Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVII (Shout! Factory, NR)

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MST3K-XXVII 75You’d have to be a real grouch to not find some fun in it.

MST3K-XXVII 500

Bert I. Gordon should get up every morning and thank the guys behind Mystery Science Theater 3000 because without them, how many people would have heard of him, let alone seen one of his films? Gordon holds the distinction of having eight of his films get the MST3K treatment—the most of any director—and one of them is featured in the 27th DVD release of MST3K programs: Village of the Giants.

I’m certainly not going to try to claim that Gordon’s 1965 film is any good, but it’s such a mash-up of genres—evil teenagers take over a small town, Rebel Without a Cause style, aided by a growth potion invented by the local boy genius mad scientist, with lots of sexy dancing straight out of Beach Blanket Bingo, some of it using color filters in a manner that makes Joshua Logan look subtle—that you’d have to be a real grouch to not find some fun in it. The acting talent is a lot better than you might expect for a cheapo movie, including Ron Howard as the kid genius, Tommy Kirk as one of the good teenagers, Joe Turkel (the bartender in The Shining) as the local sheriff, and Beau Bridges as the leader of the evil teenagers. If that’s not enough to hook you, there’s also a scene of giant chickens dancing in the local nightclub, an occurrence no one seems to find particularly surprising.

The Slime People (1963) occupies a much lower plane on the fun-to-make-fun-of scale, and the silhouettes seem strangely subdued during it, as if they felt bad beating up on a film that could hardly defend itself. Directed by Robert Hutton (his only film as director, although he acted in many films and television shows, including Destination Tokyo), it was largely shot in a TV studio and ran out of money long before completion. It’s pretty standard low-budget stuff: Los Angeles (or, more properly, the rural area surrounding it) is invaded by a race of from-beneath-the-earth reptilian folk, and it’s up to a little band of unlikely heroes (led by Hutton) to survive/defeat the slime people and save the city.

The picture and sound quality are not great, and there’s so much artificial fog (the slime people have created a “fog barrier” around the city) that it’s sometimes hard to see what’s going on. In truth, Hutton should also be grateful to the MST3K folks because were The Slime People not included in the series, I would not have heard of him, nor of his only film as director. The only actor I recognized was Les Tremayne, playing an eccentric farmer; he had a long film and television career, mostly playing small parts such as the auctioneer in North by Northwest.

It’s a pure 1950s horror cheapie, but The Deadly Mantis (1957) includes some of my favorite genre elements, including the opening shots of world maps, science-y stock footage, and a stentorian voiceover setting it all up and providing scientific facts, such as “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” (or a Jackson, if you prefer the kibbitzers’ version). Of course, all this “grandeur of science” stuff will be knocked down quickly by the plot, which involves a gigantic preying mantis emerging from an Arctic iceberg and making its way south to attack New York City. The acting talent is pretty good, all things considered, including Craig Stevens and William Hopper, and director Nathan Juran actually won an Oscar for art direction (for How Green Was My Valley, 1941) as well as directing many films and television programs, so he knew how to put a film together.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1958), also known as Five Minutes to Zero, is easily the worst film in this set—it’s clumsy propaganda, poorly done, and badly preserved. The director, Barry Mahon, has an interesting credits list on IMDb—about equal parts pornography and kid’s films—but in this one, the stock footage is infinitely preferable to the acted sections, which should give you some idea of the overall quality of the film.

In the universe of Rocket Attack U.S.A., the Russians have not only an atomic bomb, but also a plan to obliterate one of our great cities, using information from Sputnik. So tell your Congressman to vote for lots of funding for the antiballistic missile program! For all that, the silhouettes have a good time with it, and chances are you will, too.

As always, there are lots of good extras included with the movies. First off, there’s the riffing of Mike/Joel and his robot pals (my favorite moment in this set is the moment when Tom Servo recognizes an onscreen gum machine as his mother) and the skits that frame the films and are inserted into their running time (“Now keep in mind he can’t control/ When the movies begin or end/ Because he used the extra parts/ to make his robot friends”). You also get an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl, a short film about William Alland, interviews with Trace Beaulieu, Judith Fraser, and Joy Harmon; two period shorts, and trailers for The Deadly Mantis, The Slime People, and Village of the Giants. | Sarah Boslaugh

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