Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXII (2011) – By Duane L. Martin

Shout Factory has another new Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set, and this time it’s Volume XXII. This time around, the films include Time of the Apes, Mighty Jack, The Violent Years and The Brute Man.

Before I get into the films, I’ll give you all a little run down on what the show is for those who haven’t seen it. Basically, Joel Hodgson, who was later replaced by Mike Nelson, are sent up in a spaceship by Dr. Forester and his assistant Frank, to be subjected to the cheesiest movies ever made. To keep them company, there’s a collection of robots that Joel created, named Cambot, Gypsy, Crow and Tom Servo. Crow and Tom Servo hang out with either Joel or Mike in the ships theater and rip on the films they have to watch. They take breaks now and then for some fun intermission bits, invention exchanges, skits and other random stuff.

So that’s the basic gist of the show. Now here’s what we have in this latest box set…

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Time of the Apes – This was a show from Japan, circa 1987. Various episodes were cut together to make a movie out of it. A scientist lady named Catharine was escorting two children, Johnny and Caroline, through a science facility where they were working on cryogenics, and while she was showing them the cryo chambers (there just happened to be three of them), a volcano erupted and the facility suffered some major damage. In an effort to save themselves, the three got into the metal cryo pods, and wouldn’t you know it, they got turned on in all the chaos. The three woke up at some point way in the future after some kind of a time warp something or other pulled them forward. Now the Earth is populated by intelligent apes, who never apparently developed the ability to move their mouths when they talk. At first, being humans and all, the apes are planning to execute them, but then the leader shows up and saves them, because he’s more kind hearted and rational than the army types. In their initial attempt to escape, they met up with a monkey kid named Pepe, that apparently was a girl, and another renegade human named Godo who eventually helps them to escape back to their own time.

Time of the Apes probably made a lot more sense as a series. Pieces of it cut together to make a film, and then edited even more for MST3K basically left it a total mess. For the most part, it wasn’t all that confusing, although the spaceship flying around and the whole deal with how they got there and then got back to their own time was actually quite confusing. The ape people were all wearing these ridiculous masks with absolutely no effort put into facial articulation at all. These masks were similar to, or maybe one step up from something you’d get for Halloween. The rifles they were using were all beat to crap as well. I don’t know where they got them, but the wood on them was all torn up and they looked like if you tried to shoot one, it’d blow up in your face. The big riff in this one from Joel and the guys was on something Johnny said. There was an earthquake right before they headed out to the lab, and Johnny’s mom didn’t want them to go because it was dangerous, and he’s all, "I don’t care!" and runs off. So basically, from that point on, he became the "I don’t care" kid. The film was just ok, but the episode as a whole was quite fun.

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Mighty Jack – This was another Japanese flick from 1968, and it’s about a flying submarine called Mighty Jack and its crew, and follows their adventures as they try to stop the evil organization Q from conquering the world. Here’s how competent their enemies at Q are. When they capture the Mighty Jack’s commander, they stick him in a chamber to interrogate him. They tie him to a chair and then leave the room and threaten to turn on these insanely bright lights that will blind him if he doesn’t tell them what they want to know about Mighty Jack. He tells them, that’s ok. He’ll just keep his eyes closed. That’s how smart these guys are. Seriously. Anyway, the Mighty Jack team rescue him, and then they have to try to find the new super secret hideout of Q and destroy it, so they can take down the organization once and for all.

The big riff in this one was all the shots of Mighty Jack and other flying machines making bank turns. Most of them were in slow motion, which actually made it funnier when they were ripping on them. This one’s ok, but by the time it’s over, you probably won’t remember a whole lot of what you’ve just seen. The movie is entertaining enough at the time I guess, but nothing that will stick with you. It feels somewhat disjointed at times as well, because, as with Time of the Apes, it was cut together from a Japanese series to make it into a feature length movie. Between this one and Time of the Apes, I think Time of the Apes was more fun, but this one was a little more coherent.

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The Violent Years – Ed Wood didn’t have any particular love for the "roughies", but he did make a couple. This was one of them. The Violent Years is about a group of four girls, who even though they’re well off, form a gang and get wrapped up in a life of crime just for the thrills of it. To the world at large, they seem like nice, normal girls, but they have a dark side that eventually leads them all to their own destruction.

It’s always really bothered me when people talk about Ed Wood as though he were one of the worst film makers ever. I happen to like most of Ed Wood’s movies. They’re fun and cheesy and generally entertaining. I have a lot of respect for him as well for giving Bela Lugosi work at the end of his life when he was broke and struggling to find roles. Aside from that, I’ve seen films that make the stuff Ed Wood put out look like pure genius. This film was more serious and didn’t have a lot of cheese, but it actually was quite a good film, except for one thing. There’s this judge in it that’s one of the most long winded idiots I’ve ever seen, and he keeps going off how the young people need to get back to religion and family and all this stuff. I mean he just goes on and on and on to a ridiculous degree. Fortunately, most of it’s at the end, plus it’s on DVD, so you can just fast forward through his long winded speeches. All in all though, this is one of Ed Wood’s better films from a character, story and production standpoint. There are others of his that are more entertaining, but this one was actually quite good.

