Comedy

Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best

Comedy Lists best mst3k episodes
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55. 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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54. 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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53. 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.


52. 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.’”


51. 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.”


50. 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.


49. 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!”


48. 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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47. 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?”


46. 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!”


45. 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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44. 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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43. 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.”


42. 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.


41. 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.


40. 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.


39. 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.”


38. 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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37. 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.


36. 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.


35. 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.


34. 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?


33. 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.


32. 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.”


31. 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.


30. 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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29. 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.

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