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Why MST3K’s Original Finale Is One of the Best Episodes Ever

I have memories of watching and loving Mystery Science Theater 3000 when I was a young kid, and my parents were watching the Joel years on Comedy Central. Then, maybe when Joel left and Mike took over, my parents just stopped watching the show and I was too young to go looking for it. Then after finding MST3K: The Movie on HBO around 1997, I was re-hooked and bought VHS tapes when and where I could, but it wasn’t until we got the burgeoning Sci-Fi Channel that I fully immersed myself in MSTie-ness. And then it got cancelled. Shout! Factory‘s final classic series DVD set makes me feel the same way, with bittersweet hilarity.

The fact that Shout! (taking over from its predecessor Rhino Video) has been able to put out 39 volumes of three to six episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, each with exclusive extras, has been a godsend for fans of the series. But as I touched upon when the news was reported, there are 11 episodes that will likely never get released on DVD due to issues with the various rights holders of the films being riffed. And like seeing your favorite show get cancelled just as it was reaching a new stride, knowing that it’ll be very unlikely to see these full episodes legitimately again leaves one feeling unfulfilled.

But more on that in a moment. Vol. XXXIX contains three Mike episodes. The first two are from season six, its premiere episode Girls Town (a Mamie Van Doran movie about troubled girls forced to live in a halfway house run by nuns) and its penultimate episode The Amazing Transparent Man (a cheapie AIP movie about a guy who can turn invisible). Both are quite funny, and Transparent Man has become a minor classic. With these episodes, season six is now fully available, as are seasons one, five, and seven.

The third disc is really the one to watch. It contains the show’s original finale, Diabolik, which completes season 10. I had this episode taped and watched it until the spools stopped working. It’s not only a monumental episode given its status as “the end,” but it’s also one of the funniest episodes from top to bottom. Each of the host segments, including one of their best musical numbers (“To Earth” in which Mike, Gypsy, and Servo sing a song about what to look forward to once they’re on terra firma to soothe a scared Crow), completely delivers in both humor and heartstring-tugging.

But the movie itself is one of the strongest riffs of the Sci-Fi years, which for my money had the most consistently excellent writing the team ever delivered. Diabolik (full title: Danger: Diabolik!) is a 1968 Italian/French movie based on a popular comic book series about an amoral superthief, played here by John Phillip Law. It was made to capitalize on the suave spy movie craze that began with 1962’s Dr. No, and Diabolik boasts some truly psychedelic visuals and impressive action sequences to boot.

I remember being drawn to the movie in question in addition to laughing at the great riffing. Only much later would it all click into place; Diabolik was directed by Mario Bava, who has since become one of my very favorite directors. Known primarily for his contributions to the horror genre (Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, Kill Baby Kill, etc. etc. etc.), Bava was a cinematographic genius who gave richness and dimension to even the most modest of budgets. Diabolik also offers a rocking, fuzzy soundtrack by the great Ennio Morricone. I bought this soundtrack a few years ago because it’s so good.

Diabolik is the perfect movie for MST3K; it’s constantly moving, had bananas visuals, and it’s also very silly, in a fun way. Whole scenes of it were replicated for the Beastie Boys video “Body Movin’” because it’s just so delightfully ridiculous, in that late-’60s Euro-trash way. And, just as they did with the much later film Space Mutiny, a lot of humor is mined from the eyebrow-heavy facial expressions of John Phillip Law.

Episode 1013 is a stone cold classic, and the other two are quite good, but that’s not all. Volume XXXIX also offers fans something special. Because there are 11 episodes that have never been put on DVD and likely never will, the fourth disc in this set gives fans the next best thing. “Satellite Dishes” features all of the host segments from the unreleasable episodes, so at the very least the sketches and Invention Exchanges from those episodes are now available. The episodes in question are:

Ep #201 Rocketship X-M
Ep #213 Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster
Ep #309 The Amazing Colossal Man
Ep #311 It Conquered the World
Ep #416 Fire Maidens from Outer Space
Ep #418 The Eye Creatures
Ep #807 Terror from the Year 5000
Ep #809 I Was A Teenage Werewolf
Ep #905 The Deadly Bees
Ep #906 The Space Children
Ep #913 Quest of the Delta Knights

Episode 201 introduced Frank Conniff as TV’s Frank and was the first episode to feature Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo. Losing those host segments would have been a disaster, especially if it’s just because the owner of Rocketship X-M wanted too much money. You get to see a pre-host Mike Nelson assay the Amazing Colossal Man himself; Crow’s evil doppelganger Timmy from Fire Maidens from Outer Space isn’t forgotten; Pearl and Bobo use a musical number in The Deadly Bees to convince Brain Guy to “Please Stay”; and Bill Corbett plays a Sopranos-esque Leonardo Da Vinci in Quest of the Delta Knights wraparounds. The loss of that episode is particularly sad, since it sees Pearl and Mike switch places, and we now can’t see Pearl riffing.

The extras this time around are quite worth it as well, giving us an interview with Chuck Love, composer of the iconic MST3K theme song; a brief featurette about the making of The Amazing Transparent Man; a feature about the making of the final episode; and a retrospective about Ballyhoo Pictures, the one-man company behind most of the fantastic documentaries that can be found on these DVD sets.

Rare has been the DVD set from Shout! Factory that isn’t fully worth your money, and Volume XXXIX of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no exception. And even though the sadness associated with the show’s original cancellation has been lessened both by its Netflix revival, and recent news of a second season there, revisiting Diabolik and the never-to-be-released episodes gives us warm and bittersweet chuckles.

Images: MGM/Shout Factory

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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