Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best

Comedy Lists Best Mst3k Episodes
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Ranking Every <i>MST3K</i> Episode, From Worst to Best

Editor’s note: Since publishing, two new seasons of MST3K have come to Netflix, with a total of 20 new episodes. Those shows have now been added to this massive list, bringing its full episode total to an astounding 197.

Watching every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 without commercial breaks of any kind takes 287 hours. Watching it with the sort of commercial breaks it had in its broadcast days is 382 hours. That’s almost SIX TIMES longer than watching the six seasons of Game of Thrones from start to finish. And that’s not including the show’s 21 “season 0” episodes on local Minneapolis TV station KTMA before getting picked up for the official “season 1” on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central in 1989.

Suffice to say, watching all of MST3k from start to finish is a gargantuan undertaking, and one that likely would take even the most die-hard fan years to accomplish. Ranking the entire series? That can take even longer, but I’m happy to report that we’ve pulled it off. Yes, in honor of MST3k’s triumphant return to the airwaves in its new Netflix series, we’ve gone and ranked every single episode of classic Mystery Science Theater. That’s 190 feature-length episodes, plus the 1 feature film, MST3k: The Movie. This ranking arrives just in time for the additional return of classic MST3k episodes to Netflix, as they pave the way for the new, Jonah Ray-hosted series. Shout! Factory announced the return of classic MST3k episodes to the service in the spring; a boon for Netflix subscribers who remember when the show was once available in streaming. Such episodes include fan-favorites such as Space Mutiny, Werewolf, Eegah! and Pod People. The MST3k page on Netflix can be found here. We’ve also ranked those 20 MST3K episodes only available on Netflix.

I’m certain that this list will be contentious. I fully expect it to drag up the old, forever-repeated Joel vs. Mike (now vs. Jonah) flame wars, plus deep discussion of the show’s best seasons/eras. That’s fine. Feel free to have all of those conversations anywhere that you share this piece. I’ll simply state this: I love MST3k more than any other TV show in the history of television. I love both Joel and Mike, and I’ve never given a moment of thought to the debate of one host or another. I’ve interviewed ALL THREE of them for Paste—Mike about the continued success of Rifftrax, and Joel shortly after the new MST3k reboot series was announced. I drank whiskey with Jonah Ray, the host of the new series, in a bar while the #BringBackMST3k Kickstarter closed with a final telethon and blew past $6 million. And I watched in a theater as the entire cast reunited for a riff-a-pa-looza reunion back in June of 2016. My Thanksgivings revolve around the annual Turkey Day marathon. I am a MSTie, through and through, and writing this 50,000-plus word piece has been a marathon labor of love that took roughly 4 months to complete.

So you know now that even when I name an episode as “the worst” MST3k experiment, it’s coming from a place of love.

Are you ready? Then let’s go. WE’VE GOT RANKING SIGN!

197. Ep. 102, The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy, 1958, /w Commando Cody and the Radar Men From the Moon, Part 1

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel interacts with the film in a unique way by standing up and putting his hand over the mouth of a very shrill, very annoying singer, which actually lowers the volume of the film.

The films at the very bottom of this list—i.e., the “worst” episodes of MST3k—tend to be here for one of two reasons: Either they’re films so bad that they confounded the cast’s ability to make them entertaining and funny to watch, or they’re from very early in the series, before MST3k’s method of presentation was fully formed. This one is both. Any fan of the show should ultimately be able to agree that season 1 is the roughest stretch of MST3k episodes, and that’s unfortunately on display in this disjointed and painful Mexican movie about a mad doctor trying to rob a mummy’s tomb by way of robot. It introduces us to our first series short (usually a good thing), but the fact that it’s the first of nine freaking installments of Commando Cody hints at all the pain to come. The issues here are the same as most season 1 episodes: Bad visual and audio quality, a lower number of total riffs, lower production values and performers who just haven’t settled into their roles yet. In particular, J. Elvis Weinstein as Tom Servo has some funny moments, but his deep, monotonous voice can’t match the vivaciousness that Kevin Murphy brought to the character from season 2 onward. The Commando Cody shorts, likewise, only get more tedious the more of them you see in season 1—it’s no surprise that they more or less stopped showing long-form serials after The Phantom Creeps in season 2. The good news is that MST3k was able to forge ahead into better episodes, even in season 1. It only gets better from here.

196. Ep. 323, The Castle of Fu Manchu, 1969

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “It’s after five, the gateway to eternity is closed!”

If you’re ever looking for the cinematic embodiment of the concept of entropy, look no further than The Castle of Fu Manchu. Good lord, this film is a boring, plotless, confusing, obtuse mess of a movie. I defy you to watch it and have any idea what’s going on, or know who any of the characters are. Fu Manchu’s plot … apparently involves trying to freeze the Earth’s oceans? You wouldn’t know from watching, I can assure you of that. The film does quite a number on Joel & The Bots, as their attempts to mock it slowly devolve into whimpering and open sobbing during almost all of the host segments. They try, but the movie just grinds along at a mind-numbing pace. I’ve read plenty of MST3k fans who describe this as one episode they just can’t make it through in a single sitting, and I agree with them. The one upside: It’s actually pretty refreshing to see the Mads feeling so victorious as they do in this episode, truly reveling in the pain that Fu Manchu is inflicting. At least someone enjoyed it. The Mads rarely catch a break.

195. Ep. 108, The Slime People, 1963, /w Commando Cody, Part 6

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Broadcast: “we are being attacked by the Slime People” Joel: “Send reams of Kleenex”

This might be the hardest to see movie ever featured on MST3k, which is certainly saying something—it’s a bit like viewing the world through a cataract simulator. The obscuring element in this case is fog, which gets completely out of control and ends up obscuring literally everything on screen in many scenes. The fog is created by the titular slime people, who are attempting to use a wall of “solidified fog” in order to entrap Los Angeles. The riffing is lower in terms of volume, as one sees in most season 1 episodes, and the jokes about the fogginess and hard-to-see characters wear thin pretty quickly. Not being able to SEE the damn movie simply doesn’t provide the Satellite of Love crew with a lot of solid material for riffing in this one. Plus: More Commando Cody. More Commando Cody is never good.

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194. Ep. 619, Red Zone Cuba, 1966, /w Platform, Posture and Appearance

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “John Carradine! ...was he always 100 years old?”

Coleman freaking Francis, people. The man I wrote an entire essay about for Paste, detailing why this man is the TRUE “worst director of all time.” All three Coleman Francis movies were covered by MST3k, and all three are exceedingly painful. But if there’s one I’d hope and pray to never have to watch again, it would be Red Zone Cuba. Even a fairly solid short in “Platform, Posture and Appearance” can’t save this episode from a movie that is so damn painful and despicable that it resists all attempts to riff it. Or maybe it’s just that the awfulness of Red Zone Cuba comes seeping out through otherwise normal riffing to infect the viewer. Either way, this is the poster child for an episode of MST3k that is very difficult to watch not because of the crew’s efforts, but because the film truly is that abominable. Ugly, slapdash, mean-spirited and loathsome in every way, it will make you want to put your head in an oven. This is a movie where the “protagonist” at one point drops an old man down a well and then goes on to rape that old man’s blind daughter. Anyone who can sit through Red Zone Cuba without MST3k’s riffing deserves a goddamn medal.

193. Ep. 101, The Crawling Eye, 1958

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “What’s a giant eye going to do, pick you up and wink you to death?”

It all started here—the first “official,” post-KTMA episode of MST3k on The Comedy Channel. The film itself is nothing too special or memorable; not nearly so painful as something like Red Zone Cuba or Fu Manchu above, but it’s met with fairly uninspired riffing by MST3k standards, with a far slower pace of jokes-per-minute and more low-energy or awkward moments where the riffers stumble over lines or talk over each other. I will say, one thing I do like about the season 1 episodes is that the Mads tend to make more of an effort to hype the badness of the movie in advance: I enjoy Josh Weinstein here describing The Crawling Eye: “It’s got a bad audio track, it’s in black and white, and worst of all, it stars Forrest Tucker! Good name, bad actor.” It’s a somewhat inglorious start for the legendary series, but you can at least see a high-quality version of the episode for free via MST3k’s official YouTube channel, which makes it go down a little smoother.

192. Ep. 103, Mad Monster, 1942 /w Commando Cody, Part 2

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “That’s the most casually dressed monster I’ve ever seen.”

In the earliest MST3k episodes, the writers seemed less concerned on picking “entertaining” films and more focused on picking “painful” films. That’s all well and good for a series where the entire premise is torturing a man and his robots via movies, but as for the audience, we’re here to laugh. Mad Monster, a 1942 poverty row-esque horror film starring no one of note (besides Glenn Strange, who played Frankenstein for Universal a few times), is just the type of film that later-era MST3k would likely have ignored as too bland, weathered and uninteresting. The audio is pretty bad, the action drags, and dead air between riffs is far too noticeable. Overall, though, this episode is simply more forgettable than it is painful. You’ll watch it, and then not be able to remember any of it afterward.

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191. Ep. 314, Mighty Jack, 1968

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Oh man, they’re swimming right through Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral!”

Tedium and pain, made malleable in the furnaces of hell, came together to forge the film that is Mighty Jack. Lord, this is a nigh-on unbearable Japanese movie, wherein the secret spy organization Mighty Jack fights the evil organization Q with the help of their magical toy submarine. That kind of makes it sound entertaining, but I assure you that it is anything but. The sheer amount of repeated shots and slowwwwwwwwwww banked turns executed by the little flying jet/submarine hybrid vehicle is beyond belief. The repetitive nature starts out annoying and then becomes truly tortuous. The crew tries their best, but the film is so unintelligible that it becomes a chore to continue watching as the SAME DAMN SHOTS are used over and over and over again. The episode at least has one great host segment, wherein the crew perform that beloved sea shanty of old, “Slow the Plot Down.” To quote: “We’ll scuttle the story and run her aground. We’ll try so hard to slow the plot down!”

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190. Ep. 105, The Corpse Vanishes, 1942, /w Commando Cody, Part 3

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She’s practicing for her role as Camille.”

Poor Bela Lugosi. After his iconic role in Dracula and unwisely passing on Frankenstein, he ended up trapped in increasingly shoddy horror movies, often playing mad doctors, exactly as he does in this Poverty Row snoozer, The Corpse Vanishes. It’s not the worst movie in the world, although it is very weird—Lugosi is for some reason obsessed with specifically kidnapping brides and drawing fluid from their necks to rejuvenate his own shriveled wife. Why it can’t be any random woman is not entirely clear, and the crew doesn’t really key on it the way they would have in a later season episode. Like most of season 1, it just can’t get a good head of steam going in the riff department, and the audience is all too likely to get bored because the energy level is on the lower side. Plus: More Commando Cody, which is as painful as ever.

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189. Ep. 1009, Hamlet, 1960

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “I’ll take ‘To Be’ for $500, Alex.”

This is one episode where the film is so boring that even the crew of the SOL seems to be infected by that virulent strain of boredom. A German television adaptation of Hamlet, this might be the most glacially paced MST3k episode of the entire Mike era. It stands out as a bizarre outlier, because by this point in the series most of the films are much more colorful, vivacious and easier to mock. From start to finish, the film is so completely lacking in any kind of energy that it just sucks the life out of anyone who tries to watch it. For that reason, this might be the ultimate MST3k episode to fall asleep to, because it’s so steadily soul-draining. Immediately after watching it, you won’t be able to remember a single thing that happened in it, except maybe for the basic outline of the original Shakespeare, if you’ve seen it before. Even people who actually are big Shakespeare geeks tend to hate this episode, although I have known one or two MST3k fans who loved it. But there’s a reason you won’t see any other Shakespeare adaptations of this nature in the show’s library.

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188. Ep. 621, The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961, /w Money Talks! and Progress Island, U.S.A.

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Now the rabbit eats Tor and it becomes Night of the Lepus!”

The Beast of Yucca Flats is, without a doubt, one of the most technically inept films ever made, and certainly one of the worst ever shown on MST3k. It’s even more ineptly made than the other two Coleman Francis movies, which is saying a hell of a lot. The most telling of all its damning features is this fact: This movie does not have any on-screen dialog. Not once, in the entire film. It’s as if they forgot to bring any microphones to the set, and relied entirely on dubbed-in dialog when the characters are in medium or long shots and you can’t tell if their lips are moving. Not even the fact that it stars Plan 9 From Outer Space’s Tor Johnson can save it—nor can the fact that it’s only 54 minutes long. I assure you, those 54 minutes will be among the longest of your life. The only thing that keeps this episode from being even lower on the list is that the two shorts are of much higher quality than the main event, which buoys it slightly. But once you get into the heart of Coleman Francis’ most inept film, all the riffing in the world can’t make it into something you’re glad to be watching. All I can say is: “Flag on the moon. How did it get there?”

187. Ep. 819, Invasion of the Neptune Men, 1961

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “They took out the Hitler building! Where’s everybody going to go to see Hitler memorabilia?”

If someone asked me to name the single most painful scene or sequence in the history of MST3k, the final air battle/flying saucer sequence in Invasion of the Neptune Men would be a strong contender. The only highlight is the WTF, out-of-nowhere appearance (and destruction) of “the Hitler building,” which you can see in the video below. Dear GOD, this movie is dull—Castle of Fu Manchu levels of dullness. A ponderous Japanese superhero film about alien invaders, it just melts your brain by refusing to get on with it, to the point that Servo is left sobbing and pleading for an end to it and Mike attempts to flee the theater despite a lack of oxygen in the rest of the ship. Packed with stock footage, it just repeats and folds in upon itself like a Möbius strip. Every time you think it couldn’t possibly get any more boring, it finds a way. Even solid riffing can’t compete with this kind of non-entertaining awfulness. I’m amazed that the writers even chose to tackle this film. There IS a great host segment, though, where the crew is visited by “Krankor,” the villain of similar Japanese film Prince of Space, which they watched 3 episodes earlier. To quote Tom: “You know, after a movie like this, to check in with a voice of sanity like Krankor, well it’s healing, isn’t it?”

186. Ep. 111, Moon Zero Two, 1969

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “He’s moon Zero Mostel!”

A light, goofy-looking ‘60s sci-fi movie (in color!) makes for a less painful film than many season 1 episodes, which is certainly a plus. All in all, we’re getting into better episodes of MST3k at this point in the ranking, and from about this point onward they’re episodes I wouldn’t mind watching at least one more time. It’s simply the typical season 1 complaints that lower its ranking—longer dead spots, more time between big laughs, and more general awkwardness between the riffers than in later seasons. This seems like a film that the crew could have made into a much more memorable affair if it had come along a few years later, but I do enjoy the riffs about the distracting brass band music throughout. Or as Servo says: “Who decided that freeform jazz was the right thing for the soundtrack here?”

185. Ep. 106, The Crawling Hand, 1963

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “It’s the nighttime coughing, sneezing, aching, stuffy head, fever, so you’re being chased by a human hand medicine.”

This movie is honestly pretty damn funny all on its own; the kind of sci-fi sleaze that is still so stupidly sincere that you could never make anything like it today. After a crash-landing astronaut gets blown to bits, a teenager stopping by the crash site finds the man’s severed arm and figures that’s a pretty normal thing to take home as a souvenir. Naturally, though, the now alien-controlled “hand” (it’s a whole arm!) comes back to life and starts strangling people who get in its way. Would you believe that the arm is finally defeated by a cat? Because it is. It’s an amusingly wacky film, but as is the case in most season 1 episodes, the crew doesn’t quite get full mileage out of it. Although it is funny seeing Crow fall in love with the female lead—just one of many crushes that the golden robot will develop on actresses over the course of MST3k’s run.

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184. Ep. 812, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, 1964

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Did you guys just see that, or did I imagine it?”

Sporting one of the longest titles in film history, this episode is a fan favorite among certain MSTies, but I like it much less than some. It is, suffice to say, a brain-meltingly bad movie; the kind of film that makes you feel like you’ve ingested large amounts of hallucinogens in particular. It’s ugly, greasy and deeply unlikable on all fronts, the story of a strange carnival attended by annoying people who get hypnotized and set loose on the world. There is one sequence I love—with the bizarre cymbal monkey that makes the crew question aloud if they all actually saw what happened on screen—but for the most part, this is the kind of movie that simply defies riffing. It is, however, notable for the inclusion of the “Ortega” character, who stands alongside Torgo in the MST3k pantheon of “What the hell is this guy?” supporting characters. In general, Incredibly Strange Creatures often feels like a promising setting that doesn’t quite reach its potential. The cast simply seems baffled by what they’re seeing.

183. Ep. 107, Robot Monster, 1953, /w Commando Cody, Part 4 and 5

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Character: “What time is it?” Crow: “It’s Miller Time!” Character: “And what day?” Crow: “It’s Miller Day!”

One of the more famous/infamous bad movies to ever be featured on the show, Robot Monster is actually pretty harmless fun all on its own. It of course features Ro-Man, one of the worst monster costumes of all time, which came about as a combination of laziness and budget—a gorilla with a diving helmet for a head, zounds! The trouble? You have to soldier through TWO particularly boring episodes of Commando Cody in order to get into Robot Monster, and even then it’s hamstrung by the usual season 1 issues of low joke density/sophistication. The film itself is a classic example of bad, cheesy ‘50s sci-fi, but the MST3k episode is more on the forgettable side. This could have been a classic if it had come along in season 4 or 5.

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182. Ep. 401, Space Travelers, 1991, aka Marooned, 1969

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Peck: “That’s why we live by the rules!” Servo: “Ape law!”

The circumstances of Space Travelers make it one of the stranger and more unique episodes in the history of MST3k. It’s actually a made-for-TV, low budget edit of the 1969 science fiction film Marooned, which starred the impressive cast of Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman. Gregory Peck, on Mystery Science Theater! It happened! And because Marooned won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, it’s also officially the only Oscar-winning film in the history of MST3k as well. Regardless, the movie is quite dry, and honestly pretty boring in either format. You wouldn’t think an episode with so many unique elements would end up being humdrum, but very little about the riffing sticks out on Space Travelers, and the behind-the-scenes history of how this movie ended up on MST3k is ultimately more interesting than the episode it received. It’s an easy watch, but not a memorable one, outside of Crow’s stellar Gregory Peck imitation, which is fantastic.

181. Ep. 1111, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, 1989

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Wise wizard, please teach me how to run.”

It has often been observed by the MST3K faithful that the one genre the show never tackled in any real way was comedy, and the reason is simple: It’s almost impossible to riff a comedy, and especially a bad comedy. You can only groan, or object that “this joke isn’t funny” so many times. In fact, in the entire original run of MST3K, the only movie one might call a “comedy” is Catalina Caper. And so, the fact that Wizards II was intended to make the audience laugh already makes it a very tough riffing assignment, but it gets worse, because Wizards II also fails the sincereness test. These people were simply not attempting to earnestly make a good movie that could stand on its own merits; they were trying to make a schlocky, bad-on-purpose farce and cash in on the fact that the first film somehow recouped its costs on VHS. The movie is just dreadful, and the characters (especially our protagonist wizard and his sour-faced, bowl-cutted boy, Tyor) are excruciating to listen to, which puts Wizards II in a tie with Carnival Magic for the most painful of the films watched in season 11, albeit for very different reasons. The riffers try to zero in on the kid and build a Troy/Rowsdower-type relationship between him and his oafish wizard, but the jokes just bounce off them like so many ineffectual spells. Not even the presence of a surly, almost certainly drunk David Carradine as a master warrior can salvage this thing. This episode isn’t “bad”—it feels more like you would rate it “N/A,” and could have been replaced with an entirely different film. As is, it feels like this movie’s creators would simply shrug in response and say “Look, we weren’t really trying that hard anyway.”

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180. Ep. 104, Women of the Prehistoric Planet, 1966

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Women of the Prehistoric Planet? My sister saw this in junior high; all the boys had to go in the gym.”

This movie is bad, but it’s the right kind of goofy badness that makes for a good MST3k experience. It’s spacefaring sci-fi with an almost fantasy-like twist, featuring marooned astronauts and the classic “Let’s just shoot an Iguana in rear projection and call it a dinosaur” brand of special effects. The riffing is nothing special, as I’ve already said about most of the season 1 episodes, but you’ve at least got to love Women of the Prehistoric Planet for introducing one of the series’ longer-running callbacks—“hi-keeba!” Said phrase is uttered by the annoying comic relief character while demonstrating bullshit karate moves, and immediately became the go-to exclamation of the SOL crew whenever “stunts” or action sequences were being lousily attempted. So this episode at least gets a few more points for inspiring jokes in many episodes to come. I’m also a fan of The Mads’ invention exchange, an extremely cruel restaurant called “Clay and Lar’s Flesh Barn.”

179. Ep. 112, Untamed Youth, 1957

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “It looks like he’s playing football against Claude Rains University.”

This fairly harmless film is a weird meeting point between the “teens in trouble with the law” and “‘50s sock hop musical numbers” genres. It’s mostly notable for starring the absolutely ravishing (seriously, she’s gorgeous) Mamie Van Doren at the height of her considerable powers, and she’s the one doing most of the (profoundly off-key) singing. Unfortunately, although it’s not a hard film to watch, it’s not nearly as entertaining or well-riffed as the later Van Doren-starring feature Girls Town, from season 6. It is interesting as season 1 episodes go though, given that we get a small amount of characterization for Gypsy, often the most overlooked of the “main” robots (Cambot and Magic Voice never really being true characters). She’s malfunctioning throughout this episode, and actually makes a small appearance in the theater, but not to riff—she wouldn’t pull off that feat until season 4. But in general, the show still feels low-rent at this point in season 1—you can’t help but notice when Joel or the Bots trip over a line and they don’t bother to re-film it. That just wouldn’t happen in the later seasons.

178. Ep. 315, Teenage Caveman, 1958, /w Aquatic Wizards and Catching Trouble

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “How about dinner, movie, and a drag by the hair, hmmm?”

The greater number of shorts preceding the movies are one of the best aspects of the Joel era of MST3k, and they almost always make the episode better than it would have been otherwise. That’s the case here, as they elevate this episode—but not quite enough to escape from an exceptionally bland feature film in Teenage Caveman. It’s a Roger Corman classic, and honestly … I love Corman, and have written extensively in praise of his career, but this is among his worst and most tedious as a director/producer. Yes, it’s funny that the so-called “teenagers” are like, 40 years old, but my god, nothing happens in this damn movie. It’s cheap even for a Corman film, packed with stock footage and scenes from other, equally bad movies. But I must say: The bit where Robert Vaughn’s teenage caveman runs headfirst into a tree and knocks himself out is as funny as anything in the history of the series. It’s also notable for featuring the same monster costume that would later serve as the titular character in Night of the Blood Beast.

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177. Ep. 405, Being From Another Planet, 1982

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: (Looking at a bunch of pipes) “Hey guys, I think it’s Coppola’s espresso machine!”

Being From Another Planet is a very painful film indeed; just outside the “extreme” movie pain level. The crew oversells it just a tad by actively comparing it to the likes of Castle of Fu Manchu in the closing credits, but it’s not that far off, either. It’s the story of a living Egyptian mummy that actually turns out to be an alien, and well … it’s just a tedious movie, but the riffing is fairly steady. I appreciate the appearance by James Karen of Return of the Living Dead in particular. But the best parts are when the mummy/alien is stalking around the green-lit basement in POV vision and the bots feign terror and suspense at having to sit through the interminable sequence. Watching them whine and alternatingly attempt to flee the theater is the highlight for me—also, the Mads’ classic invention exchange: “Tragic Moments” figurines.

176. Ep. 415, The Beatniks, 1960, /w General Hospital, Part 2

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “They shoot horse faces, don’t they?”

Shorts usually help these episodes, but the three General Hospital shorts in season 4 are among the least memorable for whatever reason—they’re just as dry as the experiments for the most part. The Beatniks, on the other hand, is an uneven but not horrendous movie that blends into all of the other crime stories (always with a twist of teen-friendly rock music) that make up a ton of episodes between seasons 2-6, and kind of gets lost in the fog as a result. It’s a tale of kids gone astray, and one with a promising music career that gets derailed when a member of his gang commits a crime of passion. That gang member, “Moon,” is the film’s highlight with his completely off-the-wall, scenery chewing performance, culminating with the infamous bit where he screams out a window to the world that he “KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!” He’s simultaneously funny and irritating.

175. Ep. 503, Swamp Diamonds, 1956, /w What To Do on a Date

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel, as a girl nails up animal cut-outs to the wal: “Kay’s worked on the kill floor; she knows where to deliver the blow.”

Another day, another dreary Roger Corman movie. This one is about a group of prison escapees and an undercover cop, searching for a secret stash of, well … swamp diamonds. It’s pretty boring, nondescript stuff, but at least it stars Corman regular Beverly Garland, who is featured a bit more heavily in another episode, Gunslinger. The real saving grace of this episode is the short, as in so many others. What To Do on a Date is classic stuff in the ‘50s educational video mold, featuring the adventures of Nick and Kate on their perfectly pleasant, painfully awkward pseudo-date. Oh boy, a scavenger sale! The romance leaps off the screen! The Bots are pretty brutal toward poor Nick, and the results are hilarious. If only it wasn’t followed by Swamp Diamonds. Oh well.

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174. Ep. 110, Robot Holocaust, 1986, /w Commando Cody, Part 9

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Voiceover: “A knife is placed in the ground.” Tom: “...a voiceover is placed in the script.”

If there’s one season 1 movie that I wish had come along later in the series, it’s Robot Holocaust. It’s notable for being by far the most recent movie the gang watched in season 1, having only come out 3 years before the episode aired! It just feels like something they could have absolutely hit out of the park if they tackled it years later with a more seasoned writing team, with results similar to Overdrawn at the Memory Bank or Future War. The film is certainly memorable enough on its own; a truly bizarre sci-fi action film in a future where most of humanity has been exterminated by robots, but with a twist of sword-and-sorcery as well. It features a post-apocalyptic hero named “Neo,” decades before The Matrix, and a girl whose scientist father gets absorbed into a big green, cabbage-looking ball with only his head sticking out to speak. In short: The film is plenty memorable, but the riffing is typically uneven season 1 fare. Plus: Commando Cody. That never helps.

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173. Ep. 113, The Black Scorpion, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow, during a train crash: “Now, if you’ll look out the left side of the train, you’ll see the right side of the train.”

Pretty solid all-around for a season 1 episode, Black Scorpion feels pretty familiar in the “giant, irradiated (in this case prehistoric) insect” subset of ‘50s monster movies. It’s a little tedious, sure, but the film actually sports some pretty damn cool-looking stop-motion animation special effects, which were created by Ray Harryhausen mentor Willis O’Brien. The story, on the other hand, is instantly forgettable—scientists in the desert, and an annoying kid (why is there always a kid in these movies?) named “Juanito” attempting to survive the wrath of the scorpions. The riffing, however, has markedly improved since the beginning of season 1, and there are more clever observations that feel like they would have fit nicely into later seasons. You could certainly do a lot worse, if you want to check out some season 1 MST3k.

172. Ep. 211, First Spaceship on Venus, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Servo, singing: “...and this is the day the teddy bears fly to Venus!”

I’m actually a little bit surprised that it took this long to get a season 2 episode on the list, but you’ll be seeing more of them in the near future. Season 2 of MST3k is a marked improvement, and features Kevin Murphy getting acclimated to his new role as Tom Servo, but the show is still a little bit uneven at this point. Few of the season 2 episodes stick out as series classics, but at the same time there are really no terrible episodes in the season either—many of them simply fly under the radar. That describes First Spaceship to Venus, a rather dry (but pleasantly colorful and silly-looking) sci-fi story about astronauts journeying to Venus to solve a mystery that may be tied to the Earth’s survival. I enjoy the painfully dorky looking costumes that all of the astronauts are sporting, and the recurring lines about the “magic toothbrush” that is one of their chief scientific instruments. From season 2-4, it feels like we get a whole lot of these cheap, spacefaring sci-fi pictures, so get used to it.

171. Ep. 305, Stranded in Space aka The Stranger, 1973

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “It’s funny how space looks a lot like Sacramento.”

Okay, so in the ‘80s, a film distribution company called Film Ventures international made a business out of buying up any random film they could get their hands on, and then slapping on a new name and opening credits sequence featuring footage from entirely different films. These movies from FVI included MST3k classics such as Pod People and Cave Dwellers, but they also include the likes of Stranded in Space. Originally produced as a TV pilot/made-for-TV movie called The Stranger in 1973, it was never picked up into a full series, and follows an astronaut who crash-lands on a mirror-image version of Earth hidden on the far side of the Sun, which is run by a totalitarian government. Crow describes it as The Fugitive meets Logan’s Run, and he’s not far off. There’s some nice Silence of the Lambs running jokes at the very least, which were very topical at the time, considering that the film was released earlier the same year that this episode aired. And let us not forget the presence of the drunk ‘n surly Cameron Mitchell, whose presence in B movies is always something to be excited about.

