Shout Factory is back with volume 24 of their Mystery Science Theater 3000 box sets, and this one, like the others, includes four episodes of the iconic show. The films in this set include Samson vs. The Vampire Women, The Sword and the Dragon, Fugitive Alien and Star Force: Fugitive Alien II. So without further adieu, let’s get to the review. (See what I did there? I made a little rhyme. I’m so talented!)
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Samson vs. The Vampire Women (1962)
Synopsis: Samson (known in most films as Santo) is a pretty iconic figure in Mexican b-movies. For those who don’t know, he’s like a Luche Libre wrestler slash super hero. In this film, he helps to protect a beautiful young woman from a prophecy that says that she’s supposed to be sacrificed in a ritual so that she can become the new vampire queen, while the current queen will leave her throne to go to the underworld, where she will live for all eternity with the Prince of Darkness. This cult of vampire women failed with the young woman’s relative, Rebeca, two hundred years ago, and now a prophecy says that she’s the next in line to take over the throne. Will Samson be able to protect her from this horrific fate?
Review: This film needs to be seen in the MST3K format. If you watched it on its own, you’d have a hard time staying awake. Many of the scenes, especially in the lair of the vampire women, are so slow paced that they almost feel like they’re going backward. The action scenes are another story however. There are three male, wrestler looking vampires that run around beating people up all over the place, and both Samson and the police have to try to fight them off more than once. At one point, one of them even replaces a wrestler Samson is going to wrestle in an attempt to kill him. When Samson pulls his mask off however at the end of the match, the guy has a werewolf face! Then after the guy fights off the crowd and takes a few bullets, he turns into a bat and flies away. Oh, and the young woman the vampires are trying to get to…her fiance looks like a young Edward G. Robinson and her uncle, when he has his glasses off, kinda looks like a Mexican Vincent Price. Aside from the slow pacing, the movie is pretty goofy and entertaining, but it’s a lot more fun to watch it in this format than it would be on its own.
MST3K Stuff: Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate makes an appearance in this one as some sort of a celestial being that comes and takes Frank to the other side, where all the other second bananas go when they pass on. The show can basically be broken down between "Joel" episodes (Joel was the original guy on the satellite and creator of the show) and "Mike" episodes (Mike Nelson took over after Joel left). This is a Mike episode. I think most fans of the show probably have a preference between the two. I happen to prefer the Mike episodes myself, but that’s just personal preference. The jokes, as always, were a hit and a miss in this one, with some being hilarious, while others just fell flat. Fortunately, they were more hit than miss.
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The Sword and the Dragon (1956)
Synopsis: A Russian hero named Invincor (or Invinsor, or however it’s spelled) has become old and reached the end of his days. In a land plagued by hordes of barbarians that are not unlike the Mongol hordes, the old hero ended his time of service and sent his magic sword with some pilgrims to find him a successor. The barbarians had raided a village, leaving behind a man who was unable to fight them because his legs no longer worked and he could barely lift his arms. When the pilgrims showed up at the village looking for food and water, they found this lame man, Ilja, and had him drink some special grass juice. This restored his strength and he was able to stand and walk again. They then bestowed upon him the magic sword and thus began his time of protecting the land from the barbarian invaders. After capturing a wind demon and delivering it to Prince Vladimir, whom he then swore his service to, he went and found the girl he loved who had been captured in the raid on the village, rescued her, and then married her. Soon she was pregnant, but the barbarians were still ravaging the land, and they were coming to the castle. The prince sent out boats full of copper and furs, and Vilya accompanied them for her own protection, but thanks to the treasonous acts of one of the Prince’s closest advisors, she was captured, and Ilja was sent to the dungeons. When the traitor’s actions were discovered however, Ilja was restored to his former position, and now must figure out a way to stop the hordes, rescue his wife, and find the son he had never met.
Review: This film is cheesy as hell, but it’s really quite enjoyable. The costume design and the huge number of extras really give the film a larger than life feel, and the inclusion of some fantasy elements like the wind demon, the three headed dragon, and the bloated emmisary from the Tugars, all add to the fun. This is a foreign film, so the dialogue is dubbed. The dubbed in English is well done, and adds just the right amount of cheesy goodness. The only real problem with this film is that it doesn’t seem to have a very good sense of time. One day, Ilja’s son is like five years old, and then suddenly he’s a teenager who’s trained to be a warrior by the Tugar chief, Kalin. There’s also a big jump from when Ilja hooks up with the Prince at the castle and when he rescued his wife, who wasn’t his wife when he rescued her (which is a part we don’t get to see). Part of it is time bouncing around I think, and the other part of it is that when they make these MST3K episodes, they cut stuff out of the movie so it’ll fit into the time constraints of the show. So I’m not sure how much was the actual film, and how much was just cut out. All in all, it was a very enjoyable film, and one that I’m actually considering buying just to have on its own.
MST3K Stuff: The jokes during the film in this one were good, but I found the in between sketch bits lacking. Dr. Forester and his assistant Frank down on Earth are dealing with a visit from a couple of available ladies who just moved in upstairs. Something they’re not really equipped to do. Up on the satellite, Tom Servo tries to get Mike and Crow to play Dungeons & Dragons with him, and then they do a series of sketches with a Finnish theme to them. Now here’s the problem. Someone really screwed the pooch here, because this is a Russian film, not a Finnish one. Several times they refer to it as a Finnish film and even comment about the barbarians marching to Finland. There was another fantasy film they did that was from Finland, and this one actually seemed vaguely similar to that one, so maybe that’s where the confusion came from. I don’t know. In any case, this film is Russian, and is based on a Russian folk tale. As for the sketches…they left me kind of cold. They were ok, but it felt like they were having a hard time coming up with stuff, and it all ended up feeling forced.
