Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cry Reptilicus: The Return of MST3k, Part 1

The 'boooots aaaaare baaaack iiiin town!

In December 2015, Joel Hodgson closed out the most successful video-based Kickstarter campaign to date with $5.7 million in fan donations to revive Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show he created for Minneapolis UHF station KTMA back in 1988. The runaway success cannot be overstated. Hodgson originally thought he'd hit a three-episode goal of two mil, but the excitement of a fresh take on the beloved series enticed tons of MSTies, myself included.

Put it this way: the closing credits of episode 1101 include a Revival League list hasn't gotten past the people whose first names start with A. The list of contributors is 48,270 strong. It's going to be a long wait to get to the Js, which is especially poignant since Joel has passed on the Gizmonic-brand jumpsuit to a man named Jonah.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3k for short) survived multiple shifts in personnel and two cancellations from cable stations to reach the massive cult it has developed. There has also been a crate-load of digital video releases from Rhino! and Shout Factory devoted to the original series' ten-season run. There's a lot of passionate devotion to specific episodes, specific hosts, specific Mads, and specific personalities. But series creator Hodgson, who left the series in the fifth season and made a return to shadowrama with Cinematic Titanic, has given his blessings to the new staff living in Deep 13:

The 14 episodes of the eleventh official season open as well they should, with the invitation to "Turn Down Your Lights (Where Applicable)." The premiere even harkens back to the original's model exterior of "the big G," before taking us where no MST3k has gone before: into Gizmonic Institute's very own ground control room. There we are briefed on the hotshot back-jack sky pilot known as Jonah Heston, who is hauling a valuable supply of meteors to help Gizmonic through financial jeopardy. Little does Jonah know that the distress call he just answered will take him on the dark side of the moon, where the descendant of Gizmonic's greatest enemy awaits to carry on her father's legacy of Deep Hurting.

Enter Kinga Forrester of the Moon 13 research station, who has successfully space-napped Jonah with intent to profit off the cinematic torture she will inflict on him. Although she has stars in her eyes, Kinga and her assistant Max, who tries in vain to be called "TV's Son of TV's Frank," download via liquid media one Reptilicus, whose biggest name is Dirch Passer, a legend of his native Copenhagen and the most prolific Danish actor in history. It doesn't get any more esteemed than that.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, though, does possess an array of nerd-friendly casting choices as well as some choice cameos which I refuse to ruin for you. Podcaster extraordinaire Jonah Ray Rodrigues fills out the yellow jumpsuit with amiable glee, whilst Felicia Day (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) and Patton Oswalt (Reno 911!) were sure things the moment the news broke that they were the new Mads.

The real trick is the casting of the robots, as Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett lasted long enough in their tenures to leave indelible marks. Murphy established Tom Servo early on via a deep, TV pitchman tone and rapacious self-confidence, whilst Beaulieu was a sharp vocal impersonator (of Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, especially) and always the most audibly puckish of the in-theater gang. The Mike Nelson years showed Murphy, Beaulieu and Corbett more or less speaking in their natural tones, but even those had their distinct personalities.

Baron Vaughn (as Servo) and Hampton Yount (as Crow) don't stand out as much as their predecessors (which also includes Josh Weinstein's original voice of Servo), although Crow's flair for mischief does give Yount an advantage at times. Vaughn's Servo still has that "Hey, world, look at me!" charm, but without Murphy's down-from-the-mountaintop authority. Whereas Jonah Ray shows a disarming ease filling in for Hodgson and Nelson, the real surprise is Gypsy's newly-modified voice, an actual female for once in the presence of Rebecca Hanson (who also appears on-camera as helper clone Synthia). No longer the dim Richard Basehart obsessive of yore, she actually drops by in-theater with "the payload" and gets in a honest belly laugh as opposed to the confused maintenance bot who couldn't hack it during Hercules and the Captive Women.