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170. Ep. 109, Project Moonbase, 1953, /w Commando Cody Part 7 and 8

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She enters the scene like a parade float.”

Project Moonbase is my tentative pick for the best season 1 episode, although it could easily waffle with Black Scorpion or Robot Holocaust. Even with two insufferable Commando Cody shorts in a row (the horror!), there’s some glimmers of later-season MST3k goodness in there. The movie is a fun, breezy, battery-shaped spaceship-cruising sci-fi adventure with cheesy costumes and flimsy sets, and would qualify as a “low” on the movie pain meter if not for the detestable Commando Cody accompaniment. The pop culture and societal observations are pretty sharp, and in general it simply seems to flow better than other season 1 episodes. I particularly enjoy the crew’s well-deserved jabs at the movie’s fairly misogynistic, ‘50s-era attitude toward women and marriage, which isn’t something you really expect to write about a space adventure, but there you have it. Still, it’s nice to bid adieu to season 1 episodes on this list.

169. Ep. 609, The Skydivers, 1963, /w Why Study the Industrial Arts?

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Mike, as the nebbish industrial arts boy: “...then I thrust the nail into the soft, yielding wood …”

Calling The Skydivers Coleman Francis’ best movie is like saying that arsenic is the most pleasant of ingestible poisons—it’s still a very, very painful ordeal to suffer through, but it’s SOMEWHAT less painful than Red Zone Cuba or The Beast of Yucca Flats. In truth, I may even be overrating The Skydivers a bit, but compared to those other two movies it’s a Coleman Francis magnum opus, and the episode is better as a result. It’s full of the typical Coleman plot-stretching BS such as long, pointless conversations over coffee and cigarettes, but it also has some truly zany assassination attempts involving parachutes and corrosive acid, plus a love triangle so fiendishly complex and inane that it boggles the mind. The real thing that bumps this episode up a bit, though, is the presence of the great Why Study Industrial Arts? short, which follows an awkward, would-be serial killer-looking kid as he navigates the magical world of shop class. That, and you’ve got to love Frank describing the feature film as “like Manos, without the lucid plot.”

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168. Ep. 612, The Starfighters, 1964

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “So basically, according to themselves, the Air Force is a bunch of leather-faced, not-so-bright, heavy drinking, dull-witted speed freaks who poop in their pants and can’t make it with women, right?”

With an awesome title like that, you’d probably think this movie was an exciting, outer space action movie, right? Not so! It’s actually one of the most painfully boring and tedious films in the history of MST3k, and the “starfighters” in question are a bunch of lumpy Air Force pilots training to refuel planes in mid-air. That’s seriously what most of the movie revolves around: Mid-air sequences of refueling, provided in glorious excite-o-vision via reams of stock footage. The only thing that saves it (slightly) as an episode is some solid riffing, which of course includes the famous running joke about “poopie suits.” The riffing actually runs toward the bawdy at times in this one, as the crew can’t help but make many copulation jokes about the endlesssss refueling sequences, which eventually wears a bit thin. Still, this episode does also feature one of my favorite host segments of all time: Mike and the Bots doing their damndest to sell “Cowboy Mike’s Original Red-Hot Ricochet BBQ Sauce,” which is “so bold it’s not recommended for human consumption.”

167. Ep. 407, The Killer Shrews, 1959, /w Junior Rodeo Daredevils

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel, upon seeing an antenna: “I’ve fallen in with a group of HAM radio operators.”

Another very objectionable film, for different reasons—The Killer Shrews is a lazy, messily plotted, incompetently made piece of garbage, that is thankfully lifted a bit by the short, Junior Rodeo Daredevils. The actual film is just a mess, though—a boat crew of strangers end up on a strange island, where they meet a doctor who is experimenting on shrews and turning them into deadly beasts. The shrews themselves are where most of the humor can be mined from—they’re completely ridiculous looking, and are clearly just dogs with carpet samples haphazardly glued to their bodies. There are events that happen in the film at some point, but you’ll never be able to remember them after the fact. In reality, the only things you’ll remember are: First, that the characters seem to spend all of their time getting drunk at the fully stocked bar of their cabin; and second, that you can’t understand ANY of the dialog because the audio quality is atrocious. The crew spends the entire episode misunderstanding every piece of dialog, which yields some laughs but can’t carry the entire 90-minute load.

166. Ep. 209, The Hellcats, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “What is this, Sergeant Exposition and Detective Plot Hole?”

After the surprise success of The Wild Angels in 1966, the “biker film” became the signature exploitation film style of the late ‘60s, and we get a couple of them on MST3k. This one is a real bore, full of uninteresting characters, but at least it’s easy to follow. A soldier infiltrates an outlaw biker gang to avenge his dead brother, and the laughs trickle behind him. Oddly enough, it’s produced by Anthony Cardoza, who also produced (and appeared in) the films of Coleman Francis—not the best career track record for Mr. Cardoza. The crew has some fun poking at the “filmed in Zaprudervision” cinematography and shaky camera, and in dull leading man Ross Hagen, who also stars in the similar The Sidehackers later in this same season. It all begs the question: Did Ross Hagen seriously think The Hellcats was so good that he took it upon himself to produce The Sidehackers two years later? The host segments, meanwhile, are good fun focusing on “flashbacks” between the bots, and even include a little bit of season 1 footage with the voice of Josh Weinstein as Servo.

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165. Ep. 416, Fire Maidens of Outer Space, 1956

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Joel, admonishing Crow: “Now, I don’t want you to EVER let another dark spectre on board the ship again.”

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record now, but this movie just … isn’t very good at all. Shocking, I know, but this is an especially virulent strain of tedium, approaching Castle of Fu Manchu levels of boredom. It’s especially cheap, with astronauts wandering around in grassy fields and “fire maidens” played by women in what look like re-used togas from an ancient Greek movie—it’s so cheap that you’d almost think it was directed by Roger Corman. Hell, the “monster” is just a tall, thin guy in an all-black body suit, wearing what appears to be a plastic thrift store monster mask. More than anything in the film, this episode is memorable for the odd host sequences, which see Crow receive a silent, possibly psychotic “friend” named Timmy after praying for companionship. “Timmy” is played by one of the black-painted variations on the Bots that were used for the theater sequences, and his violent attempt on the life of Tom Servo is one of the craziest and most memorable, plot-driven host segments of the Joel era. The well-mannered Joel even says “bitch” at one point!

164. Ep. 603, The Dead Talk Back, 1957, /w The Selling Wizard

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “You could use a flashback; remember, this is a MOTION picture?”

The Dead Talk Back is one of the darker films screened on MST3k … and I mean that in the “I can’t see anything because it’s so dark and ugly” sense. It’s quite the painful movie—I almost gave it an “extreme” rating, and it’s certainly right on the cusp of hitting top-tier badness territory. It revolves around a goofy little mad scientist—very much a would-be Herbert West type—who builds a machine to communicate with the dead that is little more than a tinfoil ball and a speaker. There’s also crossbow-related Murder Most Foul at work, and it’s part police procedural at the same time. A few big laughs are mined by the crew out of the omnipresent narration and the squirrelly guy who freaks out when confessing to murder, but much of the episode is on the slow side. The preceding short, The Selling Wizard, also isn’t going to make any list of the best MST3k shorts—featuring a sullen, caped woman selling refrigerators, it sounds like A+ material for the show, but has entirely too many dead periods where the narrator WILL NOT SHUT UP about technical aspects of refrigeration. 12 minutes of refrigerator talk will likely have you banging your head against a wall, trust me.

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163. Ep. 608, Code Name: Diamond Head, 1977, /w A Day at the Fair

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “You know, when this originally aired, by this point everyone had turned to Carter Country.”

Quite a few of the ‘70s movies featured on MST3k tend to be the feature length pilots to failed TV shows, and Code Name: Diamond Head is one of the more inglorious and forgettable in that vein, like an uninteresting version of an Andy Sidaris erotic action flick. Honestly, who was going to watch a spy show where our protagonist’s code name is “Diamond Head”? It’s a boring, instantly forgettable pastiche of spy elements, but this episode as a whole is buoyed greatly by two other factors: The short and the host segments. A Day at the Fair is great fun—not quite as brilliant as Johnny at the Fair, but pretty close. I love Crow’s fill-in-the-blank response to “Here at the Olson’s farm … Pain is everywhere!” The host segments are also memorable for strongly incorporating the Satellite of Love’s rarely utilized “Magic Voice,” which attempts to teach Tom and Crow some lessons about respecting Mike, who they never treat very well. These segments involve Mike taking on the identity of various film and TV characters, culminating hilariously in ‘80s-‘90s PBS cooking show star Jeff Smith, the “Frugal Gourmet.” He even uses Servo as a pepper grinder at one point! It’s as if Mike turns into Joel for a few minutes.

162. Ep. 413, Manhunt in Space, 1954, /w General Hospital, Part 1

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “This is the part where the Zagnut is fertilized by the salted nut roll.”

The idea of combining multiple TV show episodes into a “feature film” rarely makes for an entertaining final product, and Manhunt in Space is no exception. In reality, it’s two episodes of the 1954 TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger that have been stitched together, the exact same as the slightly better episode Crash of the Moons—and both are combined with boring General Hospital shorts, which does them no favors. The titular space ranger, Rocky Jones, is like a much less entertaining, white bread version of “Big McLargeHuge” from later episode Space Mutiny, which would be a compliment if only he was more memorable. Still, the riffing is pretty steady, with lots of jokes directed toward the equally silly and annoying comic relief sidekick, who, I shit you not, is actually named “Winky,” like he’s some sort of Christmas elf. It’s some good ‘ole sanitized ‘50s pablum.

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161. Ep. 414, Tormented, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Sandy, how’d you like to bungee jump, without the bungee?”

Director Bert I. Gordon holds a special place in the lore of MST3k for helming more movies than any other director ever featured on the show, at an impressive 8. These include the likes of King Dinosaur, Village of the Giants, The Beginning of the End and more, but Tormented stands out because it lacks the director’s usual trademark: “Giant” people or monsters, which, along with his initials, earned him the nickname “Mr. B.I.G.” Instead, this is a fairly competent ghost story in the vein of The Uninvited, somewhat plodding but not quite as bad as much of your typical MST3k fare. A man is haunted by his dead ex-girlfriend, people go tumbling off lighthouses, and the Bots do their best (not very well) to haunt/torment Joel at the same time. I do rather like the host segment where Joel and the Bots build their own mean-spirited model lighthouse and toss off the effigies of actors and singers who have annoyed them.

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160. Ep. 203, Jungle Goddess, 1948, /w The Phantom Creeps Part 1

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: As a plane pilot: “Now, come clean with me, Frank—tell me that you haven’t ever had the urge to ram this baby into the ground.”

Jungle Goddess is about as distasteful, racially, as you would expect a “savages in the jungle” movie from 1948 to be. It concerns the search of a pilot for a missing heiress in the jungle, who is naturally being treated as a white savior by the natives. It also features the murderous supporting character of “White Devil,” whose lust for violence is truly unquenchable. The short, meanwhile, is the first installment of The Phantom Creeps, a serial that bears some resemblance to Commando Cody but is mercifully much more watchable, thanks to the crew’s persistent Bela Lugosi impersonations. Also of minor historical interest for MST3k buffs: There’s an early on-screen appearance of Mike Nelson in the final sketch, and he’s joined by rarely seen executive producer Jim Mallon playing the White Devil. Mallon is a somewhat contentious figure among the fanbase of the show, thanks to the creative disputes he had with Joel, but one would be remiss to forget that he also spent 8 seasons memorably voicing Gypsy.

159. Ep. 202, The Sidehackers, 1969

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: The entire host segment where the crew demonstrates some rapid-fire “sidehacking terminology” in the style of sports commentary is full of brilliant tongue-twisters.

Dear lord—for a movie that initially appears like it’s going to be something lighthearted about silly motorcycle sidecar racing, the actual story of The Sidehackers is pretty damn dour. The actual “sidehacking” scenes are all uniformly hilarious—it’s such a bizarre pseudo sport to see in action, full of men dangling out of motorcycle sidecars and looking moments from a grisly death. But then you get into the meat of the actual story, about a driver named Rommel who turns down a woman and sets a chain of events into motion that ends with his own fiancee raped and murdered. Yeesh. It’s pretty sordid stuff for a MST3k movie, which are usually a bit more innocent than all that. According to Mike in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, this was the result of the cast deciding to shoot this particular episode before they’d fully watched all of the footage, a policy that was changed after the distasteful nature of The Sidehackers forced their hand. Regardless, when you’re not saying “ew,” the episode is otherwise solid, with good host segments that fixate on the inherent weirdness of sidehacking. Of note: This may be the only episode of MST3k where Cambot technically has “a riff,” when he superimposes some ESPN-style graphics over the sidehacking action.

158. Ep. 518, The Atomic Brain, 1963, /w What About Juvenile Delinquency?

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Wife: “He’s resting now…” Mike: “... or he’s dead. It’s hard to tell with him.”

With a great, pulpy name like that, you’d hope that this movie was about a giant, irradiated brain laying waste to San Francisco, but no such luck. Instead, it shares DNA with the likes of The Leech Woman, about a cranky old lady who wants to pull the old brain-swapping maneuver with a younger body. The film is a slice of dull B&W averageness, but it’s at least paired with a solidly cheesy short in What About Juvenile Delinquency?, wherein a gang of teenage hoodlums rob a man of his—I shit you not—prized pencil. Mike and the bots have good fun with that one, as it presents the “terrifying future” of juvenile delinquency gone wild. Riffing on the feature is uniformly solid, but it just feels interchangeable with any of the MANY other “mad scientist” episodes. You could cut segments of it into The Unearthly and no one would ever notice.

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157. Ep. 615, Kitten With a Whip, 1964

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I am a fugitive from a slumber party!”

The story of Kitten with a Whip isn’t much to write home about, but it’s surprisingly vivacious in how it’s shot and directed—distinctly watchable, for MST3k fare. The movie was designed to be the big Hollywood debut of Ann-Margret, or as Mike wonders aloud, “I always thought it was Ann-Margrock.” It’s one of those “juvenile delinquent” films, with Margret playing the role that would belong to Mamie Van Doren in Untamed Youth or the much better Girls Town. Regardless, she’s “in it for the kicks” when she escapes from some sort of juvenile hall and then makes the bizarre decision to hide out in the home of a candidate for the U.S. senate. Soon, she’s joined by some no-good hoodlum friends, one of whom carelessly wields a straight razor, and they all take their new Senator friend/hostage across the Mexican border to have a grand old time. Riffing is steady throughout, but although it’s perfectly pleasant, scene after scene of people conversing in dark rooms eventually starts to wear thin.

156. Ep. 313, Earth vs. the Spider, 1958, /w Speech: Using Your Voice

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “He died as he lived … with jelly all over his face.”

Everything about a title like Earth vs. the Spider says “perfect MST3k material,” and this is pretty much the case. As I mentioned above in King Dinosaur, director Bert I. Gordon is the man who directed more MST3k films than any other, but unlike say, Coleman Francis, the films of Mr. B.I.G. are usually distinctly watchable: Silly, but pleasant. Such it is with Earth vs. the Spider, which is also paired with a very solid short in Using Your Voice, which goes on at length about the proper “lip and tongue action” you need to employ to be an effective ‘50s-style door-to-door salesman. The riffers have some good fun with the shoddy sets, the continuously screaming spider and the cheap projected effects—this movie doesn’t quite have the budget of some of Gordon’s later FX-driven films. Ep. 313 is also the first-ever appearance of Crow’s long-simmering screenplay, Earth vs. Soup, which is continuously referenced for the next four seasons until it gets the Hollywood treatment in season 7’s The Incredible Melting Man. I love that the killer soup is created by a cook “mixing up a batch of Uranium 235 in the same pot as our soup of the day.”

155. Ep. 808, The She Creature, 1956

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “They tried to light this, but the movie is like a super-absorbent black hole.”

The She Creature is just one dry, tasteless slab of cinema. It’s not the kind of episode that gets mentioned among the worst films ever riffed on MST3k, if only because it’s technically proficient most of the time, but DAMN this movie is dull. It revolves around greasy hypnotist Dr. Carlo Lombardi as he attempts a bizarre, largely unexplained scheme involving hypnotizing a young woman to somehow bring to life a prehistoric sea creature who is technically her ancestor from millions of years earlier—an oddly similar plot to the very next episode, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, now that I think about it. The riffing work is pretty strong, highlighted by the bots brutality toward actor Lance Fuller’s lack of emotiveness, but is tempered by the film’s inherent ugliness and lack of watchability. I do love that it gives us the hypnotism command “SLEEEEP!”, which Tom Servo is fond of repeating throughout the series. Also, the host segments build on one of the best running jokes of MST3k’s brief dalliance with continuity, which is Mike’s tendency to accidentally destroy entire planets until he has a reputation as a bloody-handed galactic butcher. He’s put on trial for his crimes later this season, in Agent For H.A.R.M..

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154. Ep. 402, The Giant Gila Monster, 1959

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “It’s the magnificent men in their jaunty jalopies!”

The Giant Gila Monster was actually shot back-to-back with The Killer Shrews by the same director/producer team, and the film suffers from many of the same problems: Grainy picture and even grainier audio, which makes it difficult to pick out most of the dialog. Not that it actually matters in this case, as almost all of that dialog is just “teens” jabbering at each other about their cars, or running from the titular giant Gila Monster (actually played by the closely related Mexican Beaded Lizard). The film is as much a celebration of ‘50s teen music and “hot rod” culture as it is a monster movie, and of course, like any other “teen” movie of the period, it has the requisite terrible music numbers. Some of them are just painfully awkward, like the protagonist serenading his little disabled sister as she attempts to walk with new leg braces. However, I think we can all agree that “I Sing Whenever I Sing, Whenever I Sing” is an earworm that gets its hooks in you and just never lets go. It makes for a great running joke, as the SOL crew inserts the tune into the minds of nearly every character on screen (including the Gila Monster) every time a new scene starts.

153. Ep. 901, The Projected Man, 1966

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Ah, parking! What a way to create characters and establish tension!”

Projected Man syllabus: Man attempts to rip off the experiment from The Fly. Man succeeds in turning himself into a Two Face-style monster who can electrocute people by touching them (for some reason). Man touches others to death. The end! It’s a dumb British sci-fi horror film, but it at least has a few things going for it, like being in color and having a decent audio track. Bryant Halliday, who starred as the evil ventriloquist in the more memorable Devil Doll a few episodes earlier, returns here as the titular “projected” fellow. The riffs focus heavily on the snooty, foppish, brandy-quaffing British character actors, and are variable in quality. During some segments of inane chatter, Mike and the bots really catch fire winging barbs about the script and the woodenness of the characters, but other segments such as the tedious laboratory sequences fall flat. It’s uneven, but if you really want to see the riffers tear into Merry Old England, this one makes a fine companion to The Deadly Bees or Gorgo.

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152. Ep. 622, Angels Revenge, 1979

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “This was Jim Backus’ first film after he died.”

Angels Revenge is a rather shameless Charlie’s Angels rip-off that wears its lack of originality on its sleeve while feeling like some kind of spiritual precursor to Andy Sidaris’ “Bullets, Bombs and Babes” movies of the ‘80s. There are a few connections to other MST3k episodes, from the presence of an antagonistic Jack Palance (also the villain Outlaw of Gor) to Alan Hale (The Giant Spider Invasion). The director, Greydon Clark, is even the same man who directed Joe Don Baker in Final Justice! As an episode, Angels Revenge isn’t as memorable as any of those other films, but it certainly has its moments. The opening segment, with the Mads dressed as their “favorite ‘70s relief pitchers” is delightfully weird, and the film is tolerably campy throughout, as a group of sexy lady spies come together to take down the sort of local drug ring seemingly present in any ‘70s cop movie. Crow is especially unforgiving: “The director doesn’t have Ed Wood’s passion for this kind of material.”

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151. Ep. 205, Rocket Attack USA, 1958, /w The Phantom Creeps, Part 2

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “We were just switching to radar controls and everything went boom.” Tom: “Uh, can you put that in layman’s terms, please?”

Rocket Attack USA is a wooden film, but pretty well executed for a season 2 episode. First of course, we get a second Phantom Creeps short, which I find much more palatable than the likes of Commando Cody or General Hospital, probably because of the Bela Lugosi factor. The film is a typical ‘50s Cold War spy yarn, about an American spy infiltrating Russia in an attempt to stop a secret ICBM sneak attack. There’s a hilarious, fat Russian henchman who the riffers describe as “Tor-Lite” in reference to legendary Plan 9 From Outer Space acting blob Tor Johnson—it’s almost a shame that they didn’t take on this film after The Unearthly or The Beast of Yucca Flats, or there would have been more callback Tor jokes to be made. But in general, this is a well-riffed experiment for its era, as the crew has particular fun with the overbearing narrator who seems to want to become an on-screen character in the movie. Note: Servo looks considerably different in this episode, as the show was briefly experimenting with changing his distinctive gumball machine head shape to reduce its obstruction of the screen in the theater. The change didn’t last.

150. Ep. 409, The Indestructible Man, 1956, /w Undersea Kingdom, Part 2

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: As Irish cop parody: “Alright, gather round everybody, lots to see, show’s just startin’.”

The Indestructible Man initially feels promising, like a lost Universal horror movie thanks to the presence of star Lon Chaney Jr., but unfortunately it’s strapped to a painfully unfunny Undersea Kingdom short. An old-fashioned serial that is uncomfortably reminiscent of Commando Cody in terms of visual quality in particular, it definitely hurts the overall ranking of this otherwise amusing experiment. Good old Lon is certainly showing his age here, looking a generation older than the star of The Wolf Man in this tale of a criminal who is executed and then revived as an “indestructible” monster. Still, it’s more or less watchable, and there are some good riffs at the expense of poor supporting characters—especially an unnerving young woman who never seems to blink. You have to be in the right mood for this one, or be an appreciator of Poverty Row-esque cheapo Hollywood horror. Oddly enough: Lon Chaney Jr. actually appears in the Undersea Kingdom short for a few lines as well!

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149. Ep. 606, The Creeping Terror, 1964

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “The unbearable whiteness of being!”

The Creeping Terror is legitimately among the worst movies ever made, and it’s certainly one of the most inept … or perhaps “careless” is even more accurate. How else could you end up with a monster movie where the “monster” is a man covered in rugs? To quote the equally abhorrent Attack of the The Eye Creatures, “They just … didn’t … care.” This is a good example of an episode where the film is on the same caliber of badness as anything by Coleman Francis, but the superior riffing manages to drag it up out of the mire. The crew has particular fun with the shoddy design of the creature (how could they not?) and its almost complete immobility. As Mike observes, “Did anyone in the ‘50s ever think of running?” The Creeping Terror is one of the least frightening monsters ever, for this very reason—it moves at a pace that is literally glacial, while stupid teenagers just stand there, waiting to be be consumed. Which is to say, “waiting until they have to physically crawl into its mouth because the monster can’t do anything.” Another highlight is the oppressive narration, which legend has it was added to the film in post after part of the soundtrack was literally dropped into Lake Tahoe. It may not be true, but it would certainly explain a lot.

148. Ep. 1114, At the Earth’s Core, 1976

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Being a chivalrous gentleman, David traps his fellow slaves with their captors in a room full of lava.”

Season 11’s two “Doug McClure movies” feel fairly close to the style of films that would have been tackled during the classic MST3K; dino films such as Lost Continent or King Dinosaur, with one small difference—they’re just not quite as legitimately bad. That becomes a running theme of sorts for season 11—it’s clear that the tier of movies they were aiming for this time involved better picture quality and relatively coherent plots. There’s just not quite as much “deep hurting,” which was to be expected in a reboot that is intended to reach a wider audience on Netflix. But I digress. At the Earth’s Core feels almost immediately like a sequel to also uninspiring Land that Time Forgot, featuring proper English types stumbling into a world of monsters. It’s impossible not to feel bad for Peter Cushing while watching—I absolutely love this man and his Hammer Horror films, but dear lord is he irritating in this one. He reminds me of the senior security guard from Hobgoblins, with his Muppet-like take on what I think was supposed to be a foppish dandy’s accent. His performance here is worse than the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, and that is not hyperbole. The riffers, meanwhile, try to zero in on McClure, but he doesn’t offer them nearly as much substance to go on as some of MST3K’s more memorable leading man chunkheads. Big McLargeHuge, he is not, and Joel McHale’s turn impersonating McClure likewise falls flat. I did, however, love the understated return of Paul Chaplin as the leader of the Observers—his crisp, dry delivery hasn’t changed a bit. The best segment is Doug McClure’s savage battle, and then immediate bromance, with a cave dweller named “Rah.” Says Jonah, by way of introduction: “You’re not going to believe this, but I’m the protagonist!”

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147. Ep. 911, Devil Fish, 1984

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “You know, just because you CAN edit, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.”

Few films in the MST3k canon can claim to offer a more comprehensive course on bad film editing than Devil Fish. It’s truly otherworldly—I can’t think of a single other episode of the show where spastic editing actually provides bigger laughs than it does here, especially during one of the early scenes that spastically intercuts three different locations at the same time. It’s legitimately the highlight of a film that is otherwise a real slog. The plot concerns a beer-swilling scientist dude and a disturbingly thin dolphin trainer woman as they search for a government-engineered sea monster that has broken loose from captivity and embarked on a bloody rampage. You kind of have to take the film at its word that this is what’s going on, though, because the editing and visuals are both so atrocious that it’s often difficult to tell what is happening during any sequence where the monster is on screen. I also get a kick out of the kooky ending credits sequence, as the bots randomly start tittering and continue to disturbingly cackle at nothing in particular for 90 seconds while Mike just sits there in silence.

146. Ep. 623, The Amazing Transparent Man, 1960, /w The Days of Our Lives

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Narrator: “...he had a wonderful girl who wanted nothing more than to be Mrs. Joe.” Mike: “So his name is Joe, Joe?”

This is another one of those episodes with an instantly forgettable feature that is elevated by its excellent short—one of the few in the Mike era of MST3k! “The Days of Our Lives” is amazingly weird stuff; 20 minutes of a reverend strolling around his depressed Midwestern city, talking to various people whose lives have been destroyed by workplace accidents, gawking at their mental scars and gruesome physical injuries. The riffers are absolutely on fire throughout the entire thing, mocking the staid, Garrison Keillor-esque blandness of the people and their setting, and the ridiculously macabre, hopeless tone of the narrator, who visits people with “bitter, flavorless, futile days” remaining in their lives. That’s an actual quote from the narrator! Transparent Man, on the other hand, comes back down to Earth with a combination crime/science fiction yarn that screams “cheap.” The story revolves around a thief who is made into an invisible man, but the best running joke revolves around a guinea pig that is also turned invisible. But ultimately, the short completely steals the show on this one.

145. Ep. 801, Revenge of the Creature, 1955

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Everyone’s drifted over to the World Of Barnacles exhibit.”

Revenge of the Creature is definitely a step down from its predecessor, Creature From the Black Lagoon, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to say that at least one classic Universal Monster was featured in a MST3k movie. As the first episode of the SyFy (then Sci-Fi Channel) era, much has changed. Trace Beaulieu has sadly departed as Dr. F, and thus as the voice of crow. Bill Corbett steps in ably as a more brash, less childlike version of Crow, while Mary Jo Pehl takes over as Pearl, the head Mad. The network mandated at this point that the show needed to have an ongoing storyline, which somewhat hurt the quality of the host segments (and especially the ability to watch episodes out of order), but this requirement was largely dropped by the start of season 9. Revenge of the Creature, meanwhile, receives steady riffing that doesn’t miss a beat from the Comedy Central days—in the theater segments, you’d never know that anything is different. Highlights include the comatose monster, who spends the first part of the film bobbing face-down in the water, and of course the first-ever screen appearance of a young Clint Eastwood. Crow’s assessment: “Oh, this guy’s bad. This is his first and last movie.”

144. Ep. 418, Attack of the The Eye Creatures, 1965

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Sure is dark out there, hope they don’t get a moonburn.”

Attack of the The Eye Creatures is some seriously cheap garbage—cheap enough to actually let two “THE’s” in its title somehow go unnoticed. It’s painful, yes, but it’s just the right kind of painful for MST3k, in the same sense that Manos is ideal for the show. It was a remake of the ‘50s cheapo classic Invasion of the Saucer Men, but taken down several more levels. It depicts what has got to be one of the most inept planetary invasions ever carried out by any species, and is so cheap that some of the eye creatures can’t even afford full costumes! While some are dressed as monsters head-to-toe, there’s one guy simply wearing a black body suit with the eye creature mask draped leisurely over his shoulders—truly unbelievable. It receives exactly the belittling it deserves via one of the all-time classic host segments, wherein Joel and the Bots point out the litany of reasons that the film “just … doesn’t … care.” And then there’s the “drifter” guy who spends most of the film wearing what appears to be a red and green striped dress, for no apparent reason. Eye Creatures is inexplicable on every level.

