DVD Review of MST3K The Singles Collection: It Lives!

MST3K Singlesx

Egad! With Eegah and others back, it’s not the end of the line for new DVD box sets of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shout! Factory’s May 22 debut of The Singles Collection brings back six out-of-print titles first issued only as single discs during Rhino’s run releasing the show.

And not only that, but the discs sport lots of juicy new extras, including the mini-documentaries we’ve grown to love with great thanks to writer-director Daniel Griffith and his Ballyhoo productions.

No theme? No problem. The six titles are: The Crawling Hand (1963, Episode 106); The Hellcats (1968, Episode 209); Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Episode 321); Eegah (1962, Episode 506); I Accuse My Parents (1944, Episode 507); and Shorts Volume 3 (collecting seven shorts from various MST episodes — two with Joel, five with Mike). (Remarkably, all six discs are neatly packaged in a plastic case the same size as the single-disc cases in which they first came individually.)

As for those extras, besides trailers they include some real goodies:

Don’t Knock the Strock is a 12-minute Ballyhoo featurette on Crawling Hand director Herbert L. Strock, with tidbits from film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Justin Humphreys.

They underscore the Twilight Zonish nature of the dying astronaut yarn,  note such name-drop cast members as Peter Breck and Alan Hale Jr. and relate the tortured life of young star Rod Lauren, whose personal saga sounds more horrific than the movie.

Man on Poverty Row: The Films of Sam Newfield is a beefy (23-minute) Ballyhoo featurette on the director of I Accuse My Parents and — get this — more than 250 other feature films, as well as shorts and TV episodes.

As the end-titles note, he was “the most prolific filmmaker of the early American sound era.” In short, he worked fast and cheap, delivering his little exploitation flicks on time and earning just $500 per picture.

Joyner points out Newfield’s stamp on more than one MST3K — or MST3K-worthy — feature, including Radar Secret Service and The Terror of Tiny Town. But Newfield was no hack. “Given the restraints of budget and time, he rises to the occasion” for 1951’s Lost Continent.

One of the things I most love about such documentaries is their lavish displays of one-sheets, lobby cards and other colorful movie paper from old eras. You get that here, too — along with a loving company-town look at a guy who may have made small movies, but did so with a degree of artistry. And hey, he got the job done. If only everyone could  make the trains run on time.

New episode intros by Joel Hodgson also are featured with I Accuse My Parents, Eegah and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (perhaps the most absurd movie title ever). These are little featurettes in themselves, running up to 10 minutes.

Joel turns revisionist about Eegah, the caveman in the ’60s flick whose director cast his son, Arch Hall Jr., as a teen idol-worthy hunky male lead — though he wasn’t. Joel says he met Hall Jr. at a Comicon and now realizes the riffers were “cynical” and “judgmental” toward him — but hey, isn’t that true of almost all their targets?

His Santa intro relates how young Joel was inspired by the “weird” trailer as a kid and  struck by the film’s odd use of Wham-O Air Blaster toys as Martian guns. Noting other Yule flicks riffed over the years, he says, “There’s definitely something going on with Christmas and MST.”

For I Accuse My Parents, he’s especially proud of the “exquisite” riffing. But truth to tell, this beyond-dated do-gooder movie is the kind of stuffy ’40s film I detest for MST fodder. (Gimme b&w ’50s and ’60s sci-fi or horror drive-in schlock any day.)

“We’re at the height of our powers,” Joel says of the film’s riffs, but also notes “We don’t see it (the riff quality) while we’re making them.”

MST Hour Wraps also are provided for the Santa movie and I Accuse My Parents. I always love seeing Mike Nelson host in his affable lunatic role as Jack Perkins.

And there you have it. Not the end of the line, after all.

As always, MST3K lives.

— Bruce Westbrook







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2 Responses to “DVD Review of MST3K The Singles Collection: It Lives!”

  1. Me Says:

    You may want to rethink using the word “just” in your phrase “earning just $500 per picture” when speaking of Sam Newfield. $500 x 250 movies = $125,000. Running this figure through an inflation calculator for the year 1960 (my wild guess at the average copyright year of his films) yields $1,051,731.33 in 2017 dollars (the calculator didn’t have an option for 2018 yet). Not too bad, especially considering he also made short films and TV episodes that aren’t included in that figure.

    • farsider Says:

      If you think he was aptly paid or overpaid, that’s your business. The narrators of the documentary think otherwise, and I was conveying that. Also keep in mind that the $1M figure you arrive at was stretched over his entire career of many years.

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