My 6 Favorite MST3K Episodes

By D.G. McCabe

As you may have guessed from reading my blog, I’m a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  MST3K was on the air from 1988 to 1999 on KTMA-TV, Comedy Central, and the SciFi (now Siffy) Channel.  The basic premise was this: bad old movie, three guys making fun of it, two of whom did so through robot puppets named Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot.  It was hosted by Joel Hodgson from 1988 to 1993 and Mike Nelson from 1993 to 1999. Since I’ve probably watched just as many episodes of MST3K as real movies over the last couple of years, I thought I would share my six favorite episodes:

6. The Final Sacrifice (1990)

What do you get when you go into the woods of Western Canada with a cheap film camera, an obese vagrant named Zap Rowsdower, a super effeminate kid, and some weirdo in a cloak?  Do you really want to know the answer to that questions?  If so, The Final Sacrifice answers it for you!

The Final Sacrifice is one of the newer movies that the MST3K team made fun of, although you wouldn’t know it by watching it since it looks like it was shot on a home movie camera in the 1960’s.  And not one of those fancy ones that shot the Kennedy boys playing football, I’m talking about one of the ones that would spontaneously combust.

Quote:

[The group sing as music plays and the credits start to roll]
Servo: Oh baby, Rowsdower saves us and saves all the world!
Crow: He comes to save the day in a broken truck.
Mike: With a stinky denim jacket on his back.

5. Eegah! (1962)

Somewhere in the desert lives a caveman named Eegah.  No one knows how he got there or why he’s there, but he’s about to terrorize a town for some reason.  Did I mention that the main “hero” is a teenager who looks like he’s been punched in the face by a grizzly bear, has an unhealthy obsession with dune buggies, and frequently attempts to sing rockabilly music?

If that’s not weird enough for you, Eegah, the caveman, gets shaven by this kid’s girlfriend.  In a cave.  In front of her father.  And Eegah licks the shaving cream.

Quote:

Dr. Miller: He left the road right here.

Dr. Miller: [ dubbed voiceover ] Watch out for snakes!

Servo: Who said that?!

4. The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

No MST3K rundown is complete with at least one Coleman Francis film.  Francis, who apparently was trained in the art of filmmaking by a blind raccoon, gave us this film about a scientist who survives a nuclear explosion only to become a monster stalking the – you guessed it – the desert!

In this bizarre world, characters come and go for no apparent reason.  Sure there’s a narrator, but his insane ramblings just add confusion to this vehicle for legendary, really big “actor” Tor Johnson.  Fun stuff.

Quote:

Narrator: Flag on the moon. How’d it get there?

Mike: These are all just random sentences, folks.

3. Santa Claus (1959)

Children throughout the world are familiar with the legend of Santa Claus.  How he lives on a castle on the moon with his stereotyped, singing, child laborers and the wizard Merlin.  How every Christmas Eve he drives his toy sleigh driven by creepy mechanical reindeer to Earth so that he can do battle with the devil and maybe deliver some toys.  And of course, how he is super self-conscious about his age.

This insane, Mexican fever dream narrowly beats out “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)” for the holiday spot on my list.  Although that has its share of insanity, at least there’s no child endangerment…oh nevermind, there totally is.

Quote:

 [Santa winds his reindeer (which are all apparently wind up toys) and they begin to move.]

Servo: This isn’t charming at all! It’s creepy!

[Santa begins to laugh as he watches the reindeer]

Crow: Oh, when Santa laughs, the whole world shakes its head.

[The reindeer begins to laugh in a very unnatural way]

Servo, Mike, and Crow: He, he haha, hahaha, [laughing turns into terrified screams] AHHHHH! AAHHHHHH!!!

[Santa is still laughing]

Mike: [scared] What’s happening?!

[Scene cuts to a shot of the wall behind the sleigh and there is a pentagram-like symbol on the wall.]

Servo: A pentagram, and reindeer laughing… you figure it out.

2. Final Justice (1984)

For some unknown reason, the government hires a slow witted, small town sheriff named Thomas Jefferson Geronimo to supervise the extradition of a dangerous criminal to Italy instead of, you know, the U.S. Marshall Service.  As you can probably imagine, this moron nearly loses the criminal on Malta (which is a small island nation), nearly destroying Malta in the process.  No, it’s not one of the “Earnest Saves…” film, it was billed as…oh hell, it was just Joe Don Baker wanting a free trip to Malta.