143. Ep. 611, Last of the Wild Horses, 1948

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Ah, Albert Glasser, the man who holds you down and pummels you with music.”

Last of the Wild Horses is one of the few MST3k episodes that truly deviates from the typical formula in a substantial, historic way, and it can’t help but be fascinating for that reason. When the Mads send up a “matter transference” device up to the SOL, a resulting splinter/parallel universe is created, Star Trek-style, wherein Mike and the Bots take on the role of the Mads, complete with goatees. Dr. F and Frank, meanwhile, are up on the SOL, and Trace Beaulieu in particular is brilliant in the way he satirizes the prior earnestness and positive disposition of Joel in particular. We even get a full fourth of the film (a fairly bland western) riffed by the Mads instead of our normal cast, who sit on the opposite side of the theater in true Mirror Universe fashion. This entire first quarter is the highlight, as Dr. F and Frank make for a compelling riffing duo, easily holding their own against the show’s own high standards. The rest of the episode brings things back down to Earth, but Last of the Wild Horses is ultimately a must-watch just because it’s one of only two episodes to flip the Mads/riffers relationship, with hilarious results.

142. Ep. 417, Crash of the Moons, 1954, /w General Hospital, Part 3

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Yes, I’m afraid he’s an infant, but he’ll grow out of it.”

Crash of the Moons is the (slightly) superior example of two episodes made from combined Rocky Jones, Space Ranger episodes, but like Manhunt in Space this is the rare episode that is actually lowered rather than improved by the presence of a short. Maybe it’s just my taste, but the General Hospital shorts are all like watching paint dry, and they seem to suck the enthusiasm out of the riffers as well. Once we get into the feature, though, things pick up quickly: It’s another paper-thin sci-fi serial with plenty of great riffs about the bargain bin spaceship effects and Plan 9 From Outer Space-level costuming. The film is amusing in a perfectly innocuous, “our society could never be this earnest again” sort of way, which makes it a fairly easy watch. I’d almost give it a “low” on the movie pain meter, if only the film was a bit more interesting to look at, and wasn’t crammed full of so many scenes of people fiddling with switches and knobs. But alas, there is quite a lot of fiddling.

141. Ep. 210, King Dinosaur, 1955, /w X Marks the Spot

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “If you’re looking for plausibility, you won’t find it here, friend.”

King Dinosaur is the first ever Bert I. Gordon movie featured on MST3k, but far from the last. As one of the earliest pictures from “Mr. B.I.G.,” it’s cheaper than some of his later, more palatable fare such as Village of the Giants, and feels a bit like some vintage Corman claptrap—astronauts travel to a planet that just so happens to resemble the Midwestern USA and are menaced by “dinosaurs” in the form of force-perspective iguanas and alligators. It’s low-res stuff that tries earnestly to entertain, but the budget just isn’t there. The episode is improved, though, by the presence of truly bizarre short X Marks the Spot, which follows a dumb lump of man named Joe as he appears in heavenly traffic court to answer to the angels about his poor driving record. No, seriously: The short is all about bureaucratic angels explaining traffic statistics, and it’s wonderful in exactly the same fanciful way as Once Upon a Honeymoon. Also notable in the host segments is the infamously odd “Joey the Lemur,” a puppet that could only come from the mind of Joel. It’s profoundly stupid, but I can’t help but smile at “the splendiferous lemur, friend to all mankind.”

140. Ep. 412, Hercules and the Captive Women, 1961

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Head injury playhouse presents: Don’t let this happen to you.”

There were four Hercules movies featured on MST3k (oddly, the original in the series is the last they watch), and they’re all generally solid, middle-of-the-road episodes. Hercules and the Captive Women is probably the weakest of the series overall, but there’s still plenty of chuckles to be had at the particularly uninspired casting of slow-witted Herc and the overall incoherence of the production—it’s very tough to follow what the hell is going on in this one, but it has an iguana-man and tons of “Uranus” jokes, so I don’t care! Many fans will likely remember this Hercules entry for one other prominent reason—it’s the only episode where Gypsy enters the theater to do a little riffing with the boys. Eager to participate as a full-on member of the SOL riffing crew, she’s initially puzzled by the concept of sarcastic riffing, but settles in long enough to get off exactly one genuine, solid joke before realizing that “this movie’s really not very good” and beating a hasting retreat. So long, Gyps! If only the movie had starred Richard Basehart, perhaps should would have stuck around longer.

139. Ep. 201, Rocketship X-M, 1950

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Texan astronaut: “Maybe somebody don’t want us to get where we aim to get.” Joel: “Yeah, the god of grammar.”

The first episode of season 2 catches MST3k at a time of rapid evolution and maturation, as the “average” episode of the show increases dramatically in quality even when compared to better season 1 episodes such as Project Moonbase. Personnel is unsurprisingly a big aspect of this—although Josh Weinstein certainly has his fans, the show steps up another level with the on-screen arrival of Kevin Murphy as Servo and especially with the lovable, tender-hearted goof that is “TV’s Frank” Conniff. Their first assignment, Rocketship X-M, is perfectly emblematic of the cheap sci-fi films of the Joel years—black and white astronauts lost in space, flirting, crashing and dying. It does have Lloyd Bridges, though, which ensures plenty of Sea Hunt riffs, ‘ala “By that time, my lungs were aching for air.” Oddly enough, this is also the first episode where Mike appears on screen in a sketch—a weird coincidence, given that Lloyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt character was also named “Mike Nelson.” But in general, it improves upon season 1 with a faster pace of riffs that feel more calculated and responsive to the dialog, rather than improvisational, plus solid host segments such as the gang’s discussion on which objects are funny/not funny when floating in weightlessness. Like other classic comedies such as The Simpsons, season 2 is a quantum leap forward.

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138. Ep. 406, Attack of the Giant Leeches, 1959, /w Undersea Kingdom, Part 1

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Oh take me to the sweet mushroom place, my old friend booze.”

The best way of describing Attack of the Giant Leeches might be to say it’s a bit like a more technically sound version of The Creeping Terror, except not by much. Instead of Lake Tahoe, we’re now in the deeeeep South, with a cast of hillbillies and those aspiring toward hillbillyhood. It’s paired with another Undersea Kingdom short, although I find this one considerably more entertaining than Part 2. The movie, meanwhile, is pretty painful, but at least it’s more or less coherent. The riffers have a whole lot to work with while tearing into the southern-fried performances, particularly those of the town tramp and her rotund, shotgun-toting husband, and the predictably bland leading man who arrives to oppose the dreaded threat of leeches. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers episode—not as inspired as the similarly southern Boggy Creek 2, but not bad. It’s worth watching for the bulky leech costumes alone, which look truly agonizing to wear.

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137. Ep. 204, Catalina Caper, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Meanwhile, in the dark, impenetrable void, Jean Paul Sartre was a-movin’ and a-groovin’.”

The film that finally put the “beach party” movie subgenre in its grave, Catalina Caper is a real mess. It’s an unusual genre mix-up that combines the typical music/lighthearted juvenile hijinks and comedy of a beach party movie with a crime/heist caper that is happening simultaneously. Our protagonist is named “Don Pringle,” which unsurprisingly is a rich vein of humor throughout. It’s an unusual pick for MST3k in the sense that the film is ostensibly a comedy, which are rarely chosen because they’re more difficult to riff—you can’t simply refute every joke in the movie with riffs saying “that isn’t funny.” This does make some of the riffing a little awkward, and I assume the Best Brains probably thought back to Catalina Caper before choosing to riff comedies in the future. Highlights include the zaniness of the plan, which involves stealing an “ancient Chinese scroll,” and the character of “Creepy Girl,” who inspires some serious devotion from Servo. His ‘50s malt shop-style song for Creepy Girl is one of the early indicators of MST3k’s musical brilliance … as well as the pure singing chops of Kevin Murphy.

136. Ep. 1101, Reptilicus, 1961

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Scientists, looking at a destroyed lab: “Well, it was either the eel, Peterson, or the giant reptilian monster we grew in a tub that is now gone.”

The first episode of MST3K’s new era is a showcase for the raw enthusiasm of the new cast, but also some of the reboot’s more easily criticized points. As I wrote in my full review of this particular episode, you can almost feel the weight of expectations crushing down on the riffers’ shoulders, and their reaction to it is to turn everything up to 11. This includes the joke density, and perhaps due to the fact that the jokes were prerecorded in studio and not performed live, it leads to their riffs sometimes feeling disconnected from one another—rapid and scattershot, in a way that is inorganic and feels like they’re trying to reach a preconceived “riff quota.” On the other hand, though, there is some dynamite material sprinkled throughout Reptilicus that hints at the much better episodes to come. Most of it comes during our focus on squirrelly scientists during the film’s first half, especially when “legendary Danish comic actor Dirch Passer” is on hand playing rubber-faced buffoon Peterson, who inspires Blazing Saddles comparisons: “Peterson only pawn in game of life.” Things slow way down during the repetitive monster smashing scenes with Reptilicus, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what is probably the single best host segment of the season: Paul & Storm’s brilliant “Every Country Has a Monster” musical number. It’s easily the best song of season 11, and it hangs right up there with any song in MST3K history, displaying fiendishly clever lyricism and vocabulary. Get these guys on staff full time, writing new MST3K musical numbers!

135. Ep. 607, Bloodlust, 1961, /w Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Already the children have disturbed Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim is an edgy man, who should not be riled.”

Out of ideas for your thriller movie? Why not make another adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game? No one’s done that before, right? No indeed—although somehow, Bloodlust doesn’t feel too fresh, regardless. The story is exactly what you expect: A few couples are stranded on an island, where they’re captured by a guy named “Albert Balleau” who proceeds to hunt them for sport. It’s capably shot and features some goofy characters, but a pretty bad audio track. It receives a workmanlike riffing, but the highlight is the amusing short, Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm, which tries to make cow-milking and spending an entire summer on a farm sound like a heart-stopping thrill ride. I love the way the riffers tear into its sincere praise of country life and the dairy industry—very sarcastic, very cynical. Bloodlust is also notable as an episode for the first introduction of Dr. F’s mother Pearl, who would of course go on to become the lead Mad in seasons 8-10. She can honestly be a little irritating in some of the earlier appearances/sketches, but Mary Johl Pehl improved dramatically in her depiction of Pearl after taking the wheel as the show’s primary antagonist to become a great Mad in her own right.

134. Ep. 1010, It Lives By Night, 1974

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I was just pimp-slapped by a bat; how the hell do I put that in my report?”

Very dark and greasy, It Lives By Night (also known as The Bat People) feels a bit like the Southwestern companion piece to The Horrors of Spider Island, what with its man-bat monster instead of a man-spider. Mike and the Bots really have a lot of fun riffing on the glum scientist, who is more interested in hanging around hip-deep in bat guano than physically pleasing his longing wife, a Mary Tyler Moore look-alike actress who is dubbed “Mary Tyler Less.” Somehow, he also reminds me of the cracker-craving “Dr. Ted Nelson” from The Incredible Melting Man, what with his bland, disinterested glumness. It’s a pretty weak creature feature overall, and all too often cloaked in darkness, but you can’t help but laugh at the costume that looks more like a werewolf or ape than a bat, or the strong supporting cast of derelict supporting actors.

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133. Ep. 403, City Limits, 1984

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “You’re really stupid if you manage to get hit by a car after the apocalypse.”

If the movie is connected to Film Ventures International in any way, then you know there’s going to be hurting. City Limits initially looks like it could be fun—an ‘80s post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie with James Earl Jones and Kim Cattrall?—but whatever promise there is to be tapped within the premise is scrubbed away pretty quickly by the dark, dingy quality of the sets and visuals. In terms of looks alone, the movie appears about 10 years older than it is. The riffing, thankfully, is solid, highlighted by Crow’s fascination and subsequent crush on Cattrall, which leads to him singing the odd, seemingly improvised “Kim Cattrall Song” in the first host segment. I also love the Mads invention exchange in this episode, which is human-sized tupperware designed to keep aging pop stars fresh. Mike appears in this sketch as a tupperware-preserved version of Morrissey, giving a hysterical impersonation of The Smiths singer—“Did I mention that I cried? Is it wrong not to always be glad?” All in all, City Limits feels like an episode where the crew gets surprising mileage out of a weak film to riff.

132. Ep. 410, Hercules Against the Moon Men, 1964

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff:Jim Henson’s Exodus Babies.”

Deeeeeep … hurting! Like a spiritual successor to the “ROCK CLIMBING!” in Lost Continent, Hercules Against the Moon Men arrives with quite a bit of hyping from the Mads, which is something I always love to see—when they’re pleased with themselves, you know it’s going to be a painful movie. With this edition of the adventures of Herc, they’re specifically referring to a scene in the last third of the film where the characters wander into a sandstorm, and just wander around foreverrrrrr. The sequence is so bad and so long that it’s practically unriffable; there’s just nothing else you can say after the first few minutes of Deep Hurting in the sandstorm. As for the rest, the episode is a bit up and down—I like Alan Steel as Herc more than the sleepy Reg Park in Hercules and the Captive Women, but there are too many palace scenes full of dialog that goes nowhere and not enough Herc smashing stuff. However: I have to give it points for one of my favorite MST3k stingers ever, with the old man who randomly gets impaled by a spike trap while trying to lead Hercules to freedom. It’s so unexpected and sudden that it cracks me up every single time.

131. Ep. 513, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, 1959

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Luke. Join me, or you’ll star in Corvette Summer.”

After 86 classic episodes (plus the KTMA material), MST3k bid a tearful farewell to Joel in Mitchell, but the show was left in some very capable hands. Stepping into the hot seat was of course the wonderful Mike Nelson, who had already been with the group as head writer ever since the beginning of the Comedy Channel days. His first experiment fits almost flawlessly into the usual flow of MST3k, which is pretty damn impressive considering that he’d never done the in-theater segments before. I love the way the bots run him through “bad movie training” in the first segment, directly referencing Night of the Lepus and future episode The Beast of Yucca Flats, which I’ve already referenced as one of the most painful films they ever tackle. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, on the other hand, is more conventional (although plenty silly) B movie about a woman who is decapitated in a car crash and then kept alive by her mad scientist boyfriend, who searches for a new body to sew her onto. It’s a dark, fairly ugly movie with extremely cheap sets, but Mike’s presence puts the crew into an upbeat, energetic state that contrasts nicely with it. I particularly enjoy the crew’s riffs on the nondescript backgrounds present in various close-ups, which have the look of throwing characters into empty pocket dimensions.

130. Ep. 613, The Sinister Urge, 1960, /w Keeping Clean and Neat

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Jeez, you could shave with her voice.”

Poor old Ed Wood. It’s interesting that MST3k never tackled his most famous creation, Plan 9 From Outer Space, but they did provide the best possible format to watch Bride of the Monster, The Violent Years and this film, which was Wood’s last “mainstream” movie, before his descent into quasi-porn. It was made in the time period after the spectacular failure of Plan 9, when the enthusiastic but naive Wood was sliding into alcoholism and depression, and that certainly shows on screen. Regardless, it might technically be his “best” film, in the sense that the story at least makes sense. Taking inspiration from Psycho (it even highlights the word in the poster), it’s the story of a homicidal sleazeball who works for a pornographer and starts offing the female talent. Highlights of riffing are the non-emoting cop known as “KLINE!”, and the tortured voice of smut-wrangler Gloria, which are both running gags. Overall, a solid episode, but I place the other Ed Woodian efforts just a bit higher.

129. Ep. 318, Star Force: Fugitive Alien II, 1978

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “I just love the whole incoherent Mighty Jack quality of this film.”

Our second unintelligible journey into the world of Rocky and Ken, Star Force: Fugitive Alien II is a pretty serious mess of a non-movie, what Dr. F refers to as “biting down on a double-edged razor blade.” Any time the episode consists of several TV show segments cut together into a “feature film,” you know you’re in for a wild ride. In this case, it comes courtesy of Sandy Frank, famously cited by MST3k as “the source of all our pain,” so you know we’re in good hands right from the get-go. The riffing of this would-be sequel tends to revolve around the difficulty of grasping what exactly is happening in the sci-fi story, although I do also love the reality they establish centered around Captain Joe and his untreated alcoholism—plus Servo’s unrelated Jim Backus impression, because the ship is apparently named the “Backus 3.” Overall, the episode doesn’t have quite the same sizzle as the first Fugitive Alien, especially because it’s lacking the “tried to kill me with a forklift” running gag, but it still holds up admirably on its own thanks to some silly, breezy riffing.

128. Ep. 909, Gorgo, 1961

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Ooh, I didn’t know elephants exploded on impact.”

A lot of MSTies have fond memories of the Godzilla films, but in comparison, the British knock-off Gorgo can’t quite manage to stand up alongside them … even if Leonard Maltin is willing to put in a good word for it. There’s just no way that a giant monster movie in the vein of Gorgo should be able to be this boring … it’s as if it inherited the stuffy British DNA of The Projected Man. At least the Japanese films are colorfully silly; Gorgo is just dour in nearly every scene that isn’t the monster smashing London. There are lots of jokes about the British Isles, and especially the cuisine of Ireland, and many jokes at the expense of the carnival owner “Dorkin,” who puts Gorgo on display just as in King Kong. The highlight for me is the “Waiting for Gorgo” host segment, a playlet by the gang that pokes fun at the dourness and self-seriousness of the production. They just seemingly can’t help themselves—it must be a British thing.

127. Ep. 616, Racket Girls, 1951, /w Are You Ready for Marriage?

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: The amazing “Vietnam flashback” riff while Sue stares off into space.

Racket Girls is another perfect example of an episode I hardly know how to rate, because it begs the question: How much is a world-class short worth to the overall ranking? If we were only watching this slow, tedious film (about women pro wrestlers!), the ranking would undoubtedly be even lower, except for one huge factor: Are You Ready for Marriage? This is one of the very best shorts in MST3k history, revolving around the timeless love affair of Larry and Sue, whose rock-solid foundation is sure to last clear on through high school and into a long and productive marriage. It has everything that tends to make the ‘50s-era instructional videos side-splitting, from the dopey earnesty to kids who are so profoundly stupid (and blindingly white) that they inadvertently reveal how little respect the writers/producers had for their own audience. Racket Girls, meanwhile, is a wrestling/crime saga that just draaaags itself along, and that’s coming from someone who loves pro wrestling. Mike and the Bots do what they can, but the main course is forgettable. Watch it for the amazing short.

126. Ep. 515, Wild, Wild World of Batwoman, 1966, /w Cheating

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Geez, this kid could freak out Jamey Gumb.”

Another tough episode to rate, for the same reasons as the preceding Racket Girls—very painful movie (albeit with moments of greatness), coupled with a classic short. I love the hell out of Cheating, which lectures its audience on the deadly serious consequences of glancing at your neighbor’s exam with all the gravitas and darkness of an Ingmar Bergman film—it is so portentous and heavy for a relatively minor offense that it can’t help but become hilarious in the hands of Mike and the Bots. The feature, meanwhile, is a thick slab of camp that attempts to capitalize on the similarly silly Batman: The Movie and fails horrendously. It’s one of those episodes where the inherent silliness, i.e. the Batwoman costume and all the half-nude frolicking, may seem side-splitting at first and then gradually become tortuous over the course of 70 minutes. I do like that they continue to address the differences between Mike and Joel in the film’s early moments, as Mike flouts the rules in such a way that makes Servo refer to him as “some kind of maverick,” but the episode can’t really keep up its momentum. I can only assume that by the time Servo is screaming at the movie to “ENDDD!!! END!!!”, he was speaking for everyone involved in the taping.

125. Ep. 520, Radar Secret Service, 1950, /w Last Clear Chance

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Your attention, please. You will love radar. Give yourself up to it freely.”

Both the feature and the short in this episode beg the question: “But why, and who thought this was necessary?” The short is predicated upon the idea that motorists really need to be shown a narrative about the dangers of crossing train tracks in their vehicles, and the “grisly results” of carelessness. All well and good, but has a film forcibly shown to high school drivers or people in court-mandated defensive driving courses ever had any actual IMPACT on a driver? It seems doubtful. Radar Secret Service, meanwhile, plays like a government-sponsored advertisement for the wonders of RADAR, which in this film is capable of practically any feat—although Servo does note that it can’t “look into a man’s heart.” It reminds me of the “G-men” style of films that arose as federally sanctioned alternatives to the mobster fare of the ‘30s and ‘40s, full of car chases and praise for the Christ-like sanctity of almighty radar. If you like your films and riffs to be dry, cynical and encased in a stuffy governmental shell, then Radar Secret Service is the episode for you.

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124. Ep. 802, The Leech Woman, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “A woman made entirely of gravy skin.”

It’s hard to believe The Leech Woman was made in 1960—it feels more like a mid-‘40s Poverty Row horror film. That’s not to say it’s terrible—I actually think there’s a rather decent movie at the heart of this episode, even if it is somewhat mean spirited and callous. It follows a jerk of a doctor who travels to Africa so he can learn the secret of how the natives stay eternally youthful. Spoilers: Leech women are involved, and the amazing powers of leech-hood soon seduce the doctor’s aging wife. I get a kick out of how her so-called transformation is portrayed—after becoming “youthful and beautiful” again, she essentially looks the exact same as she did before. The riffing has fun with the deplorable amount of stock footage used throughout the “African” sequences, and the host segments acquaint us a bit better with The Nanites, those semi-recurring cast members who are all too easy to forget during the Sci Fi Channel era.

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123. Ep. 605, Colossus and the Headhunters, 605

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “They washed up at a Klingon language camp.”

What do you do, when you want to make a Hercules movie, but your potential Herc just isn’t beefy enough? Well, you simply call him “Colossus” and surround him with shrimpier extras, of course. At least that was the solution here, in a film that feels like the red-headed stepchild of all the other Hercules movies featured on MST3k. The actual name of the hero is “Maciste,” which is pronounced more or less like “My Cheese Steak,” which suffice to say does not go unnoticed by the SOL crew. It all lends itself to solid, but perhaps laid-back riffing that pokes fun at the headhunters and the all-encompassing lack of charisma possessed by My Cheese Steak. This episode ends up being equally memorable for the running thread in the host segments, in which Dr. F creates a bizarrely adorable ball of pink fur named “Nummy Muffin Coocool Butter” as part of a plan to distract the world with the creature’s cuteness while he conquers it unchallenged. Watching the myriad reactions of each cast member to the irresistible force of nature that is Nummy Muffin Coocool Butter is a hoot.

122. Ep. 1107, The Land That Time Forgot, 1975

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Old Ahmski’s makin’ Encino Man look like Niles Crane.”

This is another one of those season 11 episodes where you find yourself wondering “Is this film too competent for MST3K?”—at least for the first half. The British/German submarine drama that unfolds for the first 45 minutes or so simply doesn’t provide the crew with that much material, aside from the amusing (and deadly) initial commandeering of the submarine by the Brits. You get the sense that the MST3K writers hoped that Doug McClure would be a perpetual running joke, but he’s almost always more blandly boring than he is amusing. However, things pick up pretty substantially once we reach the titular Land that Time Forgot; especially in the way that the submarine crew abducts and then immediately turns one of the local cavemen, “Ahm,” into their Man Friday. In general this is an episode that starts slow but then erupts in an unexpectedly violent, loony conclusion. There aren’t many moments in the entire season funnier than Ahm being carried away in the jaws of a Pteranodon while Doug McClure looks on uselessly. Enjoyable bits include the subtle reference to Friday the 13th’s trademark “ki ki ki mah mah mah” sound effects while gazing into the forest, or Servo’s description of a group of heavily bearded cavemen: “It’s Crosby, Crosby, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.”

121. Ep. 516, Alien From L.A., 1988

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Look, your dad’s not responsible for everything that happens in the world!”

If voices could kill! One viewing of Alien From L.A. is all it takes to see why Kathy Ireland was a supermodel who appeared in magazine spreads, rather than feature films. Holy god, her squeaky, squirrel-like voice is irritating—she sounds like the silent film star in Singin’ in the Rain who needs to be dubbed in order to not offend the audience of the “talkies.” It’s a shame, because Alien From L.A. has a pretty fun, cheesy sci-fi action premise, involving an H.G. Wells-style trip to a civilization beneath the surface of the Earth. It’s hard not to laugh at the gorgeous Ireland being portrayed as a “nerdy” or somehow unattractive until she undergoes a ‘90s-style teen makeover montage: “Take off your glasses! Hey, you’re beautiful!” Also enjoyable: The Mad’s invention exchange, the “Vend-A-Gut,” which dispenses human organs such as livers for those in need. All in all, Alien From L.A. feels like an episode where slight tweaks, especially in the case of Ireland’s abhorrent voice, could have made a big difference in the rankings. But if I never have to hear her again, it will be entirely too soon.

120. Ep. 310, Fugitive Alien, 1978

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “What I expect from you is total obedience!” Servo: “...if that’s okay with you.”

Of the two Fugitive Alien entries, you have to give a slight edge to the first, if only for being the source for one classic joke. MSTies will know that joke arises when someone tries to bump off our hero Ken by running him over with … a forklift! Thus, the persistent “he tried to kill me with a forklift!” theme that recurs in various iterations throughout the rest of the episode, which gives Joel and the Bots a whole lot of mileage. This one also features Ken’s love interest “Rita,” who naturally stirs up “meter maid” and other Beatles references from the riffers, who are always game for musically inclined pop culture references. Like the second Fugitive Alien episode, it’s all over the place and it’s difficult to tell what the hell is going on thanks to the final product being multiple TV episodes stitched together, but it’s not too painful if you’re willing to completely unplug yourself from plot and focus on that doofus Ken and his adventures in and around forklifts.

119. Ep. 421, Monster A-Go-Go, 1965, /w Circus on Ice

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: While examining the obviously too small space capsule: “Douglas was pear-shaped, very short and stood the whole way.”

Legitimately one of the worst films ever made, Monster A-Go-Go can boast of featuring what might be the worst ending in monster movie history at the very least. It’s just really, really hard to beat “...and suddenly … there was no monster! There never was a monster,” in terms of sheer lameness. Created from an unfinished horror film with additional scenes tacked on, it’s so cheap that one scene actually features a man forced to make a telephone noise with his lips before picking up the prop phone. The film is presented with one of the more grating shorts of the Joel era, “Circus on Ice,” which actually brings the ranking down a little bit for me. The riffing and sketches, though, are solid, focusing on its next-level cheapness, shoddy production design and complete absence of continuity. I also love the invention exchange of the Mads in this one: The “Johnny Longtorso” action figure, with all limbs sold separately! All in all, though, it’s difficult for even solid riffing to overcome the overwhelming pain of this pieced-together dreck and its horrendous audio track in particular. Good riffing, but a challenging film to enjoy.

118. Ep. 304, Gamera vs. Barugon, 1966

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “It’s our punishment for wanting so much wealth.” Servo: “So what’s going to happen to Donald Trump?” (Seriously, this is a joke from 1991)

Wow, is this really our first Gamera movie on the list? Well, get used to it, because there’s going to be a whole lot more of them in the near future. Some people associate MST3k with Godzilla because they tackled a few of the Showa-era films, but Gamera is the real giant monster mascot of MST3k, as the show featured no fewer than 5 of them, all in season 3. They tend to blend together into one jumbled memory, full of giant monsters and shrill Japanese children in upsettingly small short pants … although this one is free from that particular annoyance. Barugon himself is one of the stranger monsters in this series, as his two primary modes of attack are to either smack you with his tongue or shoot explosive RAINBOWS in your general direction. Oddest about this entry is that there just isn’t very much Gamera in it, for a Gamera film, which hurts its ranking just a tad.

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117. Ep. 1103, The Time Travelers, 1964

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “I’m actually traveling through time, at a rate of one hour per hour.”

This is about the point in the season 11 rankings when we start taking some big steps forward in terms of quality. Like The Land That Time Forgot, The Time Travelers is more competent than your typical MST3K fare, although it has a bit more of a campy ‘60s sci-fi streak running through it that makes it slightly more interesting to watch. We’re following a crew of surprisingly horny scientists—I like the elder statesman, with his Mephistopheles beard that Gypsy compares to “Rip Torn as Dr. Strange”—and their lab tech/janitor/resident idiot Danny as they accidentally end up in Earth’s terrible future, where a small community of future scientists and their disturbingly mouthless androids attempt to escape a doomed planet before being overwhelmed by gangs of marauding mutants. If you’re thinking that sounds like a plot that would have come out looking way cooler in 1987 than 1964, then you’re right. For the most part the film is blandly watchable and boring, replete with expected time traveling references to Back to the Future and Quantum Leap, but you’ll chuckle at the crew’s repeated heckling of the Dropo-esque Danny, who happily volunteers himself as a guinea pig for dangerous experiments throughout while lusting after future women. The ending ratchets up the WTF factor considerably, rocketing our protagonists past their intended destination and into a mystery utopia—but it’s okay, because as Crow points out, the future still has “PONIES!”

