The ongoing Kickstarter campaign to #MakeMoreMST3K continues to roll on strong, drawing ever closer to another 12-episode season for the beloved movie riffing series—this time, on MST3K’s own streaming platform dubbed the “Gizmoplex.” The post-Netflix era of the show is proving that the fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are still willing to put their money where their mouths are, and has currently raised almost $4.9 million as it attempts to accelerate to its ultimate $5.5 million goal before the end of Friday. You can keep up with the progress by visiting the Kickstarter page here.
As the show did when first breaking Kickstarter records more than five years ago, MST3K’s creative team is currently pulling out all the stops in search of more donations and contributions. This has included the addition of various new backer awards, but I was shocked to find out one piece of information in particular, which is very surprising for MST3K—creator Joel Hodgson actually revealed two of the upcoming movies in advance.
Never in the history of the series, to my knowledge, has the “experiment” at the heart of an episode ever been revealed before broadcast, so this is a very interesting decision from Hodgson and co. In fact, the identity of the movies had always been a rather closely guarded secret in the past. One would think that these films are being expected to pique interest in the next phase of MST3K, or give us some kind of idea of what sort of movies they’ll be tackling, so they obviously deserve some further examination.
Looking at them more closely reveals two films that are very different, in terms of how they fit as typical MST3K episodes. One of the two films, 1993’s Robot Wars, looks like it would have been right at home in any era of the series to date. The other, however, 2019’s Demon Squad, is a big departure from the conventional. Here’s a bit more info on each.
Director: Albert Band
Robot Wars is a Full Moon Entertainment production, which discerning bad movie geeks know means “Charles Band.” The B-movie producer maven has essentially been the Roger Corman of the direct-to-video market for going on three decades now, an unstoppable and prolific force in shlocky, low-budget cinema. Joel describes Robot Wars as follows:
Robot Wars is a Charlie Band feature that was clearly designed for cable, but the producers really decided to go for it anyway, and created a low-budget film with scope, attitude, and some nice stop-motion robot vehicles that occasionally fight. I gotta tell you that for a few minutes, it starts feeling like The Love Boat… if the “Love Boat” was a giant mech that was fighting another boat that was also a giant mech, and they were both sinking. And on fire.
Bad movie geeks will note the unavoidable similarity to Band’s own, better-known Robot Jox from 1990, as this film likewise revolves around stop-motion animated mechs doing battle. This has apparently led to Robot Wars being referred to a sequel to Robot Jox, but they’re actually unrelated, despite the fact that is sure looks like they’re recycling some of the same sets and effects. Expect a more sincerely bad version of last season’s Atlantic Rim from The Asylum. Bonus: It’s got horror legend Barbara Crampton, who we recently interviewed.
In terms of its MST3K appeal, Robot Wars looks like an alley-oop waiting to be forcefully dunked by Jonah and the Bots. Silly, colorful and full of absurd (but impressive in their own way) visual effects, bad ‘90s fashion and gaudy costumes, it looks like prime riffing material that could easily have been tackled during the SyFy era of the original series in particular. Riffing on Robot Wars feels like it will be an effortless layup for the MST3K team.
Director: Thomas Smith
Where Robot Wars feels comfortably familiar for MST3K, Demon Squad is something very different indeed. This is a zero budget indie feature, almost entirely unknown (but currently streaming on Amazon Prime, if you want to have a look), that was released very recently, in either 2019 or 2020. It’s more modern and arguably a less professional film than anything MST3K has ever tackled in the past—interesting in the sense that it gives some stylistic novelty to this season, but also something that raises my concerns a bit as well. Joel describes it as follows:
Our second movie, Demon Squad, screams “indie feature.” The producers work hard to create a film noir/fantasy vibe, without ever once acknowledging Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner. It appears to take place in New Orleans. It also has more than its fair share of After Effects lightning bolts and purpley, swirly clouds from another dimension, and basically looks like the producers got a lot of their friends and family together and glued costume shop masks onto their faces. But the real attraction is the star, Khristian Fulmer, and his on-screen “Girl Friday,” Erin Lilley, behaving like they have history and chemistry.
I have to think that Joel and co. will feel compelled to be a bit nicer to the people who made Demon Squad than the likes of Charles Band, because Demon Squad really does look like a film made by friends and family on a larf, rather than a feature that was ever intended to generate a single dollar in revenue. Historically, MST3K has typically avoided these sorts of shoestring indie features, I imagine because riffing them can seem cruel or meanspirited—like punching downward at a disadvantaged production. Then again, who knows? Perhaps the star of Demon Squad holds himself like a self-serious Tommy Wiseau in the making, and was a riffing target that none of the crew could resist. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but either way it’s clear that Demon Squad is a much riskier and less conventional choice for MST3K than the likes of Robot Wars.
As the Kickstarter moves toward its grand finale at the end of Friday, we hope to see a full, 12-episode season of MST3K inbound shortly. If any more of the films are revealed, we’ll be sure to let you know.