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DVD Reviews for 10/31: Happy Piper Perabo’s Birthday!

by Peter Sobczynski

Yes, it is that most transcendent of holidays--the natal anniversary of the ever-fetching star of “Coyote Ugly,” “Lost and Delirious” and yeah, that “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” craptacular. If you haven’t yet figures out how to celebrate this momentous occasion, may I suggest passing out small pieces of candy to the younger revelers who will be appearing at your door to spread the joy of the day around, preparing to vote this Tuesday or checking out some of the DVDs rounded up in this week’s column.

Can it really be more than 20 years since “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” a show that I am assuming that anyone reading these words has a working knowledge of (and if you don’t, there are plenty of websites that will explain it all for you) first appeared on the airwaves on a lowly UHF station in Minnesota and more than 10 since it left the airwaves after an odyssey encompassing two cable networks, one movie studio, numerous awards and accolades, a cancellation and countless uses of the word “hinder”? Two decades since someone hit upon the notion that watching an amiable goof and a couple of snaky robots as they watched some of the silliest movies ever made and cracked wise about every cheap special effect, every risible line of dialogue and every appearance by Joe Don Baker was the funniest thing to ever hit basic cable and one decade since it was put out to be pasture and kept alive through the advent of YouTube, convention appearances and jackasses at midnight screenings who think that their lame quips are comedic gold? This passage of time is slightly terrifying to contemplate but to help make the transition a little easier, Shout! Factory is offering up “Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition,” a 4-disc box set consisting of four of the funniest episodes from the show’s long run and, in a marked contrast to the previous DVD releases that have popped up over the years, this one actually includes the kind of worthy extras that fans of the show have been waiting to see for a long time.

Here are the films included in this set.

FIRST SPACESHIP INTO VENUS: In this 1960 German/Polish space epic inspired by a novel by noted author Stanislaw Lem, whose work would later inspire the slightly more prestigious film “Solaris,” a magnetic spool containing a cryptic message is found in the middle of the Gobi desert and is determined to have come directly from Venus. Naturally, an international crew is slapped together to travel to our neighbor planet in a foolish effort to uncover who sent it and why. Meanwhile, back on the Satellite of Love, original host Joel Hodgson (in his only episode here) and robot pals Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo invent a junk drawer organizer, find their attempt to recreate “The Match Game” interrupted by a visitor and adjust Crow’s sarcasm level to new heights while the Mads down in Deep 13 discover Abe Vigoda resting in their junk drawer.

LASERBLAST: In what would prove to be the final episode of the show’s long run on Comedy Central (according to some, it was pushed out so that the network could concentrate more on its newest breakout hit, “South Park”), Mike Nelson and the bots are disconnected from Deep 13 due to budget cuts and are sent hurtling towards the edge of the universe. To pass the time, they watch this jaw-dropping 1978 hybrid of “Carrie” and “Star Wars” in which a put-upon teen discovers an alien laser gun that was left behind by a group of stop-motion ET’s and uses it to dispatch his enemies even as it begins to turn him into a monster. Filled with weirdo cameos (including Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowell and the immortal Eddie Deezen), lousy special effects and sheet cake aplenty, this is arguably the funniest episode included in this set, if only for the finale when the bots discover that Leonard Maltin gave the film 2 ½ stars and begin comparing to some of the other movies that he has praised or dunned over the years.

WEREWOLF: In this direct-to-video effort, a group of archaeologists in Arizona stumble over the remains of what the Native Americans at the dig recognize as a werewolf, an analysis that his confirmed when a worker who injured himself on the bones himself becomes a werewolf. The head of the dig then begins infecting people at random in order to see if they will change as well, including an author called in to investigate the remains for himself. Transformation seems to be the name of the game on the Satellite of Love as well--as the episode begins, Mike is convinced that he is “Inside the Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton and that Crow is actually Ray Liotta and later changes into a WereCrow after tripping over him. When those changes aren’t occurring, the gang use the presence of co-star Joe Estevez to speculate on who they would cast in their own low-budget werewolf movies and later sing the girl-group ditty “Where-O-Werewolf.”