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116. Ep. 504, Secret Agent Super Dragon, 1966

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Do not worship false eyelashes.”

MST3k features its share of vintage Euro-spy movies, from Operation Double 007 to Diabolik to Agent for H.A.R.M., but Secret Agent Super Dragon is an episode with a slightly lower profile. That might be because the characters are somewhat less memorable, but that doesn’t actually hurt the quality of the film itself—it’s a semi-competent, colorful, easy watch, at least by MST3k standards. The riffers enjoy the “smoothness” and smirking smugness of the titular hero, and the film gives them a lot of material by providing a truly silly villain plot that revolves around secretly lacing chewing gum with an addictive substance, like something out of a ‘50s era Batman comic. Also memorable is Joel’s uncharacteristically angry reaction to being presented with an annoying “atomic-powered robot” toy in the first host segment. Who wouldn’t want a robot toy that loudly proclaims “Give my best wishes to everybody!” every five seconds?

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115. Ep. 614, San Francisco International, 1970

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: As a priest adjusts a jaunty fedora: “...and that’s why the savior is a tramp, yeah!”

There’s something about San Francisco International that feels profoundly un-MST3k … perhaps because it’s the rare film you can’t pigeonhole into any MST3k-appropriate genre, but regardless, it helps this episode stand out in a strange way. It’s actually a “TV movie” of sorts, being the feature-length pilot episode of a TV show about the misadventures of an airport/flight tower staff. The entire thing is a relentless barrage of wacky subplots—in this one film, you have a hoax involving runway conditions, a team of criminals trying to pull off a huge heist, and a young boy who steals a plane off the runway for reasons involving his divorced parents. There’s so much going on the entire time that Mike and the Bots can barely keep up, spinning riffs about the ineffectual and smarmy airport staff and the uninspiring facial features of our leads. The film is in color, but it’s that washed-out, earth-toney form of ‘70s TV, and absolutely everything is a shade of yellow, tan and brown. Or to quote Servo: “Even the sky is brown in this movie.”

114. Ep. 811, Parts: The Clonus Horror, 1979

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “This scene was lit by an Indiglo watch.”

Parts: The Clonus Horror can qualify as one of only a couple of times when a movie shown on MST3k was actually ripped off by a future film—in this case, 2005’s The Island with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, which more or less stole it wholesale to the point that they were successfully sued by the Clonus writers. But in short: Community of clones who are used as body parts for the societal elite find out their purpose and revolt. The film is yet another opportunity in the MST3k timeline for Crow to break out his well-honed Peter Graves impersonation, not missing a beat in the transition from Trace to Bill Corbett, and they naturally trample all over the legacy of the Biography host, who plays a corrupt politician endorsing clone hijinks. There’s very little actual “horror” to be had here, as the film is more of a mystery/suspense picture, but I’d just like to add that the Barbara Walters-esque soft focus/bright lights makes me feel like I have cataracts every time I watch it.

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113. Ep. 906, The Space Children, 1958, /w Century 21 Calling

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “We brought you a nondescript B actor just as you asked, oh powerful jelly brain.”

This is a weird little ‘50s sci-fi yarn, and one that I suppose thought it had a valuable lesson to teach us all about the perils of nuclear war. Like a dime store version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, it’s about aliens that come to Earth in the form of giant balls of goo/brains and then use their powers to take over the minds of children and sabotage scientists who are working on weapons of mass destruction. The episode is notable for a veritable menagerie of guest stars—Jackie Coogan, Mr. Drysdale from The Beverly Hillbillies and even The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, who is playing amusingly and melodramatically against type as an abusive, drunken father. Mike and the Bots zero in on the kids in particular, questioning why one of them repeatedly manifests “a Flemish accent.” The short, meanwhile, is a solid if not spectacular trip to the Seattle World’s Fair, where we marvel at the wonder of telephone machines. Did you know that they can be used to place calls to other telephones???

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112. Ep. 912, The Screaming Skull, 1957, /w Gumby Robot Rumpus

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow: “It’s like they have two servings of tension that they’re trying to stretch out for seven people.”

Now you’ll know, the next time it comes up at trivia: “Did Mystery Science Theater ever feature a Gumby short?” The answer of course is “Yes, Robot Rumpus,” and man is it some weird, wild stuff; one of the only animated sequences to ever appear on the show. The feature film, meanwhile, has a serious, almost Universal horror-like tone, and honestly is more or less competent despite offering the gimmick of “free burial services” to anyone who dies of fright while watching. It’s about a neurotic, anxious woman who moves to a crumbling manor house with her new husband, only to suspect that she’s being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. The highlight is “Mickey,” the antisocial and bumbling gardener, who was actually played by the film’s director! It’s a very low-key film, sort of a low-rent version of The Innocents, but Mike and the Bots make it eminently watchable by ripping on Mickey and the complete lack of marital passion between the utterly wooden newlyweds.

111. Ep. 206, Ring of Terror, 1962, /w The Phantom Creeps, Part 3

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Crow as a professor: “Ah ha, oh to be 40 again.”

Dear god, this film is dark, and I mean “dark” as in “you cannot see anything in this film.” It’s an absolute testament to the strength of the writers that they somehow got a pretty good episode out of Ring of Terror, because watching it makes you feel like the rods and cones of your eyes have gone seriously askew. The story concerns a “young” medical student who died of fright while getting caught up in some macabre hazing rituals, and much of the humor is derived from the fact that this guy and his friends are nowhere in the ballpark of “young.” In fact, protagonist George E. Mather was 42 YEARS OLD when this film was released, and he’s playing a college student, so Joel and the Bots naturally rip into him with jokes about his physical well-being and grey hair. In an odd inversion, the Phantom Creeps short is actually shown at the END of this episode instead of the beginning, which I personally think really messes up the flow of the episode. The last thing you want after surviving a film the quality of Ring of Terror is to be presented with some bonus Phantom Creeps.

110. Ep. 308, Gamera vs. Gyaos, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: As Gamera stuffs a reporter in his mouth: “Welcome to this week’s edition of Eat the Press.”

Gamera vs. Gyaos (sometimes also spelled “Gaos”) is a pretty perfect summation of the entire Gamera series in general: Monster vs. Monster, Gamera is “friend to children” despite the fact that he regularly destroys entire cities, and it features a very precocious, very annoying child running around like a chicken with his head cut off throughout. Check, check and check. The monster this time is Gyaos, a recurring Gamera enemy that can’t quite seem to decide if it’s a giant bat or pterodactyl, but either way: Laser breath. Much of the riffing and humor is derived from the resident lumpy child Eichii, who Joel and the Bots naturally rename “Itchy.” It’s middle-of-the-road as far as the Gamera series is concerned, with too many scenes of boring adults conversing in board rooms about how to deal with the monsters, but I must give it massive props for the brilliant “Gameradammerung” opera play on words. Inspired.

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109. Ep. 213, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, 1966

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Character: “All we can do now is wait for lightning!” Servo: “Or Godot, whoever shows up first.”

The Godzilla films on MST3k always bring the cheesy fun you hunger for, and this one is no exception. It’s another one of those episodes that might have been even better if it came along in a later season when the riffing had sharpened further, but the film is pretty damn funny all on its own. “Ebirah” is the titular sea monster, nothing more than a giant lobster with a penchant for hurling rubbery boulders at our hero, Big G. There are terrorists, other giant monsters, including what I believe is supposed to be a huge condor, and even a Mothra appearance to cap everything off. The human portions of the story, of course, are as endlessly dull as they tend to be in any Godzilla movie, which brings the riffing down a little bit with it. Still, I sort of love this episode for the “Godzilla Genealogy Bop” song, a bass-driven ode to the monster’s curious (and fictional) family tree, which includes the likes of Ron Perlman and Steve Gutenberg.

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108. Ep. 1105, The Beast of Hollow Mountain, 1956

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I came here to kick butt and chew bubblegum, and bubblegum hasn’t been invented yet!”

No movie in season 11 has more whiplash-inducing tonal swings than The Beast of Hollow Mountain, or a more insane reveal than suddenly sticking a T-Rex into a Mexican cattle ranching drama after more than an hour of pointless meandering has elapsed. Beyond the hilarity of that reveal, everything you need to know about this movie’s miscalculations can be perfectly summed up by the Mexican laborer comic relief character: An alcoholic who needs to be cared for by his young son because he drinks to forget the tragic passing of his wife. Uproarious! Where else do you get to play a grieving, alcoholic single father for laughs? Says Jonah: “So this is what became of the Most Interesting Man in the World.” Immediately after, we get one of this season’s better call-backs to a oft-cited MST3K running joke, “Jim Henson’s Magnum P.I. Babies,” in reference to one of the Mexican kids and his oddly anachronistic Hawaiian shirt. Many jests are subsequently directed at the wiggly-tongued dinosaur throughout the final 15 minutes, but I really cracked up at the supremely unexpected reference to the doggedly persistent paperboy from 1985’s Better off Dead: “I want my two dollars!”

107. Ep. 818, Devil Doll, 1964

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “We have a permit to film in the hallway, and dammit, we’re gonna use it.”

A dark, grimy, truly meanspirited film, Devil Doll assaults the senses with a general vibe that everyone involved with the production wanted nothing but terrible things for the unfortunate souls sitting in the audience. It’s just an angry, pissed-off movie that takes a Twilight Zone-esque premise about a ventriloquist and his possibly living doll and fills it with crankiness. It’s both hilarious and disconcertingly awkward the way The Great Vorelli taunts and abuses his doll in the course of his act, but it leads to howlingly funny riffs about “Hugo” the doll’s desires for booze and especially ham. The host segments, meanwhile, feature the return of the devilish Pitch from the Mexican Santa Claus film in episode 521, who turns Servo into a garish-looking, living Toaster Strudel for the entire final segment of the episode. The riffing in general is very strong in this one; it’s only the movie’s ugliness and taxing nature that brings it down a bit in the rankings.

106. Ep. 316, Gamera vs. Zigra, 1971

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I don’t think you should have a paunch, when you’re six.”

Our quest into the heart of Gamera Country continues with Gamera vs. Zigra. This one bears more than a little resemblance to Gamera vs. Gyaos, except instead of a flying monster, this one is aquatic, and brought to Earth by a race of easily defeatable aliens whose craft looks a bit like a bowl full of jelly beans. The scenes with Gamera fighting Zigra and the ones featuring not one but TWO nosy children (it’s always kids, in the Gamera films) are the movie’s highlights, whereas the interminable sequences inside the submarine remind one uncomfortably of the worst bits of Mighty Jack, which gets referenced by name. I got a kick out of some of the clever, dirtier humor, as when Joel observes that “Gamera’s never seen a mohel” when he repeatedly retracts his head into his shell. Pretty cheeky, Mr. Robinson.

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105. Ep. 1005, Blood Waters of Dr. Z, 1971

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “This movie was the winner of the Cannes Palme d’Huh? award”

Blood Waters is a pug-fugly slice of monster movie, all dull, earthy colors and poorly articulated fish-man suits. I love the central mad scientist character, who manages to surmise that turning himself into a fish monster will somehow aid him in “ruling the world” down the line—this seems profoundly unlikely, if you ask me. The film opens with some hilarious narration from said scientist on “Sargassum, the weed of deceit,” which becomes a running gag throughout. I love Crow’s parody of that narration in the first host segment, using a Bill Corbett voice that sounds suspiciously similar to Krankor from Prince of Space. The film actually reminds one a bit of The Creeping Terror in terms of its technical incompetence and cheap, rushed feeling—that, or a particularly bad episode of original series Star Trek, because the fish monster looks quite a bit like the Gorn battling Kirk during the final confrontation with this film’s sheriff. It definitely ranks among the worse monster costumes in MST3k history.

104. Ep. 501, Warrior of the Lost World, 1983

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: When first seeing Robert Ginty: “He looks like he’s had some Novocain.”

There might not be a more purely punchable face in MST3k history than that of Warrior of the Lost World star Robert Ginty. The star of TV’s The Paper Chase, as is repeatedly referenced in the film, he just has a permanent expression of boredom that makes you want to clobber him. I’m sorry! But it’s true. The makeup of this film—post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-style action flick with Donald Pleasence and Fred Williamson—makes it sound like supreme MST3k material, but the results are only good rather than superb, likely because the film is so dull, fuzzy and unengaging. It does have some very high points, though—particularly the arrival of MEGAWEAPON, the all-out assault dump truck with which the Bots become immediately infatuated. It might be the only time in MST3k history that a “visitor” to the SOL is an inanimate object, but I think we can all agree with Tom that Megaweapon is “a real class act.” That, and it’s always fun to see Donald Pleasence ham it up in his signature manner.

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103. Ep. 602, Invasion U.S.A., 1952, /w A Date With Your Family

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Just keep coming down until you’re not in the sky any more, don’t you know how to land?!?”

Another entry in the “terrible movie, great short” canon, it’s hard to know what to do with Invasion U.S.A.. The episode is a dull, dreary war movie that isn’t nearly as fun as you’d expect a Soviet invasion of the U.S.A. to be—especially one that turns out to be a mass hallucination brought on by hypnotism in the end! The jokes sputter a little bit, but at least it’s not Red Zone Cuba or something. On the other hand, A Date With Your Family happens to be one of the greatest shorts in MST3k history, and reason enough to put on this episode all on its own. A “seething cauldron of angst” and societal snubbing around the dinner table, it’s packed with one brilliant riff after another detailing the familial strife of Father, Mother, Brother, Sister and Junior. There’s Brother, who has “a tight psychological grip” on Junior, and “runs a boy-cleaning service on the side.” There’s Mother, who makes sure to adequately butter the salad. And of course there’s Father, the patriarch in charge of making sure Junior doesn’t experience any unnecessary feelings, because “emotions are for ethnic people.” It’s one of the funniest 10 minutes in the entire run of the show.

102. Ep. 208, Lost Continent, 1951

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: Character: “Let’s take a 15-minute break.” Servo: “But keep the cameras rolling!”

ROCK CLIMBING, folks. Lost Continent feels like an important moment in MST3k development, perhaps the first time in the show when Joel and the Bots were challenged with a sequence so painful that it drove them nearly to the brink, in much the same way as the “deep hurting” sandstorm from Hercules Against the Moon Men. This time, though, it’s interminable, never-ending ROCK CLIMBING segments in a cheesy sci-fi film about a team of scientists exploring a prehistoric planet. The cast is a who’s-who of MST3k regulars, from Leave it to Beaver’s Hugh Beaumont to Sid “little monkey boy” Melton, all of whom are thoroughly (and rightfully) dismissed by the crew. Monkey Boy is eventually savaged by a stop-motion dinosaur, but good luck remembering anything other than the 30 minutes of ROCK CLIMBING afterward. I do love the sketch at the end of the episode, where a resigned Joel gives a lecture on how producer Robert Lippert discovered the concept of film padding in this movie via “mind-numbingly excessive mountain climbing scenes.” Your appreciation for the episode will very much depend on how funny you find the ROCK CLIMBING material.

101. Ep. 510, The Painted Hills, 1951, /w Body Care and Grooming

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Narrator: “Ah, spring …” Crow: “Filthy, shameful spring.”

Did you know that MST3k once did a Lassie movie? Because they totally did a Lassie movie, only he goes by “Shep” in this one. It’s a humdrum, overly wholesome film that tends to get under my skin and irritate me for some reason—I think it’s the washed-out colors and annoying child’s voice. The story revolves around gold prospectors, one of whom owns Lassie, but he’s then betrayed and killed by his partner after striking it rich. Lassie must then avenge his master’s death and protect a young kid, in true Lassie fashion. The jokes at the expense of Jonathan, the grizzled old prospector archetype, are pretty solid, but the true star of the show in this episode is the short, Body Care and Grooming. Another classic ‘50s educational video in the mold of Are You Ready for Marriage?, it’s loaded with one side-splitting riff after another. At one point, the condescending narrator looks a woman up and down and says “You’re not exactly the type to make this guy behave like a human being.” It’s absolutely outrageous misogyny on display, which makes for superlative riffing.

100. Ep. 302, Gamera, 1965

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “It has the power to convert organic material to inorganic material.” Joel: “Like McDonald’s?”

The giant turtle flick that started them all, it’s the very first appearance of Gamera, friend to all children. Well, maybe not ALL children—as usual in this one he seems to have no particular aversion to destroying cities that are presumably filled with children, but he does form a friendship of some kind with the turtle-obsessed and possibly deranged tyke known as Kenny. Their weird relationship, with Kenny constantly apologizing for and defending Gamera’s monsterism, inspires a bulk of the riffing. The episode is the source of so many Gamera call-backs that follow, including the Gamera theme song (“Gamera is really neat, Gamera is filled with meat, we’ve been eating Gamera!”) that gets fleshed out more significantly in the sequels to follow. As with Gojira, the Japanese original is a little bit more serious and heavy handed than the more colorful sequels, but even so, it’s very silly stuff. The government actually succeeds in sending the giant turtle away on a rocket to Mars at the end, but obviously this doesn’t manage to keep him away from Earth for long. Pet turtle Tibby is not so lucky, to Tom’s great dismay.

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99. Ep. 905, The Deadly Bees, 1966

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “The flashback is as long as the movie should have been.”

Stuffy and exceedingly British, The Deadly Bees is slow and dull, but at least looks crisp and is easily understood, which helps in cognition/understanding the riffs. It’s about a pop singer who escapes into the countryside for “relaxation” and just so happens to end up near a scientist who is experimenting with days to corral his honeybee hives … to kill! There are portions that drag a bit, contrasted with hilarious segments that hinge on weird bits of British dialog. The scene after the old woman asks if a protagonist has “seen the dog’s meat” is a riot. But by far my favorite thing about The Deadly Bees is the film’s closing moments, when an unknown British gentleman in a bowler hat strides slowly up toward the screen while carnival-like pipe music plays and the SOL crew slowly freaks out. It’s one of the weirdest film endings I’ve ever seen, and the reactions of the riffers are golden. As Crow says: “Alright, start smoochin’ movie, what the hell is this?” Or Tom: “So, is there a credit that says ‘Guy at the end’?”

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98. Ep. 420, The Human Duplicators, 1965

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Consolidated Film Industries, a subsidiary of ConHugeCo!”

The first appearance of “Jaws” himself, Richard Kiel, who also played the title character of Eegah in the better-known episode of the same name. The 7-foot actor plays an alien named Kolos here, who comes to Earth in order to create a bunch of android pod people to replace prominent Earthlings. The riffers can’t help but zero in on him, doing spiffy impressions of his inhumanly deep, gravelly voice throughout. The terrible special effects are particularly amusing as well—one wonders how the “duplicated” folks could possibly have been expected to blend into society when any feather touch will cave in their plaster skulls. Also in the movie: Hugh Beaumont, who appears in The Mole People and famously in Lost Continent. Mike makes a cameo in a side-splitting host segment as a particularly pissed-off, aging version of Beaumont/Ward Cleaver, who has clearly turned bitter with age. Random observation: Mike appears in considerably more sketches in the Joel era than I ever realized. For five seasons, he was probably their most valuable bit-player before he became host.

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97. Ep. 1007, Track of the Moon Beast, 1976

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Mike, as police officers stare blankly into space: “Things sure are happening over in that direction.”

Try this opening on for size: A scientist is hit in the head by a tiny bit of meteor, which lodges in his skull. Perhaps it’s a film about his slow path to recovery and growth as a person as he confronts ableism? Nope! Instead, the chunk of space rock in his noggin somehow makes him transform into a killer lizard-man—but only when the moon is full, because sure, why not? It’s a bit of an ugly picture, but you’ve got to love the supporting characters, especially the native American known as “Johnny Longbow.” That’s his actual name in the film, not a pet name given to him by Mike and the Bots. Much fun is had at the expense of Johnny Longbow’s infamous “stew,” and at the inanity of a plot where it’s eventually revealed that unchecked monsterism will eventually cause the protagonist to explode. Plus, there’s the classic host segment wherein Mike examines the pseudo history of the film’s “band that played ‘California Lady’” in the style of a VH1 Behind the Music episode, detailing the destruction of “the fish-lipped guy,” “the eskimo” and “the friendly-lookin’ backup singer.”

96. Ep. 408, Hercules Unchained, 1959

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Hardly any animals were hurt in the making of this film.”

Steeve Reeves, greatest of the Hercs! Or at least he’s my favorite of the Hercs, anyway. This movie is a meandering tale, akin to Hercules and the Captive Women in the sense that it’s a little hard to know what the hell is going on most of the time. Herc is tricked into drinking from the “waters of forgetfulness,” and promptly forgets who he is and why he’s stronger than all other mortal men. Jokes revolve around typical sources of humor—bathmat loin cloths, incomprehensible plotting and the general lack of intelligence in every incarnation of Hercules. I get a kick out of the Bots pestering Joel for more information on Herc’s sex life, only for a sheepish Joel to insist that he’s only “visiting” the nice woman who brainwashed him to “tell secrets.” Also appearing: Mike again, perfectly playing a musclebound, reminiscing Steve Reeves who pines for the good old days of wearing a loin cloth and drinking cheap Italian wine.

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95. Ep. 320, The Unearthly, /w Posture Pals and Appreciating Our Parents

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: John Carradine: “Dr. Ivan’s told me a great deal about you.” Joel: “And what he didn’t tell me, the photos will reveal.”

A painfully cheap, blue-tinted morass of failed horror, that’s the world of The Unearthly. Still, I can’t deny the positives: Tor Johnson, John Carradine and not one but two solid shorts. Both Posture Pals and Appreciating Our Parents receive A+ riffings, cynically picking apart the conformist pressures of ‘50s-era elementary school and home life. They’re not afraid to go dark, as in the jokes about the boy who stands crooked, “just like his Dad on a Friday night.” Meanwhile, The Unearthly is slow and ugly as sin, but I can’t resist the excellent Tor impersonations in particular. This is an actor who legitimately delivers lines like “Time for go to bed,” so no potential riff dialog is too silly to put in his mouth, from “Tor make bundt cake” to “Would you like to see the dessert tray?” Kevin Murphy in particular absolutely nails the deep but breathless way that Tor speaks. Any time he’s on screen, the episodes becomes extremely entertaining, even if it’s slow in other moments. Also, Crow’s priceless riff: “My Dinner With Andre had more locations than this movie!”

94. Ep. 807, Terror From the Year 5000, 1958

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Filmed in glorious black, and … slightly less black!”

A somewhat underrated episode that I’ve rarely seen mentioned, Terror From the Year 5000 combines a fairly competent ‘50s sci-fi premise with some sharp riffing. I actually think the idea is sort of cool—a scientist creates a time portal of sorts and then makes some very basic contact with the “year 5000” by sending through and receiving trinkets and artifacts. His betraying, impatient assistant, on the other hand, brings through a being from that era, and the titular “terror” begins, turning the film into more of a monster movie. There’s some great dialog riffing between the scientist and his bitter secretary, but things really kick into high gear once we get a look at the monster. It’s another one of the worst monster costumes ever featured on MST3k—basically a small woman with a pinched face, wearing a diving suit that is covered with rhinestones. Or as Crow says, “She comes from the planet of highway shoulder markers.”

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93. Ep. 422 The Day the Earth Froze, 1959, /w Here Comes the Circus

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “It’s Thomas Edison, with his electric child!”

Not to be confused with The Day the Earth Stood Still, this is The Day the Earth Froze! This is the first entry on the list from MST3k’s so-called Russo-Finnish fantasy film cycle, which also includes the likes of Jack Frost and The Sword and the Dragon. As a group, they tend to be quite colorful, easy to watch, goofy and occasionally nightmare-inducing, showcasing the somewhat bizarre sensibilities of a foreign entertainment market that we as Americans know next to nothing about. The Day the Earth Froze draws upon Finnish mythology and fairy tales to spin a zany story about the sun being stolen out of the sky by a wicked witch. The characters are broad and cartoonish, and Joel and the Bots seem to revel in their naivete and innocence, and the quest for the “SAMPO!” But wait, there’s more! We also get an excellent invention exchange of “martial arts snacks,” including the Chuck Norris-inspired “Octogobstopper,” and a great short, Here Comes the Circus, that has much in common with another one of the show’s best, Johnny at the Fair. Joel lambasts the bots throughout for getting “too dark” in their humor, but naturally he can’t resist joining in by the end.

92. Ep. 307, Daddy-O, 1958, /w Alphabet Antics

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “It doesn’t matter how slow I go; I’ll catch him. See, my son is the editor.”

There’s a whole lot of MST3k episodes that feel front-loaded and tend to sort of peter out by the end, but Daddy-O is one of the rare ones that seems more like the reverse—it gets stronger as it goes on. The Alphabet Antics short is a little simplistic, but the movie is pretty amusing, about a greasy musician/fast car-driver who gets roped into solving a mystery and making some drug runs for the mob. The villains in this episode are fantastic: You’ve got an “enforcer” tough guy in coke bottle glasses whose vision is so bad that he can’t even drive himself, and meanwhile his boss, the portly Bruno Ve Sota, inspires a running gag of “butter”-related riffs that just get funnier and funnier over time. There’s also some solid sketch work, including the “Hike Up Your Pants” song, but the most unique thing in the episode is the very end, when “the button” breaks in Deep 13. Try as they might to end the episode, Frank and Dr. F keep re-starting the end credits over and over and over. It’s a very unique, unexpected gag, even if you’ve been watching the show for years.

91. Ep. 902, The Phantom Planet, 1961

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Well maybe if they didn’t disguise the planet as a chicken nugget, the dogs wouldn’t attack it.”

I always think of this kind of black-and-white spacefaring yarn as the archetypal sort of movie that was riffed during the Joel era of MST3k, but there’s a few in this vein among the Mike episodes as well. The Phantom Planet is both silly and introspective; it takes itself considerably more seriously than anyone in the audience could possibly have matched. The tone is immediately set by the dopey astronaut who waxes poetic that “the wisest and best is to fix our attention on the good and beautiful,” which is a vintage MST3k line in its earnest badness. Campy special effects hold us over during the rocketry scenes, until eventually we meet a race of tiny aliens who are having problems with another race of aliens, who you know are evil because they look like humpbacked dog monsters. There’s typical romantic entanglements with silk-garbed “alien” women, and it’s all in good fun. Highlight: Anything involving the “combat rod,” a wishbone-shaped stick that the aliens use to compete in inane gladiatorial games.

90. Ep. 423, Bride of the Monster, 1955, /w Hired! Part 1

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “You know, this is Bela’s best scene, and he’s not even in it!”

Ed Wood, huzzah! The best known Wood film featured on MST3k was this immediate precursor to Plan 9, Bride of the Monster. As in Plan 9, the film features the legendary, weathered presence of Bela Lugosi, this time as a mad scientist, plus the bumbly, rumbly visage of Tor Johnson. Oh, the conversations that Ed and Tor must have enjoyed! It’s a low-rent horror film about Lugosi experimenting on people in an attempt to give them “the strength of 20 men,” but things predictably go wrong. The acting is atrocious, full of weirdo Ed Wood character actors, which gives Joel and the Bots plenty of ammunition. I particularly love the scene at the end when Lugosi becomes a superpowered atomic mutant, and he’s clearly being played by a different actor in huge platform shoes to make him taller. There’s also a short, the entertaining ode to car salesmanship known as Hired! Part 1. It’s not quite as side-splitting as Part 2 is, but it’s still a minor classic in its own right.

89. Ep. 511, Gunslinger, 1956

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Character: “The good die first.” Servo: “But most people are morally ambiguous, which explains our random dying patterns.”

Honestly one of the better films featured on MST3k, Gunslinger comes out of Roger Corman’s prolific ‘50s era, when he was churning out low-budget (but generally watchable) popcorn genre flicks. It stars one of his regulars, the tough Beverly Garland, who is made a temporary marshal after her husband, the previous marshal, is killed. Bruno Ve Sota plays exactly the same kind of portly sleazeball that he was in Daddy-O—talk about typecasting. Joel and the Bots cleverly seize upon the impossible geography and physics of Corman’s makeshift little Western town, pointing out the physical impossibilities of certain characters walking off screen and just appearing in a different location instantaneously. It all inspires a spectacular host segment wherein Servo, always the most intellectual member of the riffing crew, explains to the others how it all works: “We simply observe the apparent relative state of a John Ireland in one place, while in actuality he co-existed in the objective vector state. You just exist in one observable region in phase space, and then realign your point of origin!” Simple!

