During the original 1988-89 run of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on KTMA in Minneapolis, the show drew heavily from the library of Sandy Frank Entertainment, a company that made a few dollars over the years importing and dubbing Japanese movies and TV shows for American distribution. After Comedy Central picked up MST3K—back when it was still The Comedy Channel—host Joel Hodgson and company revisited the Sandy Frank catalog, riffing on some of the same movies they’d tackled three years earlier. Among those titles were five entries in the Gamera series, a post-Godzilla giant-monster rip-off featuring a six-story-tall, fire-breathing turtle. Most of the bad movies MST3K showed were so obscure that even schlock aficionados had never heard of them, but the Gamera films were name-brand junk, and since the writers and cast had plenty of experience with them—and since by season three, they were in the zone, comedically—the Gamera episodes have developed a reputation as being among the show’s best.
Until now, part of that reputation has stemmed from scarcity, since the episodes have been unavailable on home video because of rights snafus. But Shout! Factory has the rights to the Gamera franchise and to MST3K, so the company has realized a few geeky dreams by releasing MST3K Vs. Gamera, a complete set of all five episodes, with a fair amount of supplemental material. And fans will be pleased to know that their memories—and their battered videotapes—didn’t lie. These Gamera shows hold up. Some of the jokes are a little locked in 1991 (“It’s the DJ from Deee-Lite!”), some were obscure even in their time (“I think I’ll name you… ‘Appetite.’”), and some go a little too far in making fun of the series’ Japanese-ness. But the MST crew gets a lot of mileage out of imagining Gamera and the other big rubber monsters as likeable oafs plagued by the annoying, overprivileged kids who pop up in every film.
They also come up with a good run of sketches in these episodes, from an argument about the differences between PC and Mac interfaces (“I suppose you’d prefer a little animated clown who would juggle over to the little file cabinet and then wink at you and point to the right drawer?”) to an epic fake-commercial for a Gamera action-figure set. And if nothing else, the extended association between Mystery Science Theater and Gamera ran long enough to produce Show 312, Gamera Vs. Guiron, an MST3K Top 10-er. The movie itself is especially ripe for mockery, with its clumsy dubbing, the child star who looks like Richard Burton, and its introduction of a Gamera theme song. (Everybody: “Gamera is really neat / Gamera is filled with meat / We’ve been eating Gamera!”) The result is one of those magical MST3K episodes featuring almost more jokes than Joel and the ’bots can squeeze into a single segment, and the absurdity and the movie and the creativity of the comedians reaches an almost-radioactive intensity.
Key features: Original trailers, bonus host segments, and multiple featurettes that look back at the Gamera franchise and what it meant to the evolution of MST3K.