Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX 

In the not-too-distant future "? next Sunday, A.D., to be exact "? why not curl up on the couch with "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XIX"? The four-disc DVD set is another feather in Shout! Factory's continuous cap of random-episode releases of the long-running movie-skewing series.

This batch carries two shows from its early, Joel Hodgson years in "Robot Monster" and "Bride of the Monster," and two from its later, Mike Nelson years in "Devil Doll" and "Devil Fish." Monsters, devils "? sense a theme? Another is nonstop hilarity, of course.

The selection may or may not be accidental, but it does represent an unintentional conundrum: While longtime MSTies may be nostalgic for those initial seasons when the show was new, fresh and seemingly made just for them, it can be argued the joke-per-minute ratio got higher in the more recent seasons, when the bad movies being skewered weren't as obvious, and were more obscure.

"Robot Monster" and "Bride of the Monster," after all, have long been decried as two of the worst films ever made, and that was before "MST3K" had its way with them, much less existed. But it's a good bet much fewer folks had heard of "Devil Doll" and "Devil Fish" before Mike and the 'bots solicited an introduction.

But why fight, when they're all ripe for being torn a new one?

Again, being early episodes, the two "Monster" eps are supplemented with shorts, including two chapters of the "Radar Men from the Moon" serial and part one of the immortal training film "Hired!" (Part two, of course, would be forever immortalized on the series-high "Manos" episode.)

On the "Robot Monster" disc's extras, "Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" director Larry Blamire spends about 10 minutes discussing his love for the legendary 1953 no-budget turkey. "Bride" gives us a documentary about the making of Ed Wood's 1955 sci-fi failure with Bela Lugosi, as well as a featurette about "MST3K"'s popular Invention Exchange, which used to open each episode before the Movie Sign blared.

From 1964, "Devil Doll" is actually kinda creepy, because ventriloquist's dummies inherently are, whether or not they come to life (and this one does). It carries a niftier pedigree than most "MST" targets, but still offers a lot of deficiencies for poking. And 1984's "Devil Fish" is an Italian "Jaws" rip-off that's as bad as ... well, every "Jaws" rip-off that wasn't made by Roger Corman.

Speaking of tight producers, Richard Gordon discusses the inception of his "Devil Doll" on that disc, while "Devil Fish" offers a postage-stamp-size trailer and an hourlong cast panel discussion at CONvergence 2009, unfortunately marred by less-than-pristine sound recording. I can overlook that, because it's merely an extra helping of gravy on the best plate of garlic mashed potatoes I've ever eaten.

You'll get your kicks with "XIX." And it comes with a Gypsy figurine, if you're into that sort of thing. "?Rod Lott

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