88. Ep. 522, Teen-Age Crime Wave, 1955

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: When seeing a room full of cigarette butts: “Holy cow, did you have Rod Serling over?”

The thing that always stands out to me about Teen-Age Crime Wave isn’t so much the film, but how great all the host segments are. Sure, the film is quite solid, a melodramatic “teens in trouble” flick in the vein of Teen-Age Strangler or High School Big Shot, and it receives a thorough riffing. But every one of the sketches is memorable, and indicative of the wilder, more high-energy tone that came into the show after Mike became the host. Frank knocks it out of the park in the first segment, howling in pain when he’s sprayed with Dr. F’s “Mace Mousse” invention. We also get a salute to the “doughy men” of the ‘30s-‘50s, and their powers to inhale beef, alcohol and space on the screen, along with a great “deli” sketch that sees Mike and the Bots opening a restaurant with plenty of in-joke entrees: “Miles O’Beefe,” “Split Pia Zadora Soup,” “Sid Tuna Melton” and the “Manos Ham of Fate Reuben.” MST3k is a show defined by the in-theater segments, but Teen-Age Crime Wave is one of those episodes you should watch just to appreciate the brilliance of its puppetry and perfectly cast performers.

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87. Ep. 620, Danger!! Death Ray, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “They really have captured the grandeur of pasty white guys walking in herds.”

Look, if you’re going to make a movie about a death ray, you might want to think of a more plausible origin for said device than a scientist who created a DEATH RAY for “peaceful purposes only.” Regardless, it’s a pretty hilarious concept for a spy thriller, and I adore the sketch lampooning the “peaceful purposes” death ray in particular, which ignites Crow’s ping pong eyeballs in spectacular fashion. The film itself is something of an impenetrable fog, but it features some very catchy, amusing theme music and more European mustaches than you can shake a stick at. There are just some weird faces in there—including the guy who Mike describes as “if Michael Caine and Andre the Giant had a child.” The crew is also extremely amused by the toy helicopters and submarines that this movie guilelessly attempts to substitute for the real thing. It’s better than Mighty Jack-level prop works, but not by much. As Mike says: “Ah, the ocean’s beautiful in this part of the tub.” And from Crow: “Special effects by Billy!”

86. Ep. 803, The Mole People, 1956

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “This is easy archaeology; people just bring you stuff!”

You’ve got to love the excitement factor of a science fiction movie that is introduced by a “professor of English” who drones on and on about discredited 1800s “hollow Earth” theories and gestures incessantly. Thus is our weird introduction to The Mole People, a Mike-era film that is suggested far earlier in MST3k continuity by the presence of mole people “Jerry and Sylvia” as servants/helpers of Dr. F and Frank back in the earlier seasons in Deep 13. Clearly, the Best Brains crew was already familiar with this particular story. It’s your standard “explorers blunder into a new, dangerous world” story, but the characters are what make it memorable. There’s irritatingly bland John Agar, returning from Revenge of the Creature and Women of the Prehistoric Planet, but the best is Nestor Paiva as the character who is quickly dubbed “The Load” by Mike and the Bots for his zero sum contributions to the group’s well-being. His complete and total helplessness is a source of consistent amusement, and he seems to exist only to weight everyone else down. Says Mike: “Geez, they’re only keeping this guy so they can hollow him out and crawl inside when he dies.”

85. Ep. 1112, Carnival Magic, 1981

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Al Adamson is the name Alan Smithee uses when he doesn’t want his name on a film.”

Carnival Magic is quite easily the worst and most completely inexplicable film of season 11, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It doesn’t receive the strongest riffing of these new episodes, but man—what a truly bizarre film this is. The “deep hurting” quotient is higher here than it is anywhere else, in a tale of a rinky-dink carnival that is saved from the brink of collapse by a cut-rate magician’s talking chimpanzee act. Sounds like some sort of lighthearted comedy, right? Nope! The movie veers in a completely different direction than any sane screenwriter would possibly recommend, into a den of sleaze, sex and the threat of vivisection for our talking ape friend, Alexander. The choice of how to portray the chimp’s vocalizations—grunted out in barely legible sentence fragments, rather than the witty banter that any audience member would be correct to expect—is a mystery to which there is no reasonable answer. Regardless, Jonah and the Bots satirize it with a sparkling host segment that expounds on Alexander’s “ordinary, unimpressive small talk,” which from Crow amounts to “Mmm, looks like rain,” and “My ankle’s sore.” The riffers don’t quite fully capitalize on the deepness of Carnival Magic’s unique sense of ennui, but they do beautifully call attention to the pathetic police officer squatting on top of his own police cruiser while a tow truck drives it down the road, so there is that. Says Jonah: “I know it’s wrong to hate an animal, but I’m in a sort of Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny emotional quagmire with this chimp.”

84. Ep. 502, Hercules, 1958

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “And there’s the constellation Feces, just below Taurus.”

Oddly enough, the very first of the Hercules movies made was the last of the series watched by the SOL crew, but it makes for the best overall episode. As in Hercules Unchained, it stars the massive Steeve Reeves, Mightiest of the Hercs, with special effects and cinematography by legendary Italian giallo maestro Mario Bava, which goes a long way in also making it the most purely entertaining film in the series. It’s a mish-mash of Greek myth, combining Herc’s story with that of Jason and the Argonauts as they hunt for the Golden Fleece. The riffs swirl around in a typical melange of quips about big, oily musclemen, wrestling and the doddering old senior citizens who cater to them. I particularly enjoyed the riffs comparing the vain, easily frightened Thetus, to Tom Jones throughout. The total abject devotion of all the other men toward Hercules is naturally hilarious.

83. Ep. 309, The Amazing Colossal Man, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “No man is a Three Mile Island.”

The Amazing Colossal Man is truly the kind of movie that gave birth to the MST3k concept. It’s a earnest but very silly slice of atomic age cheesiness and Cold War paranoia, with a title character who is iconic in the ‘50s sci-fi genre in his own right. It’s a film that could only be the product of Mr. BIG, Bert I. Gordon, with his everlasting passion for Things That Are Large. Glenn Manning is a great protagonist for MST3k because he’s so very sullen, confused and pissed off about the physical changes he’s experiencing after exposure to radiation. And really, who could blame him when all he has to wear for the film’s entire conclusion is a giant cloth diaper? It really takes any sense of fear out of the spectacle of the 60-foot Glenn Manning when all you can worry about is whether his dirty diaper is going to stay secure. The highlight is one of the crowning moments in silly ‘50s science fiction; the development, presentation and use of the “giant syringe” the size of a bassoon to prick Glenn in the ankle and stop his incessant growth. Truly, one of the great, underrated film props in sci-fi history.

82. Ep. 1108, The Loves of Hercules, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Do you realize how much duct tape it’s going to take for us to repair that hydra?”

I wasn’t really expecting to love this episode—the Hercules films of the original MST3K were never exactly my favorite, and the fandom’s reaction to The Loves of Hercules seems pretty divisive—but I found myself pleasantly surprised with its earnest stupidity. Nepotism plays a major part, as it gives us bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, the husband of female lead/dress protruder Jayne Mansfield, as a particularly chunk-headed Herc who struggles to lift moderately sized objects and makes you pine for the good old days of Steve Reeves. His thick Hungarian accent and puppy dog determination to give a respectable dramatic performance are made only funnier by the fact that the impetus of the whole story is how he’s immediately on the prowl for attractive women after his wife is murdered in the opening moments. The SOL crew lambast the cheapness of production (“an international cast of nearly 25 extras!”) and Herc’s utter lack of concern for his dead wife, as soon as he spies Mansfield. There’s some clever film references as well—when a bull charges at Mansfield, Jonah quips “Russ Meyer presents Ferdinand the Bull as you’ve never seen him!”, simultaneously evoking Meyer’s penchant for Mansfield-esque buxom women and the children’s story of Ferdinand, which was memorably recounted to Tor Johnson in MST3K episode The Unearthly. The thing I’ll really remember about Loves of Hercules is the ending sequence, though—simultaneously one of the weirdest and funniest things from the new season, as the crew begins to shrilly sing/mimic the chorus present during the closing credits and then carries on that sustained note through the entire final host segment. Simple joke, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

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81. Ep. 1013, Danger: Diabolik, 1968

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “I hurl my skinniness at you!”

I just referred to Mario Bava a couple entries ago, and here’s the only film the classic Italian giallo and horror director ever helmed that was featured on MST3k. It also happens to be historically important because this is MST3k’s final episode, which gives us Mike & the Bots’ descent to Earth and eventual resettling in the Midwest, where they continue to watch MST3k movies like The Crawling Eyeon the couch—a fairly satisfying conclusion, I think. The film is a colorful, ‘60s-style Euro spy caper, starring a returning MST3k presence in John Phillip Law, who iconically played the villain “Kalgan” in Space Mutiny. Here, he’s the suave super spy Diabolik, who is a bit like Robin Hood, if Robin never managed to get around to the “give to the poor” part of his mission. The film is entertaining enough all on its own; it’s hard not to appreciate the technicolor splendor and absurd costuming, especially on Diabolik’s “futuristic” race car suits, or campy elements like his use of “exhilarating gas” and “anti-exhilarating gas capsules.” Although this episode is ultimately more important for its fallout, the movie receives a solid farewell riffing.

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80. Ep. 319, War of the Colossal Beast, 1958, /w Mr. B. Natural

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “That hurt, I’m all messed up inside; if only an androgynous man would come visit me.”

A solid film, with a legendary short in the form of the inestimable Mr. B. Natural. Our movie is the half-baked sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man—turns out that Col. Glen Manning survived his plunge off the Hoover Dam and somehow ended up down in Mexico without anyone noticing a 60-foot man passing by. There, he’s content to be disfigured, live in the desert, continue wearing diaper shorts and make very irritating grunting sounds every five seconds. It’s close to the first film in quality, but forget about War of the Colossal Beast and let’s talk about Mr. B! Oh my, what a short this is. “Knew your father, I did,” says the androgynous “Mr.” B by way of introduction, as the “spirit of music” visits young Buzz, who is having trouble fitting in and generally not being despised by the kids at school. What follows is one of the trippiest, most twisted trips down the rabbit hole in the MST3k library, as the spritely Mr. B dances, cavorts and generally makes everyone feel extremely uncomfortable while teaching Buzz to play the trumpet. We get lessons on trumpet manufacture, introversion, substance abuse—you name it! Everyone needs to see Mr. B. Natural.

79. Ep. 317, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, 1957, /w The Home Economics Story

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Sorry about the costume. Corman’s poodle died, and he doesn’t like to waste anything.”

This film once held the dubious honor of “longest film title ever,” until it was usurped by fellow MST3k entry, Incredibly Strange Creatures, and a few more since. Still, quite a mouthful from Roger Corman, who imagined a big budget action epic and then made the fairly dull Viking Women instead. The riffing is a bit Hercules-esque, with the historically motivated jokes landing more often than they thud. Host segments, meanwhile, are very unique on this episode, experimenting with taking the concept of a running joke to its theoretical zenith, via … waffles? Yes, waffles—every sketch and host segment in this episode is wall-to-wall with waffles, in the silliest ways possible, because you should “consider the waffle as a fine and suitable alternative to stuffing or potatoes.” It gives us Crow as Willy the Waffle, “the wonderful, whimsical, wise-cracking waffle” which is a fascinating call-forward reference to the short film A Case of Spring Fever, which wouldn’t actually be featured on MST3k until the second-to-last episode ever, Squirm. Also in the mix: An unusually long but entertaining short, The Home Economics Story, which is almost like a mini-feature in praise of ‘50s domestic conformity. It’s a weirdly segmented but fun episode.

78. Ep. 322, Master Ninja 1, 1984

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Gerbil.”

When any episode’s “film” is constructed from two TV show episodes crudely stapled together, you know you’re in for a disjointed ride. Such it is with both Master Ninja entries, which are so alike that I’ve simply listed them in order here. Both come from multiple episodes of the 1984 NBC action-adventure The Master, which unsurprisingly was canceled after a single season. Both star weathered spaghetti western star Lee Van Cleef as the titular “Master,” and an unbearably bland Timothy Van Patten as his padawan learner, driving around in a van with a gerbil, fighting bad guys. Master Ninja 1 is probably the slower of the two, but it does have the unusual honor of featuring a young Demi Moore in a fairly prominent role. The best portions are those featuring ninja movie veteran Sho Kosugi as Van Cleef’s nemesis, Okasa, as well as the hilarious Van Patten Project sketch, wherein Crow explains how the entire entertainment industry has been infiltrated by the Van Pattens, led by patriarch “Don Dick Van Vito Patten Corleone.” His evil plan: “To place an annoyingly bad actor, preferably one of his own hellish drop, in every B-grade, made-for-TV and low-budget film in Hollywood!”

77. Ep. 324, Master Ninja 2, 1984

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “I stopped believing in causes.” Joel: “Now I just believe in effects.”

The gerbil gets even more screen time and quips in this so-called “sequel” to the first Master Ninja episode—in reality, simply two more episodes of The Master that have been unceremoniously dumped into a film. As I described above, the two episodes tend to blend together in my mind, but I give a slight edge on the riffing to Master Ninja 2. We don’t get any young Demi Moore this time around, but that’s more than made up for by the presence of the worst James Bond of them all, George Lazenby. The premise of the first sequence—which sees the master/padawan duo helping a country girl organize a union to oppose some greedy warehouse owners—is especially hilarious to me when you consider this is supposed to be the plot of a ninjitsu action program. The second is a bit more in line with what you’d expect, involving the foiling of terrorist kidnappers. I love the host segment where the SOL crew shows off their own fantasy Mystery Machine detective vans, especially the Gypsy-Mobile that is filled with—what else—“150 Richard Basehart ventriloquist dummies stacked like cordwood.” Rock on, Gyps.

76. Ep. 311, It Conquered the World, 1956, /w Snow Thrills

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Honey, would you get that crow out of the fridge? I’m going to make them eat it now.”

A cheap sci-fi monster film, even by Roger Corman standards, everything about It Conquered the World screams “We threw this together in a week.” Luckily, this is one of those times where the slapdash execution of the film is much more of a plus to the finished episode than a negative. The design of the creature from Venus—my god, what a mess this thing is, which Joel refers to at one point as a “safety cone gone horribly wrong.” I love the way it’s practically immobile, perhaps even more so than say, The Creeping Terror. There’s literally no way that it should be capable of being a threat to ANYONE; a small child would have no difficulty avoiding “IT.” The film stars Beverly Garland, our Corman heroine from Gunslinger, along with the ever-hilarious Peter Graves, who is prone to pointless philosophical babble, much like the co-pilot in Phantom Planet. His “deep” ending soliloquy is parodied mercilessly through the final host segments and even during the ending credits instead of the normal theme music. This kind of film is basically just cinematic pablum, it’s easy to swallow and digest, and mildly entertaining because of its inherent silliness and stupidity. The short, Snow Thrills, is a bit less memorable than most, although the crew’s confusion over “ski joring” is amusing.

75. Ep. 508, Operation Double 007, 1967

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “A spy movie is starting to sag, and Ed Asner is there!”

Did you know that Sean Connery has a brother who was also an actor? No? Well, watch Operation Double 007, and the reasons for that will become abundantly clear. Also known as Operation Kid Brother, the film is a campy, tongue-in-cheek parody of the more famous Connery brother’s iconic spy series, and one that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The film does at least deliver on the “goofy villain” front, which inspires a great host segment wherein Joel parodies the villain’s odd smoking jacket fashion and general sleaziness. There’s plenty of other great riffs that reference iconic moments in the Bond franchise, but my favorite thing in the episode is the second host segment that sees Joel and the Bots charting the parallel careers of Sean and Neil Connery. Example: “Here, Sean calls the most powerful and influential people in Hollywood and is put through immediately. While Neil calls Pizza Hut and is told they won’t deliver to him because of bounced checks.”

74. Ep. 505, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, 1952

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I can’t tell if that’s a Magritte, or a hole in the wall.”

The scariest laughing horse this side of MST3k’s Santa Claus episode belongs to the one in The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, and it’s indicative of what a bizarre, dreamlike film this truly is. Originally titled Sadko, it’s another entry in the show’s “Russo-Finnish fantasy” cycle, and is just as weird as the likes of The Sword & The Dragon or The Day the Earth Froze. Seafaring fantasy is the name of the game, but it’s suffused in a fog of dreamy un-reality that is unique, even among the Russo-Finnish movies. Sinbad is hilariously, stupidly naive and upbeat, assuming that he can find and return the “bird of happiness” to solve his homeland’s various problems. Joel and the Bots have fun with it—they always seem to love the really silly, earnest movies—and they especially zero in on the bear-fighting scene, and on the hoards of rotund, long-bearded merchants constantly giving Sadko the business. The only spots where it lags a bit are in the occasional visits to the underwater kingdom, which are so aggressively absurd that they give off the vibe of an irritating children’s educational TV show. Still, from start to finish, Sinbad is an utterly unique, fever dream of an episode that stands very much on its own. Also: The Mads’ “chinderwear” invention exchange (for chin butts) is undoubtedly a series classic.

73. Ep. 705, Escape 2000, 1983

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “So the hero of our movie has to go hire another hero?”

It’s the film that gave new meaning to the phrase “Leave the Bronx!” A fuzzy, ‘70s-looking (but ‘80s-born) sci-fi action movie that cribs part of its aesthetic from The Warriors and part from Logan’s Run, Escape 2000 has the inherently crooked form of weirdness that only being cheaply made in Italy can provide. As a powerful, evil corporation tries to remove street gangs, elderly people and gutter folk from the Bronx via persuasion (and then incineration), they’re opposed by people with bizarre names such as “Strike,” “Trash” and “Dablone,” which Mike and the Bots immediately change to “Toblerone.” Then again, this is also a movie where Henry Silva’s garish, melting face is attached to the title of “Floyd Wangler,” so apparently anything goes in Italian B-movie nomenclature. Jokes fly fast and freely, mocking the obvious Italian settings that are meant to approximate the streets of New York, and the particularly egregious, dingy “punk” costume designs. Host segments are more of a mixed bag; I must say that the earlier Pearl material with her constantly whining at “CLAYTON!” can be rather grating. Thankfully, Mary Jo settled into the role as chief Mad much more effectively in season 8 and onward.

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72. Ep. 817, The Horror of Party Beach, 1964

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “The monster immediately gets up and puts on his copy of Metal Machine Music.”

This episode didn’t seem particularly riotous to me when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me considerably on repeat viewings. You can’t go wrong with what is probably the dumbest-looking monster in MST3k history, complete with a mouth full of loose hot dogs. The teens in Horror of Party Beach are typical of the dumb, 30-something kids also seen in the likes of Catalina Caper, but these ones are a special kind of stupid. I loved their sandy rumble fight scene, which features actors being thrown into other actors and flipped like cheerleaders as projectile weapons—as Mike says, “You have defeated me sir, you and your noble band of choreographers.” And then you’ve got the coven of feminist folk-singers attacked by the monsters, which inspires such gems as “Every male of any species has the biological urge to panty-raid.” By the time the monsters are finally defeated by the awesome power of SODIUM!, despite being saltwater in origin, it’s shaped up into a darn good episode.

71. Ep. 806, The Undead, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I’ve never known more about what isn’t going on in a movie.”

I really am a sucker for almost any slice of prime, vintage Cormanism, and The Undead is no exception. It’s a better overall film than say, It Conquered the World or Night of the Blood Beast, and at least attempts a medieval time period, with the sort of hilariously cheap, shoddy results (and accents) you’d expect and hope for in a 10-day Roger Corman film shoot. The story bears some resemblance to both The She-Creature and I Was a Teenage Werewolf, revolving around hypnotism and how it’s somehow able to get in touch with “past lives” and employ some form of ill-explained time travel. Regardless: Woman gets hypnotized, ends up in the past and is put on trial for witchcraft. The Observer-packed host segments are on the forgettable side (except for Mike zoning out in the intro, which is great), meaning that The Undead is one of those episodes where the in-theater portions really determine its final rating. The riffing may be an acquired taste, as the audience is made to put up with a whole lot of bad “ye olde English” dialog, but if you can put up with a metric ton of “thou arts,” it’s a good time. Mike and the Bots particularly enjoy the clueless antics of the portly gravedigger “Smolkin” and his depressing folk songs, and the literal appearance of a cackling, overacting, pitchfork-clutching Satan.

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70. Ep. 312, Gamera vs. Guiron, 1969

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Crow, as a little Asian girl: “I’ll show her, I’m gonna grow up to break up the Beatles!”

The Gamera movies are all nuts, but this one is pretty easily the zaniest of all of them, and I also think that helps make it the best. Guiron … what a monster he is. He’s basically a giant, living machete whose entire face is a giant, razor-sharp blade. And woah, does he use that blade with gusto, slicing apart a poor Gyaos like he’s preparing sushi. It’s an almost disarmingly visceral bit of violence for a kids’ Gamera movie—it makes you realize that despite these movies being all about giant monsters fighting each other, you rarely see one that is mercilessly brutalized and killed, with small children watching (and looking hilariously unimpressed) the entire time. It’s just filled with one classically silly moment after another, from Gamera swinging on the uneven parallel bars to the beautiful, brain-eating alien women. But maybe the biggest laughs come as a result of a very poorly written conversation filled with “hellos” and “thank yous!” that Joel and the Bots satirize brilliantly. This sequence is quintessential MST3k.

69. Ep. 700, MST3k: The Movie, 1996

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Then I ram my ovipositor down your throat and lay my eggs in your chest, but I’m NOT an alien!”

Much has been written about the troubled production and awkward marketing/release of the only MST3k feature film in 1996, so I won’t go further into it here—suffice to say, things didn’t go quite as intended, and the format was ultimately more conducive to the small screen where it began. But that doesn’t mean The Movie isn’t a fun watch; on the contrary, it may be one of the best episodes to use for introducing someone to the series. It neatly reestablishes the basic relationship between Mads and SOL inhabitants, and throws a softball of a movie for them to lay into. This Island Earth is definitely a step or two up the quality scale from typical MST3k fare, but this simply makes it a breezy watch that still offers plenty for the riffers to call upon. The poorly disguised aliens with their massive foreheads are hilarious, as is the iconic, brain-throbbing design of the “Metaluna mutant,” which is occasionally included as an oft-forgotten entry in the Universal Monsters hall of fame. It all comes together during the fabulous montage scene of our stuffy scientist heroes assembling their “interocitor,” with Mike and the Bots rattling off one zinger after another. Also, an odd trivia factoid: At 75 minutes, this “feature film” is actually considerably shorter than an average episode of MST3k.

68. Ep. 816, Prince of Space, 1958

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Empirical data suggests the accuracy of my earlier contention that your weapons against me are without merit, haha!”

What is it with Japanese kaiju and tokusatsu (special effects/superhero) genre movies and kids with upsettingly small shorts? WHAT IS THE CONNECTION?!? Regardless, Prince of Space is another trip back to Japan, with more children protagonists who are big fans of the title character, an undercover boot-shiner who moonlights as the rocket-piloting Prince of Space to defend Earth from the squawking chicken men of planet Krankor. Our villain, who is ALSO called Krankor, is an immediate highlight, combining outlandish costuming with stilted dubbing and an unforgettable wheezing style of laughter. In general, this is one of those episodes where Mike and the Bots come out like a house on fire, with tons of laugh-out-loud riffs in the first half of the episode that focus on the dumb kids and especially on the hero and villain’s constant, repeated catchphrases, ‘ala “Your weapons have no effect on me!” However, as the episode goes on, the repeated journeys back and forth between Earth and the villain’s planet begin to wear thin and get tedious, and the riffing slows down a bit as a result. Still, the first half of Prince of Space is among the crew’s strongest work, and the episode is still packed with memorable lines. We like it very much!

67. Ep. 618, High School Big Shot, 1959, /w Out of This World

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Now, let’s take a look at the lighter side of wholesale bread delivery!”

This is one dark movie, and I mean that both literally and tonally … but especially tonally. It may be one of the most depressing films ever featured on MST3k, which is certainly saying something. Poor Marvin is simply a loser; there’s no other way to say it. Everything he does is an immediate disaster, and that includes his attraction to a delinquent girl who gets him tangled up in the world of organized crime. Soon, poor Marvin is in way over his head, and his pathetic, alcoholic father is no help at all. My favorite moment: Tom gets carried away during the “ferry boarding” scene and refuses to stop singing “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” so Mike launches him across the theater, noting that “it had to be done.” The episode comes bundled with a truly surreal short, Out of This World, which bears some resemblance to Once Upon a Honeymoon … except it’s about wholesale bread salesmen being guided and tempted by angels and demons. It’s a sublime, dreamlike examination of boring sales minutia, presented in a mode that is so colorfully campy that it’s practically a built-in oxymoron. And at 20 minutes, it’s impossibly long for the pedantic “salesmen need to work hard” message.

66. Ep. 1205, Killer Fish, 1979

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She looks like every Barbie in a Goodwill toy bundle.”

None of the season 12 episodes really deserve to occupy a sole “last place” position; nor is there a standout that is notably below the others in quality, so this ultimately comes down to which of the films was simply the least memorable on its own, and that is definitely Killer Fish. For a film with such a pulpy, exploitative type of title, this one is primarily just a bore—a yawner of a ‘70s heist drama that plays out like Oceans 11 might have if George Clooney had double-crossed all his partners by filling the Bellagio with flying piranha. Every action in Killer Fish is dragged out to twice the necessary length, while long portions feel like they consist entirely of the gang of stranded thieves smirking at each other.

The riffers don’t quite capitalize on the lack of inertia, but there are some amazing solo riffs, like Crow’s disgust at the leering sleazebag’s laughter: “Ugh, I wonder how they spelled ‘nyeghehehe’ in the script.” There’s a fine running joke about Universal Studios rides, and I very much appreciate the deep horror geek reference to Trilogy of Terror when the guys see actress Karen Black: “You just know there’s a Zuni fetish doll with a knife hiding behind that door, right?” They even try for a unique, Gypsy-fronted, in-theater musical number during the boredom of the scuba diving scene, which is more or less pulled off—but the repeated visits by Growler to the theater afterward eventually start to feel a little forced. The best stuff in the episode comes in fits and spurts, but line of the night goes to Servo during the host segment, when he appears as the ultimate “killer fish,” which he describes as “an octopus, doing cartwheels, holding razor blades.”

Bonus: Killer Fish contains my favorite actor cameo of season 12 in the form of Roy Brocksmith, who you would recognize as the histrionic psychologist in Total Recall.

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65. Ep. 624, Samson vs. The Vampire Women, 1962

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “He’s got a full acre of area!”

This episode gives us an excellent film for the riffing, but at the same time it’s dominated by the
sad departure of TV’s Frank from MST3k. Frank Conniff is a giant personality, both as a writer and an on-screen presence, who perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy between cynicism and playful naiveté/good-heartedness that was unique to MST3k. Cause of death? Well it’s not entirely clear, but it seems to be that he simply ate too much Chinese food, in typical Frank fashion. He’s escorted into Second Banana Heaven by the radiant specter of “Torgo the White,” to a place where “all the lackies, toadies and sidekicks are free from their oppressors.” But to circle back to the film: The hilarity of Samson vs. The Vampire Women goes a long way toward easing the pain of Frank’s departure. It’s one of the many luchador/superhero movies made by Mexican icon El Santo, who becomes “Samson” in the English dub, and is curiously absent from the proceedings for the first 45 minutes of the movie. Seriously, the hero basically isn’t in the movie until the halfway point, but oh what an entrance he eventually makes, getting a hysterical cackle out of Crow. Rather than the luchadore, though, most of the memorable riffs are hurled toward the passionless female protagonist, the ineffectual Mexican police and of course the ancient, leathery vampire women. Still, I’ll always remember this episode for Frank, and for Dr. F singing “Who Shall I Kill?” in tribute.

64. Ep. 514, Teen-Age Strangler, 1964, /w Is This Love?

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow, as Mikey: “The Amish kids beat me up again!”

In the movie tagline hall of fame, it’s tough to beat Teen-Age Strangler: “A caress … an embrace … then DEFILEMENT AND DEATH! Budding young teenie-boppers were this Bluebeard’s prey.” It’s another crime film of the “juvenile delinquency”-obsessed ‘60s, but what sets this one apart are the characters and the legendarily over the top performances. Good lord, there’s some acting in this movie that would make John Waters blush with embarrassment, particularly from the sniveling, greasy-haired kid “Mikey,” who instantly is catapulted into the weirdo MST3k hall of fame. Seriously, for a film with a fairly simple premise, Teen-Age Strangler is bizarre on every level, from characters who read their lines straight to the camera to the “Yipes Stripes” musical number. The short is almost as good, although not quite as great as the similar Are You Ready for Marriage? I love the jokes about the apparently advanced age of the protagonist’s college roommate, who is alternatingly compared to a senior citizen and a Romulan, thanks to weird, straight-edged eyebrows that look exactly like a backslash. Everything about this episode is gleefully weird.

