How do I love thee, Mystery Science Theater 3000? Let me count the ways. But perhaps chief among them — besides the sheer fact that it makes me laugh — is that I relate.
Yes, I relate to being a captive audience watching movies I’d rather not see. And that’s because for roughly three decades I was a professional film critic for daily newspapers in Texas and Oklahoma, most recently at the Houston Chronicle. And when you see virtually all movies, you see plenty of bad movies — or at least insufferably mundane ones. So yes, I relate to those immortal words in MST3K‘s theme song: “They make him watch movies — the worst they can find.” Or, as my wife likes to say, I watch movies so she — or you — won’t have to. Or, as I like to say, I’ve seen more bad movies than you’ve had hot meals.
Of course, the only way to digest such fetid fare is either to rail against it in a darkly amusing review — as I was wont to do — or to snarkily attack it with quips, as MST3K‘s crew always liked to do. And now they’re still doing it via DVD, thanks to today’s launch of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV from Shout! Factory. With this release, that label is nobly maintaining the box set numbering from when the show was first DVD-driven by Rhino, making last year’s 20th anniversary box set, the first from Shout!, in effect Volume XIII (as long as we’re using a Super Bowl — er, Roman numeral — counting system).
This 14th volume (so there!) sports four all-new-to-DVD discs with some of the better episodes from MST‘s 10-season run: Soultaker, Final Justice, Manhunt in Space and Mad Monster. It’s also got some fun if not overly long extras.
Two are recent interviews with those responsible for two of the films. There’s “star” Joe Estevez in a five-minute reflection on his soggy Soultaker, and writer-director Greydon Clark in a four-minute take on his lumbering, Malta-Meets-Stereotypical-Texan Final Justice, starring his old pal, Joe Don Baker. We also see an amusing three-minute portion of MST‘s cameo on ESPN’s Cheap Seats, which I happened to catch at the time in 2005. Significantly, this appearance marked a fleeting semi-revival of the show, since it aired six years after MST was canceled.
Estevez’s segment is the most weirdly entertaining, as the 58-year-old actor reflects on the low-rent horror shoot in Mobile, AL for 1990 release Soultaker. Back then, he claims, “we were all young kids.” Well, he was 40 or pushing it at the time, but he certainly looked younger than he does now.
Like Clark, Estevez answers how he feels about being mocked on MST, and unlike Clark, who seems to grudgingly tolerate it for the exposure it lends, Estevez considers it “an honor.” As they say, any publicity is better than no publicity, and when your brother (Martin Sheen) and nephews (Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez) are far more famous, you take what you can get.
You’re right, Joe. Good attitude. But after seeing so many bad movies in my career — including Soultaker — I must disagree with you that Soultaker is “scary” or “magical” or of any value apart from evoking a nostalgic ’80s residue like hairspray stains on the hero’s flashy shirt. Then again, this lack of magic is precisely why we watch movies via MST, while Joel or Mike and their ‘bots comfort us with their comic carping.
In fact, is there any better way to see a film, unless it’s truly artful and great? I think not. Besides, with MST no one is “making” us watch bad movies. No, in its own special, weird and warped context, we want to watch — not despite but because they star folks like Joe Estevez.
And so, even apart from RiffTrax, the Film Crew, live shows and the like, MST‘s merry movie mocking bunch still lives on via good old digital discs. So thanks again, Shout! Factory, for keeping that flame burning. And as Pearl Forrester would say when receiving her ill-earned medals for heroism from Brain Guy, “Keep ’em coming.”