Whether a movie is good or bad, it’s always fun to learn the context of its place in history, and Volume XXII in Shout Factory’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series does a great job of that with the four films in this set. All of Shout Factory’s “MST3K” sets have had nice bonus features, but usually one or two of the four films suffer from a paucity of materials — not this time, though.
I suppose the best way to look at Volume XXII is to simply go through the films:
“The Violent Years” is a Mike film from season six featuring an Ed Wood-scripted feature and a short called “A Young Man’s Fancy,” which might be the most sexually-charged “educational” film created by Jam Handy. Since “The Violent Years” stars a gang of four well-to-do girls who go on a crime spree and force their victims to disrobe, the main feature and the short fit together in an interesting way, as do the riffs.
Archival interviews with Ed Wood’s girlfriend Delores Fuller and his widow, Kathy Wood, round out the disc. Wood fans will find plenty to learn about in the two pieces, which run about 40 minutes total.
Wood was unappreciated during his life but later became a cult figure, and the same can be said of Rondo Hatton, star of “The Brute Man,” which offers the most impressive group of bonus features in this set. The half-hour featurette “Trail of the Creeper: Making ‘The Brute Man'” offers comments from a variety of film historians who put Hatton’s sad life in perspective, from the World War I mustard gas attack that led to his disfiguring disease to Universal’s desire to exploit him in their horror films. Mary Jo Pehl’s introduction to this episode touches on some of the same points; she even seems to regret that they used the film, which is the first time I recall an “MST3K” cast member offering such a sentiment.
The “Brute Man” disc also includes “The Making of ‘MST3K,'” a 22-minute piece that aired on the SciFi Channel back in 1997. It’s a fun little stroll down memory lane.
You can say that the other two films in this set also share a link, since they’re both based on Japanese TV series that the infamous Sandy Frank hacked up for American theatrical release. “Time of the Apes” is a shameless “Planet of the Apes” rip-off starring a scientist and two kids who travel to a future ruled by apes; a spaceship that keeps popping into the story provides a handy deus ex machina for the ending.
Japanese TV and film buff August Ragone, who “MST3K” fans will remember from his contributions to the Gamera set, gives worthwhile context for “Time of the Apes” and “Mighty Jack,” the final film in Volume XXII. “Mighty Jack” is a 1968 James Bond rip-off that may seem reminiscent of the spy films that Woody Allen used for his “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” spoof, which could be seen as a spiritual precursor to “MST3K.”
The “Mighty Jack” disc also features a short piece about the creation of the menus for these DVDs. They’ve become nice little works of art unto themselves during Shout Factory’s time with the series, so if you’ve been wondering how and why they became more complex, here’s your answer.