63. Ep. 1109, Yongary: Monster From the Deep, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I gotta tell you, I didn’t see this coming. Did Werner Herzog slip in and direct this last scene?”

There’s no shortage of monster movies in season 11, but Yongary strikes me as the best and most balanced of them, without the dragging sections one finds in Reptilicus or the delayed arrival of the monster in Beast of Hollow Mountain. Much was made of comparing Reptilicus in particular to the Gamera movies when it was the first episode of this season released to the press, but it’s Yongary that far more accurately channels that classic Gamera vibe, despite being South Korean rather than Japanese. You know you’re in for a good time from the moment that you meet the film’s resident Monster Movie Kid, Icho, who is lying in wait in the middle of nowhere with an experimental ray gun, which he uses to torment his newly married sister and her husband for no particular reason. A little boy, named “Icho,” who possesses a gun that makes people violently itch and scratch? That’s some prime MST3K material right there, as when Icho sees a new device and wonders “What is this machine, and how can I use it to hurt people?” Yongary, meanwhile, is a tunneling, horned take on Godzilla who feeds on gasoline and has one hell of a hard time ambling from point A to point B in his restrictive monster suit. He has got to be the most uncoordinated, least graceful kaiju in cinema history, which leads to tons of joking about his spastic movements: “One last macarena before I die!” But it’s Yongary’s convoluted, dramatic death throes that really seal the deal—it’s hard to accurately convey how disturbing it is to watch the great beast, twitching in a pool of water and bleeding out, while the heroes smile and laugh and celebrate his destruction. It is grim as all get out.

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62. Ep. 810, The Giant Spider Invasion, 1975

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “You know, they’re poor only in money … and spirit, and dignity, and moral fiber, and hygiene.”

PACKERS WIN THE SUPER BOWL! Packers! Woo! Oh, what a greasy, country-fried monster movie this is—almost on the same level as Boggy Creek 2, except its Wisconsin equivalent. Every single character is actively unappealing, but also hypnotic in a “where the hell did they find these people?” sort of way. The characters and setting definitely put Mike and the Bots into a “Midwestern” frame of mind, and they spend the majority of the episode absolutely savaging every aspect of the upper Midwest and Wisconsin in particular. Every time we see crowds running in terror, it’s because of PACKERS! The “giant spider,” meanwhile is as cheap as cheap can be. Rather than using a ‘50s-era rear projection method, as used in films such as The Giant Gila Monster, the filmmakers instead decided to build a big spider prop onto the platform of grandpa’s four-door sedan. You can literally see the tires rolling underneath the giant spider at times! Riffs go after the rotund Skipper, Alan Hale Jr., who plays the bumbling town sheriff who is entirely too amused by his own jokes, and especially after poor Ev, the pathetic alcoholic who enjoys “fermented Yoo-hoo,” according to Crow, who also simply adds that “this movie hates us.” How could you possibly be rooting for anyone but the giant spider? Bonus Bride of the Monster call-back in the end, when they blow the thing up: “I guess someone tampered in God’s domain or something.”

61. Ep. 306, Time of the Apes, 1974

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Any more gasping, and they’re going to run out of air in this room.”

I know we didn’t include KTMA episodes in this ranking, but if you ever want a clear illustration of the show’s evolution from Minneapolis local TV to when it was hitting its stride on The Comedy Channel, Time of the Apes is the perfect example. It’s amazing how much tighter and better written the show has become in the space of a few years, filling in the blank spaces and dead air from KTMA ep. 17 with pithy jokes and insightful observations. Our film is another bizarre Japanese TV-show-turned-feature-film, brought to us by Sandy Frank, the same man responsible for getting all of the Gamera movies dubbed. In this sense, he’s sort of a hero of MST3k for the films he provided, but that doesn’t stop the SOL crew from hilariously dubbing him “the source of all our pain” in the show-ending Sandy Frank song. Joel’s crazed, rubber-limbed dancing is a definite highlight here—if there’s one thing you can say about him as a performer, it’s that Joel is never, ever afraid to completely embrace the silliness. I also love the bit when Joel and the Bots get up and exit the theater during one of the film’s many false endings, only to return after realizing (to their great chagrin) that the movie is still going. Riffing is loose and conversational, pointing out the absurdity and great variety of the Japanese ape man costumes and especially having fun with little Johnny, who is told by his mother “Johnny, don’t go, it’s too dangerous!”, only to reply with a cheerful “I don’t care!” A classic MST3k moment.

60. Ep. 1011, Horrors of Spider Island, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “From Los Angeles, they take off from New York, to go to Singapore.”

I don’t know if it’s more accurate to say that this film features a “were-spider” or a literal “spider-man,” but it certainly does, and then some. You’ve got to love the equally lazy and stupid premise: A sleazeball nightclub promoter hires a bunch of dancers to fly with him to “dance in Singapore,” but their plane just so happens to crash within swimming range of Big Spider Island. When the sleazeball gets bitten, he soon transforms into Man-Spider, Defiler of Cabaret Dancers. A whole lot of jokes are thrown in his direction both before and after the transformation, targeting his general undesirability and prominent “Torgo area” in particular. In terms of tone, the film actually reminds me of a more articulate, lucid take on The Killer Shrews—same island, different monsters, but at least you can hear what people are saying, which helps considerably. The extended scenes of the girls arguing in the island cabin can be a little grating, but Mike and the Bots roll ably with the punches … until Servo faints during one of the many girl fights, that is.

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59. Ep. 913, Quest of the Delta Knights, 1993

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Leonardo barely escaped being called ‘Leonardo da Gary Indiana.’”

Trying to shoot a “renn-looking” movie? Why not just film at a renaissance fair then, right? Huzzah! That’s what the folks who made Quest of the Delta Knights did, and you can believe me when I say that it didn’t inadvertently add any extra production value. This strange fantasy adventure inexplicably stars actor David Warner in three different roles—as a protagonist, as the villain and as the narrator, for no apparent reason. It’s notable for MST3k fans as being the only time that Pearl sets foot in the theater, mirroring the time Dr. F and Frank do a little riffing in Last of the Wild Horses. Her first segment of the film goes okay, but she doesn’t have quite the same natural rapport with the Bots as Mike. However, the absurdity of the film quickly ramps up into high gear when Mike returns, especially during the tree village sequences. In particular, the tree-dweller who won’t stop screaming “I AM COMING!” during the comical treehouse chase sequence made me laugh so hard it hurt. I love how scattershot the historical era seems to be as well—we’re alternatively told that it’s “the dark ages,” and yet medieval and Renaissance-era characters all appear simultaneously. It’s not quite as great as the similarly themed Deathstalker & The Warriors From Hell, but it’s a must-see for MST3k completionists for the Pearl sequences alone.

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58. Ep. 212, Godzilla vs. Megalon, 1973

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “For my first trick, I’ll be using an ordinary metropolitan city!”

The series’ best Godzilla movie is fan-favorite Godzilla vs. Megalon, which also happens to be the only Godzilla movie to get a primetime U.S. TV premiere, despite being one of the silliest in the entire series. The film is absolutely bonkers, even by Godzilla standards—the height of absurdity in the Showa era of Godzilla movies. An underwater race called the Seatopians deploy their insect-like God, Megalon, to the surface to destroy Godzilla with the help of classic Godzilla foe Gigan, which causes Big G to call upon the hilarious, size-changing robot Jet Jaguar, who was meant to be the film’s true star. Does it matter that Jet Jaguar is more or less useless in a fight? Not so much, when he’s got a rockin’ theme song and the love of small children with upsetting shorts! The crew’s best riffing comes during the fight scenes, especially during the famous “tail-slide” kick maneuver that Godzilla performs repeatedly. However, the highlight of the episode is actually a few of the classic host segments, from “Rex Dart, Eskimo Spy!” to the bizarre, mean-spirited “Orville Popcorn” sketch that mocked Orville Redenbacher commercials of the day. Combined with the closing Jet Jaguar fight song translation, it’s one of the crew’s best episodes outside the theater.

57. Ep. 517, The Beginning of the End, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Even our best footage can’t stop them!”

All you need to ask yourself with a movie like this is: “Giant insects? Clumsily placed against postcards to create forced perspective?” Who else could it be but Bert I. Gordon? I’ve always had a soft spot for this episode because it begins very nearby my alma mater at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, IL, where you can see the picturesque “Illinois mountains,” as gleefully pointed out by Mike. The giant grasshoppers slowwwwly move on to attack Chicago, opposed by the staid, long-winded presence of Peter Graves, operating at exactly the same RPM as he was in It Conquered the World. I really enjoy the crew picking apart the pace in this one, as when Mike quips “You know, when I was a boy, we didn’t HAVE fast movies; sometimes we just had to wait three or four hours for something to happen.” The film has some definite slow patches, but the episode gets extra points for an all-time classic host segment, when Crow momentarily diverts his efforts from his Earth vs. Soup screenplay long enough to write the utterly pointless Peter Graves Goes to College at the University of Minnesota. To quote the conclusion in Act 15: “I’m Peter Graves. Thank you for the opportunity of learning at this fine institution. As I look back, I remember fondly my enrollment process, where, had you been there, you might have heard me say: ‘Hi, I’m Peter Graves, and I’d like to enroll at the University of Minnesota.’”

56. Ep. 1202, Atlantic Rim, 2013

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “If this sub doesn’t come across an arachnoshark, I’m going to be very upset.”

Many of the MST3K faithful didn’t seem pleased to see the series tackling something this season from The Asylum, judging the Sharknado-makers to primarily specialize in making films that are “bad on purpose,” but you should have no doubt that Atlantic Rim is genuinely incompetent and poorly executed enough to deserve an MST3K episode all its own. The characters of this film are truly moronic—my mouth was hanging agape when David Chokachi breathlessly (drunkenly?) acts out an action scene we just saw to his two friends, complete with the exclamatory “buh-boom!” that becomes a season-long running gag. In particular, hip-hop artist Treach is uniquely unsuited toward performing as an actor, and particularly when the “acting” in Atlantic Rim largely just involves sitting in a chair, pretending you’re piloting a robot. In general, the appalling cheapness of this movie, and its outright refusal to show the audience anything that the characters claim to be seeing, results in a lot of strong jokes of the “I guess we’ll just have to take your word for it” variety.

Other highlights include the dour, depressed face of Graham Greene (bull butter!), who channels some of the “Captain Santa Claus” ennui of Cameron Mitchell in Space Mutiny, and the sheer “WTF”-ness of the sequence wherein the film intercuts shots of Chokachi dancing with the female lead at a banquet with images of the destruction and devastation his carelessness caused only hours earlier. Atlantic Rim seems to be cited by some of the fandom as the weakest entry in season 12, but personally, I was surprised by just how well the crew was able to salvage an Asylum film with some of that old school MST3K absurdism, as exemplified by Jonah in the opening moments: “Due to illness, the part of the Atlantic will be played by the Caspian Sea.”

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55. Ep. 521, Santa Claus, 1959

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “If seasonal holiday depression has a soundtrack, this is it.”

If you’re the sort of MST3k fan who enjoys a little recreational LSD, then I really, really don’t recommend viewing Santa Claus. Don’t do it. This movie was forged explicitly to send you on a very bad trip. Is it the most batshit crazy film in MST3k history? Only Incredibly Strange Creatures and a few others could enter the conversation. You can scarcely sum it up without sounding like a raving madman: Santa Claus lives in a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-style castle on the moon with his good friend Merlin the wizard, and battles a demon named Pitch for the souls of Mexican children. From his stronghold, he maintains a flotilla of terrifying, cackling robotic reindeer as well as hundreds of orphan children from all over the world, who perform culturally insensitive playlets for his amusement about fascinating lands such as “the Orient.” Riffing becomes almost entirely unnecessary; this movie just defies any attempt to understand it. It’s like something you would see in the depths of a violent fever dream. Or as Crow says, “This is good old-fashioned nightmare fuel.”

54. Ep. 814, Riding With Death, 1976

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I seek Robert Denby. I need to know why I was considered as elusive as him.”

You’ve got to admire an MST3k film that not only staples together two episodes of a TV show, but chooses two completely unrelated episodes of said TV show, featuring different supporting characters, different antagonists and absolutely no overarching theme to tie them together. Bravo, Riding With Death, you’ve got some real balls there. Both episodes at least do star the perpetually bland Ben Murphy, back from Being From Another Planet and now in a much better episode. He’s ostensibly a secret agent—one who can turn invisible, by the way—but the movie is actually dominated by the supporting character of “Buffalo Bill,” a truck driver who is one of the few people who appears in both halves, and who lays waste to the scenery via overacting at absolutely any opportunity. With no exaggeration, this is easily one of the most over-the-top performances in MST3k history. Murphy, meanwhile, is fond of unironically calling people “turkeys,” which leads to many amusing “Butterball” riffs and Crow’s eventual host segment as the world’s most useful hero: Turkey Volume Guessing Man! It’s an extremely ‘70s-styled episode, so if you have particular fondness for that decade, this one needs to go on your to-watch list right away.

53. Ep. 706, Laserblast, 1978

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Coca Cola is going to need a PR campaign just to undo the damage this scene is doing.”

If not for the Sci-Fi Channel picking up MST3k for its final three seasons, Laserblast would have functioned as the series finale—thank God this was not the case. Still, the fact that the crew figured Laserblast would be their last film imbues it with a sense of “very special episode” that helps make it memorable, including a story in the host segments that eventually sees the SOL flying into a black hole, where the gang become beings of pure energy. The film, meanwhile, is a real piece of zero-budget garbage that is made only worse by its arrogant aspirations—there’s even a scene where the protagonist uses his laser cannon to explode an actual Star Wars billboard in a beautiful display of petty one-upmanship. It combines the worst aspects of shirtless ‘70s slackerism with a protagonist who is slowly driven insane (and possibly turned into a lizard) by the laser cannon grafted onto his arm while being pursued by cops and claymation aliens. Riffing is steady and solid; I enjoyed the repeated digs at Leonard Maltin for daring to give the film 2 ½ stars, and the running joke at the expense of the Hank Williams Jr. lookalike cop is without a doubt a series classic. “Anything you say can be used … to get you ready for some football!”

52. Ep. 419, The Rebel Set, 1959, /w Johnny at the Fair

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Johnny feels dark hands pressing him onward. The voices in his head get meaner.”

The Rebel Set is distinctly cheap—it looks like it was filmed through the peephole in one of those cardboard boxes you use to safely watch an eclipse—but it’s watchable, in its own B-movie crime caper sort of way. Part beatnik movie, part juvenile delinquency crime feature, it’s about a couple down-on-their luck guys hired by an oily fellow to participate in a complicated robbery. The highlight is Servo’s running argument with the other two riffers about the true identity of actor Merritt Stone, but I’d be lying if I said the feature film was the reason I throw on this episode. Rather, it’s all about one of the greatest MST3k shorts ever, Johnny at the Fair. The story of a child who gets separated from his parents at “the Canadian National Exhibition,” it quickly descends into some of the series’ darkest, most side-splitting riffing. Despite an early admonishment from Joel to not get “too dark,” the bots go deep on Johnny’s mental scarring as he wanders the fair, visits the “chemical wonderland” and meets various celebrities before being scooped up and put into the fair’s caged lost children pens. It’s 10 of the best minutes in the show’s history, and I’ll go far enough to simply say it: This is my favorite MST3k short ever. Go watch it.

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51. Ep. 1012, Squirm, 1976, /w A Case of Spring Fever

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “And if you do start a worm farm, don’t raise intelligent, flesh-eating millipedes by mistake.”

In a final show-down of “which is the most southern?”, Squirm can absolutely hold its ground against Boggy Creek 2, and it may be too close to call. The accents here are particularly dreadful, in a film about a small town in Georgia that is beset by swarms of killer, blood-drinking worms after the ground is “electrocuted” by “a dilly of a storm.” Does this fundamentally misunderstand the principles of how a current passes through the Earth? Sure, but it’s enough premise for a MST3k movie, one with smug-as-hell sheriffs and an incomprehensible antagonist whose face is covered with worms. There are tons of requisite southern riffs, and musical references to Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it’s all in good fun, but what really vaults this episode into classic territory is the inclusion of a rare short for the Sci-Fi era: A Case of Spring Fever. Parodied all the way back in season 3 with “Willy the Waffle,” it’s amazing to me that it took the Best Brains so long to include this short in an episode, but they clearly wanted to get it done before the show concluded with the end of season 10. It’s a whimsical, nightmarish trip down the rabbit hole of how terrible existence might be if all the world’s springs suddenly went missing, starring the demonic Coily, the Spring Sprite as a bastardized version of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Clarence. As Crow ponders: “Where does Coily fit into God’s plan for us?”

50. Ep. 1008, Final Justice, 1985

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “He just bleached his hair and shaped it into a hat.”

Final Justice isn’t quite as fondly remembered by MSTies as the gang’s first Joe Don Baker feature, Mitchell, but they attack its star just as mercilessly as they do in Joel’s swan song. This episode aired near to the end of MST3k’s final season, which makes it amusing but a little bittersweet when Mike also (incorrectly) assumes that it’s his turn to escape the satellite after watching a Joe Don Baker movie. He’d have to wait a few more episodes. Baker plays another cop in this movie, very much like good ‘ole MITCHELL—equally incompetent, still easily winded and surly. This time, though, the action has some international flavor, as Joe Don transports a criminal to Malta, only to lose him on the way and refuse any attempts at cooperation in getting him back. Along the way, he tries to make the phrase “go ahead on” into his iconic Dirty Harry one-liner, while inadvertently proving his need for remedial English classes. Two segments stand out especially: Crow’s hilariously cruel report on Maltese men as “flaccid ninnies whose delicate fingers can barely hold up their stinky Maltese cigarettes,” and the laugh-out-loud closing credits, which are dedicated to all the saturated fat in Joe Don’s diet. I’ve never laughed harder at the phrase “meatballs fried in lard!”

49. Ep. 809, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, 1957

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Fifteen teenagers savagely tore apart one of their peers today.”

Remember High School Big Shot? Well this movie is essentially that movie, except the protagonist is a werewolf. It has the same pathetic, hard-drinking father from the former, but a much sillier, makeout-appropriate tone for ‘50s era drive-in neckers. Indeed, I Was a Teenage Werewolf is considered something of a minor B-movie classic today, and you may remember it as the film watched by The Losers Club in Stephen King’s IT. As in The She-Creature, it came about during a period of interest in “past lives” and involves a kid turning into a werewolf because of “regression” to some earlier evolutionary bestial state. The jokes circle around Michael Landon and his short fuse, with references to his later role on Bonanza and his hilarious propensity for milk-throwing. I love the character of the police officer who acts like a would-be guidance counselor, simultaneously trying to help while sneering at ‘50s youth culture with lines like “That’s right, hide behind jive talk, ‘People bug you.’ Well, people bug me too!” I also love how the officer just takes it upon himself to send our protagonist to the “prominent psychologist” who is working down at “the aircraft plant.” Oh, you don’t say! Sounds totally legit, a perfectly reasonable place for a psychologist to have his office. All in all it’s an easy episode to watch, one that combines rapid-fire riffing with a film that is legitimately more entertaining than most.

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48. Ep. 1001, Soultaker, 1990

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “So a seven iron knocks him cold, but a gun does nothing.”

Soultaker is a very interesting episode, kicking off the show’s final season by giving a gracious nod to MST3k’s history. As the SOL begins to descend toward Earth due to mechanical failures and disrepair, we have a visit by none other than JOEL, who appears to save his robot children and fix what needs fixing! There’s some good banter between Mike and Joel, who’s been spending his time since the escape “managing a hot fish shop in Osseo, Minnesota” in typically humble fashion. Also returning in the episode: TV’s Frank, who left the political infighting of Second Banana Heaven to become a Soultaker. The film is hilarious as well—an overdramatic vanity project from the starlet/screenwriter, starring a supreme MST3k acting twosome in the form of Joe Estevez (Werewolf) and Robert Z’Dar (Future War). Mike and the Bots are not at all kind to poor, deluded Natalie, whose frizzy hair and poor acting immediately reminds them of the character by the same name in Werewolf. A highlight is the intensely creepy bathing sequence, with Natalie getting peeped on by her own mother while Crow is forced to exit the theater and frantically search for Visine for his eyes, missing all the “good stuff” in the process. Also: “souls” that are simply portrayed by hand-held glow stick rings. It’s an episode that is equally notable for both the riffing and the historically important host segments.

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47. Ep. 1106, Starcrash, 1978

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Grant Wood’s intergalactic gothic.”

Hands down, the most entertaining and funny-all-on-its-own film of season 11, Starcrash has absolutely no need for MST3K riffing to make it hilarious. There’s almost nothing the SOL crew can say or do to match the absurdity playing out on the screen in this infamous Star Wars rip-off shot in Italy, which follows a sexy female spin on Han Solo (Caroline Munro, who isn’t nearly as fun in At the Earth’s Core) and her partner, the insufferably smug, curly headed Akton, who manifests inexplicable magical powers on demand, whenever the script calls for them. There are too many incredible supporting characters to count: Elle to robot policeman, who speaks with an absurd southern drawl; Christopher Plummer’s nonplussed Emperor of the Galaxy; and of course David Hasselhoff as his son, who shows off a scary, laser-shooting mask before immediately ditching it and never using it again. The film just has everything: Incredibly cheap spaceships, Christmas lights for star fields, cavemen, multiple instances of stop-motion robots, the list goes on. Obviously, Jonah & The Bots let fly with the Star Wars references from out of the gate, and they also work a running joke with the toylike nature of the Starcrash space fleet. I enjoy the crew’s increasing annoyance with Akton in particular, and his propensity to explain after something bad happens that he saw it all coming. I chortled when Jonah zeroed in on a tight shot of his curly mug and unleashed a Willy Wonka reference: “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

46. Ep. 903, The Pumaman, 1980

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “The theology contained in this picture may not be wholly accurate. Consult your doctor before embarking on a theology program.”

Pumaman is a definite fan favorite among MSTies, although I suspect that I probably rate it just a bit lower than most thanks to a few slower sections. Still, everything here is iconic MST3k, from our whiny, ineffectual, pants-wetting hero to another appearance by the great Donald Pleasance, once again playing the role of scenery-chewing villain exactly as he did in Warrior of the Lost World. He’s even named “Dr. Kobras!” Not much chance you’re going to end up as a do-gooder with a name like that, is there? Much is name of his inability to pronounce “pew-ma,” and general “balditude.” Our hero Tony is, with no exaggeration, probably the lamest “superhero” in cinema history, the descendant of Aztec alien gods who bestowed his bloodline with magical PUMA POWERS. Such powers include flight, although as Mike notes, “I hate to be picky, but pumas aren’t really known for flying.” The flight sequences are side-splitting, though, achieved by use of horrendous looking rear projection while Tony dangles quite clearly in place on a fishing line, butt sticking straight up in the air. These sequences actually manage to look worse than the giant grasshoppers climbing skyscrapers in The Beginning of the End, which is saying something. And he finds out about his super powers in the most ridiculous way imaginable: When his soon-to-be Aztec mentor sneaks up behind Tony and throws him out a window to test his puma-like reflexes. Stan Lee couldn’t have written it better.

45. Ep. 207, Wild Rebels, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Citrusville, city of progress! Where everyone is juiced!”

I think of Wild Rebels as the first “truly great” episode of MST3k; the moment when the incremental improvements of season 2 are most clearly on display and the show ascends to a new level of quality for the first time. It’s one of many biker movies shown during the Joel years, but it’s the best of the bunch, a story about a race car driver going undercover for the police to bring down an outlaw biker gang calling themselves “Satan’s Angels” and pulling off robberies FOR THE KICKS! Much is made of the personalities of said rebels, from the attention-starved Linda to the weirdly verbose Jeeter, which leads Joel to detail the philosophically aware biker gangs of yesteryear, including Truman Capote’s own “Oscar Wilde Ones.” These are just the kinds of broad, unrealistically stereotyped characters that MST3k always excels with. The episode goes from good to great with the “Wild Rebels Cereal” host segment, described as being “like being hit in the back of the head with a surfboard of flavor!” But that’s not all; there are also prizes that include “a sawed-off pool cue with a leather strap” and “a chunk of hose filled with lead shot.” From this point in season 2 onwards, the show’s genius is on full display.

44. Ep. 604, Zombie Nightmare, 1986

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Fight choreography by Dom Deluise!”

There’s something about Zombie Nightmare that reminds one of The Toxic Avenger—both have a guy who is “killed” and comes back as a monster to punish the kids responsible. Hell, both of them have innocents being run over by a car. But what Toxie does have that Zombie Nightmare is lacking is humor, gore and amusing lead characters—compared to Troma’s classic, Jon Mikl Thor doesn’t have a chance of being half as interesting, and the “John Cage soundtrack” doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, this voodoo zombie flick is rife for the MST3k treatment largely due to the very memorable supporting players, which include Tia Carrere in her first screen role. Tia doesn’t get much screen time, but I’ll tell you who does: Adam West! As the police chief, he’s the source of many of the biggest riffs, as Mike and the Bots paint him as bitter and cynical about not being invited back to play Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. Even better is the truly bizarre police coroner, with his inhuman, wheezing voice that draws more Batman references and comparisons to Burgess Meredith as The Penguin. It’s one of the flat-out weirdest performances in the show’s history.

43. Ep. 519, Outlaw (of Gor), 1989

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: While Jack Palance the wizard is doing alchemy: “It’s time for the brutal gourmet!”

Rating the “movie pain” of this particular episode is more difficult than usual, because most of it is very light, inoffensive and watchable … except there are a couple key characters who are MADDENINGLY irritating. Annoying or not, though, these are exactly the kind of characters who make for memorable MST3k episodes. A sword and sorcery-type movie in the vein of Cave Dwellers or Deathstalker, the film follows a hero named “Cabot” as he returns from the present day to an ancient kingdom to hook up with his princess babe. How do we know his name is Cabot? Because his work acquaintance—who looks and sounds like “Booger” from Revenge of the Nerds—will not stop repeating it through the entire film. Good god, this guy never, ever shuts up. Other highlights include the ditzy queen, Cabot’s white-haired little person sidekick, and good old surly Jack Palance, playing the Jafar-esque grand vizier role and looking like he absolutely detests having to be in this movie. It’s an episode of very strong host segments, from a closer look into Jack Palance’s discontent on the set to a flip through Mike’s scrapbook of community theater productions … which always involve him wearing a sailor suit, even in Hamlet. Best host segment, though? A quirky, zany song about the film’s preponderance of male rear ends on display, titled “Tubular Boobular Joy.”

42. Ep. 1206, Ator, the Fighting Eagle, 1982

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Uh, do you really want a guy who can’t get out of a net to father the future queen?”

Cave Dwellers is the #1 episode of the entire Joel era on our master ranking of every single MST3K episode, so you’d better believe I was looking forward to the return of Conan-ripoff Ator (it’s actually a prequel) in another sword-and-sorcery epic in season 12. And indeed, it’s fascinating to actually see a full version of the film that is memorably summed up in an overly long introductory montage in the beginning of Cave Dwellers, but as a film (and episode) The Fighting Eagle unsurprisingly can’t quite hold up to its sublime predecessor. This version of Ator isn’t quite the same “gentle stranger with pecs like melons and knees of fringe” that we know and love from Cave Dwellers—instead, Miles O’Keeffe plays Ator in this movie as a naive, dumb, not particularly competent child, whose only goal in life is to marry his sister. No, really! The film is actually more competently told than Cave Dwellers, but that’s a negative in this scenario, as there’s nothing here so memorably bonkers as the hang glider sequence in Cave Dwellers, although I did get a big laugh at one of the extras describing an earthquake as “The Earth trembles like a virgin being drawn to the nuptial bed!” Yeesh, nice imagery there, Mr. writer.

The riffing on The Fighting Eagle contains some great, nerdy references, such as female protagonist Roon being described as “a D&D rogue with 18 Strength and no Dexterity,” to which Crow dismissively tells Jonah “I’ll just take your word on that.” Also included: Comparisons of Ator to Lion-O of the ThunderCats, a mentor referred to as “Vlad the Adopter” and a much-too-large newborn baby, which prompts the question “Should he have a full set of adult teeth already?” Jonah has a great moment of sarcasm (and tone) when he observes that there’s “a lot of natural sunlight coming into this UNDERGROUND CHAMBER,” while internet clickbait also is skewered nicely after a witch says “I’ll show you your loved ones” and Crow replies “And then I’ll show you how the cast of Degrassi looks today. You won’t believe it!”

