DVD Review: Mystery Science Theater 3000 (XXXI The Turkey Day Collection)

There is no such thing as a “War on Christmas” however there is a “Christmas War.” Thanks to an attack by Christmas, Thanksgiving no longer exists as its own holiday. Once upon a time, it was that wonderful Thursday when you felt like inviting over friends and family for a nice meal and a chance to reflect upon the good things that happened over the course of the year. Crafty people would dress up as pilgrims for the occasion. There were even holiday specials including one from the Peanuts gangs. During a nebulous time in the late ’70s, Thanksgiving was the victim of a holiday hijacking. First we were dished out resentment for the Pilgrims for ruining Native Americans with small pox, land grabs and plastic beads. Even worse was the mangling Thanksgiving received from the private sector. Thanksgiving dinner became merely a fueling up before the Black Friday Christmas shopping season that started in the wee hours on Friday. The last few years have featured merchants opening up on Thanksgiving morning with their door buster sales. The holiday is merely one big capitalistic frenzy in the name of Christmas. No other holiday has been ravaged so brutally by another holiday. Even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ends not with contemplative desert, but Santa reminding us to get shopping for Christmas. For a few years in the early ’90s, Thanksgiving had its own special event that wasn’t about Santa Claus and shopping. Thanksgiving was about The Turkey Day marathon of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes on Comedy Central.

Normally the bonus features aren’t discussed this early in a review, but the key pleasure to Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXI The Turkey Day Collection is the inclusion of all the vintage intros from the three marathons that featured the MST3K cast. The 1991 marathon has the running gag of Dr. Forrester seeing his marathon as the ultimate way to crush the spirit of the world. TV’s Frank wants his boss to lighten up and enjoy the dinner. Jack Perkins arrives with the most disgusting Thanksgiving joke ever told that is only gross to people who get the joke. Anyone who gets why yams prepared by Karen Finley is hilariously disgusting won’t be calling the FCC to lodge a complaint. That is why the joke is beyond brilliant. Turkey Day 1992 had the running gag of TV’s Frank being force fed a whole turkey every two hours. Dr. Forester has strapped TV’s Frank into his chair to make sure all the birds get devoured. Then the cast took a break which gets explained in the extras that Comedy Central didn’t want to pay them that much to produce original content for the marathon.

As a Turkey Day treat, here’s the two marathons that ran on Comedy Central that weren’t hosted by the cast of MST3K. Neither are included in the boxset. First is a Thanksgiving Party where the guests introduced the episodes. This was best known at my house as the year we didn’t waste a VHS tape to record the intros. The year being 1993.

While the MST3K crew wasn’t around for 1994’s Turkey Day, at least Comedy Central brought in Adam West. The man who will always be Batman was starring in the new episode Zombie Nightmare during the marathon so his casting made sense. Plus West knew plenty about appearing in turkeys although none of his Cinemax After Dark entries ran on MST3K. Here’s all the intros:

The cast sort of returned for their last big marathon in 1995. Since TV’s Frank had split the show, the joke is that the departed assistant had invited a lot of people over for dinner. Dr. Forrester gets a little help from Jack Perkins. This also marked the arrival of Dr. Forrester’s mom Pearl onto the show. She’s not too impressed at her son’s dinner guests. But she seems to have a friendship with Crow T. Robot. This 7 episode marathon ended with the premiere of Night of the Blood Beast which was released on the Mystery Science Theater XVI boxset. Sadly this was the last marathon before SciFi (now SyFy) became the new home for MST3K.

What about the four movies in the collection? Jungle Goddess (Season Two) is a classic tale of how easy white people have it in Africa. The plane carrying an heiress crashes in the deep wilderness. Instead of a tale of survival, she immediately gets pegged as goddess by the locals. Sure someone sends a rescue crew, but does she really want to leave a land that worships her like a Kardashian? Joel and the Bots have a lot of fun with this charming plot that makes a Tarzan film look like a documentary. Also on this episode is the third installment of The Phantom Creeps with Bela Lugosi. Jungle Goddess was part of the ’91 marathon.

