Rhino did a decent job with “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on DVD, but Shout Factory kicked up the geek quotient a notch after scoring the license, starting with the excellent 20th Anniversary Edition set released last year. It was something fans could really sink their geek teeth into, especially the 85-minute retrospective documentary and archival KTMA footage.
The new sets have continued to include little tidbits for the fans, and Volume XVI is no different. It comes with a Tom Servo figure – so the Crow figure from the 20th Anniversary set doesn’t get lonely – and serves up more geek minutiae, including the Turkey Day intros used when “Night of the Blood Beast” aired on Thanksgiving Day 1995. (You can also choose to view the non-Thanksgiving-themed intros that were used during later showings of the episode.)
“Blood Beast” is a Mike episode; it’s balanced by a Joel episode that’s another fan curiosity: an installment from the show’s first season on The Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central), when Gypsy looked slightly different and Josh Weinstein played Dr. Forrester’s sidekick and voiced Tom Servo. The film is a Bela Lugosi affair called “The Corpse Vanishes,” and Joel and company skewer a “Commando Cody” serial episode before the main feature. (For the record, I still prefer Kevin Murphy’s Tom Servo voice.) The disc’s sole bonus feature is the film’s original trailer.
As in most other “MST3K” sets, the other two episodes are split between the hosts: Mike’s “Santa Claus” and Joel’s “Warrior of the Lost World.” When it comes to bonus features, “Santa Claus” has the most to offer, leading off with the 20-minute “Santa Claus Conquers the Devil: A 50-Year Retrospective,” which gives us something I’d like to see more of in future “MST3K” releases: a discussion of the film’s place in the history of schlocky cinema. Film historians have their say, along with members of the “MST3K” cast and writing staff.
That featurette looks like it was pulled from a larger project, as opposed to being produced specifically for this set. I say that because the “Santa Claus” disc also includes a trailer for “The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray,” an upcoming documentary that focuses on the man who dubbed and distributed many Mexican films, including “Santa Claus,” in the United States. However, I hope Shout Factory continues to make good use of such resources whenever possible, even if they can’t afford to produce them on their own.
The original theatrical trailer and an archival radio ad round out the “Santa Claus” platter. They’re both as weird as you can imagine; maybe the “MST3K” crew should reunite to make fun of old trailers.
Finally, we have “Warrior of the Lost World,” which is a textbook example of the degrees that separate good and bad films. “The Terminator,” for example, wasn’t made for a lot of money, but James Cameron was talented enough that he could make it look like it had a much bigger budget than it did. “Warrior of the Lost World” didn’t have much cash behind it either, but you’d think it was something slapped out by film students with no money, despite Donald Pleasance’s role in it.
Watching the interview with “Warrior” director David Worth, however, it’s easy to see where things went awry: he got the film off the ground with nothing more than a basic pitch and was given half a million bucks on the basis of a treatment. When he talked to the producer about showing him a finished script, the guy said to just go ahead and make the movie, so Worth plowed into the production without the kind of meticulous planning that directors like Cameron and Ridley Scott are known for. He didn’t seem to have a good sense of story either, which isn’t surprising since he was willing to make a movie without a complete script.