DVD Review ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 1’: Reprise to please

MST Vol. 1Oops. Out of print copies of Rhino’s Mystery Science Theater: Volume 1 may not be fetching $200 or so now that Shout! Factory is obligingly reissuing the four-disc set Tuesday for a more modest price. But even if you have the original, you may want to pick this up.

Yes, there are extras — a good many, in fact, starting with the “bumpers” between commercials which were omitted by Rhino. Beyond that is a fetching array of material from our friends at Ballyhoo, and a theatrical trailer for The Creeping Terror.

In fact, its disc is crazy for Creeping. There’s much more for the so-bad-it’s-good-in-an-Ed-Wood vein el cheapo monster mash in which a walking carpet terrorized teens. To wit: an extended trailer (seven minutes!) for The Creep Behind the Camera, a 2014 film about making the ’60s movie — or, more precisely, about its oh so dark creator, actor-writer-director Art Nelson, aka Vic Savage, about whom “creep” is an understatement and a relative compliment.

There’s also a 17-minute panel and Q&A for the film at the 2014 Screamfest in Los Angeles, hosted by MST’s own Frank Conniff.

Touting a pitch to make The Young Charles Manson Chronicles, Frank is fittingly funny to offset the dark tales of Savage and his portrayal by actor Josh Phillips, who also appears, along with writer-director Pete Schuermann and actress Jodi Lynn Thomas, who played Savage’s abused girlfriend.

The only good thing Phillips could say about him was he was “audacious” as a con man who somehow got the horrible horror movie made. The rest? You wouldn’t want to have known this guy.

The other substantial featurette is for Catalina Caper, which, like the other films here (also including Bloodlust and The Skydivers), was from Crown International Pictures. That studio was sort of a poor man’s American International, though in fact it outlived AIP.

With that in mind, the 17-minute featurette bills its tale as “the story of America’s oldest independent film company” while parading Wild Rebels director William Grefe, film historian Chris Poggiali and Stanley actor Gary Crutcher to recount Crown’s rein at the almost-top of the B-movie heap.

Paraphrasing a line from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, we’re told that the posters were better than the movies. We also learn how Crown and AIP had an unholy distribution alliance until AIP bailed, after which Crown went after them by bumping heads on biker flicks and other fads.

MST fans got the mistaken impression from my last review that I dislike company town minutiae. Not so. I covered show business for 30 years for newspapers and am actually more interested in its producing and business sides than in star-worship for actors and directors or fan-geek obsessions with various franchises. I just tend to zone out for long, droning lists of names and places which lack much meaning or context.

That wasn’t the case here. The story of Crown is exceptionally well told and gave me a new appreciation of a studio whose product graced so many drive-ins and early multiplexes. (Remember when “twin” theaters were in vogue?)

I’ve always said of exploitation flicks: If you’re going to make one, get busy and exploit. The Creeping Terror failed to do that, but other Crown creations did not, and many oozed a low-rent charm — even faux Beach Party romp Catalina Caper.

Give the audience what they want. Leave ’em laughing (or crying, screaming or whatever). These are old show-biz adages which still have weight today. Under Newton P. “Red” Jacobs’ leadership, Crown largely delivered what folks expected, and after 56 years it survives — at least as a catalog house — even today.

Take that, AIP.

— Bruce Westbrook




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