Image C+ Sound C+ Extras B-
2.1 "The Crawling Eye" (1989), 5.15 "The Beatniks" (1992), 10.10 "The Final Sacrifice" (1998), 11.5 "Blood Waters of Dr. Z" (1999)
by Alex Jackson I know it's loony, but I watched "Mystery Science Theater 3000" (or "MST3K") mostly for the movies. Oh, I liked the jokes. There were some episodes I laughed so hard at I had to turn off the television because I couldn't breathe. But I saw the riffing as a bonus, a way to make a good thing better. I didn't really watch the show just because it was funny, and its ironic appreciation of "bad movies" didn't strike me as all that different from the sincere appreciation I had for the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space as a child. In fact, I don't think it's all that different from the deeper appreciation I have for those movies today. Mocking them doesn't necessarily detract from them. Their sensually visceral aspect always shines through. You can easily tell if something is any good regardless of who is talking over it. Besides, there's something amiably homey and relaxed about the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" approach. If you like a film, you should be able to enjoy it on your sofa. You should be able to converse about it in the moment. And you should even be able to laugh at it. If you can only love something with reverence, I'm not sure that's love.
To say that "Mystery Science Theater 3000" hates these films strikes me as a gross oversimplification. Nobody devotes themselves to something they hate--it isn't emotionally rewarding enough. On a very basic level, both the creators and admirers of the series must get some kind of pleasure in actually watching B movies or they wouldn't keep coming back again and again. And, of course, the line separating the films from the surrounding show is deliberately blurred. There's no attempt to make the special effects convincing. In exterior shots of the "Satellite of Love," it's clear that we are looking at a model. Additionally, the Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Crow puppets have few movable parts. The antagonism between the villains (Dr. Clayton Forrester in seasons 1 through 7 and his mother Pearl Forrester in seasons 8 through 11) and our heroes (Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) in seasons 1-5 and Mike Nelson (just Mike Nelson) in seasons 6 through 11) is perfunctory at best. Showing a captive audience a series of "cheesy movies" and then "monitoring their minds" is only nominally a scientific experiment and unlikely to produce meaningful results. More to the point, Crow has Thanksgiving dinner with the Forresters in the episode "Night of the Bloodbeast" and Pearl joins the 'bots on the Satellite of Love to riff on Quest of the Delta Knights.
Finally, the series eschews internal logic. For a secret experiment in outer space, they sure do have a lot of guest stars. (Joel himself reappears in a later season to say "hi" to everybody.) On a very basic conceptual level, "MST3K" doesn't make a lot of sense. We're told that Joel was an average guy working as a janitor at Dr. Forrester's Gizmonic Institute, yet he's enough of a savant to have built fully sentient robot sidekicks out of spare parts. The contempt for ordinary suspension of disbelief is so complete that, for a while, the cast members read fan mail and displayed fan art at the end of an episode. The "Mystery Science Theater 3000" theme song tells us that "if you're wondering how he eats and breathes/and other science facts/then repeat to yourself 'it's just a show'/I should really just relax." This irreverent attitude significantly tempers the movie-hate displayed on the program. Just as "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is "just a show," the movies themselves are "just movies." As the makers of "MST3K" can't be said to value things like realism, tension, or coherence, they cannot reasonably demand the movies to, either. It would be disingenuous to say that something like Manos: The Hands of Fate (to take the show's most famous object of ridicule) is the worst film of all-time, but the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode mocking it is a masterpiece. "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is not the opposite of Manos: The Hands of Fate. The series does not reject the values embodied by Manos: The Hands of Fate, nor does it offer us a meaningful alternative.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000" is deliberately absurd. The movies therein are accidentally absurd. All this means, ultimately, is that "MST3K" consistently "fails" in a homogenous way. The movies are sometimes merely awful, but every once in a while you see something that warrants less of a dismissal. When a "bad" film sincerely aspires to the level of great art, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, it can speak of the elusiveness of purpose and meaning in an intrinsically chaotic universe. "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is never as unbearable as the movies it shows, but it's never as exciting or soulful, either. Every time I watch it, I glean a few genuine laughs. And every time I watch it, I feel like I just wasted an hour-and-a-half of my life. It plays it safe, I suppose, requiring little risk on behalf of the viewer and giving little back in return.
Shout! Factory's "XVII" volume of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" might be a quintessential sampler of the show. None of the four enclosed episodes are entirely worthless and none of them could be considered must-sees. What they provide is a complex mosaic of the series' flaws and strengths and, as they were cherry-picked from across the show's eleven-year run, they give us a taste of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" in its entirety.
