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Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Watchers of the late, great MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 endured many a movie of questionable merit during its eleven seasons on the air (if one includes the never re-shown KTMA first season, which I don't, so let's call it ten official seasons), all of which were to some degree made bearable by the wall-to-wall running commentary — now commonly referred to as "riffing" — provided by cheesy puppet automatons Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, series creator Joel Hodgson and subsequent host Michael J. Nelson (or just plain "Mike" for short). Most of the films seen on the series were low-budget stinkers, some objects of cult adoration and many just obscure time-wasters, but all in some way left an impression on the show's rabid fan base, which leads me to ask the following question. From the entire run of MST3K, which episodes/films were:

A. The most laugh-out-loud hilarious?
B. The most deadeningly boring?
c. The across-the-board worst film they ever aired?

Everyone has their favorites and there were a total of 177 non-KTMA episodes, so there is a lot to choose from. By way of getting the ball rolling, I'd like to offer my own short list of notable entries in no particular order.


This 1961 German version of the Bard's masterpiece is a true endurance test and lends credence to the ages-old complaint from students that Shakespeare is boring. In this case Shakespeare is sooooo fucking boring that I often throw this one on during my frequent bouts of insomnia and, brother, lemme tell ya, it works better than the most powerful prescription sedative. Not even some character voice dubbing by Ricardo Montalban makes this one tolerable, and not even the riffing of Mike and the 'Bots does anything to alleviate the crushing boredom. My choice for the most hands-down dull episode.


Richard Kiel, later to gain international fame as Jaws in the Roger Moore 007 opuses THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, stars here as a caveman who has inexplicably survived unchanged in a Californian desert and runs into some early-1960's hot-rodders, eventually getting a massive hard-on for the hero's girlfriend. A failed attempt at making a pop idol out of its Jonny Quest-esque star, Arch Hall Jr., this is loaded with embarrassing kitsch and a few feeble musical numbers, giving Joel and the 'Bots a sitting duck target for their verbal abuse.


A true monument to cinematic awfulness, try and wrap your head around this concept and imagine being the exec who gave it the green light: Cyborgs from the future raid the past for slave labor and use the phoniest dinosaurs you've ever seen as trackers of runaway slaves. One of these slaves is an irritating Jean-Claude Van Damme lookalike/soundalike who feebly fights the dime store dinosaurs with his limited kickboxing skills in what appears to be a cardboard box factory. Nonsensical and boring are a painful combination, and not even the crew of the Satellite of Love can spin gold from this barnyard full of straw.


Not unjustly considered by many to be the absolute worst film ever made, MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE is truly incredible to experience. It's incompetently made, boring as hell, is one of the least-scary horror films in history and features the grotesque Torgo, a grungy junkie-looking piece of work who has an unusual gait due to his legs apparently being those of a goat-demon (a point not made completely clear in the script, but it's implied since he's the servant of the Satanic "Master"), and it not only reduces Joel and the 'Bots to crying and near-nervous breakdowns, it also prompts the evil scientists in Deep 13 to realise they've gone too far this time and actually apologize. That said, I think it's one of the show's crowning glories and the riffed version is the only way to watch this movie without taking a ball peen hammer to one's own skull; I saw MANOS on TV in the late 1970's and have been scarred for life, so if you must see it at least see this version.


I first saw this film when it played annually in theaters during my formative years, and while it's a total piece of shit I have a very soft spot in my heart for some of its bizarro imagery. Plus, how can you not appreciate a cheap Mexican kiddie movie in which Santa Claus fights a minor devil? And whatever you do, do not miss the first ten minutes, in which we are "treated" to an incredibly politically incorrect display of children from around the world. Wait'll you see the kids from Africa... This one plays every Christmas Eve at my mom's house in Connecticut while she's out at midnight mass and I'm getting bombed with a friend or two.