These are mostly just general impressions based on the handful of episodes I watched thus far. I really want to get a deeper look at the entire fan-funded inaugural season and pull my weight as a reviewer and a fan, even of many of the actors whose names may not ring bells for modern audiences. Besides, Caroline Munro is featured in two of these experiments, and my heart's a-fluttering. Let's begin with a breakdown of the first two installments of MST3k: Moon 13: The Return.


Flimsy plot synopsis: The fossils of a mysterious creature are discovered on a mining excavation and regenerated in a laboratory. Unfortunately, the creature comes alive and wreaks havoc on nearby Copenhagen, leaving men of both science and military uncertain how to stop this "Reptilicus."

Reptilicus is actually a fascinating case in the annals of B-cinema, an attempt by the Great Danes to replicate the "atomic monster movie" formula which worked well in both the U.S. (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) and Japan (Godzilla). Danish studio Saga co-produced with American International Pictures and went so far as to film two separate versions of the film that could play to their respective native tongues. However, co-writer/director Sidney W. Pink, who produced the trend-setting 3-D smash Bwana Devil, turned over to AIP head Sam Arkoff a disaster, with comically pronounced Danish accents and equally rickety special effects. Pink filed suit to prevent Arkoff and co-writer Ib Melchior from tampering with Pink's cut of the film, but after many testimonies from others in the industry, the case was dropped and Arkoff's alterations were made.

This producer's cut of Reptilicus is the version screened for Jonah and the returning tag team of Tom Servo & Crow T. Robot, and the riffing here is as exquisite as ever. With a newly-assembled writing team headed by bad movie specialist (hear: The Flop House!) and Daily Show staffer Elliot Kalan, the pitch of the riffs is a return to the awestruck sarcasm of Hodgson's glory days rather than the meaner edge of the Sci-Fi years. The difference is notable in the way the trio tackle the comic relief of Dirch Passer as Petersen, the Danish Andy Griffith (also "Al Capp's Lil' Abner"). No doubt added to provide some slapstick respite in the early stages of the movie, Passer isn't as over-the-top as Droppo or as insufferable as the guys from Attack of the Eye Creatures, but his tomfoolery sticks out like Gypsy's freshly-Midwesternized voice.

Fooling around with a telescope while eating a sandwich, the security-tasked bumbler Petersen prompts this jest from Servo: "And Jethro discovers he is the half-brother of a piece of cheese."

One of Arkoff's major additions to Pink's film was the use of animation for Reptilicus' acid attacks, with green slime trailing down the screen to add unconvincing menace. Its resemblance to Nickelodeon gak is seized upon, as is the realization that Monster Energy may as well be brewed in Reptilicus' stomach (what, no Slurm jokes?). By the time this trick is repeated thrice, Jonah realizes that "The slime doesn't hurt anybody. It just transitions into another scene."

Indeed, it does. We never see the aftermaths or anybody writhing in pain from being doused in Reptilicus' biological weapon. Indeed, the most gruesome sight in the film is a cow's decapitated head to give the impression that the giant reptile has massacred a farm's worth of livestock: "That cow had a month to go before retirement, too!"

Bent Mejding plays the strapping young hero Svend, who initially unearths the remains of Reptilicus whilst mining copper and basically spends the rest of the movie as the resident chick magnet: "Even his collar has a collar!" Dr. Dalby, who devises the means of regenerating Reptilicus through nutrient-supplemented bathwater, invents "Reptiliberry Cherrysaurus" and sleeps on the job at the wrong time, thawing out the creature. The central figure of scientific authority, though, is Professor Martens (Asbjorn Andersen), who has two perky daughters and a heart condition. One of the girls, Lise, chances upon the dried-out monster carcass: "What did you to my [birthday] pony?"

And then there's Gen. Grayson, an American army official played by the very Danish Carl Ottosen. Whether reading his own biography in the paper or proving too numbly masculine to comfort Lise when her father is hospitalized, the zingers that follow him are uproarious.