The first episode of the set is "The Crawling Eye." This was the pilot for the show's debut season on The Comedy Channel (which later merged with "Ha! The Comedy Network" to form Comedy Central) and is the only one here with founding member Josh "Elvis" Weinstein, the original voice for Tom Servo as well as Dr. Forrester's sidekick Dr. Lawrence "Larry" Erhardt. Weinstein felt somewhat alienated by the large age gap between him and the other cast members (he was only 18 or 19 when "Mystery Science Theater 3000" went on the air) and by the increasingly polished direction in which the show was headed. He liked it better when they were ad-libbing instead of following a script. While I haven't seen any episodes from the series' original KMTA run (a.k.a. "Season 0"), there is little doubt in my mind that it improved as the professionalism increased. This is easily the weakest episode of the lot. It's relatively slack and uninspired and the riffing is too...direct. In later episodes, the jokes would snowball into a higher realm of goofiness that went beyond critique. Here, they're literally just mocking the film.
That's a problem because 1958's The Crawling Eye isn't an offensively bad movie--indeed, it isn't a bad movie, period. An adaptation of a British television serial named "The Trollenberg Terror" by Jimmy Sangster, who had scripted Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula and The Revenge of Frankenstein, it counts Stephen King (who put the Crawling Eye itself in his novel It) and John Carpenter (who credits the movie as the inspiration for The Fog) among its admirers. In Joe Dante's Matinee, a poster for the film decorates the young hero's bedroom. It has a fairly respectable reputation, in other words. Trollenberg is a village in the Swiss Alps that has recently seen a rash of strange decapitations. The culprit is a giant alien eyeball capable of hypnotizing humans to do its bidding. Janet Munro is absolutely lovely as a young British traveler who has fallen under the Crawling Eye's seductive spell, and I admired the film's atmosphere and creepy Gothic mood. It moves pretty slowly and its pleasures are fairly minor, but it's hardly worse than Herk Harvey's esteemed 1962 Carnival of Souls. One is an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and the other's part of the Criterion Collection. Them's the breaks, I guess.
Things pick up once the Crawling Eye finally appears and the army attacks. The Crawling Eye itself is a truly creepy creation, sentient but utterly inhuman and given a wet, fleshy body pulsating with nerve endings. Seeing it injured is a disturbingly empathic and sexualized experience, bringing to mind of the moment at the end of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers when our eponymous heroes go to work on the "Brain Bug" with a cattle prod. The conflict between the rational forces of science and the military and this disquietingly surreal icon is resonantly archetypal, the heart and soul of the science-fiction genre boiled down to its essence. The Crawling Eye might not be a brilliant film, but it's sometimes a powerful one.
"Mystery Science Theater 3000" sees it as worthy of derision because it's in black-and-white. Dr. Erhardt mentions this specifically in his introduction as he explains why the movie is bad. Throughout, they point out stuff like matte paintings and rear-projection effects--conventions most cinephiles have already legitimized as part of the art of movies. Would you laugh about King Kong being stop-motion animation? Would you call Ray Harryhausen a hack simply because his creations are unconvincing? Most of the work of Alfred Hitchcock wouldn't live up to the standard this crew has set for The Crawling Eye. I mean, you don't have to like The Crawling Eye, but if you don't like it for these reasons then I don't know what you possibly could like. Near the end of the episode, the basic idea of a crawling eye is called into question. They wonder why people are scared of disembodied body parts in general and joke that you can easily put out the Crawling Eye by squirting lemon juice on him. Their confusion suggests a failure of imagination; our ability to be scared by things that can't hurt us is possibly what separates us from the animals.
By the time of the fourth season's "The Beatniks," the writers have learned that they aren't there to show us why this movie is so awful. Rather, they are comedians whose performance incorporates this awful movie. For the most part, this more sophisticated approach works. It's funnier and warrants less defensiveness when they josh something you really love. Still, I wish they didn't hold back so much on 1960's The Beatniks. If ever there was a film that deserved to be ground hard into the dirt, it's this one.