FUTURE WAR: This 1997 film may have been the most recent one lampooned by the show but I assure you that it almost gives the legendary “Manos: The Hands of Fate” a run for its money in terms of sheer insanity. Through circumstances too difficult to explain here, a hunky slave from a future world escapes and somehow makes his way to modern-day L.A., where he is befriended by a spunky former prostitute who is studying to be a nun. That would almost be enough right there in terms of sheer nuttiness but the film ramps things up even further by introducing a group of future cyborgs hell-bent on tracing the hunk down with their trusty guide dinosaurs. Meanwhile, the robots undertake LSD experiments, Tom builds a pair of legs so he can kickbox just like the film’s hero and the gang tries to scientifically determine just how many times a lady Gypsy is.

As I mentioned before, the previous “MST3K” DVD collections have been pretty spare in terms of bonus material--outside of the occasional blooper reel or interview, the sets would usually consist of the movies and nothing else. This time around, presumably in honor of the 20th anniversary, this one includes plenty of extras to satisfy even the most ravenous fans. For starters, there is “The History of MST3K,” a three-part documentary featuring virtually every key member of the show’s cast and crew that covers the entire history of the show from the humble beginnings to the bitter end. The whole gang returns for a reunion Q&A that was held at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, where we learn why “This Island Earth” was chosen as their target of scorn when the show made the leap to the big screen in 1996’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie” and why “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla” was not chosen at all during the run of the show. Next up is “Variations on a Theme Song,” a compilation of all the different versions of the theme song that the show used over the years. Finally, the whole shebang comes enclosed in a handsome tin that also includes lobby cards for each of the films and a figurine of Crow T. Robot to admire for hours at a time.

A Shout! Factory release. $69.99


ABBOTT & COSTELLO: THE COMPLETE UNIVERSAL PICTURES COLLECTION (Universal Home Entertainment. $119.98): Now is the time for enormous DVD box sets to hit the marketplace in advance of the upcoming holiday shopping season and this tribute to the enormously popular comedy team is certainly one for the books. Found on the 15 discs included here are the 28 films that the duo made for Universal between 1940 and 1955 (including such classics as “Buck Privates,” “The Time of Their Lives” and “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”), the 1965 compilation film “The World of Abbott & Costello,” the TV special “Abbott & Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld,” the documentary “Abbott & Costello Meet the Monsters” (concentrating on the films in which they faced off against Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Killer, Boris Karloff), six audio commentaries and a 44-page book analyzing their tenure at the studio. In other words, if you plow through all of this and you still don’t know who is on first, it is basically your fault.

BARAKA (MPI Home Video. $29.98): Trying to describe this 1992 documentary, in which the dazzling sights and sound from over 24 countries are captured via the miracle of 70mm, is pretty much an exercise in futility because no words can quite capture the astonishments seen here. Just go out and get your hands on this one as quickly as possible--you’ll be glad that you did.

THE BEST OF BOND, JAMES BOND (Capitol Records. 24.98): This CD/DVD compilation includes the theme songs and key musical moments of every James Bond film from “Dr. No” to “Casino Royale,” the music videos that accompanied five of them (Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill,” Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only,” Tina Turner’s “Goldeneye,” A-Ha’s “The Living Daylights” and Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High”) and footage of a 1974 concert performance featuring Shirley Bassey belting out “Goldfinger.” Obviously, the top marks go to such classic tunes as “Goldfinger” and “Nobody Does It Better” but I have to say that the title tune to “The World Is Not Enough” by Garbage is actually pretty underrated. And yeah, despite being a longtime Madonna fan, even I have to admit that her contribution to “Die Another Day” is one of the worst of the bunch.

DEATH-DEFYING ACTS (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): Sure, everyone likes to claim that Harry Houdini was the greatest magician who ever lived but I think that one could make an equal case for bestowing that title upon Harvey Weinstein. After all, he took this promising-sounding movie, in which Houdini (Guy Pearce) falls in love with a Scottish psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones) without realizing that she is planning to spring an elaborate con on him, and made the entire thing disappear by sticking it up on a shelf for a long time before dumping it on DVD after a brief theatrical run in a couple of cities last summer. Well, on behalf of Weinstein, let me just say “Ta-Daaa!”

EIGHT MILES HIGH (MPI Films. $24.98): This extremely awful biopic tells the less-than-thrilling story of Uschi Obermaier, a young woman who vaulted from anonymity to become a symbol of West Germany’s radical political movement of the early 1970’s, an internationally-famous supermodel and the alleged muse for both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards by doing little more than standing around completely naked while spouting off the most vapid chatter imaginable. Yes, Natalia Avelon is an eyeful as Uschi but the character is such a dim bulb that it is impossible to care about her for a moment. Outside of her frequent nudity, the only reason to check this out is to watch the hilariously unconvincing performances from the guys recruited to play the Glimmer Twins--any two people reading this column could turn in more plausible impressions than these dopes.

