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No MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 Episode Should Be Forgotten

At the end of every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its original run from 1988 to 1999, the credits suggested fans should “keep circulating the tapes.” Since, for such a long time, there was no official VHS release of any of the episodes, taping MST3K yourself off of Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel was the only way to enjoy it. Many (but not all) of the episodes have been released by Shout! Factory over the nearly 20 years since the show went off the air, but even many of those remain extremely hard to find. Or at least they did until now!

Shout! has been re-releasing all of their earliest MST3K DVD volumes (from back in the Rhino Video days) for a while now, but some of the episodes were only ever released individually. In an effort to clean that up a bit, Shout! has seen fit to release a set they’re calling “The Singles Collection,” which gathers five of the most beloved episodes with the rare third volume of shorts. I remember having some of these on VHS when I was younger. Ah, those were the weird, analog days.

Mystery Science Theater in its heyday was a show most fans taped and watched over and over again, to the point that they remember some obscure-ass jokes. But from my experience, each rewatch offers the opportunity to laugh for minutes at a time at a joke you had completely forgotten about. Unless you were a forward-thinking TV watcher in Minnesota in 1988, nobody taped all 197 episodes of the original run, so the ones we did tape became precious, while the ones we didn’t, or had maybe never seen, passed into the ether as, at best, distant memories.

This is why the Shout! Factory mission to put out as many of the episodes as possible is such a noble one, not simply as a brand, but for all of the fans who maybe never got a chance to see some of the lesser classics on TV or VHS. A lot of episodes are on Netflix, now thanks to the production of season 11 and the upcoming season 12, but it’s definitely not a complete episode list, so DVDs are still the best and only way to keep these episodes alive now that VHS is dead as Dillinger.

“The Singles Collection” re-releases some of the earliest single-issue releases, some of which have been out of print for over a decade. All of these come from the Joel Hodgson era, and three of them have a brand new introduction by the man himself, with a couple of retrospective featurettes as well.

We start with episode 106: The Crawling Hand, one of the early VHS releases. It’s a dirt-cheap 1963 sci-fi/horror flick about the arm of an exploded astronaut, brought to life through God knows what, that wreaks something akin to havoc on a small town. As one of the earliest episodes of the Comedy Central era, it’s weird to see Joel have to restate the premise of the movie in the first host segment, and some of the references are particularly dated, but there’s some good stuff, especially from a point before all of the elements of the series had been fully established.

Next up is episode 209: The Hellcats, a doofy ’60s biker movie produced by longtime Coleman Francis collaborator Anthony Cardoza, is an early classic. So many of the movies they did on the show were crappy little B-pictures designed to appeal to the youth market of the 1960s, and this is a brilliant example of that.

The next three episodes are legitimate classics, and it’s a wonder they haven’t been on DVD in such a long time. The first of these is episode 321: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a Christmas tradition for a lot of people, I’d bet. Each of the series’ eras did a Christmas episode, and it began with Joel’s first foray right about halfway through his time on the show. A bananas 1964 children’s movie about Martians (which were just actors painted green, wearing green, and sporting green motorcycle helmets with no visors) who want to steal Santa Claus for their own children’s toy whims. This offered Joel and the Bots no end of riffing opportunity.

Then we have episode 506: Eegah, another of these B-pictures made for teens in the ’60s. Eegah is about a giant caveman (played by the great Richard Kiel) who never died out or evolved and who runs afoul of some hip people living in the desert. Written and directed by Arch Hall Sr and starring his son Arch Hall Jr, this is the movie that gave the world the immortal line “Watch out for snakes!” which became the name of last year’s live MST3K tour, in which Jonah Ray and the new cast alternated between riffing on Eegah and an Italian superhero/spy movie called Argoman: The Fantastic Superman. Eegah remains a touchstone for MSTies to this day.

And the final movie in the Singles set is episode 507: I Accuse My Parents, a 1944 exploitation movie dealing with juvenile delinquency. According to Hodgson in his intro/retrospective, it was a movie made for the G.I.s in WWII who were maybe morally lax after their time at war, and so a movie was commissioned to show these young thugs that lying and bad behavior are in fact not the right thing to do. This episode—the one right after Eegah—shows how well the writing and riffing team had begun to work together, at the height of their powers.

And the final disc in the series is the third volume of shorts, originally released as the last VHS in 2001, and again as an extra on the 2004 “Essentials” DVD set, which included Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Manos: The Hands of Fate. The shorts were always among the best things they did on the series, so getting to watch a bunch together is a grand old time.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a show that will certainly stand the test of time, and has proved so for over 30 years. That said, not every episode is on the forefront of people’s minds. But just because there are a ton of episodes doesn’t mean some can stand to be left behind. As long as there are fans out there, no episode of MST3K should ever be forgotten.

Images: Shout Factory

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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