One of the most famous cult television shows in television history is Mystery Science Theater 3000. The story of men kidnaped by mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies with a group of wisecracking robots mercilessly mocking the films as they view them. All the movies featured on the show are real and absolutely terrible.
But there are movies featured on the show that truly stuck out. They are films that became cult classics in their own right because of how bad they were. Films that pushed the limit to how bad movies could get. Films that were so terrible they had to be seen to be believed. Thankfully the audience had hilarious riffing from a guy and his robot friends to ease the pain and help relax.
‘Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders’ (1996)
The poster and the title of this Ernest Borgnine-narrated film make a casual viewer think this is a fun, whimsical fantasy film for children. But anyone who has seen the movie will immediately know it is, in reality, a fantasy horror film divided into two segments: one about a man who uses Merlin’s magic book and the other about a killer monkey toy.
Mike and the bots poke fun at this disturbing bait-and-switch during the show’s sketches, with the horrifying collection of Ernest Borgnine’s children’s stories making for a popular highlight among fans.
Robot Monster (1953)
This film was featured in the show’s first season and was simply the perfect choice for one of the first subjects. Humankind has fallen to the power of an evil creature from outer space. Or rather the power of a man in a gorilla suit with an antenna-ridden fishbowl on his head emitting soap bubbles named Ro-Man.
He attempts to kill the last eight survivors as they hide from the monster, his evil master, and the climactic arrival of stock footage. It is classic B-level science fiction, with laughably bad special effects, characters who make stupid decisions, and perhaps the least intimidating movie monster in history.
One subgenre MST3K has helped bring to widespread attention was the good old mock-buster – films that attempt to cash in on popular movies to make a quick buck. Perhaps one of the more famous ones covered on the show was hobgoblins.
This knock off ofGremlins centers on alien creatures that cause trouble by making people’s core desires come true – then use the fantasy against a person and kill them. Unfortunately, despite the film attempting to balance horror and humor, the monsters are not very scary, and the romantic comedy is unfunny.
‘The Creeping Terror’ (1964)
Yet another hilarious science fiction schlock-fest about a creature who starts randomly eating people to collect for its unseen alien masters. Made under less than legal circumstances, this disaster of horror contains poor sound mixing with overuse of narration, subplots that are quickly established and just as fast abandoned, and a slow-moving titular monster that looks like it was built out of someone’s garage.
Said creature loses any real threat as Mike and the bots laugh along at his poor design and the fact that he has to wait until his victims can move close enough to him before he can actually start eating them.
‘Mac and Me’ (1988)
if hobgoblins seemed like a cheap knock-off, this makes that look like the most original film ever made. A young boy whose name begins with E befriends a lost alien and has to disguise it from the authorities while helping him contact his family again. Sound familiar?
but while ET: The Extra-Terrestrialhad one of the most emotional film scores in history and a heart-affirming friendship between two people of two separate worlds, Mac and Me has a dance sequence in a McDonald’s. At least Paul Rudd has gotten plenty of mileage out of this garbage-fest.
This was the final episode featuring original host Joel, and this was a perfect film to end its history-making run with. Mitchell is an action piece about an anti-social, rule-breaking cop taking on the criminal system that is both desperate to get an R rating and yet looks like it was filmed for late night television.
Joel and the bots make some of their finest riffs with this one, mercilessly mocking the lead actor’s performance, randomly shouting the film’s title at spontaneous moments like they’re in a trailer, and being collectively horrified by the film’s love scene.
‘Jack Frost’ (1965)
Also known as Father Frost, Jack Frost is a film that attempts to combine many aspects of Russian folklore, from Baba Yaga to Ivan the fool. But, of course, Mike and the bots are entirely unaware of this context (Crow’s knowledge of Russian culture is limited to Rocky IV), so to them and the viewing audience, this film becomes a complete mind-screw.
It is a truly bizarre mixture of unconvincing makeup, exceedingly hammy performances, and confusing story beats. But, of course, the film made for a hilarious time, as fans agree it’s quite entertaining with or without the commentary.
‘Bride of the Monster’ (1955)
Regarding terrible filmmakers, none are more infamous than Ed Wood. His films are notorious for being poorly received even when they were created, yet they have a strange sense of charm that’s hard to resist.
In Bride of the Monster, Wood’s muse and vampire legend Bela Lugosi plays a mad doctor carrying out experiments involving dead people and his monstrous assistant, Lobo. The rest is an onslaught of bad acting, pointless stock footage, and a climax involving a laughably fake octopus. Simply put, it’s Ed Wood at his finest.
‘Santa Claus’ (1959)
while Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the more infamous holiday film featured on MST3K, this film is arguably worse. As the title implies, Santa Claus is a Mexican kids’ movie about Santa Claus (who else?) fighting a devil-like imp from corrupting the world’s children.
In this film, Santa has a castle in outer space full of a united nation’s worth of kids, has Merlin of all people as his magical assistant, and fights demons. All that should be awesome, but the film’s cheap aesthetic and poor English dubbing bring it down immensely.
‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’ (1966)
This is a film so bad that even the mads apologized to Joel and the bots for it. It contains an avalanche of poorly-dubbed lines, a nonsensical and self-repeating script, and cinematography that makes every frame, as Joel puts it, “look like somebody’s last known photograph.”
It’s the story of a family lost on a trip to the valley lodge who come across a house run by a mysterious and sinister cult with beautiful women, a mean dog, and a limping, large knee-bearing man (or satyr) named Torgo. The episode proved so popular that Torgo himself became a recurring character for several of the show’s sketches.
Next: MST3K Unveils All 13 Movies For Its New Season