Sunday, July 28, 2013

DVD Review 'Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII': They Did the Monster Mash

Shout! Factory bills its latest four-disc Mystery Science Theater 3000 box set, XXVII, as a "schlock-tastic Monster Movie Mash," which is true enough, though Rocket Attack USA is more about monstrous Cold War paranoia than the kinds of crazy creatures in Village of the Giants, The Deadly Mantis or The Slime People.

But enough monster mashing -- what about the extras for these first-time MST eps on DVD, due at retail July 23?

Rocket Attack USA's disc adds a new Life After MST3K, this one with Trace Beaulieu, aka Dr. Clayton Forrester and the voice of Crow T. Robot. The seven-minute sit-down opens with his "it was hard" feelings about leaving the show and characters he loved after Season 7, but then turns to his successes in Los Angeles, where he first reunited with Season 1 cohort J. Elvis Weinstein.

Besides name-dropping the shows on which he worked as writer or actor - America's Funniest Home Videos, Freaks and Geeks, The West Wing - Trace also recounts his voice audition for the role of Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode One -- The Phantom Menace. "I'm very grateful not to be the most hated character in science fiction film history" he says of "losing" the appalling Stepin Fetchit part to Ahmed Best.

It all comes full circle as Trace tells of working with his old MST3K castmates again in Cinematic Titanic, for which he notes -- with mock ruefulness - that he's still doing the same old thing after all these years.

Besides a theatrical trailer, The Slime People's disc has a revealing new interview with star Judith (Morton) Fraser, also seven minutes. A kid from Oklahoma and elsewhere who migrated to UCLA, she got cast in the rock-bottom-budget fright flick without reading a script -- probably because there wasn't one. She'd have "done anything" to get a job and a SAG card, then wound getting "teased the rest of my life" for the wobbly creature feature.

And Fraser pulls no punches. "It was awful," she says. "It was so painful to watch. It was like a high school play," and with no direction.

I'm not sure why she says Slime People was her entry into show biz, though. Unless its release was delayed, her credits began earlier, with TV appearances on Lassie, Leave It To Beaver, My Three Sons and The Twilight Zone. She's also performed here and there since then -- again, mostly on TV.

Village of the Giants' disc has another such interview, this one with actress Joy Harmon -- again, seven minutes. She definitely didn't get her start as one of the film's empty-headed, rebellious teens turned into a giant; she'd already been an extra in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, performed in Make a Million on Broadway and worked with Groucho Marx on his TV game shows. Then came the oh-so-'60s Giants, which she doesn't diss. After all,she got to go-go dance, which she loved.

Well, she was embarrassed by one notable scene where, when growing, her character's clothes pop off. Nothing full-frontal, of course, but still cringe-worthy for her (though I'd have been more chagrined by playing such a vapid character).

The film also yielded a career in catering. Harmon baked for craft services to feed cast and crew during the shoot, and to this day she does so for "all the studios" as a business. I've always said: If you want longevity in Hollywood, work behind the camera, not in front of it.

The box set's biggest extras are for The Deadly Mantis, from its theatrical trailer to a four-minute intro by Mary Jo Pehl (who basically nails the movie as Stock Footage R Us)to a 12-minute featurette from the reliable Ballyhoo called Chasing Rosebud: The Cinematic life of William Alland.

He produced 1957 big-bug movie The Deadly Mantis while sparking Universal's fright-flick renaissance in that decade via three Creature (as in Black Lagoon) movies, This Island Earth, It Came From Outer Space and much more. But the director of It Came and Creature, Jack Arnold, tended to get the most credit, as recounted by film historian C. Courtney Joyner.

Still, Alland kept Universal (then called Universal-International) on the monster map for a decade. Heck, he even played the framing-sequence reporter in Citizen Kane, which is worth something in itself.

I also love this disc for its creative menu and for its Season 8 host segments, when MST3K had moved to the Sci Fi Channel and actually had stories to tell for Mike Nelson and company. Granted, they got jumbled in reruns, but upon first viewing, it was a kick to see lovably witless Professor Bobo -- with Mike's help -- inadvertently destroy Earth and thus launch their adventures roaming the galaxy.

Sounds like a grand B movie in itself.

- Bruce Westbrook
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