Thursday, July 12, 2007

HEY, YOU DOWN THERE

The Mystery Science guys get a new job as the Film Crew

Posted on Thu, Jul 12, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark / Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 11
Studio: Shout Factory / Rhino
WorkNameSort: Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark / Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 11, The

Ever wonder what those Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys have done since the cult show went off the air in 1999? Surely they haven't just sat around heckling bad movies all this time.

Actually, they have ' and they continue to make money doing it. Granted, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett have written books and/or plays in the off-time, but they still have the greatest job ever: providing snarky commentary tracks for bottom-of-the-barrel movies. In 2006, Nelson started RiffTrax.com, a series of feature-length MP3 commentaries for movies too copyright-restricted ever to feature on MST3K. Finally, Nelson ' along with several guest hecklers, including MST3K alumni and Neil Patrick Harris ' was able to shatter such sacred cows as The Matrix, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, plus perennial turkey Road House and that longtime bastion of gay cinema, Top Gun. Unfortunately, you have to provide the DVDs, but isn't the embarrassment of slapping down a copy of Daredevil or Glitter on your local Blockbuster or library counter worth it?

The MSTie troupe's latest venture, the Film Crew, is the first to combine all three of these movie-obsessed talents in one room since the Satellite of Love stopped orbiting. It's back to the B's again; the first title in this straight-to-DVD series is the 1968 melodrama Hollywood After Dark. Three more titles are scheduled to be released a month apart. The heckling style is remarkably similar, only this time there are no 'bots and no silhouettes. The concept here is just three guys given the task of providing commentary tracks for every film that lacks one, with each assignment called in on speakerphone to their boss, Bob Honcho (in effect playing the old Dr. Forrester part of distribution).

Nelson, Corbett and Murphy have not lost a beat in the seven years since MST3K. Their riffing on Hollywood After Dark is as piss-yourself-funny as ever. We're treated to more modern references, too, with allusions to Condoleezza Rice, Million Dollar Baby, tightened airport security restrictions and more. The absence of television editing and censorship is apparent right away; the commentary is edgier than MST3K ever was, the film itself has nudity that would render it unsuitable for TV and even the transfer looks and sounds better than most of the grubby and out-of-focus prints that aired on the Comedy Central and Sci Fi Channel broadcasts.

And what material they have to work with! Chosen by fans in an online poll to be the Film Crew's debut release, Hollywood After Dark is a miserable soft-core quickie starring The Golden Girls' Rue McClanahan as an aspiring actress-turned-burlesque dancer (insert shriek here). It's all silent robberies by hepcat villains and overlong, painful-to-watch strip scenes with hideous women, with very little plot getting in the way of the shrill theme of utter hopelessness.

To tide fans over until the next Film Crew release ' the 1954 Peter Graves vehicle Killers From Space ' Rhino has been kind enough to release its 11th MST3K collection. Like most of its releases, this random set is all over the series' map, plucking one show from season one, two from season four and one from season 10.

Volume 11 is far from the best MST3K set available. Rhino is really getting into the dregs with Indestructible Man, a 1956 sci-fi film with Lon Chaney Jr. as an executed criminal brought back to life by a mad scientist and seeking revenge on his back-stabbing buddies while a detective attempts to romance his moll. Simply put, this is the worst heckling job they've released since Sidehackers. The movie here is arguably more inspired than the commentary. There's nothing worse than watching a bad movie with bad ribbing, and Indestructible Man is an almost complete bust.

The rest of the material is generally strong. Tormented, directed by B-movie maven Bert I. Gordon, is a guilt-drenched cautionary tale about a jazz pianist who decides to watch his clingy mistress fall to her death rather than save her, only to find her ghost impeding his impending marriage. Joel and the 'bots have a lot of fun with this, especially with the sequences featuring a hip-to-the-jive blackmailer who looks like Lou Reed. In what has to be a first, the DVD features a 17-minute interview featurette with the cast and crew of the ridiculed movie: Gordon, his actress daughter Susan Gordon and Joe Turkel (the Lou Reed doppelgänger).

Then there's Ring of Terror, a supposed horror film that takes place on a college campus where all the students are played by actors in their 40s. This is one of the worst movies ever ever ever, and also features the best commentary in this collection. The set concludes with its sole Mike Nelson'era episode, Horrors of Spider Island, another faux-horror movie that disintegrates into soft-core porn about a bunch of pheromone-fueled 'dancersâ?� who crash-land on a spider-filled island with their burly boss. In terms of late-season episodes, it doesn't approach the brilliance of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders or Hobgoblins, but it's mostly successful.

In any incarnation, Nelson, Corbett and Murphy remain a necessary antidote to the evils Hollywood foists upon us, and the recent influx of material by these pop-culture mainstays affirms their popularity.

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