One of the most legendary of the bad movie pantheon, this is another one that I saw in the theater as a child and even then I knew it was horrendous. But how can you not enjoy getting totally ripped on cheap booze and watching Santa thwart the plans of Martians who seek to kidnap him and force him to make the apathetic children of the Red Planet happy by bringing Christmas to Mars? This one features a polar bear outfit and a robot suit that rank among the all-time most bogus — seriously, they have to be seen to be believed — as well as the screen debut of 1980's sexpot Pia Zadora as the imaginatively-named girl Martian, "Girmar." And the icing on this lysergic Christmas cake is Milton DeLugg's indelibly awful themesong, "Hooray For Santy Claus;" once heard it sticks to you like the most industrial-strength napalm, and you may never get it out of your head. One of the best of the series, with Joel and the 'Bots in top form.


One of the most fondly regarded of the latter episodes, TIME CHASERS is a zero budget story of a bespectacled geek who somehow turns his single engine prop plane into a working time machine. The Monday after this one first aired, the Marvel Comics Bullpen discussed it for hours. Definitely a Top 10 episode and a strong contender for Best Episode Ever.


An instant classic and considered by many to be the best of the lot, this mid-Seventies Joe Don Baker private eye yarn gives new meaning to the term "low rent." Baker plays the title character, a loathsome slob who is totally unappealing in every way, an aspect that rendered him the perfect target for riffing abuse, and Joel and the 'Bots attack him with harsher-than-usual vitriol. In fact, so bad was their abuse of Baker that he's allegedly been quoted as saying he'd cause grievous bodily harm to the show's cast if ever he got his hands on them. Needless to say, that threat only spurred the team to riff on another one of his flicks, FINAL JUSTICE, but sarcastic lightning did not strike twice.


As a lifelong fan of James Bond movies, especially those made during the series' 1960's heyday, this retitled version of OPERATION KID BROTHER nearly made me laugh myself to death. I'd heard of the original film thanks to it being infamous for starring several Bond series regulars, villains and love interests, to say nothing of starring Sean Connery's spectacularly untalented younger brother, Neil, as the younger brother of the actual 007. Easily the most insane of the legion of Bond spoofs, the MST3K edition is one of my favorites and should not be missed, especially not by those who know their 007 flicks.


MST3K had a lot of fun at the expense of cheesy barbarian and sword & sorcery/musclemen pics, but this one — originally released theatrically as THE BLADE MASTER, an immediate sequel to ATOR, THE FIGHTING EAGLE (both 1982) —  is especially ludicrous thanks to horrendous acting, a ridiculous script and the unforgettable sight of the beefcake barbarian hero hang-gliding.


One of my favorite 1950's B-pictures in the first place, this super-sleazy story of a mad scientist's revival of his decapitated girlfriend's noggin and subsequent search for a suitable replacement body is only enhanced by the commentary, and there's even a wonderfully lame/gory scene where a guy gets his arm torn off by "the monster in the closet," so what's not to love?


My buddy Joe Go thinks I'm out of my goddamned mind for loving this one as much as I do, but it's simply impossible for me not to love a film that reenacts the Bay of Pigs invasion with something like seven guys.


The sequel to the execrable 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, this one's an awful Italian ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK sorta-ripoff featuring an annoying "hero" named Trash and John Saxon slumming as the bad guy. Terrible and cheap, but good for a laugh.


Not for all tastes, this 1940's cautionary tale about parental drunkenness and neglect is one of my favorites because it plays like a WWII-era version of the rich and dysfunctional families I grew up among in Westport, Connecticut.