FANNY HILL (Acorn Media. $24.99): John Cleland’s infamously ribald novel chronicling the life and times of the title character as she transforms from a poor and innocent naïf into a legendary prostitute who still keeps a place in her heart for her lost love is revived once again in this entertaining 2007 adaptation featuring a screenplay by Andrew Davies (who also brought “Bridget Jones’ Diary” to the screen) and the lovely Rebecca Night in the title role.

HELL RIDE (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): Twelve years after receiving some of the worst reviews ever written for his directorial debut, the woeful mobster comedy “Mad Dog Time,” Larry Bishop (son of Joey) steps behind the camera again to direct this homage to the sleazy biker movies that he used to co-star in back in the day. Presumably launched into production during those heady days when people assumed that “Grindhouse” was going to be a hit (Quentin Tarantino serves as an executive producer), this is a dreadful and utterly unentertaining film (and this is coming from someone who likes biker movies) that is an embarrassment for everyone involved, including Dennis Hopper and David Carradine, both of whom contribute cameo appearances that are much briefer than their prominence on the box cover might lead you to believe.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3-D (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): In what turned out to be the marginally less stupid Brendan Fraser film of the summer of 2008, he, along with an obnoxious nephew and a hot Scandinavian guide, take a journey to the center of the Earth a la Jules Verne and discover a bunch of cartoonish 3-D special effects that turn out to be the raison d’etre for the entire enterprise. The DVD includes both 2-D and 3-D versions of the film but since the latter utilizes the shabby red-blue version instead of the more sophisticated one seen in theaters, you are probably better off just watching the 2-D version--there won’t be anything in it worth seeing but at least you’ll be able to see it.

THE L WORD--THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (CBS DVD. $55.98) In writing about this box set of what is supposedly the penultimate season of the long-running Showtime series about the lives and loves of television’s most attractive lesbians, I could try to untangle some of the numerous relationship strands involving the large and occasionally promiscuous cast of characters or outline the misadventures of Jenny (Mia Kirshner) as her tell-all book about the community is transformed into a movie. However, my guess is that I can lure you into picking up this set with three simple words--“Turkish Oil Wrestling”. Other TV properties hitting DVD this week include “The 4400: The Complete Series” (CBS DVD. $99.98), “Affairs of the Heart, Series 1” (Acorn Media. $39.99) and “Cathouse: The Series” (HBO Home Video. $29.98).

POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD (Troma Home Video. $29.99): I have always felt that if you want to consider yourself to be a true film fanatic, you owe it to yourself to watch at least one film produced by the good people at Troma, the studio behind such cheerfully schlocky and gore-filled goofs as “The Toxic Avenger,” “Tromeo and Juliet” and “Terror Firmer.” If you haven’t yet gotten around to doing so, perhaps you might want to consider checking out their latest release, a bizarre horror spoof in which a military-themed fast-food chicken restaurant is built upon an ancient Indian burial ground and the angered spirits transform the customers into a horde of deadly zombie chickens.

TINKER BELL (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): In this made-for-DVD CGI creation, everyone’s favorite fairy (voiced by Mae Whitman) is bummed out that all of her fellow fairies have flashy talents while she is only good at the humdrum activity of fixing things--I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that by the end, she will learn important lessons about being herself and discover just how important her talent really is. Okay, the story may not be that profoundly interesting, but it was enough to lure a reasonably impressive voice cast that includes the likes of Anjelica Huston, Lucy Liu, America Ferrara, Kristin Chenoweth and Jane Horrocks.

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): I’m not going to say that you have to rush out and buy a copy of this el-cheapo horror spoof about a grungy strip club in which the top dancers (including Jenna Jameson) begin snacking on the clientele after being exposed to something or other. I’m not even going to say that you have to go out and rent it for the night. What I am going to say is that if you do choose to watch it, you will get plenty of zombies, plenty of strippers, plenty of zombie strippers and more references to the likes of Camus, Sartre and Genet than you might have expected from a film called “Zombie Strippers.” Plus, it is hard to be completely down on a movie that kicks off a catfight with the immortal line “This is all your fault, existentialist bitch!”

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originally posted: 10/31/08 14:49:09
last updated: 11/04/08 06:14:06
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