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41. Ep. 1113, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, 1966

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Brought to you by Hanes comfort fit children’s nightgowns. Hanes: It’s the sack you can sleep in.”

It’s probably clear by this point that I like my MST3K movies on the absurdist side, and in that spirit, it’s safe to call The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t the straight-up silliest film shown in season 11. Its basic premise, that Santa Claus needs to make money for rent by play-acting himself in department stores in order to pay off his evil landlord at the North Pole, is on a level with MST3K’s two other Christmas episodes, Santa Claus and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but the delivery is even more painfully hokey. You’d call it campy, except for the fact that the film seems so damn sincere, almost impossibly so. It seems to truly delight the SOL crew, who are drawn to our peculiar protagonist/man baby Sam Whipple and especially to the Italian Scrooge Phineas T. Prune, who wants to put Santa in the poor house not because he hates Christmas, but because he despises all children and wants to see them suffer. Santa himself is also creepy as hell: The dude has a song about the fact that he’s never seen children awake before! He’s only peered at them, leaning over their beds like the grim spectre of death. I was tearing up from laughter when Santa and co. assemble a bunch of children to bail him out of trouble, who are given names that range from “Tiny Grandma” and “Actual Baby” to “Chamber Pot” and “Meat Wagon.”

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40. Ep. 822, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I don’t want to bungle or bobble the Fingal doppel.”

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is a low-key fan favorite episode, in the sense that it doesn’t top many lists, but all MSTies seem to profess admiration for it. Thematically, it’s pretty far ahead of its time, combining aspects of sci-fi movies like The Matrix and Dark City with a rebellious streak and solid acting performances. Unfortunately, on the other hand, it was filmed for Canadian TV and thus looks like a cataract-sufferer’s last vision of the distant future before death. The whole thing is suffused with a foggy, soft-focused hue that quickly becomes very irritating. It stars the great Raul Julia, 8 years before The Addams Family, as “Fingal,” a man who fights the dystopian system in a world where people “doppel” their minds into the bodies of animals as a means of vacation. This leads to some great running jokes about the various animals one might doppel into—including a “huge slam on anteaters out of nowhere!” Also a natural target is the “Fat Man” who represents the chief adversary—he reminds one of the wheezing, laughing countenance of “Number 2” from the iconic British series The Prisoner. The host segments don’t really stand out, but overall, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is among the more interesting films ever shown on MST3k. With a bigger budget, it could have legitimately landed in “too good for riffing” territory.

39. Ep. 1201, Mac and Me, 1988

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “This is like a Pixar movie, in that it exists and has a title.”

Sometimes, it’s hard to separate “the episode” from “the film.” That’s the case when you do an MST3K episode on a film like Mac and Me, which is much more famous in the bad movie circles than the likes of Killer Fish—it comes in with a somewhat inflated set of expectations. And indeed, watching Mac and Me with some friends at a bad movie night is a hilarious undertaking, especially for the sheer degree of incredibly intrusive product placement for brands such as Coca Cola and McDonalds, but here we need to give a greater degree of weight to the riffing of the episode, rather than the film’s own natural charms. Like Starcrash last season, when examined under that light, Mac and Me perhaps doesn’t translate to quite as great an episode as it theoretically could—but it’s still pretty charming, regardless. It makes for a very natural E.T. rip off double bill with Pod People, the riffing of which ironically mentioned Mac and Me by name. Now, we’ve come full circle.

The riffing on Mac and Me goes from classic MST3K references (“Jim Henson’s The Shining Babies”) to the nostalgic (“He’s all tuckered out from watching USA Up All Night”), to the very modern, including a bit of Last Jedi satire: “Luke, 30 years from now, overly possessive fanboys will be disappointed in your character arc.” It has, as the riffers observe, everything that E.T. was missing, like “a shootout in a grocery store,” but I found myself laughing hardest at some of the silly wordplay, like “do not ingest, even in jest.” Also amusing is Crow wondering aloud about the child star of E.T.: “I wonder if Henry Thomas went to see this when it came out, just to be sure.” Ultimately, a lot of the MSTies on the web seem to be anointing Mac and Me as the top episode of season 12, but in our eyes it’s beaten out by a few other films with lower profiles. It does, however, give us season 12’s most enduring catchphrase: Pretty niiiiice!

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38. Ep. 321, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, 1964

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Big John Call IS Santa Claus, in ‘O Little Town of DEATHlehem!’”

You can’t help but compare this classic episode to the Mexican Santa Claus, and the one you prefer ultimately will come down to personal taste. Where the Mexican film is stronger on the absurdism and nightmare fuel, it’s also slower and more ugly. Conquers the Martians, on the other hand, has the feel of an early ‘60s kids TV show that has been stretched out to feature length—it’s good natured, easygoing and campy, like a Christmas episode of Adam West’s Batman. I love every one of the characters, from the precocious brat children, to “laziest man on Mars” Dropo, to Santa, who makes the Bots question what exactly is in his pipe. The episode is notable for having one of the series’ best songs in the form of “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas” and great host segments in general, but it’s the cheap costuming and generally rushed feeling (they even misspell “costume designer” in the opening credits) that makes me laugh hardest. The scene featuring the worst polar bear costume in the history of cinema (“you can see the headpiece draped over the body!”) is howlingly funny, as is Torg the cardboard box robot. The riffs do slow down just a tad by the end of the episode, but this one remains a holiday staple I have to watch at least once every Christmas season.

37. Ep. 523, Village of the Giants, 1965

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: As a girl on a motorcycle ties a rope around obviously papier mache giant legs: “It’s an elaborate plan to mildly inconvenience him!”

Welcome to MST3k canon, Ron Howard. Yes, that Ron Howard is in this episode, smack dab in the middle of his Andy Griffith Show years as Opie. It’s a supremely cheesy, very watchable slice of ‘60s teen culture, crossed with some very light science fiction: When the child genius played by Howard creates a magical “Goo” with his chemistry set, it makes local animals—including teens—grow to giant size! It’s a premise straight out of Roald Dahl, but it makes for a very fun, breezy episode. At times, it feels almost exactly like one of the “beach party” movies, what with all the constant teens dancing, but it’s a bit more wry and has far more sex appeal than any of those ‘50s films ever did. Of course, being giants, the director has to be Bert I. Gordon (who else?). The special effects are achieved by simply putting a camera on the ground and shooting upward at the teens, who bedeck themselves in billowy togas and dance in slow motion. A highlight: The aforementioned scene where the town bands together in an effort to tie one of the giant teens down by lassoing his legs, which includes numerous cutaways to a pair of giant, oddly proportioned papier mache legs that are so painfully stupid looking, Crow can’t hold back his giggles. This movie is positively harmless; that’s the only word to describe it.

36. Ep. 524, 12 to the Moon, 1960, /w Design For Dreaming

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Walk slow and stupid; we’re on the moon!”

It’s amazing to me that a lot of even die-hard MST3k fans haven’t seen 12 to the Moon, and thus don’t realize its link to the beloved fan favorite Space Mutiny. Those plethora of stupid “action hero” names used for “Big McLargeHuge”? Those were first tested out in 12 to the Moon, whose own chunkhead hero is referred to by amusing monikers such as “Chunk Pylon” and “Stump Hugelarge.” For whatever reason though, this episode isn’t nearly as well known as Space Mutiny, which is a shame. A black-and-white space adventure that looks quite a lot like Phantom Planet, it receives a superior riffing and is considerably more action-packed. The crew of 12 international astronauts are wonderfully stupid, in a way that only movie astronauts can be, highlighted by the guy who carelessly plunges his hands into a mysterious liquid on the surface of the moon and suffers terrible caustic burns. The costuming, meanwhile, is so cheap that they couldn’t afford actual facemasks and thus wrote “invisible face plates” into the script. It’s so earnestly stupid that it’s impossible to not be charmed by it. The short, meanwhile, is one of MST3k’s weirdest visions of the future, even more esoteric than the passingly similar Once Upon a Honeymoon. Seemingly designed to sell humanity on the idea of high-tech concept cars, one wonders: Was song and dance really the best way to achieve these goals?

35. Ep. 617, The Sword and the Dragon, 1956

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Chestnut Gray is like the Chevy Suburban of horses.”

Our next entry in the Russo-Finnish fantasy cycle of MST3k episodes of The Sword and the Dragon, which can be a little bit overlooked in comparison with say, Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s possibly the “best movie” of the lot, and certainly had plenty of budget behind it, with huge, action-packed battle scenes and pretty decent, Harryhausen-esque effects work. It tells the tale of mighty, doughy hero Ilya, who Crow describes as being “just a torso,” who fights to save his people (“a kingdom of Robert Borks”) against invaders and a three-headed dragon. Colorful adventure abounds, especially in the “magic grass” that returns Ilya’s strength and during his battle with the squat, Buddha-looking “wind demon,” whose halitosis is deadly. If there’s one thing I always return to in this episode, though, it’s the very unusual host segment entitled “A Joke From Ingmar Bergman,” which experiments in just how slowwwwwwwly one can drag a parody out before hitting the audience with a silly, Midwestern beer-related punchline. This is one of the few times that I can 100 percent see how some viewers might find a sequence of MST3k extremely irritating, but there’s something about the obvious trolling of the audience (as well as Crow and Servo’s faux-Swedish accents) that is really amusing to me.

34. Ep. 411, The Magic Sword, 1962

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “They’re not dead, they’re just metaphysically challenged!”

Generally considered one of the “least bad” movies ever shown on MST3k, including in the minds of the cast, The Magic Sword was Bert I. Gordon’s pinnacle of respectability. It’s funny to think that the guy who directed the most MST3k movies wasn’t really a terrible director, but Gordon is competent in a way that the likes of Ed Wood could only aspire to be. With a good cast that includes Estelle Winwood and a gaunt Basil Rathbone as the villain, it centers around a chivalrous would-be knight who must journey with a team of multinational knights through “7 curses” to save a princess from a sorcerer and his dragon—two-headed this time, instead of three, if you were wondering. It’s all cheesy good fun, and I can legitimately imagine watching this film without the riffing. The riffs about Winwood are a hoot, as Crow develops a crush on her the likes of which we haven’t seen since Kim Cattrall. The journey is lively and fast-paced, with no shortage of bickering between our smug hero and the craven Sir Branton, who has that “evil court vizier” look to him that is so obviously evil. A highlight is their battle with a furry ogre, who is alternatively suggested to be “Teddy Ruxpin,” “Quasimodo” and finally “Ron Perlman.”

33. Ep. 610, The Violent Years, 1956, /w Young Man’s Fancy

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “You are acceptable as a mate; take me now. Oh, your smoldering averageness; stop me.”

Who knew that the most dangerous segment of society was rich teenage girls gone bad? Ed Wood did, that’s who. The Violent Years wasn’t directed by Ed, but he did pony up the screenplay, and thus shares a healthy degree of the blame. It appears to be his ham-handed attempt at a “teens in trouble with the law” story, but he apparently has no idea from scene to scene whether the movie is supposed to be exploitation/titillation or a stern moral warning, and this ambivalence in the tone makes for some pretty big laughs. Our girl gang has their way with a man in the woods in howlingly funny, clumsy fashion—as innocuous as a sexual assault can possibly be depicted on screen—before breaking into the school after hours to knock books off shelves and heinously erase the blackboards. They end up in a shoot-out with the cops for no good reason, but it inspires a wonderfully stupid moment of dialog from the girls, who are apparently surprised to see resistance from the police: “They’re shooting back!” To which Servo can only reply, “Wah … the bastards!” The feature comes packaged with a very long, rambling short in the form of Young Man’s Fancy, another in the same mold of empty-headed teen help movies, ‘ala Are You Ready For Marriage? Its constant barrage of dry, cynical riffing on ‘50s “suitability” and the joys of owning an “electric sink” are a delight.

32. Ep. 805, The Thing That Couldn’t Die, 1958

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Flavia: “It must be gold!” Servo: “Yeah, the great Nevada pirates buried it.”

Four years before The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, we had an entirely DIFFERENT film about a disembodied head that is also very resistant to death, but this one is much sillier and more fun. Our protagonist Jessica inspires countless Allman Brothers references from Servo in particular, and stands as one of the more delightfully clueless and poorly acted characters in MST3k history. Living on a ranch with her wicked aunt “Flavia,” she has powers to detect “EVIL!” all around her, and does NOT hesitate to let the world know about it. The scene when she yells “I hope you all die! I hope a tree falls on you!” to her family, only to immediately cause a tree branch to bend and break with an “evil wind,” is absolutely side-splitting. As is her odd reference to a “trade rat,” which inspires all sorts of riffs about the “skilled artisan rats” living on the ranch. This is vintage MST3k in the sense that the film seems deliberately crafted to be riffed, with plotting so lackadasical and full of holes that it just begs for commentary, and the riffers cracking each other up even more than usual. It all leads to one of the lamest endings in an MST3k film, only a step or two above the likes of Monster A-Go-Go, which is certainly saying something. For whatever reason, I rarely hear any reference to this episode in MST3k discussion, which might make it a strong contender for an “underrated episodes” list.

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31. Ep. 815, Agent For H.A.R.M., 1966

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Your dad’s alcoholic golf buddy is Agent for H.A.R.M.!”

If you’re missing Prince in 2017, Agent For H.A.R.M. is your go-to retrospective episode. Inspired by one of the henchmen who really does resemble a young Prince, Mike and the Bots roll off dozens of classic music references to the Purple One, from “Have you seen my raspberry beret?” to “I wonder if that water heater makes the water warm enough for Lisa.” It’s all gold. The movie is another ‘60s spy yarn, essentially a more funny version of Secret Agent Super Dragon, with a secret organization called H.A.R.M. that Servo theorizes stands for “Heuristic Analog Rental Meat.” The MacGuffin is a gun that shoots spores, which cause people to melt in a rather horrific way, so right from the get-go you know we’re working with a good, pulpy premise. There are simply a lot of great observational riffs in this episode, as when super spy Adam Chance tells a female agent that she needs to be working at the “judo range,” which inspires quips about the “karate rink” and “aikido rifles.” The host segments are also notable, as Mike goes on trial by the Observers for the many planets he’s been accidentally destroying throughout season 8. The bit where Crow “attempts” to put in a good word on Mike’s behalf with a torrent of bleeped obscenities is one of MST3k’s rare but hilarious uses of swearing.

30. Ep. 509, The Girl in Lover’s Lane, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Bix: “Bet you have a lot of boyfriends, pretty girl like you.” Joel: “No, I’m saving myself for the right oily drifter.”

You know you’re off to a good start in this film as soon as our nebbish, naive protagonist Danny meets up with a drifter named “Bix Dugan,” who Joel and the Bots willfully mis-hear as “Big Stupid.” Soon, the unlikely pair of hobo and hobo-worshiper end up involved in some small-town drama, trying to better the position in life of a very sweet waitress named Carrie. Spoilers: It doesn’t go well, at all, for anyone involved. The frightful-looking Jack Elam plays a local antagonist, with fairly memorable results, but even funnier than Elam is Crow’s impersonation of Jack Elam in one of the host segments. Simply changing one of his eyes to face a different direction should not be as funny as it is, but in the hands of MST3k it somehow becomes hysterical. Other highlights include the riffers pointing out various “wormholes” and wrinkles in time caused by the film’s poor editing, in ways reminiscent of The Girl in Gold Boots and its teleporting greaseball. And then there’s the bit with Big Stupid walking in on prostitute in the bathtub, which leads to one of the weirder exchanges of suggestive dialog outside of Samurai Cop. It’s all in a day’s work for Big Stupid.

29. Ep. 1104, Avalanche, 1978

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: In the middle of the avalanche mayhem: “The kitchen has a cheerleader?!?”

Avalanche can lay claim to representing a film subgenre that has more or less never been featured on MST3K in the past: The ‘70s-style disaster movie. The only classic episode that evokes a similar feel is something like San Francisco International, but Avalanche is more genuinely a part of that same movement that gave us The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure and others, starring big Hollywood names in tales of man’s hubris vs. nature or technological disaster. The amusing thing about Avalanche is the way it goes from 0—an intensely boring Rock Hudson/Mia Farrow divorce drama of sorts—to 100, as soon as the titular Avalanche finally hits at about the 50 minute mark. We go from not caring about a bunch of bland ‘70s people to howling with laughter as the resort denizens and the town utterly fail to deal with their avalanche-related issues. The fire and rescue response is amazing, as fire trucks and ambulances come streaming out of the station, only to immediately crash into buildings in town that are in no way connected to the avalanche. As Tom and Crow observe: “Okay, now we’re just seeing collateral damage from the idea of an avalanche? What’s next, someone’s going to cut their finger on a newspaper reading about it?” Also lots of fun is the host segment examining the many untrademarked ideas for hybrid monster-disaster movies, including the likes of “Triceraquake,” “Wooly Clammoth” and “Night of the Were-Dads.” All in all, Avalanche is a surprisingly successful adaptation of a film style that is a fresh novelty for MST3K.

28. Ep. 1204, The Day Time Ended, 1980

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “This whole movie is like the cold open of a Columbo episode.”

Season 12 doesn’t have an entry that possesses quite the same level of outright “WTF is going on?” consternation as last season’s Carnival Magic, but The Day Time Ended comes pretty close. Suffice to say, this is the most purely weird entry in season 12, and it’s all the more memorable for how little idea the audience has of what the hell is happening at any given moment. Every time you think you’re finally coming to understand the dynamic of The Day Time Ended, it morphs into yet another genre and leaves everything else behind, which is brilliantly highlighted in what is easily the best song of this season, “Concepts!” It’s all the more funny for the fact that MST3K bemoaned the difficulty of replicating “Every Country Has a Monster” two episodes earlier during Atlantic Rim, because the insanely deft, impressive wordplay of “Concepts!” is definitely a contender. Seriously, just the plot summary in this song alone is practically enough to make The Day Time Ended into this season’s winner—it is that damn good. Bravo to Baron Vaughn in particular for shouldering the Harold Hill/Music Man load. It’s a humdinger of a hamdinger.

The Day Time Ended also benefits from some of the more compellingly bizarre characters of season 12, especially the family paterfamilias, who’s like a more rough-and-tumble, “steak milk”-loving version of the elderly security guard in Hobgoblins. In fact, this whole movie comes off like Eegah meets Laserblast meets Track of the Moon Beast, except with less connective tissue—it veers wildly between boredom and ridiculous sci-fi gibberish at the drop of a hat, while featuring esoteric riffs that reference the likes of The Moody Blues: “Breathe deep the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room.” One riff in particular that referenced Rick and Morty made me stop and think about just how novel it is to see MST3K referencing one of the modern series that most closely inherited its sense of humor. That the two now exist side by side means we’re just lucky as TV viewers.

27. Ep. 424, Manos: The Hands of Fate, 1966, /w Hired! Part 2

Movie pain meter: Extreme
Best riff: “Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.”

Alright, alright, let’s get the outrage out of the way. Manos is probably the most famous episode of MST3k, and it stands as a contribution to bad movie canon right alongside the likes of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It was chosen as the #1 episode of MST3k by fans when open voting was held by Shout! Factory to determine the top 100 user-voted episodes, but I can’t help but think that its ranking tends to get inflated slightly by the fact that the episode is so well known, and has thus been seen by more viewers. In short: It’s a great episode of the series, but it’s not #1, although it is in hall of fame territory. The main thing bringing it down just a bit is the fact that Manos is a bit inconsistent in delivering the big laughs—it starts out with incredibly funny material but then begins to slowly peter out by the last third, especially once The Master’s wives begin their endless bickering and wrestling. It’s like the movie (understandably) sucks the life out of Joel and the Bots over time, although I absolutely love the bit where the usually laid-back Joel can’t help actually yelling at the film to “DO SOMETHING!” Still, the first 30 minutes in particular are some of the riffers’ best work ever. Highlights of the episode include the interminable opening driving sequences, which are hilariously lampooned in a host segment, as well as the thrilling conclusion of the Hired! series of shorts in Part 2. This short is brilliant, and stronger than the first overall. The old man sitting on his porch, handkerchief on his head, swatting at imaginary elves, brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it.

26. Ep. 908, The Touch of Satan, 1971

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Emby Mellay? That’s not a name, that’s a bad Scrabble hand.”

The Touch of Satan is another one of those films where it’s tough to imagine anyone outside of an MST3k audience watching it; the kind of movie that would presumably have just fallen off the face of the earth if not for being revived in the cultural consciousness by the show. A grainy ‘70s tale of witchcraft and murderous grandmothers, its weak characters and hilariously incompetent dialog in particular are prime targets for riffing. There are few lines in the entire MST3k canon that announce a shitty film script with such exuberance as our female protagonist pointing to a pond and saying “This is where the fish lives!” Between the vacuous budding romance, an “incredibly sweaty dad,” grandma’s occasional jaunts to murder people with a pitchfork and the gas station extras who warn the hero about the presence of a “fromikidal maniac” in the area, the whole ordeal is crying out for riffing. The thrilling “walnut ranch” setting is just a bonus. I never would have thought it would be possible to write so many jokes about walnuts.

25. Ep. 1002, Girl in Gold Boots, 1968

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “ … and this is how you frighten a black bear in your camp. Okay, now let’s try dancing.”

This grimy film has the same washed-out, earth tones look of The Touch of Satan, but unfortunately no killer grandmothers. Rather, it’s a would-be exploitation flick with a touch of biker movie, caught in some kind of depressing gulf between “teen dance movie,” crime story and softcore. The story concerns a young woman who wants to be a dancer, who joins up with a couple of dumb guys traveling cross country to L.A.—one who wants to exploit her talents, and one who simply wants to exploit her body. That guy’s name is “Critter,” by the way. Hilariously riffed from top to bottom, the guys consistently point out the nonexistent production values and consistently ugly, upsetting atmosphere. The film is replete with long, mind-numbing dance sequences but also with hilariously “they just didn’t care” editing gaffes—the best being when two of the characters are having a conversation in a restaurant booth and the third simply teleports onto the screen next to them. It’s a moment of unbelievable cheapness. I also love Mike’s attempt at parodying Critter’s sad folk song, ignoring Crow and Servo’s pleas as they attempt to fight an out-of-control, raging fire on the SOL. Of note: This was the first episode of the Sci-Fi Channel years where the network allowed a film on the show that wasn’t explicitly sci-fi, horror or fantasy.

24. Ep. 804, The Deadly Mantis, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Female lead, resisting romantic advances: “We’d better take off.” Crow: “But I’ve got a MANTIS in my pantis.”

This really isn’t that bad a movie, with credible special effects and models for the time—much better than say, the grasshoppers in The Beginning of the End—but it’s balanced out by how much the film drags in certain stretches, especially when the mantis is aimlessly flying around toward the end. Still, there are some howlingly funny sequences here, especially when the scientists start arguing over the identity/provenance of a giant claw they find in the arctic, with Tom theorizing that “Mrs. Beatrice Torgeson of Maple Plain has spurs like that.” I had an entomologist friend who also took great joy in the vaguely Peter Graves-looking scientist’s following line: “In all the kingdom of the living, there is no more deadly or voracious a creature than the Praying Mantis.” Naturally, the giant bug goes on a rampage and must be stopped, but we take plenty of time off for a subplot about the female reporter lead being clumsily courted by a military man. The “mantis in my pantis” line is only one of many greats. I also like “This just in; the colonel’s advances were rebuffed once again, sweaty hands slapped away, breasts escaped unharmed.”

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23. Ep. 1006, Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues, 1985

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow, to Crenshaw: “God bless you, half man, half pig.”

The funny thing about Boggy Creek II is that it’s not actually the second in the Boggy Creek series, but the third. Apparently the actual second film, Return to Boggy Creek, was so heinous that vain writer/director/star Charles B. Pierce decided to just pretend it never happened when he made this film. That is saying something, because this film is pretty damn awful itself, saved only by some powerhouse riffing from Mike and the Bots, in one of the best episodes of season 10. This is, bar none, the “most Southern” film that the crew ever watches, with tons of riffs about moonshine, Waffle Houses and the shirtless men who dwell in and around them. Ostensibly a movie about hunting for a Bigfoot-like creature in the swamps, it’s instead a savage takedown of country folk and hillbillies by the SOL crew, especially the terrifying Crenshaw, who is far scarier and more unpleasant to look at than any monster ever featured on MST3k. I also love the way the crew zeroes in on poor, scrawny teenager Tim (the director’s son of course), whose obstinate refusal to dress himself makes Crow quip “Can I borrow a cup of shirt?” when he knocks on someone’s door. Even the end credits are great, as Tom launches into a long, rambling story from the perspective of “the little creature.”

22. Ep. 703, Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell, 1988

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “The director’s vision: Confusion, wracked by ambiguity.”

Presenting: The least believable villain in MST3k history. “Troxartes,” or “trucks artist” as he’s quickly dubbed, is a bald, middle-aged sorcerer who seems unwillingly possessed by the spirit of William Shatner, who forces him to croak out each line in the most ridiculously pause-laden, over-the-top manner imaginable. It really is something to see, and it makes this episode an instant classic all on its own. But there’s so much other good stuff too, in this sword-and-sorcery tale of the middle ages, magic stones and an “army of the dead” that consists of a few hairy guys in ponchos. Our hero is a smug, smirking, skinny jackass, with a hairstyle that is, as Mike observes, “off by about twelve hundred years.” Overall, the film is laughably bad, but in a colorfully entertaining way that makes it inherently watchable—I assume this is what Mike means when he calls the film “one of the most ambitiously bad we’ve ever done.” An instant classic is the entire scene with the so-called “potato people,” who angrily react to the hero’s suggestion that maybe they eat anything other than potatoes. Servo’s shock when Potato Mom commands Deathstalker to sleep “in the barn” that “this isn’t the barn?” always makes me guffaw.

21. Ep. 601, Girls Town, 1959

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Another successful sexual intervention, courtesy of the Roman Catholic church.”

Mamie Van Doren, va-va-VOOM. In a ranking of the lovely ladies of MST3k, she would certainly be a top contender, there’s no doubt about that. This film shares some DNA with a few of the show’s other “juvenile delinquent” movies, but its superior riffing and not-half-bad production values shoot it up the rankings. Just the fact that they had the gall to cast the pathetic, wimpy Mel Torme, of all people, as the movie’s villain shows the level of miscalculation on display here. But wait! It’s not just Mel, but also Paul Anka in the same film! Van Doren plays a 27-year-old “at-risk teen” who gets shipped off to an all-girls reform school run by nuns. Anka, meanwhile, is a local teen heartthrob who hilariously (and through no fault of his own) ends up with one of the other reform girls dangerously obsessed with him. The scenes between Anka and this girl, Serafina, are beautiful to behold, as the SOL crew points out her obviously unhinged, frightening behavior toward the unreceptive Anka: “This was the golden age of stalking.” It’s one of the more inherently watchable dramas ever featured on the show, buoyed by a constant stream of impeccable pop culture references.

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20. Ep. 506, Eegah!, 1962

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: While Roxy shaves Eegah: “Why don’t you just cut the string that holds that beard on?”

Eegah! is the best, slimiest movie you’ll ever see about a caveman with a raging libido. For some reason, its hip, swingin’ kids remind of of the Girl in Gold Boots crew, but this movie is far, far zanier and simultaneously more painful. It’s notable for the presence of two actors: Richard Kiel of Human Duplicators and James Bond (he’s Jaws) fame, playing the caveman Eegah, and the director’s son, Arch Hall Jr., taking advantage of supreme nepotism to play the crooning, guitar-strumming male lead. Just the face on Arch Hall Jr. is enough to make you want to turn off the TV—it’s genuinely irritating in its smugness and smushedness, which leads to him being dubbed “Cabbage Patch Elvis” by Joel and the Bots. The film contains one of the great contextless moments in MST3k history, when our three protagonists are venturing into the desert when a completely disembodied voice warns them to “watch out for snakes!” The rest of the episode has a little bit of everything—terrible singing from Arch Hall, wonderful riffing on the makeover Roxy attempts to give Eegah, and more of Richard Kiel’s tongue than you can possibly imagine. There’s even a great host segment where the bots attempt to use a newfangled contraption to smush Joel’s face into the “sunburned baby” countenance of Arch Hall Jr.

19. Ep. 704, The Incredible Melting Man, 1977

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: On the lemon-thieving grandparents: “There are yards of cable and 15 operators required to run these people.”