The Beatniks are not literal beatniks, but rather a gang of youthful miscreants. Before the main titles, they don plastic Halloween masks and rob a convenience store. (An homage to Kubrick's The Killing? If only!) They are in no real hurry to escape, though, and stop by their favourite diner for sodas afterwards. Blocking the street is a middle-aged man whose car has broken down. They offer him a push and drive into the back of his car, smashing the bumper. As he protests that they are trying to destroy his car, the gang laughs at him. Inside the diner, Iris (Karen Kadler), the girl of the group, badgers the leader, Eddie (Tony Travis), to serenade her. He reluctantly sings along to a Sinatra-esque number off the jukebox. The man whose car they ran into overhears. As luck would have it, he's a talent agent and wants Eddie to come meet a television executive and see about getting on the air. Eddie is disdainful. "You call that singing?" he asks. "That was nothing!" He relents once the agent tells him he could earn as much as fifteen-thousand dollars a week.
What I find particularly disturbing about The Beatniks is the sense of extreme entitlement from Eddie. He reaches Charles Manson levels of narcissistic grandiosity and self-delusion. The guy is--within the universe of the film, anyway--an abnormally great singer. He's so good that he rams his car into the talent agent's vehicle and still receives an offer to go on TV. (I was reminded of Alan Rickman's character in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, whose olfactory senses are so aroused by an aromatic perfume that he falls to the feet of his daughter's murderer and declares that he loves him as a son.) Eddie doesn't even like to sing and we can surmise that it's not something he ever had to hone through practice. Like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, this gift comes so easily to him that he has nothing but contempt for anybody who's impressed by it.
Eddie quickly achieves fame and starts to distance himself from his gang. He coldly and efficiently drops Iris upon meeting the blonde, sophisticated secretary Helen (Joyce Terry). The two begin a saccharine love affair, the legitimacy of which is severely undermined by our knowledge that Eddie hasn't changed despite entering a higher sphere of socio-economic status. I really hate this guy. I hate everybody in this movie. That, in itself, isn't necessarily a problem. The problem is that writer-director Paul Frees, the voice of Boris Badenov himself, isn't particularly conscious of how reprehensible these people are. So "The Beatniks" aren't textbook beatniks. So the spiritual underpinnings of Keroucac's "Beat" movement have been disregarded and the "beatnik" is a generic anti-conformist. So the music that Eddie sings is Sinatra-esque pop and nothing like what a beatnik would gravitate towards. The real failure of The Beatniks is that it doesn't comment on the narcissism of youth culture so much as pander to it. It's saying, without irony, that people like Eddie are born great and everybody else is dreary and ordinary. On those terms, it's insufferably shrill, albeit considerably more substantive than the usual "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fare.
Joel and the 'bots do what they can with this material. It's a pleasure seeing the surly and arrogant Eddie ridiculed and I like the lyrics they add to his musical numbers. In the show's finest riff, they follow up "You call that singing?/That was nothing" with "That was belching." As a critique of The Beatniks, however, it barely scratches the surface. If nothing else, the episode is valuable for showing us that the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment doesn't work very well for movies that make you angry. It doesn't cut deep enough to facilitate catharsis. This episode includes part two of a three-part takedown of an old episode of "General Hospital." (Part 1 was included on "Manhunt in Space" from two episodes back and Part 3 is on "Crash of the Moons," two episodes ahead.) Said segment is good for a solid chuckle or two but hamstrung by the general confusion of coming to the middle segment of a trilogy cold.
Season 9's "The Final Sacrifice" is a consummate episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000". The movie proper has no life of its own. It's not that you would never want to watch it uncut without these people talking though it, it's that it doesn't seem like you could. The Final Sacrifice suggests something tailor-made for the program. It has been said that this is the worst thing to have ever come out of Canada, and although that's an exaggeration in no uncertain terms (I have personally reviewed a Canadian film that was measurably worse), it is plausibly the worst thing to have come out of Alberta.
When he discovers a map to an ancient mystical idol among his late father's belongings, gawky teenager Troy McGreggor (Christian Malcolm) suddenly finds himself the target of an evil cult led by the demonic Satoris (Shane Marceau). Luckily, he has a protector in Zap Rowsdower (Bruce Mitchell), a truck driver strangely adept at hand-to-hand combat and guerrilla warfare. Together they evade Satoris's minions while searching for the idol and preventing Satoris from taking over the world. I get the feeling they were making it up as they went along. For example, Troy meets Zap through a chance encounter. He climbs into the back of his truck upon escaping Satoris. Later we learn that Zap was a former member of the cult, is well-versed in its history, and might have known Troy's father. The film is virtually nothing but exposition. Every scene and every exchange of dialogue exists exclusively to move the story along, while the story itself exists purely for its own sake. It moves in one straight line to absolutely nowhere. The Final Sacrifice asks you to invest yourself in a fairly complex mythology with lots of backstory and doesn't give you anything in return. Roger Ebert's definitive put-down of Larry Bishop's Mad Dog Time applies: this is the first film I've seen that doesn't improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same amount of time.
