So let’s launch this look at Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 30, due Tuesday, with some straight talk.
First, the extras aren’t as generous as on many other releases from Shout! Factory. But how can I complain? In the Rhino days we got zero extras, while Shout has done a splendid job of beefing up its DVDs with special features — while admirably continuing releases at a regular rate. Just because not all sets are created equally doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate this one. I’m just saying: The extras this time are sparse.
But not for the Outlaw (of Gor) disc, whose three featurettes total about 26 minutes, all from the reliable folks at Ballyhoo.
That’s where more straight talk is needed. In terms of forthright analyses, the featurette called “Writer of Gor: The Novels of John Norman” is about as bad as they come.
Instead of a third-party observer, we get 13 minutes of spin, hype, gushy praise and excuses, all from Richard Curtis, billed as the agent and publisher of Gor author John Norman (real name: John Lange). I’d say that makes the man a bit biased. I’d also say that being both agent and publisher is an unusual conflict of interests.
Before I go on, some personal history: I was a fan of the Gor novels from the start, buying the first one in a first-edition paperback. Having exhausted Burroughs’ Mars books, I’d found a new source of otherworldly fantasy adventures. Awesome!
The only trouble was, they didn’t stay that way. Before long Norman’s novels devolved into what were essentially plodding remakes of each other. And that’s not all.
Book after book disregarded plots and adventures in favor of stale reworkings of the same formula. We learned — over and over — that Darwinian survival of the fittest should be embraced as universal law, and that the greatest sexuality involves male dominance and female submission.
Period. That was it. Didn’t get it in the last six books? Try the next six. (Norman originally wrote 25, but more recently surpassed that.)
Naturally I became fed up — not because I’m a prude, because I’m not. Rather, I was bored — weary of reading the same bondage blather repeatedly.
But Curtis doesn’t see it that way. He extols the books’ “cult” following and ability to get reprinted in an age of digitization. He attacks feminism and insists the books’ sexuality is neither gratuitous nor exploitative.
Here’s my favorite quote: “Some of the content involved bondage.” Yes, and some of the scenes in the two Kill Bill movies involved graphic violence.
Here’s another: “John considered this (women-in-bondage sex) liberating.” Well, liberating for the men, anyway.
The extras improve with “Director of Gor,” a look at John “Bud” Cardos’ work on the low-budget Gor sequel shot in South Africa (back-to-back with a first film). Rightly, it’s acknowledged that the cast’s “name” members were on their career’s downhill side, which is how the movie got Jack Palance and Oliver Reed.
And here’s some straight talk from Cardos: “It was an OK picture to work on. It wasn’t my cup of tea. There’s wasn’t that much action.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean MST can’t make mirth with it, does it?
“Producer of Gor” looks at Harry Alan Towers via production manager Danny Lerner. He describes how South Africa offered tax shelter incentives which lured the sci-fi cheapie when most other productions shunned the nation during apartheid.
“Only people like Oliver Reed, who didn’t care, came to South Africa.” (More straight talk. See, it’s easy. Just be honest.)
He also tells how appalled he was by South African segregation, so on the production — which involved many locals — everyone ate together.
He also says Palance “was there to collect the check,” but Reed — though incessantly drunk — was “amazing” and never missed a line. (A functional drunk, I guess.)
At any rate, you see the difference between the first featurette and the other two. I’ll take the other two.
There’s also a trailer — blah blah — and that’s it.
The Projected Man also gets a trailer and a four-minute making-of featurette about a film shot in ’67 with a script rooted in ’50s flicks such as The Fly.
It Lives By Night has one thing: an “extended trailer” for The Frank music video, or short film, or whatever it is. But whatever it is, it looks like fun, reuniting much of the MST cast, including, of course, Frank Conniff.
The Black Scorpion has the trailer and a making-of featurette narrated by fan and historian C. Courtney Joyner. It’s solid company-town fodder about studio politics, actors on the decline (Richard Jennings) and shooting on location in Mexico instead of the back lot. It also made me appreciate the movie more via a better grasp of it. Thanks.
So there you have it. Hopefully this review wasn’t too blah. The four episodes certainly are not.
— Bruce Westbrook