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Cinema Obscura 

With a suggested sale price of $69.99 (or even at the discounted rate of $48.99), this collection of four previously unreleased MST3K episodes probably only qualifies as “bargain-bin” on the same scale that categorizes people making $250,000 a year “working class.” But as a dream assassin (aka, a critic) I feel a giant debt to the Satellite of Love crew — Mike and/or Joel and their homemade-puppet hecklers. Forced by evil scientists to watch the worst movies available, the MST3K crew’s snotty running commentary first introduced me to the pleasures of taking a steaming, sarcastic shit on a stranger’s life’s work.

Though the show ran for more than a decade, this 20-year retrospective covers about eight years of the show’s history, from its second season on Comedy Central (then known as the Comedy Channel) to one of the final episodes in its Sci Fi Channel run. Other than a few clips in the “making of” documentary spread across three of the discs, the show’s initial 21-episode run on Minneapolis station KMTA goes unrepresented, and in what’s sure to be a controversial choice among MST-ies, series creator Joel Hodgson stars in only one of the four episodes, with head writer Mike Nelson hosting the other three.

Worse for Joel-ites, his episode First Spaceship on Venus is by far the weakest, nearly two hours of lame jokes and dated references (that time Roseanne sang the national anthem, anyone?) hardly upping the enjoyability factor of a crappy movie. The other three episodes in this collection, however, make a compelling case for Mike loyalists, and Laserblast, the show’s final Comedy Central episode, probably captures MST3K at its best. This story of a whiny teenager who discovers a mysterious handheld space cannon is much, much worse than it sounds, but Mike and his robot friends are absolutely inspired, adding enough obscure name-drops, smart-ass quips, and alternate dialogue to transform the film into an entirely different creation, one which far surpasses the original, both in entertainment value and references to A Christmas Story’s unruly Bumpus hounds.

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