Quite possibly the “ickiest” episode in MST3k history is The Incredible Melting Man, the tale of a wayward astronaut who, well … melts, very slowly, causing him to go insane and become an unstoppable killing machine. Opposing him? Dr. Ted Nelson, professional bland protagonist. Oh man, is Dr. Ted a bore, but in a way that is somehow side-splitting. He has this air of milquetoast defeatism about him that radiates “I am going to give up immediately,” and it’s delightful. There are so many downright WEIRD things that happen in this film, and the riffing does a good job of pointing out the myriad absurdities. Such as when a nurse fleeing the melting man chooses to run straight through a glass door rather than open it. Or when we cut away to a seemingly unrelated five minutes of the elderly parents of Dr. Ted’s wife trying to steal lemons from a local citrus grove, before being murdered by Melting Man. Or Dr. Ted angrily berating his wife for not having any crackers in the pantry, and using “ATCHKA!” as an expletive. The episode is also notable for its host segments, which parody the frustrations that the Best Brains experienced in producing MST3k: The Movie. Focus groups, interfering producers and studio bigwigs all take a proper thrashing.

18. Ep. 1203, Lords of the Deep, 1989

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my stache.”

Before The Day Time Ended came along, it seemed like Lords of the Deep would have a surefire lock on the title of season 12’s strangest film, but it has to settle for simply being “most psychedelic” of the movies. Oh, and it’s also the best pure episode as well.

How to describe this wonderfully loopy movie? It seems so rote and blasé at first—an extremely cheap, by-the-numbers The Abyss rip-off, full of extremely ‘80s crew members wearing uniforms that look like quilted blankets with the Solo “Jazz Pattern” on them. But the longer you stick with Lords of the Deep, the more mind-bending it becomes. The lead female protagonist waltzes through every scene with a toothy grin on her face, showing reactions that seem like the opposite of whatever is appropriate at any given moment. Mind-numbingly boring conversations in hallways recall the likes of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, before mutating into an alien game of cat-and-mouse that seems to be ripping off the likes of Alien. Meanwhile, everyone trips balls, thanks to sentient ocean slime. It’s like the props of Space Mutiny had a baby with the “aliens want to show us a better lifestyle” preaching of Night of the Blood Beast.

Throughout it all, Jonah and the Bots deliver the season’s most steady, perfectly balanced set of riffs. The rhythmic improvements made to season 12 are on full display here, and the jokes land at a pace and timbre that feels like the best MST3K episodes of yore. Punchlines range from obvious jokes about The Magic School Bus or Yellow Submarine to some good dialog work—I cracked up at “Take your samples—but they won’t bring you true happiness!” Modern films in the vein of The Shape of Water get some great references, and the pair of bumbling comic relief crew members—referred to as “two Uncle Joeys in one movie”—are a gift for the riffers. In fact, the only surprising omission is the fact that the film’s two Roger Corman cameos don’t elicit some kind of recognition. Regardless, Lords of the Deep is a great episode from start to finish.

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17. Ep. 907, Hobgoblins, 1988

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “He’s really my mentor. He taught me how to truly love a woman … from across the street, through a telescope.”

There are MSTies out there who would strongly disagree with my “low” rating in terms of movie pain on this one, but although Hobgoblins is rightly cited as one of the most inept movies ever screened on MST3k, I find its haplessness both charming and inherently watchable—I would have no trouble watching this one without the riffing, which I sure as hell can’t say for the likes of Manos or Monster A-Go-Go. This film is just SO cheap, a moment that crystallizes beautifully in the first full-on reveal of the motionless, unarticulated Hobgoblin puppets driving a stolen golf cart. These guys (“Frankie, Sniffles, Bounce-Bounce and The Claw”), have the power to project really tasteless fantasies onto our stupid ‘80s teen protagonists, whether that be scoring with a phone sex worker or performing a retch-inducing striptease at the local dive, “Club Scum.” The whole film feels like something written by a guy desperately trying to be edgy, but with a 10-year-old’s conception of what “scum” might actually look like. I love how strongly Mike & The Bots sell both their fear and disgust toward watching the film, from trying to flee during the opening credits to building a replica of director Rick Sloane during the closing credits and having him claim that he’d been doing “quite a bit of crack that day” when he came up with Hobgoblins. Also included in the host segments is Crow’s hilariously dark, uninformed documentary about that most mythical of cryptozoological creatures: “Women,” who exist “only in the realm of myth and maybe.”

16. Ep. 1102, Cry Wilderness, 1987

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: To Paul and his equally bowl-cutted father: “Let’s head off to SuperCuts! I’m buyin’!”

After a somewhat uneven start in Reptilicus, Cry Wilderness is exactly what was needed to show faithful MSTies that season 11 was going to rapidly ascend to a higher level. This film is the season’s most impressive “find” in terms of a riffable object—significantly more obscure than the rest, without even a Wikipedia entry to its name before the show returned to Netflix. The story of an impulsive, irritating young boy (Paul) and his mystical bond with sasquatch, it really has to be seen to be believed. All the supporting characters are dynamite, from the constantly inappropriate cackling of Jim the native American sidekick to the first time we meet our antagonist, a big game hunter who has broken into the family’s cabin and is messily devouring an entire rabbit with his bare hands. Comparisons have evoked the likes of Pod People and The Final Sacrifice in describing Cry Wilderness, but there’s an absurdist mysticism here that is even more incredulous and weird—something that reminds me of the “WTF am I watching?” quality of some of MST3K’s Russo-Finnish fantasy movies such as Jack Frost, especially when Paul meets a native American mystic who has apparently risen from the dead specifically to aid him in protecting sasquatch. The riffing, meanwhile, really begins to stretch its legs and get esoteric—I was beyond impressed with a reference to Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s 1798 romantic epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, because honestly, how many people in the audience could possibly be expected to grasp that one? Hampton Yount is great as Crow here, turning even the most simple of running jokes, “...bang!” into a punchline that gets half a dozen big laughs over the course of the episode. It’s my sincere hope that the MST3K crew dredges up more films for season 12 that are this profoundly strange and largely unknown. Unrelated: The Mads’ “Carvel Ice Cream Cake Clock” is probably my favorite invention exchange item of season 11.

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15. Ep. 507, I Accuse My Parents, 1945, /w The Truck Farmer

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “He’s taken to selling his essays cheap on the street!”

I’ve often seen this episode cited as one of Joel’s favorites, and it’s pretty easy to see why, once you get past The Truck Farmer, which is a serviceable (if average) short. The main course, though, is classic Joel-era riffing, largely at the expense of poor dullard Jimmy, who accuses his parents in court as the cause of his delinquency-related downfall. You see, Mom is a lush—too drunk to properly serve on the PTA—and it all just descends into fast-talking, ‘40s-style anarchy from there, with lots of cops who seem like they’re straight out of The Brute Man. Jimmy shares much in common with the equally dumb, easily corrupted teens of other fare such as High School Big Shot, but none of them were so dull as to be reduced to robbing a diner owner for a hamburger. This is a heaping helping of melodrama, which flies in stark contrast to the more genre-heavy material of the Sci Fi Channel years. I enjoy the riffers’ fixation on the film’s many lies—there’s essentially not a single sympathetic character in it, and they spend all their time lying to one another. As Joel puts it, during a transition: “Seventeen hundred lies later …” No wonder Jimmy is driven to serve the mob, while simultaneously having no idea he’s doing it (because he’s an idiot).

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14. Ep. 1110, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, 1985

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Well, we better wrap this fight scene up; the savage warrior needs to get back to his day job at Little Caesar’s.”

Of every film featured in season 11, the first Wizards of the Lost Kingdom feels the most to me like a movie that could have been a series classic during the original run of MST3K. It has elements of all the original series’ sword-and-sorcery classics, from the overly complicated opening narration of Cave Dwellers to the exact same villain (Thom Christopher) as Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell. He doesn’t “Shatner” nearly as much in this installment, but Wizards of the Lost Kingdom makes up for it with an earnest badness that is antithetical to its jokey, painfully self aware sequel. Just look at Golfax, the … yeti? … monster tasked with keeping our young hero safe, who’s just a featureless blob of white fur on two legs, without any discernable mouth, eyes or hint of phonetics. Or “Ape-ula,” the three foot fanged monkey man. Or the villain’s seemingly endless supply of dwarves. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom is some colorful lunacy. But it’s the addition of “tortured Gordon Ramsey”/middle-aged doughy, alcoholic barbarian Kor the Conqueror to the mix that seals the deal on a classic MST3K episode—he is the closest thing to Zap Rowsdower in this new series, and it’s lovely to behold. From the moment that young Simon asks him “Where are you going?” and Crow replies “Fuddruckers!”, it’s clear we’re in good hands. Nowhere in season 11 are the members of the SOL crew more adept at riffing on the cheapness and foibles of the film, as when Crow quips “Is there even a word in the English language for how wrong this guy is for that part?”

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13. Ep. 1003, Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, 1996

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “So Billy, the little boy who looks just like you went through terrible, irredeemable grief.”

Technically the third episode of season 10, this was actually the last new episode of MST3k to ever air on the Sci-Fi Channel, and at one point was considered the “lost episode” as a result. It’s also one of the best, a completely jumbled, pieced-together film assembled from two completely unrelated stories with the common thread of Merlin and his shop. The entire movie is technically presented to the audience as a bedtime story being told by Ernest Borgnine to his grandson, which is referenced often and to hilariously mundane effect by all three riffers: “By this time, Billy, a kid had thrown a chicken while an infertile couple looked at a store!” Or: “And then, the guy with the receding hairline drove a blue car, carefully signaling his turn and pulling into a suburban driveway.” This “bedtime story” quality only becomes funnier as the film gradually becomes incredibly dark, shedding any pretense of “family adventure” and killing not one, not, two, but THREE DIFFERENT PETS throughout. The first half is the strongest for its villain, an insufferably snobby “professional critic” whose job it apparently is to write scathing reviews of novelty magic shops and drive them right out of business. There honestly isn’t a slow moment, from the inexplicably pissed-off psychic woman in the second half to the bizarrity of the “rock ‘n roll martian” sequence, when one of the child actors dons googly glasses and starts singing a tune he seems to be plucking out of thin air. Merlin’s Shop is extremely watchable, if only because you spend half the film razzing its soap opera production values, and the other half marveling at its unexpected brutality in murdering cats and dogs.

12. Ep. 813, Jack Frost, 1964

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: During the opening credits: “These names are all Russian for ‘Alan Smithee.’”

Jack Frost is a hallucinogenic voyage that is only surpassed in trippy visuals by the likes of Santa Claus, but the riffing is on an entirely other level from that Mexican holiday drug bender. This is another of our “Russo-Finnish fantasy cycle,” and it’s undoubtedly the greatest of the lot, full of colorful characters and absurd plot points. It’s a jumbled hodgepodge of Russian mythology and folklore, starring stock characters like the witch Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged cabin, but characters pass in and out of the film so quickly that it ends up feeling like several episodes of a Russian fantasy TV show that have been unceremoniously stitched together to form a celluloid golem. Our hero Ivan is a pompous braggart who must be taught the meaning of humility by being changed into a bear-headed monster by the diminutive sprite known as “Father Mushroom,” before wandering the woods as a bear man seeking to do good deeds for strangers. Meanwhile, the doe-eyed girl known as Nastenka slaves away in a Cinderella-like scenario, awaiting rescue, except “Every time I meet a man, he’s either gay, or a bear,” as Mike quips. It’s a film that is incapable of being boring, and you never have any idea where the next absurd moment or carefully honed pop culture reference will come from.

11. Ep. 404, Teenagers From Outer Space, 1959

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Dog owner, looking at skeleton: “This couldn’t be Sparky.” Crow: “Yeah, Sparky had skin.”

It might go against the spirit of the show in some respect, but I really do think that “not absolutely terrible” films often make for some of the best episodes—or at least legible films do, and Teenagers From Outer Space is considerably more competent than most. I mean sure, it concludes with a giant, rear-projected lobster threatening all of our heroes, but UNTIL then it’s actually sort of decent. A group of 40-something-year-old “teenage” aliens land on Earth to prepare for an invasion, but the young, rebellious “Derek” (that’s his alien name!) instead runs away and starts hanging out with the local kids. Too bad the aliens send the psychopathic Thor after him, leaving a trail of skeletonized remains in his wake with a nifty ray gun that very cleanly and thoroughly destroys everything in its path. The broad, one-dimensional character archetypes are a hoot, from the affable, overweight grandfather who is just poured into his sweater vest, to the alien commander who loves to threaten the treasonous Derek with the likelihood of “TORTCHA!” It’s a good-natured slice of vintage sci-fi that seems to really tickle Joel’s funny bone, and the entire crew is in ebullient spirit throughout.

10. Ep. 702, The Brute Man, 1946, /w The Chicken of Tomorrow

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “This has got to be by far his longest creep! It’s like one of those all-day, super endurance ultra creeps!”

If you take only one lesson away from this entire ranking, let it be that you need to go watch The Brute Man, because it’s the most chronically underrated episode in the history of MST3k, even among hardcore fans of the series. There, I said it: The genius of The Brute Man is terribly underappreciated, but it’s indicative of how great the shortened season 7 is as a whole. The film is technically part of the Universal horror series, starring the lesser-known but impressively lumpy Rondo Hatton (who suffered from acromegaly) as the title character, who is referred to throughout as “The Creeper” and never as “The Brute Man” at any point. The riffing of The Creeper’s inner monologue is absolutely brilliant, filled with pensive musings on the life of the Creeper and his desire to break the backs of the innocent. The sequence with the pissed-off shopkeep berating his teenage employee is side-splittingly funny, and it makes Mike laugh harder in the theater than any other series of jokes I’ve ever seen—he’s literally bent over in his seat, trying to hold in his chuckling. The episode even comes coupled with one of my favorite shorts of the entire series, The Chicken of Tomorrow, which is about breeding a better generation of poultry. It’s riffed with very helpful advice, such as “make sure to put all your eggs in one basket” and “Lick your eggs, or have a friend lick them!”

9. Ep. 1004, Future War, 1997

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “You know, I COULD point out that it’s not the future, and there is no war. But you know me; I don’t like to complain.”

This movie has the most amazing one-sentence synopsis ever for a MST3k feature: A kickboxing slave from space who looks like Jean Claude Van Damme crash-lands on Earth, pursued by cyborgs who use dinosaur puppets as their trackers, and battles them with the help of a former prostitute turned nun and a Latino street gang. None of that is exaggerated in any way. That’s just Future War for you. “John Claude Gosh Darn” starts off the film as a mute—sort of a kickboxing Marlee Matlin—before blossoming into someone you simply wish was mute. The riffs fly furiously and attack the absurdity of the premise but especially the hilariously slapdash production values, such as the director’s seeming obsession with knocking over walls of flimsy cardboard boxes, or the “TV anchorman” using an obviously cardboard video camera. The aforementioned prostitute-turned-nun lives in what Servo describes as “a halfway house for huge guys,” rooming with two gigantic dudes who love to stuff their craws when they’re not being eaten by dinosaurs. You’ve even got a reappearance of mega-chinned Robert Z’Dar, who was just in Soultaker two episodes earlier. The laughs never slow down for a moment, but if I have to pick just one, I can’t help but cackle at Mike and The Bots’ confusion over the identity of one “Fred Burroughs,” who is never seen in the film.

8. Ep. 512, Mitchell, 1975

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Mitchell: Even his name says, ‘Is that a beer?’”

The most bittersweet episode in the show’s history is obviously Mitchell. Joel left a huge hole in the personality and tone of MST3k when he departed, but he at least picked an all-time classic film to go out on in the form of Mitchell. Rarely has the character of a single actor been assassinated so thoroughly as Joe Don Baker is here—you can see why there are (largely exaggerated) stories about his animosity toward the MST3k crew to this day. Mitchell is a cop—a bloating, wheezing, oily, ill-tempered cop who argues with children! That’s actually a thing he does in this film; initiate a screaming match with a young child on a skateboard for no apparent reason. What kind of awful protagonist are you heaping on us, movie? I love the early sequence where he investigates a shooting at John Saxon’s pad, only to learn that he doesn’t know which of the guns in his collection are potentially deadly. Or as Crow says: “They’re randomly loaded. It’s a little game I play.” And then of course there’s what is probably the most uncomfortable love scene in MST3k history, when Mitchell gets under the sheets with a call girl to the tune of the “Mah mah mah mah Mitchell” theme song, before arresting her afterward. Joel’s departure, meanwhile, is both sweet and sad, featuring choice words from The Circus of Dr. Lao. It’s the most poignant moment you’ll find in the MST3k library.

7. Ep. 821, Time Chasers, 1994

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Woah, two different plaids? I’m a naked robot, and even I know that’s a fashion no-no.”

“A David Giancola film … is not something you’d want to see,” begins Mike on this all-star riffing of an obviously Back to the Future-inspired film. Truth be told, I love Time Chasers the film—it’s one of the most purely entertaining movies ever featured on MST3k, and its comfortable, cheesy badness fits it like a glove. I could happily watch it without riffing, but with the MST3k treatment it becomes transcendent. It gets off to a strong start immediately, as Crow absolutely refuses to accept that the big-chinned Nick could possibly be our hero, holding onto hope that he’s riding his bike on a trip to meet the real hero of the film: “This cannot be the star; can it movie? Can I see your supervisor, movie? This will not stand!” We’ve also got a strong cast of supporting actors: Corporate villain “Bob Evil” who wants to use the time machine as a weapon; plaid-wearing and vacuous reporter love interest Lisa, and of course “Pink Boy,” the villain’s primary gopher. The crew really zeroes in on the movie’s seeming lack of budget for location scouting, which results in elementary schools meant to stand in for corporate headquarters and a CEO whose desk appears to be located in a branch library. Also a lot of fun in this episode are the host segments, which see Crow travel back in time to warn a young Mike about how the Mads will trap him on the SOL. Unfortunately, this has the butterfly effect outcome of Mike’s “older brother” Eddie ending up on the SOL instead, which gives us an entire theater sequence of Mike in character as chain-smoking, heavy-drinking Eddie, who takes breaks throughout to loiter on the rarely used left side of the theater. There isn’t a single slow moment in Time Chasers.

6. Ep. 303, Pod People, 1983

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “He died as he lived, with his mouth wide open.”

It has been said, on occasion, that this film and the things within it “stink.” This is the correct assessment. But as an episode? Top notch. Pod People truly is a weird, weird movie, and one that proudly wears the evidence of a troubled production on its sleeve. It’s pretty clear when you’re watching it that the original film was intended as more of a horror/monster movie about an alien hunting band members in the woods, but following the success of E.T. the year earlier, they added a side-story about a disturbingly dubbed young boy and his alien companion, Trumpy. The result is like two unrelated movies running side-by-side. On one hand, we’ve got an untalented band full of unlikable people mucking around the woods in fairly unmemorable fashion. And on the other hand, you’ve got the colorful lunacy of Trumpy, whose magic powers allow him to do “STUPID THINGS!” This is one of Trace Beaulieu’s very best episodes, as his hilarious Trumpy voice makes every scene exponentially more hilarious, such as when Trumpy is browsing through Tommy’s room, calling all of his different pets “potatoes” and debating which he should eat first. Meanwhile, Joel shines in the host segments, where the gang parodies the untalented band’s big musical number with the song “Idiot Control Now.” What can you say about “It Stinks!”? It’s one of the show’s most enduring and oft-repeated catchphrases, along with the likes of “Watch out for snakes!” and “hi-keeba!” Along with Cave Dwellers, this episode was a sign to fans that MST3k had ascended to a new level of quality in season 3.

5. Ep. 701, Night of the Blood Beast, 1958, /w Once Upon a Honeymoon

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Mike, as the morose Dr. Wyman: “What I’m about to say may sound strange, but I think we should eat this corpse.”

Impeccable comedic timing; that’s the engine driving Night of the Blood Beast. The film is just a dull speck of nothing—unlike some of the others in the top 10, it wouldn’t stand out in the slightest if not for the riffing, except for the utterly ridiculous “burn ward Barney” monster costume. And yet, the Best Brains make it something magical, with one of the tightest and most perfectly scripted opening sequences that the series has ever seen. Described by Tom as “from a sentence by Gene Corman,” this film was produced by both Gene and big brother Roger—or in other words, “it’s been thoroughly Cormanized.” It’s the story of a really dead astronaut who falls to Earth, before becoming slightly less dead, and the monster with whom he shares a very personal, possibly sexual relationship. There’s no end to the amazing running gags that are established throughout, especially the fact that seemingly everyone responds to the name “Steve,” and the awkward position of the revived astronaut who appears to be carrying a load of alien shrimp in his manly gut. Meanwhile, we’re also given one of the best and weirdest shorts in MST3k’s library in the form of Once Upon a Honeymoon, which was ostensibly meant to sell telephones. How does the story of an angel helping a newlywed couple write musical theater numbers sell telephones? Your guess is as good as mine, but seeing the DNA of It’s a Wonderful Life reduced to such a cheap, campy bauble is quite a treat.

4. Ep. 904, Werewolf, 1996

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “You know, it’s economical to not have a storyline, because then you can just film people saying things.”

Sometimes, when you’re watching a MST3k movie, you start wondering if it was covertly produced explicitly so it could be featured on this show. Werewolf is one of those episodes. Everything about it invites mockery so openly: The cast of “European-sounding” Americans in the American southwest; the presence of Joe Estevez; the sleazeball villain who can’t decide if his accent is Mexican or Russian; the werewolf costume that looks like a giant fruit bat. There’s no MST3k episode that gets more mileage out of bad accents, between villain Yuri and unforgettable protagonist Natalie. Poor Natalie … she may bear the weight of “the worst single performance in MST3k history,” thanks to a complete inability to emote properly or get a line like “this is absolutely fascinating” out of her mouth in a way that seems human. Some of her lines are even more ridiculous when written out: “You and Noel is in it for fame and fortune? But over my dead body!” She speaks in tenses referred to by Mike as “the future conditional pluperfect subjunctive.” Or more succinctly, it’s a movie about “foreign people talking in attics,” until writer Paul is turned into a werewolf by getting clubbed with a werewolf skull by an angry archaeologist. The smug Yuri is also a highlight, particularly in the way his hair seems to change both style and color—going from black to brown to grey—in nearly every scene. There’s no end to the hilarious sequences, including a werewolf behind the wheels of a car, and Mike & The Bots performance of their ‘50s-inspired girl group song “Where, Oh Werewolf?” It’s all brilliant, top to bottom.

3. Ep. 301, Cave Dwellers, 1984

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “The hills have eyes, but they have glaucoma right now.”

If Wild Rebels in season 2 represents the first “great” episode of MST3k, then Cave Dwellers represents the first hall of fame episode, kicking off season 3. This show, like The Simpsons, simply took time to blossom into its full evolved form. Season 2 is a massive improvement over season 1, but season 3 takes it to the next level, and Cave Dwellers was the episode to announce to the world that MST3k was the greatest comedy on television. Another sword-and-sorcery film in the vein of Deathstalker, it features Miles “I’m huge!” O’Keefe as a Conan-style barbarian Ator, who is delightfully dull-witted, with his Farrah Fawcett hair and “pecs like melons and knees of fringe.” It gives us one of the show’s lamest villains in the form Zor, a scrawny, mustachioed drama geek with a ridiculous helmet shaped like a huge black swan, and “valley girl” princess Mila, whose armor appears to be made from old hubcaps. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can compare to the single most WTF moment in MST3k history, when Ator and co. need to infiltrate a castle and we suddenly cut to Ator leaping off a cliff while flying a modern hang-glider. It’s a moment of sheer lunacy so stupid that you could never possibly see it coming. As Servo says: “Okay, this is a little ridiculous. So he kills a deer; he tans the hide; he stretches the skins; he makes an anodized aluminum frame; he learns how to extrude and weld, all in about five minutes, huh? Learned aerodynamics.” It’s like the movie just flipping a massive middle finger right at the audience, and it’s my favorite Joel-era episode ever.

2. Ep. 820, Space Mutiny, 1988

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “You know, if we pretend we know what’s going on, it’s actually kind of exciting.”

The rare episode where you actually have to wait for a little while before the good stuff arrives, Space Mutiny seems pretty conventional for the first 15 minutes or so, before the arrival of the hero changes everything. If there’s a pantheon out there for “big, dumb, bricks of meat,” Dave Ryder would sit at on the throne. Re-using the “tough guy names” they first tested out in 12 to the Moon, Mike & The Bots this time turn them into an absolute art form, rechristening our hero everything from “Gristle McThornbody” to “Bolt VanderHuge!” He’s the perfect dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers action star: White, beefy, slow and in way over his head in terms of delivering his lines, when he’s not screeching in a bizarrely feminine way. But that’s just the start: We also have Captain Santa Claus (played by the ever-surly Cameron Mitchell), with a never-ending parade of jokes about his elves and reindeer. We also have his “grandma daughter” as the female lead, who appears to be roughly the same age. And to top it all off, there’s the scenery-masticating Kalgan, who murders both spaceship crewmen and common decency with his over-the-top delivery and bug-eyed countenance. The characters make the episode, but the observational humor is just as strong, as Mike & The Bots riff on the film’s obsession with “railing kills” and the howlingly funny continuity error of an actress who was just killed showing up on the bridge in the next scene. Says Crow: “I think it’s very nice of you to give that dead woman another chance!” The laughs fly fast and furious right up to the painfully obvious “the end?” conclusion.

1. Ep. 910, The Final Sacrifice, 1990

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Troy, to grizzled old prospector: “You knew my father?” Servo: “KNOW him? He was delicious!”

We’re finally here: The #1 episode of MST3k of all time. If you’ve actually been reading this piece from start to finish, the quality of the light outside has almost certainly changed since you begun. Perhaps you started before lunch, and the sky is now purpling with a beautiful sunset: The kind of sunset that Zap Rowsdower would stare into pensively, while thinking “I wonder if there’s beer on the sun.” Yes, that’s the name of our Canadian hero: Zap Rowsdower. The dumbest, and thereby most unforgettable name in cinema history. He teams up with a young, snarling-faced kid named Troy to take on an evil cult that wants to revive an ancient, powerful Canadian lost civilization that “ruled this one acre for a week; nobody knew.” The dynamic between the Larry Csonka-worshiping, irritating Troy, who is searching for the cause of his father’s death, and the beer-swilling drifter Rowsdower is the stuff of MST3k legend. Every minute of screen time is packed to the gills with more memorable moments than you can possibly summarize, from eye-rolling “Canadian villain Garth Vader” to grizzled old prospector Mike Pipper, whose tortured voice is a source of constant riffing. It showcases the incredibly obscure, geeky sense of humor that is at the heart of this show, such as Servo’s comparison of Pipper to Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. I mean honestly—what show has both the knowledge and the faith in its audience to make jokes about Ethiopian history? What show on TV, before or since, has had such depth and breadth to its sense of humor, and drawn on so many different influences? What other show can make you laugh so hard, but simultaneously teach you so much, and give you a greater appreciation for cinema itself?

That’s why MST3k is the greatest TV comedy of all time. And by extension, I suppose that makes The Final Sacrifice the greatest TV comedy episode of all time. Long may it reign.

A final thanks

This piece, unsurprisingly, took ages to work on and write. It was begun back in the fall of 2016 in anticipation of the new season of MST3k, and represents untold hours of writing and rewatching of classic MST3k episodes. I just wanted to say “THANK YOU” to everyone who actually made the show possible: Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson and literally everyone at Best Brains who contributed toward making my favorite TV show of all time. Thank you to Shout! Factory for releasing the series and circulating the tapes, and for leading in the revival of the new series as it heads to Netflix. Thank you to Joel again, for having the faith in MST3k’s fans to know that they would support its return on Kickstarter. And good luck to every one of the new cast members: Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount, Baron Vaughn, Rebecca Hanson, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt and everyone behind the scenes. I can’t wait to watch the new season, and perhaps when it’s done, I’ll add the new episodes to this ranking. But in the meantime: THANK YOU! And keep circulating the tapes!

More MST3k content on Paste

While you’re here, I should at least mention some of the other things that both myself and other Paste writers have written about MST3k in the past. Suffice to say, there’s quite a wealth of content, from the very worst movies featured on the show to interviews with some of the former cast members.

— A ranking of just the 20 episodes now available on Netflix.

— An interview I did with Jonah, Baron Vaughn, Hampton Yount and Felicia Day about the reboot.

— An interview I conducted with Joel, right after the #BringBackMST3k Kickstarter was launched.

— An interview with Mike Nelson about the continued success of RiffTrax.

— A feature on Coleman Francis, the REAL worst director in film history, whose three films (The Skydivers, The Beast of Yucca Flats and Red Zone Cuba) were all featured on MST3k.

10 great actors who appeared in MST3k movies, by Paste contributor Chris Morgan, who has also written a book about 12 classic MST3k episodes.

— The 10 most unwatchable films featured on MST3k.

— A 25-episode history of MST3k, noting all the most important developments behind the scenes of the show.

— The top 10 MST3k shorts.

— The 10 worst movie monsters on MST3k.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident MST3k geek and staff writer. You can, and really should, follow him on Twitter for more absurdly ambitious rankings like this one.

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