York, later to become an FM DJ to 1st generation flower children, Chilly Billy Cardille in Pittsburgh, immortalized in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, or any of a host of others, the concept that became MST3K is readily recognizable.  The MST3K FAQ traces the idea back to Greek theatre via Shakespeare but, well, we'll leave the viewer to be the judge of that.

 

The formula for success is almost indefinable; the worse the movie, the better the show seems logical but often is not the case.  The opposite is also not an absolute; better films often don't provide enough openings to launch the never ending tirades necessary to keep scattershot laughter coming.  It would seem somewhere near the bottom of the barrel of bad cinema is ideal: just not bad enough to take the entire show down with it.

 

And then there are the host segments.  The arguments go on ad infinitum: Faulkner vs. Hemingway, Zeppelin vs. Black Sabbath, Taco Bell vs. Jack-in-the-Box, Joel vs. Mike.  For Volume 12, hosting duties are split down the middle, two for Mike and two for Joel, and, at least in this cage match, Mike is the hands down winner.

 

How so, you might ask?  Each has one good bad film ("Secret Agent Super Dragon" and "Parts: The Clonus Horror") and one bad bad film ("The Rebel Set" and "The Starfighters").  It's a draw there.  The host segments are the tiebreakers and Joel just doesn't hold up his end in either case.

 

"The Rebel Set" is a stinker that originally aired in Season 4, December 1992.   Filmed in 1959, this movie is some sort of mutant hybrid of Beat, heist, and didactic expose that just never seems to get around to any sort of plot.  The 5 host segments show moderate promise (particularly the two referencing the Merrit Stone School of Acting), but Joel brings all the enthusiasm of a DMV worker on a sluggish Friday afternoon.  At times his shtick seems almost passive aggressive: whatever. In any case, funny it ain't.   The movie riffing gets a few chuckles out of Get Smart references at the expense of a decidedly uncomfortable Ed Platt (the Chief) and the fact that the aforementioned plot is AWOL.  John Lupton, of Broken Arrow fame, hurried back to TV after this bomb, where he compiled a sizable resume of appearances on over a hundred different shows and innumerable episodes.  To heap more misery on the pile, the film is prefaced with the short "Johnny at the Fair," which has a pseudo-documentary style reminiscent of a lethal cross of The Red Balloon and a 50's era school film on manners.  Creepy as it is, it still has "The Rebel Set" beat with a capital B.

 

"Secret Agent Super Dragon" (1966 – aired Season 5, August 1993) is a winner because, um, it's such a glorious loser.  Poisoned chewing gum, bad karate moves, mind altering chemicals, Ming vases and a plot lost somewhere in mid-morass, SASD is super bad and oh so super good.  The intermittent segments are marginally better than "The Rebel Set" but, I have to admit, I've got a Joel block.  The bots stir from their listlessness with a marginally funny rendition of the movie's theme music but really the film manages to carry the show on its own.  A real classic by any standards.

 

The coveted title of worst film of all times has been awarded around variously to many an infamous piece of dreck; the only reason I can think of that "The Starfighters" (1946 – aired Season 6, Oct. 1994) isn't in contention is that it fails to even marginally approach any conventional idea of what a film might be.  All the elements are there: a camera, people (presumably) in front of and behind it, dialogue, movement, lighting, editing etc.  Yet, somehow, one can't really call this a movie at all: it seems to be an Air Force training/recruitment film gone terribly, terribly array.  Fortunately, despite the above theoretical formula for a successful episode, Mike and bot company rise very much to the occasion, pulling this one out of the tank and somehow re-animating it.  Their riffing throughout the film is consistently, er, stellar, with the seemingly endless Freudianesque footage of jets being refueled in mid-air providing enough laughs to cause serious injury to even the most jaded armchair starfighter.  "The Starfighters" contains the best host segment of all 4 discs: "The United Servo Academy Men's Choir" musical tribute to flight that reignites any potential fading buzzes.   There is also a scene that serves as an unintentional time capsule, capturing the dial-up era Net experience to a T (as in tech support).

 

The last disc in this set is "Parts: The Clonus Horror."  Sadly, the horror of the title resonates in so many ways.  First, this film perfectly captures the horrendous segue between 70's and 80's culture: lots of tight fitting spandex, head bands, obsessive work outs, bad music and male bonding of a rather suggestively natty variety.  All you really need to know is in the title: it never really ventures far beyond that.  Peter Graves as the point man for the involuntary organ bank that is Clonus takes a workman like approach to his role, thereby undermining any legitimate claim this film might have to true cult status.  Keenan Wynn, however, is Keenan Wynn.  I say this with great affection; if ever there was an actor whose schmaltz is ideal for the small screen, he was it.  Mike and the bots are up to their usual level of shenanigans.  The story that frames the segments is almost as lame as the movie itself, which puts this episode firmly in the category of an average MST3K episode.  All in all, a decent way to pass the time until "The Mist" comes up in your Netflix queue or the BBC releases the next season of Dr. Who.

 

The extras in a MST3K are always a barrel of laughs, if sometimes a half empty barrel.  “Rebel Set” has a hysterical interview with the apparently clueless lead actor, Don Sullivan: clueless about how truly bad the movie is and, well, about life.  Someone will pay, karma-wise, for this little bit of nastiness.  “Super Agent, Super Dragon” aired the year when Comedy Central ill-advisedly forced the show into air one hour segments (Mystery Science Theater Hour); the extra consists of Mike’s newly filmed Marlin Perkins introduction and commentary and this one’s just plan bad.  The worst film, “The Starfighters,” has the best extra: MST3K’s Video Jukebox 3, which proudly sachets 10 musical interludes provided by Mike and the bots.  Though there are some clinkers, 3 standout as winners: “Michael Feinstein’s Gamera,” “Doughy Boys,” and “The Sir Thomas Neville Servo’s Quartet    “Parts: The Clonus Horror” contains an interview with director Robert Fiveson, recounting a history of the project and the copyright lawsuit against the clone (double double entrendre) movie, “The Island  In a rather winning moment, he admits, after initial trepidation at the thought of the film airing on MST3K, that “The film sucks (which he attributes to youth and lack of budget) … who am I not to be laughed at.”

 

Don Sullivan, listen up.

 

 

 

 

For more on the original release of Parts, try this link:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/4472/Parts+–+The+Clonus+Horror:+Special+Ed

 

 

-   Don Wentworth


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