One of the highlights of the in-theater riffing is Tom Servo's hover skirt, which allows him to fly towards the screen when the opportunity arrives for a close visual laugh, like when he is drawn towards Grayson's slicked-up hair and recoils with disgust: "Did you make a vow not to wash your hair until Reptilicus was dead?" Crow gets his own prop-based humdinger during Reptilicus' attack on Copenhagen, the trio intervene on a possible argument between Gen. Grayson and Prof. Martens and, as mentioned earlier, the feminine Gypsy finally becomes one of the boys ("Now, you're Mr. Filing Cabinet!").

The pop culture references are plentiful, with special nods to Tom Carvel, Blazing Saddles and Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and the music-based riffs diverse and giddy, from Glenn Miller to Prince (saluted twice), Frank Sinatra to Olivia Newton-John, Bobby "Boris" Pickett to the Village People. Even better, the revived series' first original song in the first between-movie host segment is a riotous rap number tracing monsters of all nations. Although there are a couple of noticeable lulls where one would expect an obvious joke, this sit-through of Reptilicus packs plenty of easygoing laughs.

It should be noted that Shout! Factory, who have licensed not just MST3k but a few of the titles featured, Reptilicus included, offered their HD-friendly widescreen transfer of the movie for the show. This is another breakthrough for MST3k, as previous seasons simulated the channel-surfing appeal of these off-guard B-movie riffs by retaining full-frame images suitable for vintage TV sets. In our LCD age, this time we return to This Island Earth grandeur for this entire season. We don't exactly get 2.35:1 Cinemascope (maybe in the future with luck), but here we get real compositions and remastered visuals.

Back in the Joel Hodgson days, they'd lampoon drive-in concession ads by jettisoning hot dogs and popcorn into space. As this new iteration of MST3k now proves, there's no new tradition like an old tradition.


Flimsy plot synopsis: Private school moppet Paul Cooper believes in Bigfoot after befriending him last summer over a dozen cans of Coca-Cola and a transistor radio, but he's naturally the only one. So when Sasquatch sounds a distress call one night, warning Paul that his ranger dad is in mortal danger, the boy runs away and meets up with not just his pappy, but also a way-too-jovial Indian companion and a mercenary big game hunter who also realizes Sasquatch might just be real...real killable.

Boutique label Vinegar Syndrome has anted up this film for the new MST3k as opposed to Shout! Factory. The invention exchanges have been carried over from the original series, and if you are familiar with Patton Oswalt's stand-up, Kinga and Max's latest get-rich-fast scheme is going to be even more of a treat. Jonah comes up with a new Turkey Day device that turns carving the bird into murdering Janet Leigh in the shower. I am also happy to report that I am getting more familiar with Vaughn & Yount's vocal tics as Servo & Crow, although there is a three-headed cameo for those who fancy MST3k's later years.

But the movie is once again the kind of rubbernecking schlock which is where the action is. If Reptilicus brought back memories of Sandy Frank's Gamera and the lower-tier Universal monster movies which were routinely roasted on the Satellite of Love, Cry Wilderness is the successor to J.P. Simon's Pod People. Somehow, Cry Wilderness director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen was given special thanks in the credits to Sleepless in Seattle; if his career is any indication, maybe Nora Ephron was able to make an entire movie out of unused footage from Joe Vs. the Volcano.

Schlossberg was a savvy cinematic recycler whose 1985 omnibus film Night Train to Terror was pieced together from three existing movies: the Cameron Mitchell vehicle Cataclysm (The Nightmare Never Ends), the Schlossberg-produced Dark Side to Love and an unfinished project called "Scream Your Head Off" starring Richard Moll. Cry Wilderness, meanwhile, seems to consist mostly of original 35mm footage shot for one particular movie, but is padded with library-sourced inserts of various wildlife to nudge it closer towards feature length ("At some point in your life, you might have to resort to YouTube to finish your film").

Making Cry Wilderness even more interminable are the stereotyped characters, from the annoying adolescent lead on down to three random bikers who show up apropos of nothing. There's even a swishy-looking mayor who keeps a swimsuit-clad blonde around for show. The saddest case is John Tallman as Jim, the mystical Native American who also doubles as a laugh track. Maybe watching Powwow Highway beforehand kind of kills this goofy characterization for me, as Gary Farmer seemed a lot more natural and humorous playing the spiritually-aware yet childlike Cheyenne in the Buick "pony." That was a really joyful experience, as Cry Wilderness tries desperately to drum up interest between travelogue montages of various critters.