It seems that writer-director Tjardus Greidanus was aiming for a low-budget Northwestern variant of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars. Well, this is way too low-budget and possibly too Northwestern. Pot-bellied Bruce Mitchell not only lacks the sex appeal of a young Harrison Ford, he's far too Canadian-nice for a rugged anti-hero. When he discovers Troy in the back of his truck, he tells him he would be much more comfortable in the cab. I remember watching a documentary in junior high that saw Joseph Campbell himself explicitly localize the appeal of Han Solo and Indiana Jones in seeing their secular cynicism melt away as they become radicalized. It's doubtful Greidanus understands this material on that most basic level. The bad guys are boring, too. These cult members wear ski masks and carry chainsaws and machine guns. The Final Sacrifice is a self-described fantasy film--neither Satoris nor Zap are able to do anything out of the ordinary. It's too tasteful to be truly awful, if you know what I'm saying. This isn't going to be anybody's Best Worst Movie. It isn't going to land a cult the way that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Manos The Hands of Fate have. The thing just isn't meshugganah enough.
That said, this is a pretty harmless movie. Greidanus is derivative and doesn't have a creative bone in his body. And he obviously doesn't care enough to make an adventurously bad film, much less one that is good. On the other hand, he has at least made something that is completely void of cynicism or misanthropy. The Final Sacrifice is sort of the antithesis of Zombie Strippers: no gore, no tits, and no mocking superior attitude that lets you know the director is better than the crap he's peddling. Greidanus isn't ripping off or riding the coattails of Indiana Jones or Star Wars (The Final Sacrifice was made in 1990--the year after The Last Crusade, sure, but generally long after the films were hot in the public consciousness), he's paying homage to them. He was inspired by them and wanted to do a film in that tradition. There's a kind of wide-eyed naivety to The Final Sacrifice that not only prevents it from being entirely unwatchable, but also gels with the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" aesthetic. This movie is corny, you know?
If this box set is any indication, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" hit its stride in its last few seasons. Now with Mike Nelson as host and Pearl Forrester as principal villain, the cast and crew appear to have perfected the format. The skits sprinkled throughout the show could often feel wandering and padded (I was always particularly underwhelmed by the prop comedy of Joel Hodgson's "invention exchange"), but "The Final Sacrifice" boasts some very funny sketches. At one point, everybody on the ship and in Pearl's castle becomes infected with "hockey hair." Mike is immune, as he has already had "hockey hair" from 1982 to 1992. Alas, in the very next skit he comes down with Grizzled Old Prospector's disease. The riffs on The Final Sacrifice are, of course, even more hilarious. They get a lot of mileage out of the painfully awkward Troy McGreggor, whom we're told likes to relax by opening up the Book of Mormon and knows all the songs from "Once Upon a Mattress." Of the generic, public-domain score, Crow wisecracks that Beethoven's Fifth just can't get started here.
This is, again, precisely the right movie for "Mystery Science Theater 3000". The show isn't film criticism and that's perfectly all right in this instance, because The Final Sacrifice is perhaps beneath criticism. These are the right comics for the job and they say the right things at precisely the right times. They get the (limited) appeal of a movie like this and make it into a genuinely enjoyable experience. But even at its best, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is less satisfying than an actual movie. It seems insurmountable--a problem of design. Watching a bunch of puppets trash a bad movie requires considerably less emotional engagement than watching a bad movie directly. I don't think the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version of The Final Sacrifice stands up on its own two feet as a valid work of art. If you're new to the series or curious to re-visit it, this would be the ideal starting point. I'd be reluctant to recommend it otherwise.
The package concludes with "Blood Waters of Dr. Z," from the tenth and final season. This is another great episode, with a few bits that surpass anything in "The Final Sacrifice." I felt positively euphoric watching the opening skit, where we learn that Crow has taken up chewing tobacco. The practice has already corroded his lower jaw into a lump of molten plastic. Funnier still, he's collecting his spittle in cans of Pepsi One. Alas, The Blood Waters of Dr. Z (1975) is nowhere near the unwatchable piece of shit that is The Final Sacrifice. In fact, I think it might be some kind of minor masterpiece.