A Young Man’s Fancy – This was the short that was shown before The Violent Years. I thought this one was a lot of fun. This one looks like it was from the 1950’s. A girl’s older brother brings his handsome friend home and she gets all squishy over him. The funny thing about this whole short is that they really go out of their way to point out how easy and convienient modern electrical appliances make our lives. At times it feels like an informercial, but all that gushing over the appliances never overrides the story, which is both amusing and entertaining. I absolutely adore old classic shorts like this. I never get tired of them and I could literally just sit for hours on end watching one after another.

This was my first exposure to an episode that had Mike Nelson in it instead of Joel Hodgson. It was also Mike’s first episode where he got to tackle an Ed Wood Movie. I have to say, that between Mike and Joel, I far prefer Mike. Mike has a lot more personality, and he doesn’t sound like he’s half asleep all the time. He tends to be funnier as well, and overall, there’s a lot more of a fun energy between him and the bots in the shows that he’s on. You can actually feel like things re-energized once he came in. One of the other box sets has Joel’s last episode, or one of his last anyway, and you can really feel that there’s just this kind of a wet blanket over the energy that should be there. With Mike, that energy’s back in full force. In this one, Frank and Dr. Forester start their own country music radio station called FRANK, and are constantly throwing out the names of various country music artists, which Mike and the bots just can’t relate to. They repeat the same names so often, it quickly gets highly amusing. This was definitely a fun episode, and the short at the beginning was great!

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The Brute Man – Two college guys, one smart one and one athelete both want the same girl. When the smart one screws over his friend by teaching him the wrong answers when tutoring him for a chemisry test, and he gets held after class to do lab work while the smart one goes out with the girl, he’s not happy to say the least. When the guy and girl walk by the window where he’s working on an experiment, he gets angry and throws his beaker down, causing an explosion of chemicals that alters his chemical and hormonal balance, turning him into a huge man with a big head and exaggerated features (the actor actually looked like this due to a condition called acromegaly), who everyone was afraid of. He also became mentally unbalanced and killed anyone who offended him, hurt him, or that he otherwise felt like killing for whatever reason. He became known as The Brute, and the police were hot on the case, but so far have had no luck in catching him. One night, they’re hot on his trail, and he climbs a fire escape, entering the apartment of a young and beautiful, but blind piano teacher. He tells her that some men are after him, and she tells him to hide. The police come in, but they don’t identify themselves as the police and she pretends she hasn’t seen him. He quickly takes a liking to her, and when he finds out that an expensive operation could possibly restore her sight, he steals a box full of jewels from the guy who wronged him in college, who’s now married to the girl he once liked, killing him in the process. He takes the jewels to the girl, but when she tries to sell them to get the money for her operation, the jeweler reports the stolen goods to the police and they pick her up. Will she help them? Will The Brute finally be caught? Will she get her operation? You’ll have to watch to find out.

The Chicken of Tomorrow – This was the short that was shown before The Brute Man. Basically, it’s an educational video about the modern techniques (for the 50’s anyway) chicken ranchers use to raise and breed bigger, meatier and more productive chickens, as well as how they’re using modern techniques and setups to maximize their egg harvesting.

This was by far my favorite movie in this set. It was also a Mike Nelson episode, so both he and the robots were in prime form. Some of the goofs in this one were Tom Servo getting into the real estate market, despite Mike’s warnings, and Frank’s invention of a super growth formula for babies, that gives him a full grown adult baby to take care of. Have fun changing it! The film itself was actually kind of heart wrenching in a way. You really kinda feel for the guy, as he became The Brute through no fault of his own. After all, he was the one who was wronged, and he even showed compassion to the blind girl who helped him. There was some good left inside of him somewhere. Unfortunately, the world never allowed him to lead any kind of a normal life, and it drove him to kill. This is a movie I’d like to own separate from the MST3K version. The Chicken of Tomorrow short was also really fun and interesting as well. Again, as with A Young Man’s Fancy, these shorts from the 50’s are just a blast, and I can’t get enough of them.

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Special Features:

New introduction by Mary Jo Pehl
Trail of the Creeper: Making The Brute Man
Introductions by August Ragone, author of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters
The Making of MST3K (1997)
Mystery Science Theater hour wraps
Ed-ucation: Archival interviews with Delores Fuller & Kathy Wood
4 Exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance

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This is another great MST3K box from Shout Factory, and if you’re an MST3K fan, one you’ll definitely want to own. I don’t know if the Joel Hodgson / Mike Nelson thing is a one of those Coke or Pepsi kind of deals, but I really dug the episodes with Mike Nelson a lot. For me, they just have a better energy. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in every episode, no matter what movie they’re showing or who’s on the ship. The episodes in this release are a lot of fun, so do yourself a favor and grab yourself a copy.

You can get yourself a copy of this release from Amazon here, from Shout Factory here.