Once you get beyond the footage of antelopes, lemurs and skunks in their natural habitat, there's the little issue of Sasquatch, or "Homo-erectus Galifanakis," to deal with. You will believe the friendship between Paul and his mythical caretaker...until you realize Bigfoot has basically sent the kid to a death trap, himself. Then it stops being whimsical completely. Mr. Cooper's certain doom is a letdown when it finally arrives, and could've easily been avoided had Paul simply stayed away.

Take it from Servo: "Watching this movie is cinematic puberty. Nothing makes sense, and it never goes the way you'd expect."

The riffs come at you at a faster clip in this second episode, such is the incomprehensible nature of this particular slab of nature (even Patton Oswalt is thrown for a loop 45 minutes in). The opening scenes in the boys' school are ripe for Hogwarts call-outs. Paul hitches a ride from a trucker whose nondescript country song of northwest pride makes Jonah feel like he's "living upstairs from Rascal Flatts." A recurring joke stems from one commenter observing that Paul's dad may have to wing him with his rifle for the boy's own good ("Bang!"). The mean hunter in the mesh shirt, Hicks, researches Bigfoot after discovering a suspicious set of footprint: "Embrace the prophecy of Time Life books!" A Werner Herzog impression, some Purple Kush-flavored dope humor and the apparent lovechild of Louis C.K. and Chris Elliot are thrown in also whenever the commentary threatens to lag.

There's even a Rowsdower allusion, although Bigfoot's vocal resemblance to "warwilf" goes unnoticed.

Reptilicus and Cry Wilderness are a great one-two punch to start off MST3k: The Return. The former feels comfortably cheesy and jovial, setting the bar for later episodes to match, whilst the latter takes on a more idiosyncratic B-movie and reaps major dividends. The next installment of this complete series rundown marks the revenge of Ib Melchior and also includes some of the biggest names ever to appear in a MST3k feature since Gene Hackman. Join me again, won't you?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection

(Unrated, Best Brains, Inc./Shout! Factory, 480 mins., video release date: November 25, 2014)

I'm excited about the newly-revived Mystery Science Theater 3000, as well I should be. For you see, I'm not just a spectator...I'm also a donor! 

Joel Hodgson's record-breaking Kickstarter campaign to reintroduce his once cable-broadcasted cowtown puppet show to the Millenial generation reflects the goodwill MST3k has built up since the tapes were kept circulating. There has been the long-running RiffTrax for those weaned more on the Sci-Fi era iteration of the program, with Mike, Kevin & Bill. And there was Hodgson's own return to movie riffing with Cinematic Titanic, which reunited the original Mads Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff and Josh "Elvis" Weinstein alongside Pearl herself, Mary Jo Pehl.

But ever since the final axe fell on MST3k, the show's initial charms may have been diminished. Hodgson may have unwittingly rejuvenated the "creature feature" movie-hosting format which was once the domain of late-night local television. Not unlike what more glamorous personalities like Elvira or Vampira were up to, MST3k shone a sarcastic but sincere spotlight on arcane exploitation titles. It also worked on the level more sophisticated viewers must have felt at one point whenever they tuned into something so tacky and tedious they couldn't bear it no more. And holding it together was the handmade grandeur of the series' designs, from the wisecracking robot sidekicks to Hodgson's Gizmonic devices to the models used in the opening credits.

The series attracted such a critical and cult success that the Comedy Channel/Comedy Central would give the show its own day-long seasonal celebration, a tradition known fondly as the "Turkey Day Marathon." From 1991 to 1994, the network would host a day-long chain of reruns which, or at least starting its second year, led to the premiere of one new episode (and in ‘92, it was book-ended with two of them!). There were newly-filmed host segments and bumpers to transition each episode and provide a blast of funny during commercial breaks. In 1995, before the start of the seventh and final Comedy Central season, the 24-hours-plus feast was pared down, perhaps another sign of the show's cancellation. The Sci-Fi Channel even tried to do its own special Thanksgiving marathon, but it was a mere seven episodes deep, just like in ‘95, and even then they pre-empted it by airing a couple Star Wars movies.

