MST3K Vol. XXIV DVD Review: Vampires and Wrestlers and Dragons — Oh My!

SEE! TV’s Frank follow Torgo to Second Banana Heaven! HEAR! Dr. Forrester plaintively sing “Who Will I Kill?” WINCE!  As producer Sandy Frank talks the biz of show-biz like he’s opening a chain of laundromats!

We’re talking Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIV, Shout! Factory’s latest four-disc foray into uncharted MST DVD waters, due July 31.

I came. I saw. I’ve assessed the extras. And here they are for you.

First, thanks to Best Brains for Season 6’s solid sendoff for the end of an era (the last full season on Comedy Central) with its seasonal finale Samson Vs. The Vampire Women. I’ve always loved this episode, from the nutty host segments to the 1961 Mexican-made turkey about a masked wrestler fending off vampy vampires.

It was also the swan song for Frank Conniff, who left Deep 13 to follow “Torgo the White” (Mike Nelson) to Second Banana Heaven, leaving Dr. F. to tearfully warble “Who Will I Kill?” And the answer, as we know, turned out to be most of Season 7, which was cut short for production of MST3K: The Movie. (I enjoyed the movie, but never considered it a fair trade-off for losing about 18 TV episodes.)

As for the Samson disc’s extras feature, I’m loving an ongoing feature for recent DVD releases: Life After MST3K. This time it’s got Conniff, fittingly enough, who tells us in 11-plus minutes about going Hollywood and the enduring popularity of the little puppet show from Minnesota.

“We get recognized more for MST now than we ever did,” Conniff says. “It seems like it’s more popular now than it ever was.” Credit DVDs like this, among other things, since the show isn’t in syndication.

Speaking against a backdrop including a Robot Monster space (diving?) helmet, Conniff name-drops his credits for TV and radio and pines about launching his own TV series, which he’s never done. (Second banana still, I guess.) But despite much success writing for others’ series, he’s “very grateful” for MST, saying it’s “what people know me for, and I don’t have a problem with that.”

No I Am Not TV’s Frank book for him!

The disc also sports a vintage one-minute TV spot for the Samson movie and an 11-minute feature from the reliable Ballyhoo on Lucha Gringo: K. Gordon Murray Meets Santo. This look back at the famed producer and Mexico’s peculiar cultural phenomenon of wrestlers as superheroes includes interviews with folks such as Kevin Murphy and nods to the influence of Universal horror classics.

The disc for 1956’s Russian-made The Sword and the Dragon, also from Season 6, has two shorts not available elsewhere on DVD: Snow Thrills from Episode 311 with It Conquered the World, and A Date With Your Parents from Episode 602 with Invasion USA.

I happen to love MST shorts, including the little seen Assignment: Venezuela, which I purchased from Best Brains on VHS. And these two are good ones. As the guys observe for Snow Thrills, “There’s nothing quite as pretty on a summer day as arterial spray on the white snow,” while A Date With Your Family is dubbed “The Woody Allen Story.”

And that’s it for this disc’s extras — except for the best animated menu of the set.

And now about Sandy Frank . . .

MST fans should know him as the TV producer and film distributor who brought us loads of Japanese sci fi such as the Gamera movies and this set’s Fugitive Alien and Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, among others.

Yes, such material is fun. But we’re not talking fun here — we’re talking finance.  We’re talking commerce. We’re talking the biz of show biz.

We’re talking a 25-minute interview with Frank called (after one of his TV game shows) You Asked For It: Sandy Frank Speaks. (It’s on the Star Force disc.)

Also from Ballyhoo, it mixes appropriate clips with the aging showman in coat and tie talking turkey about his show-biz career. And I’m stressing —  as he is — the “biz” part of show biz.

As a journalist who covered the entertainment industry for many years, I can relate to this stuff and enjoy the slews of name-dropping and studio references. If anything, the business behind the scenes fascinates me as much — if not more — than the latest splashy trifles disgorging their cartoonish CG effects across IMAX screens.

And give Frank credit: He pioneered TV shows for such folks as Liberace, Hugh Downs and Bill Cosby and proved to be a fearless gambler who trusted his gut instincts. He even had the guts to spend $5 million retooling Japanese TV animation in 1978 for the U.S. Star Wars-inspired TV series Battle of the Planets.

Just don’t expect this interview to be very fanboy-friendly. It’s not about the shows or films so much as the business deals. After all, this is a guy who states simply and correctly, “I was in the business of selling television series.”

And Frank brushes off MST will a mild rebuff, saying his films on the show were “nothing I took seriously or had pride in.” He calls the show “fun,” “a laugh” and “OK,” but that’s about it.

Still, he’s a great yarn spinner when it comes to entertainment being a function of wheeling and dealing — which so much of it is.

As for the Fugitive Alien disc, its interviewee is obsessive Japan pop culture historian August Ragone, who tells us in six minutes about the film’s origins and compares it to the same era’s domestically produced Buck Rogers and Galactica TV series.

You’ve gotta love August from here to December. He knows his subject like you know your drive home, but he’s self-aware of how far he goes. After making fine distinctions between Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea seasons 1 and 4, and Lost in Space seasons 2 and 3, he says, “Yeah, I’m in a lot of trouble here. I don’t date girls often.”

Also on this disc are five minutes of MST Hour Wraps for Fugitive Alien, with good ol’ Mike Nelson as crazy ol’ host Jack Perkins.

And that’s it — another fine haul of the special features we never used to get from Rhino but now do from Shout! Factory.

Thanks, guys. Keep ’em coming.

–Bruce Westbrook

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2 Responses to “MST3K Vol. XXIV DVD Review: Vampires and Wrestlers and Dragons — Oh My!”

  1. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Scientist Says:

    One little correction – Rhino included “A Date With Your Family” on the DVD “Shorts, Vol. 1.”

  2. Jan Says:

    Great objective review from an obvious MSTie. Can’t wait to get the set.

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