The success of Mystery Science Theater 3000 stemmed largely from the comedic acumen of the writers and performers. They came up with the smart jokes, clever, esoteric pop culture references, and the funny sketches scattered throughout episodes. However, we cannot overlook another key piece of the puzzle—the movies.
Were it not for these cinematic duds, MST3K would have just consisted of a guy and some robots up in a spaceship twiddling their thumbs. Throughout the show’s run, the crew of the Satellite of Love went through a litany of celluloid disasters. Some were so bad, they were good. Others were so bad, they were, well, bad. And some-the worst—boggled the mind and defied logic. Here are the worst of the worst, the most egregious insults to filmmaking (so bad, we didn’t even rank them) that ever found their way into the not too distant future.
A robot is bad enough, but a robot monster? Now that’s a real pickle. Robot Monster is a cheery tale about Ro-Man Extension XJ-2, who is trying to eliminate all life on Earth—and the whole thing may or may not be a dream (or at least a partial dream). It’s hard to tell, in part because the movie is so poorly made. But it stands out from a bunch of other monster movies because Ro-Man from outer space is clearly a dude in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet. What does this have to do with a robot monster? Maybe it’s just dream logic. Which is pretty deep when you think about it. Deep… or stupid.
The problem with The Castle of Fu Manchu is that, while it is certainly terrible, it’s not terrible in a fun way. There aren’t many laughs to be drawn from the film itself. Watching it without the companionship of Joel and the ‘bots would be an act of aggression against one’s self. Christopher Lee plays the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, which should be warning right there, and a plot unfolds that nobody can really decipher. It’s a real slog.
A movie made by Ed Wood had to make this list, even if MST3K never got to Plan 9 from Outer Space. Featuring Wood’s mainstays of Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson, this film was made famous by Tim Burton’s Ed Wood because of the use of a lifeless giant octopus that actors would have to fruitlessly thrash around with to try and make it look like, you know, it was alive and attacking them. This is emblematic of the movie, and of Wood as a filmmaker in general.
This is the cream of the crop, for many viewers. No film is more synonymous with Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Manos: The Hands of Fate. It is truly a sight to behold. To try and explain it would be an exercise in futility. Like The Matrix, curious viewers must experience Manos for themselves. It’s really only an example filmmaking in the most technical sense, but the results are fascinating.
This was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Batman television show, but since most of the acting parts went to local strippers, you can probably guess how this movie turned out. What you might not expect is the straight racist comedy piece that takes place in the weird séance scene. This film wanted to be campy and fun, but the only laughs are derisive ones.
On its surface Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the more ridiculous Santa Claus movie feature on MST3K. But in truth, Santa Claus is the weirder movie, and makes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians look competent in comparison. This Mexican product is strangely religious for a Santa Claus movie, especially one that also features Merlin. Santa even has a battle with the Devil’s right hand demon Mr. Pitch. Beyond weird.
This is one of three Coleman Francis films that MST3K screened, though this one doesn’t just feature Francis as the director and writer. He also starred in it, and, spoiler alert: he’s awful at acting! There’s actually something interesting to this plot, which involves the Bay of Pigs Invasion and a tungsten mine, but the execution buries it in nonsense and tedium. At least one of Francis’ other films, The Beast of Yucca Flats, had a monster in it.
Leonard Maltin kind of enjoyed Laserblast, infamously giving it two-and-a half stars. And anything more than zero feels generous. Ostensibly, the movie is about a boy named Billy, who gets a laser-blasting device from some weird looking aliens, but there is barely any plot beyond that. It mostly consists of stuff getting blown up, and Eddie Deezen—a less than ideal combination.
This film is apparently based on an old Russian folk tale, but that’s got to be a pretty messed up tale if this movie is any indication. It may just be the strangest movie ever shown on MST3K. The plot is nuts, and the looks is so garish. Then there’s that dude with the freaky bear-head. One could argue that a little something is lost in translation from Russia to the good ol’ U.S. of A, but it seems unlikely that this movie is anything more than a hot mess in any language.
To be fair to the bad movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured, a lot of them were created back in the day, when special effects were a whole different ballgame. Hobgoblins, from 1987, doesn’t have that excuse. Also, all the special effects in the world couldn’t paper over the bad acting and nonsense plot. And those cheap-looking hobgoblin puppets didn’t help either. However, we do recommend you tune in for an erotic phone call that will make you laugh… or make you celibate. Possibly both. This is truly an amazing feat of filmmaking failure, but at least it’s a good time.
Chris Morgan is the author of The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Twelve Classic Episodes and the Movies They Lampoon, to be released by McFarland Books in 2015.