But, to quote Crow T. Robot himself, "there's no tradition like a new tradition," and Shout! Factory revived Turkey Day in 2013 by streaming six selected episodes featuring Joel Hodgson himself as the host, alongside his robot friends. The Kickstarter campaign for the new MST3k coincided with Turkey Day 2015. And as I write this, the new season will be arriving on Netflix in nine days, and I confess this review is a roundabout way to honor this occasion by once again dipping into one of Shout! Factory's DVD sets.

The 31st official boxed set of episodes was dubbed The Turkey Day Collection, released on Thanksgiving Day 2014. Needless to say, the company has kept the compilations coming so that there are now 38 multi-disc (read: four or more) home video releases of the program, discounting a basketful of individually-released titles. At this rate, nearly the entire cable-sanctioned run of MST3k has been released, although one hopes for a boxed set containing Attack of the Eye Creatures (season 4), Girls Town (season 6), either The Deadly Bees or Quest of the Delta Knights (season 9), and Danger: Diabolik (the series' finale). At least I do.

But this "Turkey Day Collection," while a decent cross section of episodes from the Joel and Mike years, is not exactly a reflection of the worst or even the most flamboyantly cheesy movies ever mocked during those ten seasons. The 20 fan favorites which are streaming over on Netflix is its own Turkey Day marathon, spanning from earlier Joel-centric discoveries like The Sidehackers (a bikesploitation/vigilante flick which featured the tender ballad "Only Love (Pads the Film)"), Catalina Caper (a beach blanket zero with Little Richard and Carol Connors as musical guests, as well as Servo‘s beloved "Creepy Girl") and the immortal Pod People ("Trumpy, you can do stupid things!") to the schlockiest of the Sci-Fi seasons, namely Space Mutiny ("We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese!"), Werewolf ("This is absolutely fascinating") and Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders ("Rock & Roll Martian!").

There's even Manos: The Hands of Fate for that extra, existential touch of Deep Hurting.

Volume 31's experiments, meanwhile, run the range from somnambulant (The Screaming Skull) to mediocre (Jungle Goddess, The Painted Hills) to actually entertaining (Squirm). The latter, of course, is Jeff (Blue Sunshine) Lieberman's nature-on-the-rampage cult favorite, shot on location in Port Wentworth, Georgia, which was given a new life thanks to an Atlanta Braves sportscaster Skip Caray. Unlike Laserblast, which was given the same three-star rating by Leonard Maltin as he awarded Squirm, or Boggy Creek II, this isn't another dull hicksploitation worthy of rousing "Sweet Home Alabama" references from Kevin Murphy, but a quirky little gem with some skin-crawling Rick Baker effects (many of which were edited for the MST3k airing), legit shock moments (that tree crashing the house is, to borrow one description from the movie, "a dilly") and a very unlikely but well-rounded hero in Don Scardino.

"You can't goof on something that's already a goof," Lieberman has once said in his defense about the MST3k treatment of his film. That's not completely true, since self-deprecation wouldn't exist without it, and then I'd never have changed my Twitter profile name to Niltsson Pickett. Besides, if Leiberman was that miffed by Best Brains, I can only imagine the aneurysm he'd get if ever watched the Nostalgia Critic's episode on The NeverEnding Story III...which he wrote!

But even though the gang gives Squirm an honorable quota of hits for their penultimate performance, the humor which misses is decidedly more mean-spirited than I'd imagine Joel-era MST3k would stoop to, especially the knocks against both Geri and Alma Sanders (Patricia Pearcy, Fran Higgins). Pearcy is likened to that venerable Virginian character actor Brad Dourif early on, but that's nothing compared to a trinity of grossly unflattering likenesses ("A moldy Slim Jim!") she's barraged with in the dark. The worst of the jibes at Alma, whose platform shoes and patched pants are ripe targets, simply deem her mannish. At these moments, Mike, Kevin and Bill simply sound like, for lack of a better term, dickweeds.

