DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXII

Yes, there’s nothing like a thoughtful Christmas gift. And what could be more thoughtful than The Brute Man, The Violent Years, Time of the Apes and Mighty Jack, MST3K-style?

That’s what you’ll get in Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXII, due from Shout! Factory Dec. 6 in a four-disc box set also bulging with lots o’ extras. And since most Misties already know these films — though all four are making their DVD debut — let’s get straight to the juicy new stuff.

In terms of extras, best of these four discs is The Brute Man, which sports another ambitious featurette from Ballyhoo, the half-hour Trail of the Creeper: Making of The Brute Man. Handsomely produced, it’s really less about the movie and more about Rondo Hatton, the disfigured and tragic boogeyman of the film, and how he led a vanguard of new “monsters” for Universal when the studio cooled to its classic fright fiends in the mid-1940s.

Hit with mustard gas in World War I, Hatton suffered a pituitary disease which changed his features. But that face became his grace on screen, since he wasn’t much of an actor. After doing small parts at Fox, Hatton succeeded at Universal with such films as House of Horrors and The Brute Man, with disturbing yet sad stories that echoed his life. And unlike Universal’s older horror stars, he never needed much makeup.

Among the film historians and others interviewed are good ol’ Larry Blamire, creator of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and other recent stabs at bad films of the past. Why was this guy never on MST itself?

Mary Jo Pehl gives a four-minute intro to The Brute Man, providing a straightforward review and admitting it wasn’t “one of our stronger ones.” She also acknowledges the “kinda weird” Oedipal bent between Pearl and son Clayton in that episode for Season 7, an abbreviated year while the cast was involved making the MST movie.

The disc also sports an impressive making-of documentary which I recall taping when it aired in 1997, The Making of MST3K. The half-hour Sci-Fi Channel special runs about 23 minutes sans ads, and it’s a treat.

Also substantial are two interviews for screenwriter Edward D. Wood Jr.’s The Violent Years, featuring the two main women in his life, Delores Fuller and Kathy Wood.

The talks are dated, seeming to come from around the time Tim Burton’s affectionate biopic, Ed Wood, was released in 1994. But the 24-minute Fuller interview is especially good, revealing details that go against Burton’s portrait. For instance, Bela Lugosi was “kind and warm,” and Fuller made him Hungarian goulash. Of Wood she says, “I kept him pretty much on the wagon” for several years. He’d wear her angora sweater while typing, but “to me he functioned as all man.”

The two weren’t married but presented themselves as a married couple. “It was scandalous at the time,” says Fuller, who went on to write songs for Elvis Presley.

Widow Kathy Wood’s 18-minute interview is less appealing. She seems uninterested and tells dry anecdotes about how she met Wood and how he did, in fact, have a swimming pool baptism. Regarding Burton’s film, she calls it “fantastic. Nobody gave a darn about Eddie when he was alive.”

As for the two discs sporting the bizarre Japanese Planet of the Apes ripoffs, which morphed from TV series into feature films, both feature impressive five- to seven-minute intros by enthusiastic and encyclopedic Japanese pop culture historian August Ragone, our guide for Shout!’s recent Gamera box set for MST. The term “wacked out” gets used to nail these peculiar pictures.

Time of the Apes also has that film’s two MST Hour Wraps, while Mighty Jack has a surprising and vastly welcome seven-minute featurette on The DVD Menus of MST3K.

Starting with creator Robert Guillory from the Rhino days and giving way to Dave Long for the Shout! releases, it’s a loving look at the original animated menus created for MST’s DVD releases, which Long (saying he has “a very long leash” from Shout!) treats as mini-movies themselves — and which I’ve always loved.

From dialogue to music to sound effects to animation, the featurette shows their evolution and production in rich detail and gives you an even greater appreciation of these brief comic bits with Servo and Crow that open each MST DVD. Being a confessed “fan of the show,” Long is faithful to its spirit. For instance, he ensures that each menu’s Satellite of  Love backdrop matches that of the episode itself.

The 40-second menus have become increasingly elaborate with time, and my only carp would be this: Why not string them all together (Long says he’s done 30 so far) in one non-interactive piece as yet another DVD extra? Just a thought.

Another thought: Is that a possum crawling on Long’s arm at his work table?

So there you have it — not just four more MST chestnuts, but also some worthy extras to warm you by the fire in the holiday season, as we contemplate being fans of films from disfigured war vets and cross-dressing auteurs. How did it come to this? I know why, at least in part: because MST became our guide.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

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One Response to “DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXII”

  1. Thidwick A Big-Hearted Moose Says:

    There is joy in my heart.

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