The show tackled the Japanese giant monster genre with two Godzilla flicks and five Gamera films, but this is by far the funniest of that rubber-suited lot and one of the funniest shows in the series. Taking what many consider to be the worst Godzilla film ever made (I strongly disagree with that assessment) and turning themselves loose on it, Joel and the 'Bots codified the riffing playbook with this one and this particular Godzilla film has never been more entertaining. Big G fights a humongous cockroach (Megalon) from the undersea Mu empire and once more tangles with extra-ludicrous space monster Gigan, aided by superhero robot and blatant Ultraman ripoff Jet Jaguar, and it's a stone hoot. Done ultra-cheap and having no city-stomping whatsoever, this is pretty much Godzilla and company reduced to backyard tag team wrasslin', which in and of itself should be enough to work with, but then you get brilliance like this:

Sadly, the DVD of this one was recalled when it became apparent that the company didn't have the rights to release it on DVD, so an old recorded-from-cable VHS copy is the only way to see it now (although I hear it's still offered for rental via Netflix...).


An astronaut returns from a trip to Venus afflicted with a disease that makes him melt like a boner at a Phyllis Diller film festival while also turning him into a cannibal for no good reason. Much melting goo, severed heads and general stupidity make this worth your time and vastly improves the dull and stupid theatrical version.


This feeble caper comedy is notable for its cast of some of the blandest white people ever captured on film — there are many "bland white folks" jokes to be had, perpetrated by actual Caucasians — and several musical numbers of questionable merit, but the highlight — accent on "high" — is a visibly stoned Little Richard performing the atrocious "Scuba Party," a tune that almost single-handed undoes the excellent songs that he's deservedly remembered for.


This was the first episode I ever saw and to this day I place it in my Top 5, not just for its no-budget caveman antics starring a much-older-than-teenage, pre-THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn (as a cave youth with Brylcreemed hair), but also for a pair of outstanding shorts; "Catching Trouble" is an outrageous 1940's document of the carefree rape of the Florida wilderness (PETA would shit if this came out now) while "Aquatic Wizards" treats us to the exciting world of professional waterskiers, with Joel and the 'Bots knocking the jokes out of the park.

There were so many episodes of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 that I know I'm leaving out some obvious contenders, but if push came to shove I'd break it down thusly:

BEST EPISODE OVERALL-I know I'm gonna get shit for it, but I've watched MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE more times than any other episode and it makes me laugh my ass off. This is the one I'd recommend if you could only see one installment; if the concept of the show is to skewer the supposed worst that cinema has to offer, this episode does its job with great aplomb, and it's no easy feat making this dead dog of a film even the slightest bit entertaining.

MOST BORING FILM EVER RUN ON MST3K- without question I give this to the German HAMLET. No two ways about it, this is a total snoozer and would test the patience of even the most diehard and forgiving Shakespeare groupie.

WORST FILM EVER TO RUN ON MST3K- this one's a very tough call since there are several very strong contenders, but again I have to cite MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. Once you see it you'll probably agree with me since there are few movies in motion picture history that even come close to its level of wretchedness.

So, dear readers, what do you have to say on this subject? Write in immediately!


robseth said...

Two of my favorites you left out are "Mutiny in Space/Space Mutiny" and "Magic Sword".

You've upset Terry the Sensitive Knight!

Anonymous said...

Gee, Steve, how to choose between your children?

Okay-- I like your picks-- but Hamlet is still Hamlet-- at least it's Shakespeare-- and voice-overed by Montalban. Max Schell is still very good. Manos is too creepy and disturbing-- look at the end scenes of the little girl "frozen" on the altar... besides, the guys got too many enduring motifs from Torgo and the penny-whistle music.

I have a hard time picking top-choice between Time of the Apes and Human Duplicators. The guys highlighting the fact that Kiel sounds effeminate just did it for me. But "Apes" -- all the well-dressed apes in their 70s muscle cars-- it just goes on and on.

I guess I also really like Alien from LA-- I mean I saw it on Cinemax when I was lounging around and who wouldn't appreciate a little more Ireland-- especially young, nubile Kathy? So she squeaks a little-- as long as it's for the right reason...