The best of the host segments revolving around Squirm isn't so much Servo's coming down with a case of Southern Belle's Disease (cf: the Sanders sisters' dotty mom), but a joke on the implausible nature of the worm's homicidal tendencies which is like a passage from a certain Thomas Rockwell book. The best of the in-theater riffs involve the character of Roger (R.A. Dow), a whipping boy yokel who betrays his sympathetic side by making a creepy pass at Geri on a fishing expedition and whose petty nastiness blooms once he's attacked by the ravenous worms. Why did they do it? "Well, he's got a layer of topsoil, honey. You can't blame them." A couple of well-placed Hamlet allusions, a memorably blue twist on motherly concern and a patented end-credits roundabout (always a reason to make it through any MST3k experiment, especially during the Mike years) are also hilarious.

Without a doubt, what makes the episode truly memorable isn't so much Squirm itself as the short film preceding it, the immortal A Case of Spring Fever. From the producer of Hired! comes this frightening, Faustian nightmare in which a golf-happy schlub named Gilbert curses the existence of sofa springs and is paid a visit by Coily, a single-toothed imp who removes all traces of spring from Gilbert's life. Thus, the phone doesn't work, his watch stops, all doors refuse to close, and there's no brakes on his car. All the while, Coily cackles: "NO SPRINGS!" Can you bet on how insufferable Gilbert will become once he realizes the folly of his wish? Squirm is Ravadem Patel compared to Coily, who along with Mr. B Natural, Joe Doakes and Johnny At The Fair are the Brains' own Glengarry leads.

The Painted Hills, flashing all the way back to season five, also leads off with a classic 10-minute attack, this time on Body Care and Grooming. This instructional short from 1947 has all the hallmarks ripe for dismantling: squeaky-clean conformity, scolding narrator, bright-smiling extras, even a Carnival of Souls-style camera trick or two. Easily the most pretentious of all the films on this set, Joel and friends go to town on the latent sexism, repression and OCD beneath the life lessons on display: "We just took your libido and starched and pressed it!"

The movie itself is a feature-length vehicle for Lassie, the last of seven produced by MGM starting with Lassie Come Home (1943). Though played once again by canine star Pal, with Rudd Weatherwax giving the cues, the collie in The Painted Hills is named Shep, I guess because the notion of Lassie becoming a snarling vigilante needed sugarcoating. Yes, Roddy McDowall's former best friend enacts vengeance when her aged owner Jonathan (Paul Kelly) is murdered over a gold claim by partner Taylor (Bruce Cowling), who for me can be summed with "Phil Hartman is Fred Dobbs." Shep convinces boy sidekick Tommy (Gary Gray) of Taylor's guilt, but when nobody believes him, it's up to Shep and him alone to avenge Jonathan's death.

One can imagine Joe Camp was severely influenced by The Painted Hills more than any other Lassie film when he conceived Benji, what with his Candy Snatcher villains and traumatic dog abuse. Here, Lassie is quite literally flung by the unscrupulous Taylor and poisoned, too, which leads to some black comedy when Tom Servo pushes Crow's animal-loving buttons: "Two paws in the grave...She will make an attractive rug." The notion that Lassie's an alcoholic and a serial killer ("Life is pain, Tommy!") also get bandied about. But the jokes here fly by thick and fast compared to Squirm, which increases the batting average and also nets tons more belly laughs: "First thing I'm gonna do is buy me a montage!" Also, the series' best mondegreen in the presence of one "Pile-On Pete."

The host segments include another debate, a la Mr. B Natural's sexuality, over whether sloppy or neat is more attractive, as well as Crow's riotous history lesson on president Rutherford B. Hayes ("he was admitted to the bar, although he did not drink lustfully from it"), whom the doomed prospector in The Painted Hills resembles. Since Joel is on board, we also get the requisite invention exchange, including Dr. Clayton Forrester's unorthodox new energy source, at the expense of TV's Frank.