Writer/producer/director Don Barton never did anything else, but he is clearly a mad visionary in the tradition of Ed Wood and Beast of Yucca Flats auteur Coleman Francis. This movie is too fucking crazy to condescend to. The Blood Waters of Dr. Z (better known under the title Zaat!) is already accumulating a healthy reputation as one of the great "bad" movies. In 2009, the film was theatrically re-released in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Statesboro, GA. On Halloween Eve, it was broadcast on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies as part of their "TCM Underground" series. IMDb users have voted it the tenth worst movie ever made. (Interestingly enough, The Final Sacrifice is right behind it at number 11. Do IMDb users really feel that The Blood Waters of Dr. Z is worse than The Final Sacrifice, or is this their perverse way of showing the Don Barton film greater respect? The Final Sacrifice is so lame it's not even deserving of "bottom ten" notoriety.)
The Blood Waters of Dr. Z begins with a montage of underwater nature footage narrated by a giggling lunatic who declares his love for sargassum and sharks and loathing for human beings. This is Dr. Leopold (Marshall Grauer), a former Nazi scientist whose experiments were shut down by his superiors because he insisted on using human subjects. Inspired by a species of catfish that can walk on land for limited amounts of time, Dr. Leopold has developed a serum that will transform human beings into fish monsters. He injects himself with it, turns into a rubber-suited beastie, and declares revenge on all those who've wronged him. He begins by releasing walking catfish around the surrounding area, drawing the attention of local sheriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) and marine biologist Rex (Gerard Cruse). When Dr. Leopold begins a killing spree, the townspeople call in Inter-Nations Phenomenon Investigations Team (INPIT--a nod to cultish sexpot Ingrid Pitt?) agents Martha Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver) and Walker Stevens (Dave Dickerson). Despite murdering the scientists responsible for shutting down his experiments, Dr. Leopold is unsated by mere revenge. He needs a fish-monster mate. He kidnaps a bikini-clad blonde, but her transformation to fish monster is a colossal failure and she dies. Undeterred, the good doctor sets his sights on Walsh.
The aforementioned underwater montage establishes the tone for the rest of the film. We're deep inside the mind of Dr. Leopold and the experience is accordingly disassociated, surreal, and vaguely depressing. As the bikini blonde dies mid-transformation, a black patch of what I presume are fish scales (but notably it resembles dead flesh) materializes on her thigh. Barton then zooms into the vacant doll-like eyes of her corpse. It's perhaps the purest embodiment of the film's necro-erotic aesthetic. This girl's body registers simultaneously as an erotic object and as a cold piece of meat. I mean, it's tactile. As Danny Peary wrote of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's Performance, this is the rare film that could accurately be described in terms of odour. It's pungent and salty, like a wet mass of seaweed washed up on shore. I'm not sure it's a pleasant experience, but it is an experience. This intertwining of the grotesque with the sensual subtly transgresses the typical boundaries of the horror genre. Even at its silliest, it's a profoundly disturbing picture.
Dr. Leopold's near-wordless, glacially-paced transformation reminded me of the scene in Gerard Damiano's The Devil in Miss Jones that has Georgina Spelvin drawing herself a bath and then cutting her wrists. As there is no sense that Leopold is doing this for the purpose of scientific exploration, and as he has just expounded at length on how disenchanted he is with the human world, it's hardly a stretch to equate his transformation with suicide. Accordingly, the uneventfulness of the sequence successfully expresses the loneliness and despair Leopold hopes to transcend. About two thirds of the way into it, Tom Servo cracks, "I really need to simplify my masturbation ritual." That's funny enough as a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" joke, but it breaks the ice and puts us at ease just as we're beginning to grow uncomfortable.
In the film's closing shot (*SPOILER ALERT*), we see our hero cruelly cuckolded as his lover sleepwalks into the sea to become the fish monster's bride. Mike Nelson attempts to neutralize the grungy poetry and kinky sadomasochistic undertones of this ending by sarcastically asking, "So it's become an Italian neo-realist film from the Sixties?" I suppose that it has. Does Nelson have something against Italian neo-realist films of the Sixties or does he feel the film is overreaching? I believe The Blood Waters of Dr. Z earns the right to conclude like this. It mirrors the transformation scene at the beginning of the piece, but with an even greater ambivalence. We see her as choosing death, but Dr. Leopold would argue, not entirely inaccurately, that she is choosing life. Compared to the fish-monster existence, the life of a human is hardly a life. (Shades of the third Creature from the Black Lagoon flick.) The fact that the fish monster is a guy in a rubber suit with an immobile Halloween mask who walks on two legs like he's done it his whole life makes the ending all the more powerful. In his review of Todd Haynes's I'm Not There, our own Walter Chaw writes: "I used to like to condense Modernism as the search for God that culminates in the discovery that God is a series of broken monuments and chaos and that Post-Modernism was therefore the gradual acceptance of God as a manufactured construct." If that's an accurate description of Post-Modernism, then The Blood Waters of Dr. Z might be the perfect Post-Modern film. Its God, evolved from the Modernist definition of Him as a series of broken moments and chaos to that of a manufactured construct, is a guy in a fish monster suit. Imagine having to sift through the rubble only to discover that.
