As bad films constantly crowd movie theater screens and DVD shelves amass a dearth of equally bad titles, the obvious question raises itself higher and higher: Where the hell is the MST3K crew? It’s true that The Film Crew, made up of Bill Corbett (Crow), Michael J. Nelson (Mike Nelson), and Kevin Murphy (Servo) have their own website and have also made appearances on the “Reefer Madness” (Mike Nelson only in commentary) and “Three Stooges in Color” DVDs, but we’re at a day and age where their irreverent odysseys into rancid milk cinema are needed again. There’s some things we can do as viewers without them. We can try to riff during the scenes in any given movie, say, “Battlefield Earth”. We can note the dingy dreadlocks on John Travolta’s aborted alien character. We can tease about how strange it is that despite wearing basically burlap bags, Barry Pepper and his band of shantytown cohorts are able to learn from a flight simulator in record time. But what fun is it without Servo and Crow? They went on from 1988-1999, allowing also for time with a few shorts in 2001, featured in this, volume 7 of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection. They reached into depths deeper than you’d want to travel, far beyond that of a toilet, to find films so abominable, that even Carrot Top would step back and say, “That’s too much for me.”
The shows featured here (lots of riffs on “Hercules Unchained”, “Hercules Against the Moon Men”, “Prince of Space”, and “The Killer Shrews”) also bring up an honest and important question: Joel Hodgson or Mike Nelson? Who did you like better? Hodgson, having created the darn show in the first place, gets major credit for simply being there. Between three episodes of Hodgson and one of Nelson, each guy has their fans. Hodgson had more of an affection toward the robots, metal shop buddies that kept him sane on board the Satellite of Love, even when building them meant losing the ability to know when the experiments begin or end. In “The Killer Shrews” episode, he even presents them with gifts: A Little Mermaid bathtime set for Gypsy (Jim Mallon in the early years, Patrick Brantseg later on), a working racecar for Servo and…..dress slacks for Crow. Watching Crow begrudgingly accept that gift is a crack up.
Nelson was more apt to treat the robots as good time drinking buddies. He liked ‘em, they seemed to like him, and for him, it was all about the riffs during the movies. Yes, the biblical riff. The one commandment left out of those pesky ten: Thou shalt constantly rip on a movie when it is beyond any redemption. Steve Reeves, Alan Steel (both as Hercules in separate shows), the inbred Oompa Loompas in “Prince of Space”, and James Best of “Dukes of Hazzard” in “The Killer Shrews” all get sarcastic moments lobbed right at them. It’s all in the context of the scene, and sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they’re tortured horribly by the “Deep Hurting” put upon them by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) and TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff), which involves an endless sandstorm during “Hercules Against the Moon Men”, which prompts them to at first scream for mercy, and then calm themselves down, trying to keep what’s left of their wit by ribbing the scene constantly. And when it comes to pop culture of all types, both SOL occupants have their fair share of knowledge. Joel, in “Hercules Unchained” presents for his and the robots’ invention exchange, “The Steve-O-Meter” which, when scanned over any item, will tell you whether Steve Allen’s thought of it already.
And of course it wouldn’t be MST3K without the villains of the show, Clayton Forrester and later on, his mother, Pearl (Mary Jo Pehl). Clayton was more unhinged, driven by deep lusting desires sometimes for revenge (as in his invention exchange in “The Killer Shrews” wanting to get back at those who made his high school years hell of which either TV’s Frank was there with him or heard about them over and over), while Pearl was spot-on smart and sometimes cynical, but always welcome. She’s like the relative you wouldn’t hate if you were on her good side.
This set also includes a few shorts, most notably “Assignment: Venezuela” which remained out of reach for quite a long time and is now available here as the jokes whiz by constantly when an oil company man goes to South America to see what the lands are like, to learn some Spanish, and do enough there before bringing his family over. Documentary footage with a fictional angle. They’re in rare form with this one. “Century 21 Calling…” has what looks like two “Village of the Damned” teenagers checking out Seattle’s World Fair and all the new technological advantages, at least for that time, mid-60s maybe. “A Case of Spring Fever” is one example of the perceptiveness of this show. Not only are Mike, Joel and the robots liable to crack wise with pop culture references and other jokes, but they’re front and center in calling a film on its weaknesses. They question plot points, poke holes in the motives of the characters, everything that a film critic usually does except they’ve got better digs. Overall, this MST3K set keeps the flames of fandom burning. Even when it’s at its most mild, such as with “Prince of Space”, it’s still good.