Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume Two is one of the finest compilations of MST3K episodes ever released. In fact, it was released by Rhino over ten years ago and has long been out of print. But Shout! Factory has released the set in a new slim packaging. Does it still hold up?
Oh my yes. Featuring two classic episodes from the Joel Hodgson era, one from Mike Nelson's years as the host, and a collection of shorts from both eras, Volume Two is still an impressive set and the perfect way to initiate friends who have never experienced riffing jokes at cheesy movies or the Twin Cities puppet show that is MST3K.
The best (or worst) of the films featured in the set is Pod People — a low budget horror flick from Spanish trash auteur Juan Piquer Simon. It's a crass E.T. ripoff, but somewhere along the way, Simon decided to make it part horror film as well. So the tale of a young boy nurturing an alien from an egg sits uncomfortably next to a series of killings as one of the alien's kin dispenses with a rock band staying at the kid's home. The tonal confusion leads to some great riffing with Joel and the bots declaring the various plots "Movie A" and so forth. In many ways, Pod People is the ur-movie for the ur-episode of MST3K. It has everything from a poorly made monster, poorly drawn characters and overactive fog machines.
The set would be worth it for Pod People alone, but Cave Dwellers also proves to be prime example of what the show could do with no-budget Conan rip-offs. Cave Dwellers, or Ator: The Avenging Eagle as it is properly know, is also a sequel and it gets plenty of mileage from scenes in the earlier film. Crow and Servo also get a lot of mileage from the unashamed rehashing of that material. From callbacks to earlier episodes to then-topical jokes like "Ooh, Cher at the funhouse," the quips come quick and poke plenty of fun as the film strains to avoid being litigiously close to the Hyboeran Age.
Mike's sole contribution to the set is a film called Angel's Revenge. It also is an immediately apparent rip-off — this time of Charlie's Angels — although Servo does not make that comment until halfway through the film. It also feels like a failed TV pilot, and Mike and the bots make the most out of appearances by TV worthy guest stars like Jim Backus, Arthur Godfrey and Alan Hale Jr. Surprisingly, they show restraint with the Gilligan's Island references despite two of its stars appearing in this film. But the group fires on all cylinders during Backus' performance as an inept Aryan separatist leader.
The volume of shorts included in the set, however, may be the easiest and simplest way to get a friend into the show. MST3K's savaging of moral hygiene films of the 50s is one of the best aspects of the series and the group here are some of the best. Highlights include "Why Study Industrial Arts?" — in which Crow inadvertently turns the lead character into a killer — and "The Chicken of Tomorrow," an extended commercial for chicken farming which quickly becomes one of the best twenty minutes of jokes to be found anywhere.
While the set is the perfect introduction for someone new to the show, veterans who may still own the original release may pause before ordering. Unlike Shout's release of volume one, there are no new featurettes on the set. The only new bonus materials are the Mystery Science Theater Hour wraparounds staring Mike Nelson as a genial cable host in the mold of former A&E personality Jack Perkins. They represent some of the earliest material from that syndicated repacking of MST3K and are definitely something the completist will enjoy.
And since we're veering into completist territory, the set may be worth picking up again for the space savings as Shout's release takes up half the space on the shelf versus the original Rhino version.
The source elements seemed improved on the newer version as well, with slightly clearer picture and audio so crisp, some previously unintelligible lines from the films themselves now have clarity.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume 2 is still one of the best sets ever released and certainly worth picking up if you're new to the show, looking to get a friend into it or in need of a new copy as you managed to wear out the original release.