Worst-- Wild World of Bat Woman-- I sat through it again recently and felt "prickly heat" without any cause. Grim. The guys couldn't really rise to the occasion. The main character-- apparently a faded stripper-- should've had far less clothing on. And, we never saw who she was! Was the actress actually splashed with acid or something? The movie makers just did not know what a story was. The silent dancing that held for full minutes, the low-tech spy stuff, the para-military/summer camp "organization", the so-called bad guys-- the so-called good guys, The Cult of Stupidity having a blow to the head reversing decades-long mental illness then flipping it back again. Yeeow.

Most Boring-- yer buddy's right, Steve, you are nuts, I don't think I've ever made it through Red Zone Cuba-- I have nodded off every time. The minute you hear a "full-story" voice-over, telling you what they couldn't afford the film for, you know it's "courtesy flush" time. Beast of Yucca Flats and that parachuting one are all close contenders. How could those films have survived since then? Lack of interest alone should have seen every version tossed by distributors, projectionists and producers alike.

I think the "host segments" deserve their own recognition-- those could further elevate an okay rest-of-the-show or rise above entirely. When they really let loose and went Plantets of the Apes on us-- the show got wilder and even more entertaining than just the movies with riffs. I really never liked Pehl-- I wish they'd press-ganged Bridget Jones (Mrs. Nelson) into being the ground-based bad-guy-- but Pehl could be funny. (She was dead behind the eyes in person.) They played the last movie straight and ran the host segments as gut-wrenching tear-jerker-- I wept like a babe as it was a perfect "loop" (they were watching the Crawling Eye at the end...) and it was the last.

Rocketship X-M was my "first" and the line where Joel realizes he's also in a rocket ship that could hurtle to a fiery death, showed me how good the show could be.

It's the best show ever.

-Professor Brown

John Bligh said...

Mitchell is my all-time favorite MST3K episode, though the others you mentioned are great as well.

My vote for most boring is KING DINOSAUR, in which lots of aimless wandering around and cheap-shit stock footage was used. I HATE that movie.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, just beautiful. Now I need to dig out the VHS and give 'em another spin.

agvd said...

Samson Vs The Vampire Women ("I have a question!") gets my vote as the funniest. The Magic Voyage of Sinbad is a close second.
The offer of Crazy Bread in the Manos segment still gets a chuckle out of me.

Chez said...

Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren (or as Trace Beaulieu calls her, "Mamie Van Hooters") still ranks as my favorite for whatever reason.

Sanfeeerrrd! said...

My fave without a doubt is Time Of The Apes. Highest joke to laugh quotient for me!

Satyrblade said...

Ah, The Cave Dwellers! That was my introduction to MST3K. In roughly 1989, I walked into the home of my friends John and Alice to see a large projection TV screen set up and a bunch of our friends, stoned and howling as a barbarian dude hang-glided over the bad guys and... well, you know. It's not my favorite episode, but that one has a warm spot in my heart.

My personal favorite remains Santa Claus vs the Martians. Between the absurdity of the film itself and the dead-on zingers from the MST3K crew, it's a howl every time.

As for boring, I don't know. If it bores me, I turn it off. Life's too short, even when MST3K is involved, to waste in front of a boring flick. There are too many entertainingly bad films out there to bother with the ones that simply waste your time.

(Ah, Bunche - I wish I could share with you the wonder that is Scarecrow Video in Seattle! I swear, you'd never leave the house if you could access that treasure trove of goodies! I feel like a kid in a toy store every time I go there. The question isn't whether I want to rent anything, but whether I'll have enough time to watch whatever I grab that trip...)

The Professor said...

Both Cave Dwellers and Time Chasers are high on my list. To this day, my clique can rant "That cape looks FAB-ulous" or "I left my keys at the Beni-Hana...OF THE FUTURE!" and break into peals of laughter.

I am also a big fan of "Sidehackers" with the motorcyle race team in the obviously all-too-brief fad of sidehacking that I still don't know of anyone who'd heard of the sport unless they've watched this episode. I lose my shit every time the gang riffs on the girlfriends watching the race (something along the lines of "We live through your achievements!!!")