DVD Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 (XXIII)

Bad cinema is a place where dreamers rise as low budget legends while movie icons are exposed as sleepwalkers. The roasts, rips and quips of Mystery Science Theater 3000 quickly exposed which names were worthy of honor and which were needing a hard dose of pity. The four films collected on Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII allows Joel (Joel Hodgson), Mike (Mike Nelson), Crow (Trace Beaulieu) and Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy) to celebrate two of their favorite bad filmmakers while ripping into a duo that should have done better.

King Dinosaur (Season Two) brings together the directing talent of Bert I. Gordon (Food of the Gods & The Amazing Colossal Man) and producer Robert L. Lippert (Baron of Arizona) in a low budget mixture of rockets and dinosaurs. The film relies on stock footage to save money on blast off effects and clips from One Million BC to avoid paying to dress up reptiles. The climax of the film is stock footage of an atom bomb explosion. All expenses were spared. This is the kinda movie that would make Roger Corman jealous for its low budget tricks. This borrowed footage takes up a nice chunk of the 63 minute running time. Since it’s so short, Joel and the Bots must endure the educational short “X Marks the Spot.” A guardian angel takes a rest and his charge dies in a car wreck. There’s a court battle in heaven to see if the guy should be sent back to Earth. Joel and the Bots issue their character witness testimonials. The invention exchange has Dr. Forrester smashed in an elevator by TV’s Frank. “The Joey the Lemur” song steals the show. Crow gets upset that he’s seen too many films made by Robert L. Lippert. He gets another one.

Last of the Wild Horses (Season Six) was not only produced by Robert L. Lippert, but he also served as director. This is a true Western about horses, stage robbers and more horses. A local rancher who captures wild horses, breaks them and sells them is told to lay off so the herd can build up. He agrees, but he can’t afford to stop. What makes this episode extremely memorable is a homage to Star Trek‘s “Mirror, Mirror” episode. Dr. Forrester and TV Frank activate a matter transference device while the Satellite of Love floats through an ion storm. This cause Frank and Dr. Forrester to end up on the SoL while Mike and the Bots split up and get stuck with alternate universe Mike and the Bots. Mike gets to rock the evil Spock goatee. The most shocking part of the show is Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank allowed in the theater to riff on the film. Even more shocking is Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank doing their own version of the “Joey the Lemur” song. It’s like an alternate Lippert universe.

Code Name: Diamond Head (Season Six) isn’t a movie, but a TV series pilot that appeared bound for glory. Johnny Paul (The Invaders‘ Roy Thinnes) is a secret agent busting evil plots in Hawaii. His nickname is Diamond Head which is also the name of a nearby volcano. His fellow agents include the beefy Zulu (Zulu from Hawaii Five-O) and crafty Tso-Tsing (France Nuyen from Star Trek‘s “Elaan of Troyius”). They must stop Ian McShane (Deadwood) from stealing deadly nerve agents from the military. The pilot was produced by Quinn Martin, the man behind The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Cannon and Streets of San Francisco. Even with such a talented pedigree, this pilot is a complete dog. How could Quinn Martin go completely wrong? When this was shot in the mid-70s, Hawaii Five-O was still in full force. The easiest theory is that Jack Lord put a taboo tiki idol curse on the production. He didn’t want anyone on his turf. There is great fun at seeing a young Ian McShane on the screen. Since this episode was made nearly a decade before he rose to fame cussing on HBO’s Deadwood, he only gets mocked him for his time on Lovejoy. Because this is only a TV pilot, Mike and the Bots must suffer through “A Day at the Fair” about the Indiana State Fair. This was made before they deep fried Twinkies.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (Season Three) might be the reason why Christopher Lee hasn’t received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. He’s the Chinese super-villain out to conquer the world with his various devices. The film is a complete mess. He sinks a ship which turns out to be the Titanic. Director Jesus Franco (Vampiro Lesbos) blue tints footage from A Night to Remember. He also borrows the dam busting from Campbell’s Kingdom. The script also seems to be borrowed from various sources without any real attempt to make it seamless. Joel and the Bots have fun with calling it “The White Castle of Fu Manchu.” Christopher Lee is completely paychecking his performance in Chinese makeup. Crow is so upset by Lee that he rants about “Miss Saigon Syndrome.” Why can’t they hire Asian actors? Fu Manchu appears to be the film that breaks their will to live. TV’s Frank gets to show off his Joe Besser impersonation. This marks the final appearance of the Big Head.

The four films on Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII are unsung hits from the show’s run. The mediocre Western Last of the Wild Horses gets elevated with the Star Trek tribute. King Dinosaur charms with it’s brutal rationalizations. Code Name: Diamond Head show Quinn Martin didn’t always have a touch of gold. Finally The Castle of Fu Manchu reminds Academy voters that if they give Christopher Lee an honorary Oscar, they need to have a note on the trophy that it wasn’t for this stinker.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. MST3K was captured on videotape. The transfers here look fine without any major glitches. The audio is stereo. Everything is mixed so the quips don’t get lost in the film’s soundtrack.

Vintage MST3K Promos (14:16) are from the Comedy Central run of the show. Watch out for the dangerous chicken with a knife.

The Incredible Mr. Lippert (35:50) gives the biography of a filmmaking icon in the world of MST3K. Lippert started out running his own indie theater chain. Because the major studios would restrict their films to their theaters, Lippert got into producing to have films for his chain. He made cheap Westerns to appeal to his audience. He didn’t merely make schlock. He hooked up with director Sam Fuller for quite a few great titles including Vincent Price’s Baron of Arizona. This biography does justice to the man who peaked with The Fly. Kit Parker of Kit Parker films appears on camera. If you were part of your college’s film committee, you know his name.

King Dinosaur Trailer
(1:40) teases us with explosions, rockets and giant armadillos.

Code Name: Quinn Martin
(6:37) is a quickie biography on the TV producer who brought us The Fugitive, The Invaders and Streets of San Francisco. He got his break producing The Untouchables for Desi Arnaz. Code Name: Diamond Head was not his shining moment.

Life After MST3K: Kevin Murphy
(9:23) proves he’s still alive. He wrote a fun book about trying to see a movie a day for a year.

Introduction by Frank Conniff (3:23) lets him set up the badness of The Castle of Fu Manchu.

Darkstar: Robots Don’t Need SAG Cards (17:48) is about a video game that features many of the MST3K regulars including Beez McKeever!

The Castle of Fu Manchu Trailer (2:07) swears the most evil man is back.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII is another fine collection of episodes. The tribute to Star Trek makes it a geek out keeper.

Shout! Factory presents Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXIII. Starring: 
Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy. Boxset Contents: 4 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released on DVD: March 27, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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