Who doesn’t love Mystery Science Theater? Degenerates, that’s who!
MST3K has been a cult/geek staple for many years, and the promise of a reboot of the series is bringing it back into the forefront for you bandwagon-types who stopped talking about obsessively it for some reason. If you aren’t up to speed on the show’s premise, it’s all about mocking bad movies using puppets and overdubbing. It’s great.
Everyone knows about Manos: The Hands of Fate — even the MST3K uninitiated. It’s a horrible excuse for a movie, and it would be completely worthless if not for the voices of Joel, Crow, and Servo taking potshots at it. Here’s the thing, though: not every movie they riffed was completely terrible. In fact, after years of watching and re-watching the shows, I realized that most of my favorite MST3K episodes were tearing apart moderately passable films.
Here’s a quick rundown of the movies that might actually be good without the jokes:
7. Jack Frost
When Russia and Finland come together to produce the “Santa’s Village” version of Lord of the Rings, only good things can come of it. This movie is actually quite clever, and it features a few great special effects and design elements. (I’m really partial to the witch’s house with chicken feet.) The story is relatively engaging, amusing, and there’s a moral lesson to be learned about pissing off anthropomorphic mushroom wizards.
I’ll tell you this much: It was a hell of a lot better than Frozen.
This movie was not meant to be taken seriously, so I can give it some kudos for being a solid attempt at a “humorous monster romp” for teenagers in the 80s. The hobgoblins look pretty much like Gremlins, and the acting is completely awful, but there’s something to be said about the carefree stupidity of the whole affair.
Hobgoblins wins no awards for set design, however. It’s clear that the dark, gritty, underground night club (“Club Scumm”) set is a dressed up school cafeteria or something of that nature. The poster board n’ glitter sign doesn’t help.
5. Space Mutiny
If Star Wars had been written by a fourteen-year-old boy with a Jane Fonda obsession, it would have been Space Mutiny. Of course, the lunkhead star of the film is terrible, as is the key antagonist…but the supporting cast isn’t all that bad. The special effects are quite good, but I’m not entirely convinced that they didn’t steal the space battle scenes from other movies.
It’s not the kind of movie that I’d watch on the edge of my seat, but I might watch it for a laugh. An interesting note: The film turned out so badly that director David Winters actually tried to have his name removed from the credits. Tough luck, Winters!
4. Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders
The movie is supposed to be about (actual) Ernest Borgnine telling his grandson stories about the wizard Merlin. Since Borgnine even states that he came up with the stories for television, I assumed that he’d filmed a pilot episode for a series that flopped and decided to bookend it in a half-assed Princess Bride fashion to turn it into a feature. Since it plays out like two episodes of a show haplessly mashed together, it seemed possible.
As it turns out, the two different stories aren’t failed pilot episodes. The second story (about the evil toy monkey) was actually a recut version of a different movie. Yes, the director hacked up his 1987 film The Devil’s Gift, chucked Merlin in at the end, and it became the final two-thirds of a new movie. Brilliant, no?
All of the flaws aside, the movie isn’t all that bad. Merlin is pretty cool, and I dare to say that this could have made a good series.
3. Operation Double 007
This film is also known as “Operation Kid Brother,” and it’s basically a rip-off of James Bond perpetrated by Italian director Alberto De Martino. The film stars Sean Connery’s actual brother, Neil Connery, as James Bond’s brother . . . who is named Neil Connery. The premise? Actual James Bond is killed in the beginning of the movie and his fictional/real brother is called in to take his place.
It seems like a really clever idea, and it’s pulled off fairly well. The film even casts a number of genuine Bond actors, including the real Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell.) The problem? It’s still a huge ripoff, and that led to terrible reviews across the board. If you endeavor to enjoy it for what it is — camp — it’s really not that bad.
2. Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
Gomez Adams in a terrible, Dystopian sci-fi movie? You had me at “Gomez Adams!” While it’s no Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison, the story touches on the theme of the blurred line between human consciousness and computerization. It would be very poignant if it didn’t turn into a weird exploration of unfulfilled desire for the main character. Imagine if Neo learned about the power he had in the Matrix and then chose to use it to bang the hot chick from his office until he got bored with her. Then he figures, what the hell, I guess I’ll save the world now that I got mine. That’s pretty much what happens.
One complaint about the MST3K version of this movie: I usually enjoy all of the bumper sketches with host, robots, and mads, but there’s a segment in this one that outright sucks. Pearl Forrester singing for what feels like twenty minutes is not a good idea.
1. This Island Earth
Of all the movies I’ve watched, this is the only one that I’m certain I’d seen in raw form before seeing it riffed on MST3K. I remember liking it quite a bit, and for good reason. This Island Earth is actually an exceptional movie that leaves a lasting impression (to this day, I still say Mu-TANT.)
The movie is so well done that I’m not going to poke fun at it. I will throw out this fun fact, however: the mutant space monster that’s inexplicably wearing a pair of chinos was not supposed to look so shoddy. The full costume was so intricate that designers were having a hard time making the leg portion work correctly on-set. Constrained by deadlines, they had no choice but to ditch the lower half of the costume and garb the monster in plain old trousers.
That’s a wrap for this list. Which MST3K riff targets do you think could stand on their own?
All opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deck Ape...or anyone else. Arrr!