Mystery Science Theater 3000: Master Ninja 1 (1992)
Director: Jim Mallon
Writers: Paul Chaplin, Frank Conniff, Mike Gandolfi and Joel Hodgson
Starring: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy

The Plot: Joel Hodgson is an employee at Gizmonic Institute when the evil Dr. Forrester shoots him into outer space on the Satellite of Love. Here he is forced to endure bad movies on a weekly basis. Thankfully Joel was able to build himself a few robotic friends to help him deal with these bad movies. Among these robots are Gypsy who runs the ship, cam-bot who watches their every action and of course the wise-cracking Crow and Tom Servo who help him riff on the movies as they watch them. In this episode, Joel and his robot friends take in some 80’s cheese! Ripped from a television series called The Master and packaged down in VHS form as feature length movies, this “film” features Lee Van Cleef as John Peter McAllister who is a Korean war veteran who has spent the majority of his life in Japan learning the secret arts of the ninja. Unknown to McAllister, back at home in America he has left behind a daughter. With this knowledge, he sets off back to America despite this action leaving him as a man now marked for death by his ninja clan. When he arrives he soon runs into a brash young man named Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) who agrees to help McAllister find his daughter as long as he too can learn the ways of the ninja. What kind of wacky adventures will these two get into!?

The Review
Within the Mystery Science Theater 3000 pantheon, there are a certain number of episodes that will always stand out from my memory. There are the big ones, such as the Joe Don Baker epic Mitchell or the infamously horrible Manos: The Hands of Fate, but there are sporadic titles that really jumped out to me when I first discovered the series. Master Ninja was certainly one of those first titles I looked into when going through the back catalog of MST3K episodes. It goes without saying that ninjas are easily one of the most fun and campy of characters in all of cinema, so can you imagine the type of Ninja movie that would be chosen for riffing on MST3K? Considering how horrible most ninja movies really are, the concept that any one single ninja movie could be chosen for the MST3K treatment really boggles the mind! Then as I discovered some of the background history for Master Ninja 1, I knew I absolutely had to see this episode. You take Lee Van Cleef and Timothy Van Patton, you put the two of them in a very bad action-tv-serial and you get pure gold! Now, take this bad TV and edit down a couple of episodes into a feature length VHS release and you truly have a product that was meant for Mystery Science Theater 3000!

Yep, this was originally a television series known as The Master and ran for one season before being compiled into a series of straight to video VHS releases that found their way to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. The guys find a mountain of returning jokes to make throughout the “movie” as well as the returning sequel Master Ninja 2 which is also featured in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XX box set. The fun that they have with Lee Van Cleef’s beer gut, which makes him look very pregnant, is priceless. Another returning joke revolves around Timothy Van Patten’s apparent mush-mouth which prevents the audience from understanding the majority of his dialogue. Although one could hardly expect anything more, another source of hilarity for the crew comes in the form of the non-existent continuity. Joel and the bots come out guns-a-blazing and they never let up, using their returning jokes to create some of the funniest moments in MST3K history as far as I am concerned. As the third act (or fourth act maybe? Considering the way this was slapped together, you can expect things to be a bit jumpy) finally rolls around, Joel and the bots really find their groove and lampoon this silly “movie” for all that it is worth.

Timothy Van Patten may ultimately be the main star of this show, even in a title featuring genre greats such as Lee Van Cleef and Sho Kosugi! This may simply be from the excellent riffing from the MST3K crew, who lampoon the poor guy relentlessly. His mumbling dialogue becomes a true source of entertainment that far outshines the cheap car chases and pathetic martial arts choreography. As the movie rolls around, Tom Servo’s Timothy Van Patten “impression” begins to really take over for some of the best moments. In almost every movie the riffers will latch on to one particular character who they feel they HAVE to make fun, and Timothy Van Patten receives a grilling best reserved for Joe Don Baker. This is where the fun comes in! Although I’m sure at this point the ridicule sounds mean-spirited, believe me it is not! Joel and the crew are witty and on-point throughout the episode and although they take shots, it is never personal.

Host Segments and Special Features
The host segments for Master Ninja 1 may be some of the best from the Volume XX box set! The invention exchange (a spot that primarily came up during the intro for the Joel years which had Joel & the bots exchanging an invention with the evil Dr. Forrester) has some of the better prop comedy from the entire set as we see the positive effects that flavored IV drips can have as well as pop-up books for various classic pieces of literature! The Timothy Van Patten mania spreads from the screening room as Tom Servo explains the massive Illuminati-like conspiracy that the Van Patten family have plotted out for the American public. There are some dress-up moments with the guys donning the roles from their “movie” and finally we learn the many variations for the nunchaku, such as Nun-Clucks, Thumb-Chucks, Ground-Chucks and of course Up-Chucks! In the special features we actually have an interview with one of the stars from the movie! Bill McKinney who plays the sherriff who tries to hunt down our ninja friends. He expresses his appreciation for the show and also shows some affection for the original The Master television program that this entire project was ripped from.

The Conclusion
There isn’t really a lot left to say, is there? The “movie” is utter nonsense and it can’t help that. Hours and hours worth of television product reduced to a series of endless scenes that ultimately don’t connect with one another due to the careless editing. Although we make fun, I think its important to realize the background information revolving around a movie like this. Who knows, perhaps The Master was a logical and fun TV show? In this current state however, it is rife with silly little problems that make for one of the very best MST3K episodes from the earlier years. I mean, this is the episode that gave us the Master Ninja Theme Song! Track down the box set for this episode alone and for the amazing theme song that Joel and the bots free style during the closing of the movie. Highly recommended!

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