“Mystery Science Theater 3000” (or “MST3K” to its devoted fans) is a television show often associated with the 1990s.
Originally shown on the local TV station KTMA in Minneapolis, the show was first picked up by Comedy Central, then by the Sci-Fi Channel, and most recently, in a handful of new episodes on Netflix.
The program has an unusual premise: a human being has been unwillingly catapulted into space to live on a space station with two robots, where he is destined to spend time watching movies generally very bad and/or bizarre B-movies!
Examples include “Teenagers from Outer Space” (USA; 1959), “Samson vs. the Vampire Women” (filmed in Mexico; 1961), and “First Spaceship on Venus” (from the communist German Democratic Republic; 1960). And, of course, that holiday classic (at least, when all other available holiday film options have been exhausted) “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (USA; 1964).
Now “Mystery Science Theater 3000” is back and it is on the road throughout the country on the self-billed “Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour,” where the cast critiques a film, either “No Retreat, No Surrender” (1986) or “Circus of Horrors” (1960).
This reviewer saw the “No Retreat, No Surrender” version of the show, which was unusual in that the movie was from 1986. The original series usually showed movies from the 1950s and 1960s, while this movie premiered a mere two years before the first broadcast of MST3K.
Also, MST3K mostly skewered science-fiction and horror movies. This film is a karate-themed flick.
Rest assured, however, that the robots and their human sidekick had no trouble adjusting to the new genre, reflecting on the title “No Retreat, No Surrender,” one of the cheeky robots commented: “Great! That worked so well for General Custer.” Throughout the rest of the show, it is like watching a late-night movie with two or three of your best friends making funny, irreverent comments throughout the film.
“No Retreat, No Surrender” might charitably be called an homage to films of the day such as “Karate Kid” (1984) and “Rocky IV” (1985).
In the film, a young man named Jason Stillwell is infatuated with kung fu fighter Bruce Lee, often visiting the legendary master’s grave in Seattle, the setting of the movie.
Jason and his troubled ex-karate instructor father have just moved to the area from Los Angeles, but each is experiencing difficulty with the transition.
After Jason experiences a series of particularly distressing events, Lee’s spirit appears to teach Jason to “use his mind” to fight – illustrating the point by comparing a full glass of water and a filled glass from a can of Diet Coke.
Lee proceeds to pour out the water and replace it with Diet Coke, demonstrating the need for Jason to empty his own ideas about Kung Fu and replace them with the true teaching. “Do you know what this is?” Lee’s ghost demands rhetorically. A robot helpfully pipes up: “Aspartame?” And so the humor, and night, goes with MST3K.
From time to time, the movie pauses for humorous live-action segments featuring the robots and their human companions, often focusing on Crow doing a short song on the order of an old radio-style jingle followed by antics of other cast members, such as fire-eating or cycling. The audience of the National Theater clearly adored these comic interludes, as well as laughed heartily at the movie and commentary, both human and robot. The jokes, some of them very clever and others completely silly, passed by so quickly that this reviewer could not keep up as he tried to jot down the best quips.
The choice of a 1986 movie was at first surprising, given that the television version usually features movies of the 1950s and 1960s.
The event, however, appears to have designed to appeal to those who remember the 1980s well, and this version of “No Retreat, No Surrender” – with occasional references to Michael Jackson, break dancing, distinctive 1980s hairstyles, karate movies, and even an appearance by a young Jean-Claude Van Damme (as a ridiculously villainous Soviet mixed martial artist!) – serves this purpose well.
Also, MST3K fans have the option to see the companion show, featuring the 1960 film Circus of Horrors, for an additional MST3K show featuring a more “traditional” (at least for MST3K!) horror-themed film.
Mystery Science Theater fans will be cheered to discover that the Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour may also be pointing to a reboot of the series; the show introduces a new character or two, including one unlucky woman chosen to be sent into space, doomed to watch terrible movies with robot companions!
Thus, MST3K fans may doubly rejoice: first, though the show has ended in Washington, D.C., they can see one or both of the highly amusing live-action versions of the beloved show, with upcoming appearances in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Secondly, new over-the-air episodes are likely forthcoming as well. More information on the tour can be found at https://mst3klive.com/.