Shout Factory is back with another pair of standalone “Mystery Science Theater 3000” DVDs. Like the other single “MST3K” discs they’ve released recently, these are bare bones affairs, which, as I’ve said in other reviews, is a shame. Shout has done an excellent job with this franchise, so I’m not sure why they just slap some episodes on discs and sell them singly, rather than as part of sets.

I suppose the argument could be made that they’re not always the strongest “MST3K” episodes, which is mostly true (“Hamlet,” for example, isn’t well-regarded by fans), although that would lead me to ask why Shout feels fans should pay more for them on a per-disc basis and only be able to buy them directly from the company’s web site.

After watching everything in Shout’s excellent two-disc Special Edition for the classic “Manos: The Hands of Fate” episode (review coming soon), these two discs are a big letdown. The episodes are good, but by “MST3K” standards, they don’t pack in as many laugh-out-loud moments as the best installments, but they’re still enjoyable. The skits are also fun, particularly the one in “The Unearthly” where the ‘bots mix together a bunch of board games to create a confusing game based on the house in the movie.

“The Unearthly” is a 1957 black-and-white horror film starring John Carradine and Tor Johnson. The story has something to do with a mad scientist whose experiments accidentally produce mutants, but instead of giving us lots of “Night of the Living Dead” kind of moments, we’re treated to endless talky scenes involving tough guys and hot women wearing bullet bras. Carradine’s character talks a lot about pseudo-scientific things and has his female assistant flip switches on machines and wipe his brow during experimental surgery. Tor stumbles through the scenery occasionally, mumbling and attempting to strangle someone.

Right before the end, we finally get to see some of those promised mutants (“Oh, they saved the best for last!” Tom Servo quips). I was left wondering why the filmmakers didn’t go for broke and have those beasts running wild in act one. Instead, we had a semi-comatose grandpa and a woman with a skin condition. Total letdown.

A pair of shorts precede “The Unearthly”: “Posture Pals” and “Appreciating Our Parents.” It’s not hard to imagine their 50s era “Leave it to Beaver” tone, nor is it difficult to hear Joel and the ‘bots skewer it.

Meanwhile, “Red Zone Cuba” features the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, although as Mike points out a couple times, it looks like the whole thing was filmed in New Mexico. Carradine stars in this one too, along with “MST3K” favorite Coleman Francis, who looks like the love child of Curly and Tor Johnson and who receives plenty of comments along those lines. Like so many bad movies, “Red Zone Cuba” opens with an intriguing premise and then proceeds to take so many wrong turns that you forget what was semi-interesting about it in the first place.

The short “Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance” comes first. You’ll learn all about the knee test and why you should pay attention to grooming before speaking in public. Yes, it’s a life lesson wrapped in an “MST3K” episode.

I think the most frustrating thing about these bare bones releases is the fact that there are plenty of opportunities for good bonus features, like a featurette about Coleman Francis or John Carradine. Or how about introductions by the cast members? We don’t even get film trailers.

Of course, considering the fact that Shout has released several of these standalone discs, sales must be good, so there’s probably not much incentive for them to do much more with these DVDs. That’s a shame.

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  1. Brad Cook says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Sean. Shout sent me some comments that I’m going to use in my next review of their single-disc MST3K releases.

  2. sean says:

    “Shout has done an excellent job with this franchise, so I’m not sure why they just slap some episodes on discs and sell them singly, rather than as part of sets.”

    I bet it’s a licensing thing; either licensing the film is more expensive for some reason or they’re only able to get a temporary license, and don’t want to have to put an entire box out-of-print when they lose the license (which happened to Rhino several times).

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