Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Volume XIV (1989 - 1999)
By: Paul Ryan on November 30, 2009  | 
DVD
Beyond Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 360 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl
Screenplay: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Following on from the release of the 20th Anniversary Collection, Beyond unleashes their second release from cult comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000. Naturally, they've picked volume 14, but whatever. For the unfamiliar, the premise is this: average bloke (Joel Hodgson, and later Michael J. Nelson) is marooned aboard the Satellite of Love, and subjected to the "experiments" of mad scientist Dr Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and his equally evil mum, Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl). Said experiments involve subjecting Joel/Mike to movies of questionable quality. With the aid of robots made from spare parts of the station – Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo – Joel/Mike maintains sanity by cracking jokes in tandem with the images on screen.

This volume's quartet of episodes consists of:

The Mad Monster: Coming from very early in the show's Comedy Central run (the third episode aired, in fact), this episode features Dr Forrester's original sidekick, Dr Lawrence Earhart (future Freaks and Geeks scribe J. Elvis Weinstein), and includes the double whammy of a crummy 1942 PRC creature feature, prefaced with the second chapter of the Commando Cody serial Radar Men From the Moon. Curiously anticipating The Lawnmower Man, The Mad Monster sees George Zucco's barmy scientist conducting experiments on simpleton gardener Glenn Strange. Injecting him with the essence of a captured wolf (hello, RSPCA) results in a rampaging werewolf-thingy who helps pick off the more respected members of the local scientific establishment. Meanwhile, back on the Satellite of Love, Tom Servo falls head-over-heels (figuratively speaking) for a blender. An honest mistake, to be sure.

Manhunt in Space: One of many ersatz features complied from the fifties TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, this is a kid-level space adventure, not so much bad as merely cheap and extremely dated. As such, Joel and the 'bots have a field day with the innate sexism, unsubtle machismo (and Rocky's not-so-masculine-and-cruelly-named sidekick, Winky), and crummy "futuristic" technology (like what appear to be food processors doubling as helmets). As this film is fairly short, Dr Forrester (aided here by Frank Conniff's TV Frank) also subjects Joel, Crow and Servo to an ancient episode of General Hospital. Harsh.

Soultaker: When a group of young folks suffer a nasty car crash, they find themselves stuck as disembodied souls, hovering between life and death. As if this isn't already bad enough, they're also being hunted down by an otherworldy collector of souls… in the form of Joe Estevez. Described by the nefarious Pearl Forrester as "skin-peelingly bad", Soultaker is definitely clumsy, but certainly not that poor. There are some imaginative concepts at play, though the low budget and clunky dialogue provide plenty of ammo for Mike his mechanical pals to do their thing. This episode also marks the only return appearances of departed characters TV's Frank and Joel.

Final Justice: From veteran b-smith Greydon Clark (Satan's Cheerleaders, The Uninvited) comes this tale of a well-fed Texas lawman (Joe Don Baker, with clothes courtesy of the Grand Old Opry) assigned to escort a captured Mafioso (Rossano Brazzi) to Italy. Fate – or more accurately, the film's Maltese co-financiers – intervenes, with their plane forced to land in Malta, whereupon the mobster escapes. Cue much sightseeing, dubiously choreographed action scenes, and Crow's unleashing of a hitherto-unseen dislike of Maltese men.

All four episodes provide plenty of laughs, and provide a sense of the evolution of the show's format. On the downside, none of the films included is that right kind of terrible (through they all have their moments of ludicrousness), and certainly don't top – let alone match – the sublime shittiness of the previous volume's Werewolf or Laserblast. Fortunately the host segments are consistently strong, with the regular cast(s) having a ball.
Video
Like Beyond's release of MST3K's 20th Anniversary Collection, this is essentially the same as the Region One Shout Factory release, which means the video is in the Yank-friendly NTSC format. The studio segments look fairly good, if a bit soft, while the films themselves are as good as their source material, which is tape-based, and consequently variable. The film clips from Final Justice are a bit muddy-looking, with some tracking issues on the tape, but nothing compared to the combination of crap print and worn-out tape that The Mad Monster is sourced from. Soultaker and Manhunt in Space appear much better by comparison.
Audio
Nothing special, the 2.0 audio gets the job done with a minimum of fuss, and balances out the movie audio and commentary audio quite well. Due to network censorship requirements, a fair bit of profanity in Final Justice is muted out, though Mike and the robots do make light of this.
Extra Features
Not as bountiful as Beyond's previous release, but there's still a few small morsels for fans to chew on. Two newly-shot interviews are included, with Joe Estevez and Greydon Clark, respectively. Estevez talks about the experience of making Soultaker, which was shot in Alabama amid southern hospitality, frequent budgetary shortfalls, late paychecks and the odd gun-toting redneck. Joe also comments on how its appearance on MST3K (and that of Werewolf) still gets him recognized in public. A smidge more defensive, but just as much of a good sport, Clark sheds some light on how the film came together, particularly the involvement of the Maltese financiers. He's understandably a bit touchy about the film getting the MST3K treatment, but likes that it gave people a chance to see the film, albeit in a modified form.

An appearance by Mike, Crow and Tom Servo on the ESPN comedy series Cheap Seats Without Ron Parker (in which hosts Randy and Jason Sklar crack wise over clips of oddball sporting events) is rather baffling to the uninitiated - such as yours truly – but still has the odd giggle to be found. Rounding things out is the Mad Monster trailer. Its actually a little surprising that the trailer for such a minor B-movie still exists, so its inclusion here is appreciated, even if the quality is iffy.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Even if none of the four films included here really touches the zen of bad movie bliss, this salvo of episodes from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is still good fun, with plenty of laughs. Extra material is thin on the ground, but the two interviews are a very worthy inclusion.

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