MST3K Vol. XXXIX DVD Review: End of the Line

MST3K 39

And lo, it came to pass that many years of steady DVD releases of MST3K are ending. That end comes with Nov. 21’s release by Shout! Factory of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXXIX.

Eleven of the beloved cowtown puppet show’s 176 broadcast episodes remain unavailable, and you know the culprit: film rights. But before you get utterly bent out of shape, please know that rights issues are perfectly legal and are common in the TV/movie business. That’s why the original 1960s Batman TV series remained in video limbo for decades until its release in 2014.

But give the heavy thinkers at Shout! Factory this: With only three available episodes for Vol. XXXIX, unlike the usual four, and with 11 episodes taboo, what the hoo, they’ve added a fourth disc collecting all host segments from those 11 shows.

So there, balky movie rights owners. We’ve got three hours of Best Brains madness from those missing programs, at times even including stills and glimpses of the films.

Not only that, but the usual DVD extras, as so often, are special, including Showdown in Eden Prairie: Their Final Experiment and Behind the Scream: Daniel Griffith on Ballyhoo.

The latter has the man behind the wealth of featurettes on so many MST3K box sets, describing how he came to the projects and what they mean to him. It’s revealing, it’s heartfelt and it’s truly great stuff.

Found on the fourth Satellite Dishes disc of host segments, this 18-minute documentary about documentary maker Griffith relates how his obsession with peeling the onions of obscure low-budget exploitation filmmakers got the attention of Shout! Factory — and became an MST DVD staple.

Being a fan of the show already, he was enthralled by “the idea of giving these misunderstood films sort of the Criterion treatment — that is, treat it with respect, do a documentary about it.”

Griffith says he loves B movies “because there’s a sense of discovery,” with many being little known and ripe for unearthing the story behind the film — which often was more interesting than the movie itself. Learning more about their humble origins and expedience with rock-bottom budgets, he says, means “in most cases you can be more forgiving” — an exception being Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Griffith also reveals his own childhood’s origins of Ballyhoo films’ logos and introductory screams: William Castle movies he saw on TV while growing up in the ’80s.

It’s only fitting that we get such a fine documentary about the guy who’s served MST3K so well over the years making documentaries of his own. Thanks, Daniel. You’ve made MST’s DVD ride so much more special.

As for Showdown in Eden Prairie — fittingly, on the Diabolik disc — it’s a 10-minute look at the series’ exit from TV, when it was cancelled by the Sci Fi Channel in 1999. Interviews with the creators reveal they were somewhat on board, having worked hard on the show for a decade, but also were melancholy about marking the end.

Not that melancholy, though. Producer Jim Mallon says AMC was interested in ordering more shows, but the creative team was ready to quit. As Kevin Murphy said, they’d pretty much exhausted what they wanted to do.

The same disc also features a return of an old MST3K staple: The Last Dance Raw. It’s a 77-minute look at shooting that final episode  (for Diabolik), and raw is the word — but “r” also stands for revealing. Not bad, though it requires some patience.

I first learned this when I bought a VHS copy of the film from Best Brains years ago. Still have that tape! These days, you can also see it on YouTube.

Other Vol. XXXIX features include an eight-minute interview with musician Charlie Erickson (aka Chuck Love) on the Girls Town disc — about his co-creation of the show’s Love Theme, which is “to this day the most covered song that I’ve ever done.”

Erickson describes how the bouncy opening credits music with lyrics describing the show (a la many ’60s TV series) evolved into the stately end-credits theme, with no lyrics. The former he calls “surf Devo.” Well, of course.

Finally, we get another great Ballyhoo production with Beyond Transparency, an 11-minute look at how rich Texans in the ’50s spread cash to low-budget exploitation flicks as tax shelters, but often the well ran dry before the films could hit theaters, leading to film labs repossessing them and selling them at auction, which is how AIP picked some up.

One such flick was this disc’s The Amazing Transparent Man, which wasn’t so amazing.

Film historian C. Courtney Joyner narrates with some nice tidbits, including the special effects link between this Lone Star cheapie and Apocalypse Now. Who’d have thunk?

Oh, and all three movie discs also have a theatrical trailer, and all four discs have the usual comical menus.

That reminds me of one quibble: The Satellite Dishes disc lacks a separate menu for the 11 episodes’ host segments. It you want to go straight to, say, the two shows from Season 8 (my favorite season), you have to click through, one by one, to get there.

Back in the day, I’d sometimes make separate VHS tapes of shows’ host segments when the episodes repeated, since I enjoyed them so much. So this disc is tailor-made for a host nerd like me — except for lacking that menu.

And there you have it: the end of the trail. It’s been a grand ride — and will continue to be, as we watch these shows again and again.

But what’s left — and left unseen?

Here’s a list of the 11 MST3K episodes on Satellite Dishes for which the movie rights could not be secured. (Note: This does not include Godzilla vs. Megalon, which was on Rhino’s Vol. 10 set but now is out of print.)

Ep. 201, Rocketship X-M; Ep. 213, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster; Ep. 309, The Amazing Colossal Man (Rhino did issue this as a single on VHS); Ep. 311, It Conquered the World; Ep. 416, Fire Maidens From Outer Space; Ep. 418, The Eye Creatures; Ep. 807, Terror From the Year 5000; Ep. 809 I Was a Teenage Werewolf; Ep. 905, The Deadly Bees; Ep. 906, The Space Children; and Ep. 913, Quest of the Delta Knights.

Will we ever see these on DVD or Blu-ray — somehow, some way, someday?

Who knows? But until then . . .

Keep circulating the tapes.

— Bruce Westbrook







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