Thursday, August 23, 2007

MST3K formula gets new life with The Film Crew

Eight years after their Satellite of Love crashed back to Earth, three of the guys behind “Mystery Science Theater 3000” have a new gig.

Like before, it involves talking during movies.

Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett are The Film Crew, and their mission is to see to it that every movie has a commentary track. Unfortunately for them, their boss, Bob Honcho, assigns them the worst of the worst.

Nobody ever said commentary tracks should be reserved for DVDs of “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” Or “Showgirls.”

That’s the premise. But it’s just an excuse for Nelson, Murphy and Corbett to do what they do best: make fun of bad movies.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” ran for 11 years in all, becoming for a time one of Comedy Central’s most popular shows. It survived a major cast change when creator Joel Hodgson left and head writer Nelson stepped into the lead role, as a temp forced to watch bad movies as part of a mad scientist’s ongoing experiment. MST3K, as it became known, also survived a change of networks, moving to the Sci-Fi Channel for its final four seasons.

Along the way, MST3K won a Peabody Award and the admiration of both fans and critics.

By the time MST3K moved to Sci-Fi, its core cast was Nelson as the aptly named Mike Nelson, Murphy and Corbett as his robot sidekicks, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, and Mary Jo Pehl as mad scientist Pearl Forrester. Murphy and Corbett pulled double duty as Pearl’s unwilling assistants.

Now, the satellite is gone, the mad scientist is gone, and Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot are gone, but The Film Crew carries on MST3K’s proud spirit.

And it does so without even being on television. The Film Crew’s barbs go directly to DVD.

So far, four Film Crew DVDs have been announced and two are already in stores. All are truly awful movies in dire need of a good ribbing.

‘Hollywood After Dark’

First up is “Hollywood After Dark,” a 1968 exploitation film in which a young Rue McClanahan (“The Golden Girls”) plays a stripper who gets involved with the mob while looking for her big Hollywood break.

By “young,” I mean she was 34. Unfortunately, she looks 54, which should alert you to the dangers of B-movie filmmaking. There sometimes isn’t money in the budget for decent lighting. But if any Golden Girl had to star in a movie about a stripper, at least it wasn’t Bea Arthur.

‘Killers from Space’

Next is “Killers from Space” (1954), starring a pre-“Mission: Impossible” Peter Graves.

Graves plays a scientist who goes up against ping-pong-ball-eyed spacemen bent on conquering the Earth with their army of giant insects and lizards, which, of course, are actually ordinary insects and lizards shot on model sets.

If this plot sounds a bit familiar, it’s because Graves also played scientists squaring off against giant insects in 1957’s “The Beginning of the End” and evil extraterrestrials in 1956’s “It Conquered the World,” both of which received their MST3K comeuppance.

Are these movies bad? They’re almost unwatchable. Fortunately The Film Crew’s comic skewering of these cinematic atrocities makes it all worthwhile. The Film Crew will never even approach the Comedy Central heyday of MST3K, but I’ll take what I can get.

What’s next?

Up next for The Film Crew is “The Wild Women of Wongo,” in which a tribe of beautiful cavewomen steals attractive cavemen from a tribe of ugly cavewomen. There is probably a college women’s studies class somewhere that would also like to riff that film. The DVD hits store shelves Sept. 11.

And on Oct. 9, the crew grapples with “Giant of Marathon,” in which oily bodybuilder Steve Reeves plays yet another variation of his most famous role, Hercules.

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