DVD blog review: Mystery Science Theater Vol. XVIII — Extra! Extra!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 may be off the air, but it lives on DVD — and in more ways than you may think.

Shout! Factory has been great about regularly issuing four-disc box sets of MST3K episodes. But what’s also great is the extras it’s been loading onto these sets, especially Volume XVIII, due July 13.

Not only does this set have some especially good MST film fodder in Jack Frost, Lost Continent, Crash of the Moons and The Beast of Yucca Flats, but the last disc also gets a 27-minute documentary called No Dialogue Necessary: Making an ‘Off-Camera Masterpiece.’

Its focus is not just Yucca Flats — a Grade Z late-’50s sci-fi horror schlockfest starring Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson of Plan 9 From Outer Space fame — but also the film’s director (well, technically that’s his credit), Coleman Francis, also known for juicy MST fare Red Zone Cuba and Skydivers.

Mixing film clips with interviews of such folks as MST’s Frank Coniff; Larry Blamire of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra; and Yucca Flats’ original cinematographer, Lee Strosnider, the documentary makes a strong case for Francis, not Ed Wood, being the worst filmmaker of all time. Just take Yucca Flats — please.

The movie was shot so cheaply that it had no on-camera sound, so disembodied dialogue was added in post. It also had no plot. In fact, it had very little of note besides reasonably good sound effects. As Blamire says, “This is really down there. It’s a tough slog.”

There’s also an eight-minute Coleman Francis: The Cinematic Poet of Parking, which is really an extended interview with Strosnider about Francis’ ineptitude, mixed with scenes from his films of vehicles parking. (When you need to pad a film, there’s nothing like repeated shots of cars pulling up and parking.) There’s also the original theatrical trailer and a gallery of eight stills, presented lobby-card style.

But what also sets this disc and others here apart is the menus. On previous sets, Shout! already has provided nicely animated menus with Crow and Tom Servo doing 30 seconds or so of silliness. But this time it adds dialogue — and even plot. For Jack Frost, the film’s annoyingly impish “mushroom” fairy skitters about the Satellite of Love, chased by a vengeful Crow as Servo tries to read. “You’re going down, mushroom boy, you mincing little fungus,” Crow crows.

That film also has an extra of its own, via a nine-minute intro by Kevin Murphy. In his nicely detailed and astute analysis, he rightly points out the remarkable production values Jack Frost boasted, which were foreign to most MST films. But he  also notes that this creaky Russian production of an old fairy tale is badly dubbed and filled with idiocy.

Jack Frost is a personal favorite of mine, in part due to the fact that it’s from the first season on Sci Fi — the glorious eighth MST season, in which the show gained new characters in Professor Bobo, Observer and more, a new star in Bill Corbett as Observer (aka Brain Guy) and the voice of Crow, and actual plotted adventures in the host segments, as the SOL and Pearl Forrester’s crew traipsed around the galaxy.

For Jack Frost, while on a sunny, verdant plant, Bobo and Observer are in heated argument as to who’s in charge while Pearl is away, Mike Nelson does his classic Lord of the Dance parody and everyone winds up tipping back brewskis in a lively discussion of the world’s best ape flicks.

Lost Continent also has a new intro of around six minutes, with Frank Coniff lamenting its interminable rock-climbing scene  but also celebrating its solid cast of fairly big names (Cesar Romero, Hugh Beaumont and more — though he overlooks John Hoyt, later to guest star memorably in three episodes of The Outer Limits and in the first pilot of classic ’60s Star Trek, The Cage).

Crash of the Moons has the MST Hour “wraps” for that film, running about five minutes. And again, there’s an animated menu with dialogue. New stuff — and fun stuff.

In short, you’re not just replacing your old VHS tapes of these shows with clean digital versions. You’re also getting affectionate look-backs by some of the original cast, and some amusing Crow-Servo shennanigans in menus.

Now, where was I parked?

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