Continuing the theme of memorable MST3k shorts, season nine's The Screaming Skull starts off with a half of a Gumby cartoon, 1956's Robot Rumpus. Art Closkey's anatomically-incorrect claymation is perfectly harmless ("Mom threatened to make me into a bowl!") until Servo and Crow are scarred by the image of a wily android snatched up by the jaws of death, his head mounted like a trophy above the garage door. Alas, the feature itself is a tough sit, the story of an already mentally-distraught newlywed (Peggy Webber) convinced that her husband's late former wife isn't ready to move on, an attitude shared by menial-working manchild Mickey (cf: Roger from Squirm, or even the dread Torgo). Director Alex Nicol plays the "wide-awake nightmare" himself, and while he does generate creeping atmosphere in mundane isolation, if only to stretch it out like the rubber band from Are You Ready for Marriage?, the script falls apart in the all-important third act.

The film's producers gimmicked up the works by offering to pay funeral expenses for anyone who dies of shock watching The Screaming Skull. In between the film, Servo half-heartedly prank calls the studio to receive his own casket. A lot of practical jokes occur between Mike, the Bots and his captors in the interim, from bogus costume parties to Crow's head being painted up like a skeleton. But Nicol's dragging, dreary spook show is best summed up by this particular quip: "The movie that dares to graphically depict sometimes seeing peacocks and sometimes not seeing peacocks."

Lastly, the "Turkey Day Collection" returns to the second season of MST3k from 1990 with Jungle Goddess, preceded by the first in a Bela Lugosi-flanked serial called The Phantom Creeps. Ralph Byrd and George Reeves, the one-time Dick Tracy and the soon-to-be Superman, set out to locate a missing heiress who has been adopted by an indigenous tribe of African natives as "Mata Greta" (Wanda McKay), "white goddess." Byrd's Bob is the knavish, trigger-happy heel who threatens to undo the escape plan cooked up by Reeves' Mike and Greta, who is easily wooed back to civilization by the promise of a nice hamburger sandwich and some French-fried potatoes. Oh, and hats. 

Jungle Goddess contains copious amounts of wildlife stock footage, provocative scenes of tribesman doing the "dance of death" and plenty of "Oh, brother!" moments like when Greta twists her ankle on the run, not to mention Bob and Mike's constant fights over who gets to carry the revolver. In other words, it's a perfect fit for the Joel Robinson days of MST3k. Take Greta‘s flashback to how she got shanghaied in the jungle: "There I was, surrounded by salad fixings for miles," Crow mock-narrates, "and no Mandarin orange vinaigrette in sight." Host segments include a sitcom version of an imperialist fantasy, Joel demonstrating various camera scopes (such as the "Scopes Monkey Trial Scope, or Inherit the Wind-owrama") and an infomercial for the detonating spider Bela deploys in The Phantom Creeps. 

Jungle Goddess was the third episode broadcast for the inaugural Turkey Day ‘91, and among the extras on this 31st volume set are wry but gracious interviews with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff and Joel Hodgson reflecting on their own Thanksgiving traditions as well as the legacy of the Turkey Day marathon. The Painted Hills disc collects the various host segments and bumpers from three years' worth of Dr. Forrester's attempted holiday takeovers. All four movies come complete with new Hodgson introductions, and alongside theatrical trailers, The Screaming Skull gets its own making-of featurette and there are interviews with Squirm star Don Scardino and Joe Closkey, son of Art.

If the bonus features aren't as exhaustive as the best MST3k releases, that's because the combined effect of these four episodes is tryptophan for the soul. But Shout! Factory have done Turkey Day right by simulating an experience at the dinner table with this compilation. Treat yourself to some dark meat carved from the collie, generous helpings of candied worms and French-fried sweet potatoes and a slice of Pokey Pie before you fall asleep in front of the Screaming Skull parade float, with visions of Coily the Spring Sprite bouncing in your head.