One of the most famous cult television shows in television history is Mystery Science Theater 3000. The story of men kidnapped by mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies while a group of joking robots mercilessly mocked the movies while they watched. All of the movies featured in the show are real and absolutely awful.
But there are films in the show that really stand out. They’re movies that became cult classics in their own right because they were so bad. Movies that pushed the boundaries of how bad movies can get. Movies so horrible you had to see them to believe them. Luckily, the audience had hilarious riffs from a dude and his robot friends to ease the pain and help relax.
“Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders” (1996)
The poster and the title for it Ernest Borgnine-narrated film would make a casual viewer think that this is a fun, whimsical fantasy film for children. But anyone who has seen the film will know immediately that this is actually a fantasy horror film divided into two segments: one about a man using Merlin’s grimoire and the other about a murderous monkey toy.
Mike and the bots poke fun at this disturbing bait and switch during the show’s sketches, with the chilling collection of Ernest Borgnine’s children’s stories making for a popular highlight among fans.
“Robot Monster” (1953)
This film was shown in the first season of the series and was just the perfect choice for one of the first themes. Humanity has fallen victim to the power of an evil creature from outer space. Or rather, the power of a man in a gorilla suit with an antenna-studded goldfish bowl blowing soap bubbles on his head, called Ro-Man.
He attempts to kill the last eight survivors while they hide from the monster, its evil master, and the culminating arrival of archive footage. It’s classic B-level sci-fi with ridiculously bad special effects, characters making stupid decisions, and perhaps the least intimidating movie monster in history.
‘Hob Goblins’ (1988)
One sub-genre that helped MST3K become widely known was the good old mock-busters – movies that try to monetize popular movies to make a quick buck. Perhaps one of the most famous was covered on the show goblins.
This knock offgremlins focuses on extraterrestrial creatures that cause problems by making people’s deepest desires come true – then use the imagination against a person and kill them. Unfortunately, although the film tries to balance horror and humor, the monsters aren’t very scary and the romantic comedy is unfunny.
“The Creeping Terror” (1964)
Another hilarious sci-fi schlockfest about a creature that starts eating people at random in order to collect them for their unseen alien masters. Made under illegal circumstances, this horror disaster features poor audio mixing with overuse of narrative, subplots that are quickly established and abandoned just as quickly, and a slow-moving titular monster that looks like it’s made of someone’s flesh garage has been built.
Said creature loses any real threat as Mike and the bots laugh at his poor design and the fact that he has to wait until his victims can get close enough before he can actually eat them.
“Mac and I” (1988)
if goblins looked like a cheap fake, this looks like the most original movie ever made. A young boy whose name begins with E befriends a lost alien and must hide him from the authorities while helping him reconnect with his family. Sound familiar?
But during ET the extraterrestrialhad one of the most emotional film scores in history and a heartwarming friendship between two people from two separate worlds, Mac and I has a dance sequence in a McDonald’s. At least Paul Rudd got a lot of miles out of this garbage festival.
This was the last episode with original host Joel and this was a perfect movie to end his story. Mitchell is an action piece about an antisocial, rule-breaking cop who takes on a criminal system that is both desperate for an R-rating and looks like it was filmed for late-night television.
Joel and the bots pull off some of their best riffs on this one, mercilessly mocking the lead actor’s performance, randomly shouting the film’s title at spontaneous moments as if they were in a trailer, and being collectively appalled by the film’s love scene.
Jack Frost (1965)
Also known as Jack Frost, JackFrost is a film that tries to combine many aspects of Russian folklore, from Baba Yaga to Ivan the Fool. But of course Mike and the bots are totally unaware of this context (Crow’s knowledge of Russian culture is limited to Rocky IV), so this film becomes a complete brain teaser for them and the viewing audience.
It’s a truly bizarre mix of unconvincing makeup, utterly smashing performances, and bewildering story beats. But of course the film has had a hilarious time as fans agree it’s quite entertaining with or without commentary.
“Bride of the Monster” (1955)
When it comes to terrible filmmakers, none is more notorious than Ed Wood. His films are notorious for being poorly received as they were made, but they have an odd charm that’s hard to resist.
In Bride of the Monster, Wood’s Muse and Vampire Legend Bel Lugosi plays a mad doctor who conducts experiments on the dead and his monstrous assistant, Lobo. The rest is an onslaught of bad acting, pointless footage and a climax involving a ridiculously fake squid. Simply put, it’s Ed Wood at his finest.
‘Santa Claus’ (1959)
While Santa Claus conquers the Martians is the more notorious vacation movie on MST3K, this movie is arguably worse. As mentioned in the title, Santa Claus is a Mexican children’s film about Santa Claus (who else?) who fights an evil leprechaun to corrupt the children of the world.
In this film, Santa Claus has a castle in space full of children from the United Nations, has Merlin of all people as his magical assistant and fights demons. All of this should be great, but the film’s cheap aesthetics and poor English dubbing bring it down immensely.
“Manos: The Hands of Destiny” (1966)
This movie is so bad that even the crazies apologized to Joel and the bots. It contains an avalanche of poorly synchronized lines, a nonsensical and self-repetitive script, and cinematography that makes each frame, as Joel puts it, “look like someone’s last known photograph.”
It’s the story of a lost family on a trip to the valley hut and stumble upon a house run by a mysterious and sinister cult with beautiful women, a mean dog, and a limping, tall, kneeling man (or satyr) named Torgo becomes. The episode proved so popular that Torgo himself became a recurring character in several of the series’ sketches.
Next: MST3K reveals all 13 movies for its new season