Joe Don Baker, of course, is a mediocre cowboy actor who, for some reason, was cast as an action hero in this and “Mitchell (1975)”.  MST3K lampooned Mitchell in an earlier episode, and apparently Baker was quite upset, so of course they did it again!

Quote:

 [In Malta, Geronimo confronts three henchman in a classic spaghetti-Western showdown.]

Servo: The Ugly, the Ugly, and the Ugly.

1. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

In 1966, a fertilizer salesman named Hal Warren bet a friend that he could make a movie for $10,000.  The result is quite possibly the worst film ever made. For most of its existence, it existed in relative obscurity and would have been lost to history if not for MST3K.  Thanks guys.

Somewhere in the desert outside El Paso (yep! the desert again!), there is a maniac.  He stumbles about with his huge knees and serves a unenlightened despot and his cadre of catty women in lingerie.  He says he is Torgo, and he takes care of the place while the Master is away…

Quote:

Joel: You know, every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.

More some other time!

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

There are some bad movies that are worth your time, if you’re in the right frame of mind of course.  They are just poorly constructed.  B-Movies, Cult Classics, and crap that absolutely can’t be defined in any conceivable way can be a valuable part of our movie experience. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a notable proponent of the Poorly Made category, and if that horrible “my first movie experience” montage at the Oscars this year has any redeeming value, it at least goes to show that the movie stars we pay to see often have the same crappy taste in movies that everyone else does.  Let’s break down this category into the aforementioned sub-categories:

A) B-Movies 

e.g. Robot Monster (1953), The Killer Shrews (1959)

When I first explained the classic TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to my parents, my dad responded, “Oh, those were the crappy movies at the drive-in that no one stuck around for.”  Often shot on a shoestring budget and in two weeks or less, B Movies were a staple of the Hollywood Studio System and kept fake blood manufacturers, costume shops with poor supply chains, and horrible singer after horrible singer employed in Southern California until the 1980’s.  While television rendered the double feature obsolete, it also rescued the B Movie genre from the dustbin with its endless, succubus-like need to fill hour upon hour of dead air with schlock.  Even the old B Movies were saved to a certain extent by MST3K by becoming objects of endless humor.

We love B Movies because we can’t take them seriously, but they were thrown together so fast that I doubt the filmmakers really cared one way or the other.  For instance,  can anyone be expected to take an “alien” seriously that is clearly a guy dressed in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on (Robot Monster), or a “monster” that is clearly a dog with some stuff glued on it (The Killer Shrews)?  Of course you can’t – but it’s so ridiculous that it’s funny.

B) Bad Cult Classics

e.g. Reefer Madness (1936), Showgirls (1995),

They’re so bad they’re good.  Usually a bad cult classic develops a following because it does something it wasn’t supposed to.  The term “Cult Classic” can also be applied to brilliant but overlooked films like Blade Runner (1982) or Office Space (1996) which flopped at the box office but became popular later.  Those aren’t the movies I’m talking about.

Take Reefer Madness for example.  Here was a film that was designed to teach teenagers the terrors of marijuana use, but it was so over the top that it became a favorite of, guess what, marijuana users.  Showgirls was actually an honest attempt at serious drama, but instead inspired endless laughter and almost as many drinking games.  These films are different from B Movies because the makers of the films actually spent some time on them, and but they did such a crappy job anyway that the movies did the exact opposite of what was intended.

C) Total Crap

e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

These may be the worst-made movies of all time.  They’re so bad that I had to separate them from the other two categories. Maybe there’s a obvious attempt to replace an actor who passed away halfway through production (Plan 9), or maybe it contains an endless montage of empty landscape and an antagonist who gets massaged to death (Manos).  Whatever the case, it seems that chimpanzees could be trained to make better movies than these.

By any objective standards these films fail in every conceivable way.  But we love them anyway.  Is it the the fact that we can sit down with a group and make joke after joke at their expense? Does it take a special, morbid talent to fail so spectacularly? Or is it simply because we could probably make better movies ourselves?  Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?  Just sit back and enjoy the train wreck!

Next Post: Failed Blockbusters

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe