“He was street smart in terms of making his films.” That quote from one of the bonus features in the latest “Mystery Science Theater 3000” set is an apt description of Coleman Francis, writer/director/producer/editor/narrator of “The Beast of Yucca Flats.” In fact, it’s the best way to describe all the filmmakers who have set out with the best of intentions, only to see the product of their blood, sweat, and tears torn to shreds on this classic TV series.
Volume 18 in Shout Factory’s “MST3K” series is — I know, this will be a shock — another solid effort from the company. I’ve reviewed all of them so far, along with the last few put out by previous license holder Rhino (Shout continued the numbering); like the others, this one is highly recommended. While some “MST3K” episodes are of course stronger than others, I can’t recall a single dud, so you know you’re getting some quality entertainment when you plunk down some of your hard-earned cash for one of these sets.
“The Beast of Yucca Flats” may be a classic episode simply because it has all the necessary ingredients for lots of laughs: a director known for movies that may be more incomprehensible than the works of Ed Wood; wrestler-turned-B-movie-actor (and Wood regular) Tor Johnson; and the goofy naivete typical of Cold War science-fiction films of the 50s and 60s. As “MST3K” star Frank Coniff notes during the “No Dialogue Necessary: The Making of ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats'” bonus feature on the disc, it’s hard to describe what the movie is about even while watching it.
That making-of is typical of the go-the-extra-mile extras that Shout Factory has been including in these sets. It runs nearly 30 minutes and features Coniff, along with indie filmmaker Larry Blamire, B-movie historian Bob Burns, and “Yucca Flats” cinematographer Lee Strosnider talking about the movie, its stars, its place in movie history, and its bizarre audio choices, among other subjects.
Strosnider also appears in the nine-minute “Coleman Francis: The Cinematic Poet of Parking,” the other major feature on this disc. He discusses how he got involved with “Yucca Flats” and his experiences making the film, along with another Francis effort, “Skydivers.” The original theatrical trailer and a stills gallery round out the platter.
“Yucca Flats” is a Mike episode. Another Mike episode, the creepy 60s era Russian epic “Jack Frost,” includes a nine-minute introduction by Kevin Murphy, the voice of Tom Servo. He pretty much just recaps the movie, but, of course, he does it in a funny way, so it’s enjoyable to watch.
The Joel episodes in this set are “Crash of the Moons” and “Lost Continent.” The former features five minutes of “Mystery Science Hour Wraps,” which are the wrappers used when it aired as part of “The Mystery Science Theater Hour,” a 1993 initiative by Comedy Central to slice 30 “MST3K” episodes into more manageable one-hour installments. Mike Nelson does his “Jack Perkins” spoof for those.
“Lost Continent” includes the original theatrical trailer and an introduction by Frank Coniff, who, along with Murphy, seems to enjoy reminiscing about the good old days in these “MST3K” sets. I have to admit I enjoy reminiscing too. Here’s hoping future sets offer more of the same.