DVD Review Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI

MST3K XVI box art

And lo, a new MST3K box set came unto them, and it was good.

In terms of extras, not great in this case, but definitely good. We’re talking Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI, new on DVD Tuesday, March 26 from Shout! Factory, with four more episodes scattered from Seasons Four through Eight, and a routine but often rewarding array of special features.

The beefiest of that bunch is the 17-minute Of Mushrooms and Madmen: Making The Mole People for the disc with that early Season Eight episode, when we could rejoice with Earth’s future apes that it was “32nd Annual Lawgiver Daze.”

Brought to us from the reliable folks at Ballyhoo, Of Mushrooms and Madmen surveys the career of William Alland, who produced 1956’s The Mole People as well as more highly regarded sci-fi fare such as This Island Earth and the three Creature (as in Black Lagoon) features.

It seems he got started for Universal International by using stock footage generously to save money on second-tier sci-fi films. (Would Wood do that?) With help from film historians Bob Burns and Tom Weaver, we survey what went down for The Mole People, from the name cast (in retrospect) of Hugh Beaumont and Alan Napier (do we have to mention bland leading man John Agar?) to director Virgil Vogel, who’d soon settle into TV work (not mentioned here).

Interestingly, it is mentioned that The Mole People had new life at drive-ins as a reissue in the ’60s. Then it had new life on MST3K in 1997 — and now on DVD in 2013. See? Some things never die.

That brings us to Danger!! Death Ray (why not three exclamation points???) from Season Six, whose disc harbors the long-awaited Life After MST3K  extra featuring none other than Mike Nelson.

His 12-minute discourse unavoidably recounts many of the same things as on Kevin Murphy’s Life After on set XXIII, such as Timmy Big Hands, the Film Crew and Riff Trax. But it’s good to hear ol’ Mike (actually, I may be older — make that young Mike) reflect on the good ol’ days.

For one thing, he allows that when MST ended, “We were still having fun doing the show. It got progressively more fun.” I always hate to see things end badly — limping to the finish line grudgingly. MST was still going strong and a pleasure, not a duty, at the end. Good for them.

The Alien From L.A. disc has an 8-minute interview with director Albert Pyun, a guy I recall interviewing myself in Houston when he toured to promote the film in 1988. (I believe Albert was hopeful of making a Spider-Man movie at that time — back when Marvel couldn’t get arrested on the big screen.)

Pyun recounts the strain of working with Cannon, and the financial reasons for shooting in South Africa, so much of his talk is company-town stuff. More regaling is his admission of the problem with star Kathy Ireland’s voice.

The statuesque swimsuit model had “a very high-pitched, sort of little girl’s voice” which was “kind of shocking,” Pyun says.

Agreed. If Andie MacDowell’s voice in Greystoke can be dubbed by Glenn Close, and Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice  in My Fair Lady can be dubbed by Marni Nixon, then Ireland’s voice surely could have been replaced in the ADR for Alien From L.A. But that’s show biz. And besides, the DVD makes mirth with her childlike voice in its animated menu (always among the best extras on these sets).

As for The Magic Sword disc, along with MST Hour Wraps for that episode (with some nice Mike Nelson fencing), there’s an 8-minute Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker, also from Ballyhoo, and featuring an interview with Gordon. He tells of his big break in Hollywood owing to his 16mm camera, with which he shot commercials back in St. Paul, Minn. Turns out its footage could be blown up for striking a 35mm print for theatrical distribution.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing cheap about many of his ’50s creature flicks, which were non-union and starred wannabes (in his words). But the movies did well at the b.o., and as I’ve always said, if you’re gonna make an exploitation movie, get busy and exploit. Gordon did — and that’s why we’re still talking about him.

Each disc also has a trailer for its film, and two are pretty good, including that for The Magic Sword, which is nutty entertainment in itself and shows how far Gordon could come with its pseudo-epic trappings and name actors. The Danger!! Death Ray trailer also is a kick, rippling with non-stop action-violence that has absolutely no narrative context and is scored with faux groovy music.

And there you have it — another welcome addition to MST3K‘s digital preservation with the usual tasty tidbits. Enjoy!

— Bruce Westbrook

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

  1. Yipe Striper Says:

    I can’t wait to get my paws on this one. Mole People, Danger!! Death Ray!, the Magic Sword(my vhs tape has HAD it…), and Alien from L.A. are all, I say again… all classics.

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