The Painted Hills (Season Five) is a Lassie film that is rather doggish. Joel and the Bots enjoy goofing with the legendary dog. The movie has a 49er striking gold only to get struck down by an alleged friend. This leads to a major revenge plot and who better to sniff out a lying miner than Lassie. The dog won’t rest until the truth comes out. This was the last feature film with Lassie. While this didn’t air during a Turkey Day marathon, the short “Body Care and Grooming” should be essential viewing before you leave your house for the holiday dinner. You should never smell worse than the mince meat pie.

The Screaming Skull (Season Nine) is an American International Pictures that wanted to class up the exploitation houses. A husband attempts to drive his newlywed wife nuts since he wants to control her money. He uses a screaming skull for this purpose. The funny of the film was a promise that if you died of fear while watching The Screaming Skull, AIP would give you a free coffin. If you died of boredom, the theater manager will just hide your body with the stale popcorn. Crow and Tom Servo do their best to scam a free coffin from AIP. Sadly this offer does not include the Kiss Kasket. The movie features the Gumby short “Robot Rumpus.” This leads to an amazingly bad claymation short film made by Satellite of Love crew.

Squirm (Season Ten) is a film that once more explains why men should fear worms. In this case it’s a massive case of electricity that turns the wiggly critters into man eaters. This is classic 1976 when animals attack exploitation fun. The more nasty scenes from the original have been snipped, but you can get the uncut version of Squirm on Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Rick Baker did the effects so they’re best killer worms that aren’t as big as the ones in Dune.

Besides buying this amazing collection, the fine folks at Shout! Factory and Mystery Science Theater 3000 are hosting an online Turkey Day marathon at MST3KTurkeyDay.com. You can skip the football and the sales and just reflect on the rich bounty of quips blessed upon the movies. You should also pick up several copies of Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXI The Turkey Day Collection since it’s the only gift you need to give others to remind them Thanksgiving exists as its own holiday. Christmas can wait until December.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was shot on standard definition video so it has a little fuzziness to the image. The audio is stereo so you can hear the quips over the movies.

Turkey Day Intro by Joel Hodgson are on all four movies. Joel and the Bots are back as they set up the badness in these fresh skits.

Bumper to Bumper: Turkey Day Through the Years (56:29) collects all the intros and promos from the first, second and fifth marathons. These are the ones that featured the cast of MST3K. Now you can see them all without waiting 30 hours. The footage appears to be taken from various sources included what seems to be VHS tapes recorded of the TV. It can get rough, but the love shines through the technical issues. Prepare to be shocked at a young Patton Oswald cameo in a promo.

Overcooked & Overstuffed: Inside the Turkey Day Marathon (11:10) explains how this was one of the smart things a Comedy Central executive executed. The cast remembers their Thanksgivings. The cultural event gets explored. November is the show’s anniversary so it was the perfect holiday for them to celebrate. They also explain Jack Perkins for the wee ones.

This Film May Kill You: Making the Screaming Skull (10:35) explores this film that promised a free casket if you died. Mr. Lobo from Cinema Insomniac talks about how the film is misunderstood. The director swore it was his version of Rebecca and Gaslight.

Gumby & Clokey (7:59) explores the claymation superstar and his creator. Art’s son Joe Clokey shares tales of his father. There’s quite a few family photos to explain what Art did to make Gumby magic.

Interview with Don Scardino (12:27) has him talking about his time with the worms in Squirm. He got a kick out of the worms attacking.

Theatrical Trailers to Screaming Skull and Squirm.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXI The Turkey Day Collection brings together all that made Thanksgiving such a wonderful time in the early ’90s. Joel, Mike and the Bots really know how to stuff turkeys.

Shout! Factory presents Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXI The Turkey Day Collection. Starring: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl. Boxset Contents: 4 Movies on 4 DVDs. Released: November 25, 2014.

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