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Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XV

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    Ian Jane
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  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XV

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    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 7/7/2009
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    Picking up where Rhino left off, Shout! Factory unleashes another four titles from their ongoing Mystery Science Theater boxed set line, and this time, they've got Thor along for the ride! For the few out there unaware of who or what the Mystery Science Theater thing is all about, basically, it was a long running show in which a recurring cast of characters - a space castaway and his robot pals - were forced to watch bad movies while doing time on a satellite. This simple premise basically allowed Joel Hodgsen or Mike Nelson (depending on how early or recent the episode in question may be), Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (who have recently teamed up to pick up where they left off with their Rifftrax project) to crack wise about 'bad' movies. The series was on the air from 1988 through 1999 and it still has a loyal cult following to this day while it's various participants have gone on to other, similar projects like Cinematic Titanic and the aforementioned Rifftrax downloads.

    This time around, the gang takes on the following four films:

    Zombie Nightmare:

    Canadian heavy metal superhero Jon Mikl Thor (of Rock N Roll Nightmare) is a teenage baseball fanatic named Tony Washington who gets run over by a gang of trouble making teenagers (one of whom is played by a young Tia Carrera). Tony's mother is understandably distraught over her son's passing and so she enlists the services of the mysterious Molly Mokembe (Manuska Rigaud), a local voodoo priestess who, after an elaborate ceremony, brings Tony back from the grave as a zombie with vengeance on his mind. One by one, those involved in Tony's murder wind up dead themselves and only a cop named Frank Sorrell (Frank Dietz) suspects anything is amiss, though his superior, Captain Tom Churchman (Adam West) would rather he keep his nose out of other peoples' business.

    Riffing pretty heavily on the awkward casting and the gigantic plot holes, this is definitely a better than average effort from the commentators who have a field day with the film's ineffective scares and terrible dialogue. As the film picks up in pace, so too does the commentary track as it takes some funny and good natured potshots at the obviously Canadian settings and cast while picking apart the effects work, extras and, well, pretty much everything. The version of the movie shown here is obviously trimmed in the blood and guts department, probably to keep the running time down when it was first shown on TV And to keep the content tame enough so as not to irk the censors.

    The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy:

    The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy not only uses inserts not only from the first movie in the semi-infamous trilogy of Mexican horror films, but from the second one as well - presumably this was to get new viewers up to speed on what had happened previously and possibly to pad out the fairly short running time of the film to something closer to feature length. While The Bat was presumed finished at the end of the last film, Dr. Almada starts to think that maybe they spoke too soon - and Almada's suspicions soon prove to be correct when it turns out that The Bat has used his evil mind to construct a giant metal robot with a human brain that he hopes to use to destroy Popoca the Aztec mummy, who has been hanging out at a nearby cemetery since the events in the last movie, once and for all in hopes of owning his treasure. He also hypnotizes poor Flora again, enlisting her aid in helping him find the cemetery.

    The weakest of the commentaries on this set, the group never quite hits their proper rhythm here, and while there are some appropriately witty comments made sporadically throughout, a lot of the jokes fall rather flat despite no shortage of ample material on the part of the film and its many quirks.

    The Girl In Lovers Lane

    Teenage Danny (Lowell Brown) runs away from the comforts of his wealthy family's home and, while out on the road, meets up with a career hobo named Bix. Unsure how he's going to survive, Bix takes Danny under his wing and decides to teach him the in's and out's of living the life of a homeless guy though Danny, not really so wise in the ways of the street, keeps landing himself in some hot water and while Bix is fine with rescuing him at first, his patience soon wears thing. One night, while hanging out at a small diner, Bix falls head over heels for a waitress named Carrie (Joyce Meadows) which causes him to adjust his priorities and consider giving up the hobo's life. Unfortunately for Carrie and Bix, the local weirdo (Jack Elam) has also got the hots for her and isn't at all happy that Bix has got eyes for Carrie.

    A much, much stronger effort than Robot, this track finds the crew in fine form as they make fun of the obvious homoeroticism involved in many parts of the story as well as the more obvious goofy bits like the fact that a waitress would be interested in a hobo in the first place. Riffing on Bix's name is a constant and effective running gag while playing off of the odd music in the film also provides the guys with a lot of good material to work with.

    Racket Girls

    Basically a montage of old black and white wrestling footage featuring female combatants, there isn't much to the plot of Racket Girls, but for what it's worth, it starts out with Scalli, a low level gangster trying to succeed at managing some lady wrestlers - Peaches Page, Clara Mortensen and Rita Martinez - that he's actually using as a front for his under the counter bookie operation. He also runs drugs and sells skin when no one is looking. Unfortunately, the local mob boss, Mr. Big, a man that Scalli is deep in debt too, doesn't like what he's been up to and so he starts to put the screws to him. On top of that, the cops are moving in.

    This film features a LOT of wrestling footage, more so than your average Santo or Blue Demon picture and it's all presented with nothing but crowd noise overtop. While under normal circumstances this would get boring quickly (and if you've seen the movie sans MST3K high jinks you already know this to be true) here it gives the crew ample opportunity to strut their stuff. The rather 'matronly' appearance of the female stars, the unbelievably stilted dialogue, the cheap and shoddy production values, the endless stock footage wrestling inserts and the lame plot all give the group all the ammunition they need and it all results in the funniest track of the four collected here in this set.

    The Video:

    The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace all four films in this set won't blow you away but they're watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen so purists take note, and the transfers are taken from often times edited down old TV masters so those expecting the movies to appear here as they were originally intended will be disappointed. That said, they look as good here as they did on TV when they first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. Are the transfers great? Nope, but they don't need to be.

    The Audio:

    The commentary comes through nice and clear, there are no problems understanding the participants and they've balanced nicely against the audio from the movie itself. As far as the quality of that part is concerned, it's on par with the transfer. It's not great, in fact, there are times where it sounds quite shrill. It gets the job done, I suppose, but it's nothing impressive.

    The Extras:

    Let's take a look at what's included in the supplemental sections going disc by disc:

    Zombie Nightmare:

    This disc includes a twelve minute featurette entitled Zombie Nightmare = MST3K Dream that wrangles up some new interviews with stars Frank Dietz and the mighty Jon Mikl Thor! Both interviewees are good sports about the ribbing their movie receives, knowing full well what kind of film they made back in the eighties and how it's appreciated these days.

    The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy

    This disc includes a Promos section that includes a TV spot used to advertise the show when this episode first aired as well as an American theatrical trailer for the K. Gordan Murray double feature where the film was paired up with The Vampire's Coffin. Also on this disc is Glimpses Of KTMA: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps I, a fifteen minute segment containing host bits from the series' original television broadcasts years back on KTMA and it's a kick to see what the show was like in its very first incarnation from eighties era Minnesota.

    The Girl In Lovers Lane:

    This disc includes an eight minute bit called Behind The Scenes: MST3K Scrapbook Scraps II which is a collection of behind the scenes clips from their Christmas classic take on Santa Claus Conquers The Martians along with some fun outtakes from their Comedy Central special.

    The Racket Girls:

    Aside from a strange old trailer for the film under the alternate title of Blond Pick-Up, there's a five minute promotional piece spotlighting a film called Hamlet A.D.D. that features contributions from a few of the MST3Kers.

    Note: Previous releases from Rhino have included the option to watch the films without the MST3K treatment over top. This release, unfortunately, does not offer that.

    The Final Word:

    All in all this is a pretty solid offering with the commentaries hitting far more often than missing. Shout! Factory's presentation is on par with the past releases in the series and MST3K fans can absolutely consider this release wholly recommended.
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