DVD Review ‘MST3K Volume XXXI’: Tasty Turkeys

MST TDay

Fitting for Thanksgiving — and I do give thanks — Shout! Factory on Tuesday releases Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection, with four more episodes new to DVD: Jungle Goddess, The Painted Hills, The Screaming Skull and Squirm.

And after you’ve gorged on those, there’s always dessert: a steaming hot helping of extra features from the reliable Ballyhoo, starting with exclusive intros of each episode by Joel Hodgson and the ‘bots, running around two minutes.

You may tend to watch these sets in any old order, but I’d start with first-in-the-collectible-tin Jungle Goddess, since its extras open with Inside the Turkey Day Marathon, an 11-minute look at its origins and traditions, starting in ’91 on Comedy Central.

Hodgson says they did the day’s wrap-arounds and sketches “in 20 minutes,” and the network gave them “complete creative control.” With new interviews of Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff also guiding us, we revisit the crazy characters who’d pop up for twisted fun and food orgies in Deep 13, notably Mike Nelson’s dead-on Jack Perkins, forever waxing enthusiastically about snooty minutiae, and also including Kevin Murphy’s hairball-puking cat, Bridget Jones’ ambiguous Mr. B Natural, Mary Jo Pehl’s Pearl Forrester and Paul Chaplin’s Pitch the devil.

Airing such marathons on a day for staying home as couch potatoes certainly made sense. As Joel points out, “Our movies were bad movies, so they were turkeys.”

Painted Hills‘ disc (whose intro includes yet another dig at MST3K whipping boy Joe Don Baker) brandishes the bloated but welcome Bumper to Bumper: Turkey Day Through the Years. It’s 56 minutes of sketches, segues, intros and wrap-arounds from ’91, ’92 and ’95 marathons (but not ’93 and ’94 marathons).

Keep its disclaimer in mind: “The clips used within this bonus feature were sourced from the best available masters.” That includes some footage which looks like an old VHS tape which went through a dishwasher, but hey, I’ll take it. And most of the footage is reasonably good quality.

Screaming Skull’s added goodies include a fascinating Gumby & Clokey making-of featurette, hosted by Joe Clokey, son of late creator Art Clokey. It explores the magic of Gumby’s warped stop-motion “claymation” world — including the fact that cookie cutters and rolling pins were used for the malleable characters, which were shown on real sets with real toys and real lighting (this matters in a weird way).

The Screaming Skull disc also includes a 10-minute This Film May Kill You: Making The Screaming Skull, so named due to a William Castle-like promotion in theatrical release, with producers promising to pay for your funeral if you die of fright while watching.

Several fans and film historians are interviewed, including Larry Blamire, who admits his lovably retro film The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra may have been inspired by The Screaming Skull — or at least by the fact that “the cheapest movie monster you could come by is a skeleton — and even cheaper, just a skull.” (Ironically, the featurette ends with Ballyhoo’s own skeleton logo shot.)

Squirm extras are anchored by the 12-minute Squirm Talk with actor Don Scardino. He likens the swamp horror cheapie to The Birds with worms — or bird food, when you think about it.

“There’s something about worms,” Scardino says. Yechh — he’s right.

Joel also offers this tasty tidbit in the disc’s Turkey Day intro: Squirm is “the only movie ever featured on MST3K that I paid to see while it was in theaters in its original theatrical run.” Now that’s good trivia.

So plop a heaping helping of wriggling worms on your table and get ready for a feast. As always, thanks to MST3K, turkeys never tasted so good.

— Bruce Westbrook

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