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Fugitive Alien (1978)
Synopsis: When the Wolf Raiders from planet Valnastar attack the Earth, Ken is one of the Wolf Raider soldiers who takes part in the ground assault. When he’s faced with killing a young boy (also named Ken for some reason) and his mother, he refuses to do it, and accidentally kills his best friend, who was a fellow soldier and the brother of a girl he loves back on Valnastar, while trying to stop him from killing them. Now he’s branded a traitor by Lord Halkon, and is being hunted by his own people. While trying to escape however, his ship is damaged and he has to bail out into space, where he’s picked up by an Earth Vessel called the Bacchus 3, and ultimately ends up becoming a part of their crew, with only the captain knowing his secret. Now Ken must do his best to serve the captain well, as he has no other place in the galaxy to call home.
Review: Fugitive Alien was a Japanese television series made back in 1978 to take advantage of the science fiction craze brought on by the Star Wars films. Fugitive Alien, and Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, are not actual films. They are simply strung together episodes of the television series put together in a film format. The visual effects are pretty hokey. There were far better effects on the original Star Trek a full ten years earlier. However, what the show lacks in the quality of its visual effects, it makes up for in cool costumes, cheesy acting and nice spaceship models. The story jumps around a bit here and there, and I’m not sure if that’s because it was edited for the show, or if it relates to it being a series of edited together television episodes, but it’s actually far more coherent than some other MST3K’s I’ve seen where they featured films that were assembled like that. All in all, despite any flaws it may have, it’s cheesy enough to make it fun.
MST3K Stuff: Nothing special in this one. This is a Joel episode. One of the segments has them playing around with goofy hats they made in the style of the helmets in the film, while another has them making fun of the "utility buttons" on the Earth crew’s uniforms. There’s some other stuff as well, but nothing all that great or fun. Joel is such a low energy, low charisma person that it’s hard to really get into the sketches sometimes. He does pull off some great comments during the films sometimes, but more energy and less awkwardness in the sketches would have gone a long way to making them more fun.
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Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (1978)
Synopsis: In a continuation of the story from the first film, Ken and the crew of the Bacchus 3 had freed an imprisoned military officer from the planet Caesar, and now, with his help, must return him to their home planet where they are to destroy a new weapon that his people had developed that is capable of destroying whole continents. Then, once that mission is completed, they must return home to protect a scientist’s plans for a weapon that can destroy the whole universe. In the end, Ken must battle Lord Halkon for the fate of both his homeword, and the universe.
Review: Ever hear the expression that a film is a good time waster? Usually that refers to the film being a good way for the viewer to waste some time. In this case, it refers to the film itself taking way to long to do pretty much everything. Everything that is, except for the ending, which went at light speed compared to the rest of the film. They traveled through the center of a black hole to get to Caesar. That trip took forever and a half, and then once they were on Caesar, that took forever. The end battle between Ken and Halkon on the other hand, didn’t seem to take all that long at all, and was really rather anti-climactic. Plus the whole thing with protecting the scientists plans for the weapon felt like a complete afterthought. At least this film had some cheesy cool space battles and other explosions and crashes that kept the action level up some. All in all, not bad, but not as good as the first film.
MST3K Stuff: The only memorable things from this episode were the giant nose invention with Dr. Forester and Frank. They had these really long noses they had attached to their faces that were incredibly phallic to say the least. The best jokes of any of the sketches came from this one. There’s also a segment where Tom Servo’s head burns out from watching such a crappy film and they have to hit him with the heart paddles to revive him, and all the while Crow is talking like William Shatner. Again, this was a Joel Episode, and he has that low energy, awkward personality that works ok for the riffing during the film, but doesn’t really go over all that well in the sketches in between. The real stars of those sketches are Crow and Tom Servo.
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The bonus features in this set include the following:
An introduction by August Rangone
You asked for it! Sandy Frank speaks!
MST Hour Wraps
Life After MST3K: Frank Conniff
MST3K Shorts: Snow Thrills & A Date with Your Family
Lucha Gringo: K. Gordon Murray Meets Santo
Four exclusive mini-posters by artist Steve Vance
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Do you really need a conclusion? MST3K is one of those cult shows that fans will love to get their hands on, and non-fans probably don’t think too much about. If you’re a fan, you’ll definitely want this latest box set from Shout Factory. If you’re not a fan, you might still want to give MST3K a try. I wasn’t a fan either until I started reviewing these releases, and now I actually kinda like the show. While there’s a lot of groan worthy stuff that goes on, almost without exception, there are also some great laughs to be had. My only complaint, as it’s always been, is that the full, stand alone films aren’t included on the discs, but I’ve complained about that in most of my MST3K reviews and nothing’s ever changed, so I wouldn’t hold my breath that it ever will. Often, you can find the films to purchase separately however, so you can pick and choose which ones you want to add to your collection.
If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Shout Factory website here, and if you’d like to grab a copy of this box set for your collection, you can pick it up from Amazon here, or from any of the other usual outlets.