Is "Blood Waters of Dr. Z" good "Mystery Science Theater 3000"? I'm honestly not quite sure. This is the same gang from "The Final Sacrifice" doing their thing and doing it characteristically well. The problem--if it is a problem, exactly--is that the film itself is better than the episode that has been built around it. The Blood Waters of Dr. Z is a slippery work of art. It's confounding, titillating, and singular. "Mystery Science Theater 3000" dulls its edge and turns the experience into something easy to digest. But: there's a sense in which I would prefer to watch this one over "The Final Sacrifice." The sheer luminance of the film overpowers the jokes cracked at its expense. A heckled The Blood Waters of Dr. Z is certainly better than no The Blood Waters of Dr. Z at all. Unfortunately, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" isn't working any alchemy here. With The Final Sacrifice, they rendered something unbearable enjoyable. With The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, I can tell, despite not having had a clean viewing, that it far surpasses any possible episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000". If nothing else, this instalment serves as conclusive proof that "Mystery Science Theater 3000" has exhausted its utility for me.
Shout! Factory bundles the four abovementioned episodes on individual DVDs in standard 1.33:1 transfers. The oldest of the bunch, "The Crawling Eye" looks absolutely terrible. The famed theatre silhouettes register as a distracting shade of pencil-lead grey and the whole thing is exceedingly dupey to the point where there is an insurmountable barrier between the show and us. This is clearly the fault of a cheaply-recorded source. The image quality of "The Beatniks" fares considerably better, though it still doesn't meet the "perfectly acceptable" mark of the much later episodes "The Final Destination" and "Blood Waters of Dr. Z." Similarly, the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio is barely audible on "The Crawling Eye," is fresher if mediocre with "The Beatniks," and sounds as good as it needs to with "The Final Destination" and "Blood Waters of Dr. Z." In unfortunately typical Shout! Factory fashion, no closed-caption or subtitle options are on offer.
"The Crawling Eye" includes the movie's original theatrical trailer plus a "Special Introduction by Joel Hodgeson" (6 mins.), wherein Hodgeson basically apologizes for what will follow and says that if he could give his younger self any advice it would be to do the skits faster. "The Beatniks" comes with "Mystery Science Theater Hour Wraps on The Beatniks" (5 mins.). These bumpers were shot for the show's syndicated run--as an entire film was too cumbersome for most stations to program, episodes were cut into two hour-long segments hosted by a hilariously senile Jack Perkins (played by Mike Nelson). I fondly remember watching these demi-episodes late Saturday night on a local unaffiliated station in the mid-'90s. (The channel would later become a WB affiliate.) Good times. The highlight of these bumpers is their closing credits, during which the former host of A&E's "Biography" throws a temper tantrum and dances the Watusi.
"The Main Event: Crow vs. Crow" (35 mins.) is a charming but overlong interview with Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett about the history of the Crow character. Beaulieu, who played Crow until Corbett took over in season 7, dominates the conversation, with Corbett admitting that he fell into the gig and had only planned on writing for the show. There seems to have been a real purity to the puppetry on the show. Beaulieu states that they thought of their puppets as their "instrument" and were individually responsible for its upkeep. He denies ever acting as Crow and says that the character is "him" transmitted through a puppet. Beaulieu is nonplussed if sympathetic when the audience gasps "No!" as he dismantles the Crow puppet for demonstration purposes. "He's not real!" Beaulieu contends. Rounding out the "Beatniks" platter is the film's theatrical trailer.
There is no trailer on "The Final Sacrifice," only a sad nine-minute interview with the film's "star" Bruce Mitchell in which the actor seriously discusses his character; Mitchell apparently believes himself to be a cult phenomenon. "Blood Waters of Dr. Z" contains a trailer, TV promos for the film, and a photo gallery of lobby cards, but nothing "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-related. Nonetheless, these might be my favourite supplements out of the four discs. As a special bonus, Shout! Factory has also produced miniature lobby cards for each movie as keepcase inserts. They feature Crow and Tom Servo trapped in the kitschy universes of their respective films. Originally published: July 12, 2010.