“Mystery Science Theater 3000” codified what people had been doing for years: vastly improving bad movies by making fun of them. It somehow stayed on the air for eleven years and defined a decade of popular culture, mostly by bringing bad movies back to painful, hilarious life. MST, we salute you, by honoring your ten greatest moments.
#10) SLAB BULKHEAD!
“Space Mutiny” was a South African cinema achievement…mostly in how cheaply and badly you can make a Star Wars knockoff. Shot pretty much entirely in what appears to be a power station’s subbasement with only the occasional nod to the idea that it’s set in space with a cockpit set, it also achieves new heights in recycling actors.
But the greatest moment is when they rechristen poor Reb Brown, who has occasionally gotten the respectable role since this turkey, with dozens of…descriptive names. And, yes, that goes on for a solid minute throughout the film. There’s a reason.
#9) “It’s called ‘evil’, kid.”
“Pod People” is a movie that was shafted from the start: originally intended to be a horror movie about aliens from space, and yes, it was supposed to be scary with a bargain basement version of “Alf”, about halfway through the producer demanded it become a knock-off of “E.T.”
The director is still bitter about it, although we think his insistence the movie would have been better as a horror film is a wee bit suspect. Either way, it also yielded this terrifyingly ’80s moment of bad special effects. And speaking of “Pod People”:
#8) “Idiot Control Now!”
MST3K has been as much about the bad music as it has been the terrible movies, but at least “Pod People” had the acuity to understand just how terrible this moment actually was.
Although they also managed to perform a much better version. Compare and contrast:
Vivian Schilling, who not only starred in this film, but also wrote it, no longer has a career as an actress. Her new career? Novelist. No, seriously! She’s even got a respected publisher, and has gotten decent reviews.
We’re also fairly sure she and Joe Estevez have fallen out of touch. Just a wild guess.
#6) “Pumaman! He flies like a moron!”
Italian cinema, in the B-movie realm, is not really noted for its achievements in writing, or special effects, or direction. It IS, however, noted for ripping off any trend it can find. For example, a far better Italian movie called “Django” was released, and had thirty sequels.
One was official.
So this helps you understand why, precisely, Pumaman and his suspicious resemblance to the Phantom exists. But not why it was released.
#5) “Marginally better than ‘Laserblast’…”
“Laserblast” was, at the time, supposed to be MST3K’s swan song; they’d been canceled by Comedy Central, nobody was picking up the show and the end, it seemed, was nigh.
So why not take out allegedly esteemed cinematic critic Leonard Maltin.
Maltin was, for a time, one of the biggest film critics in the nation, and has a bestselling movie guide. Maltin doesn’t write every review, or apparently institute quality control, because “Laserblast”, widely considered one of the worst movies the crew had to watch, got…two and a half stars, largely thanks to the effects work of David W. Allen, an acclaimed stop motion animator and pretty much the only good thing about the film.
This is out of four stars, by the way. That means it’s a “worth watching” by Maltin’s standards. “Fresh”, in Rotten Tomatoes parlance, although RT disagrees with this particular assessment.
So, why not point out a few movies as good as “Laserblast?” Some of which are critically acclaimed dramas, or just movies with far better production values?
#4) “Remember, Believe in Magic…Or I’ll Kill You!”
Something of a minor ongoing theme in MST3K, or at least the movies they found, were horror movies being made into children’s films.
In this case, it was a movie made largely as an anthology film before getting the order to turn it into a children’s film. So, the director rammed in Merlin and his terrifying shop as a framing device. It didn’t end well, at least not intentionally.
#3) “The Home Economics Story”
This short, with Joel and the bots, should be required viewing on every college campus. Ask a college student: educational videos about college have not improved since this was made.
In fact, we’re pretty sure Joel and the bots should be running our educational system: they certainly couldn’t do a worse job than whoever is running it right now.
Not many people could displace our heroes in the affections of viewers, but Torgo came close.
Maybe if he’d worn something sheer…
#1) “Mr. B Natural”
A fun fact about “Mr. B Natural”; originally, obviously, an ad for Conn musical instruments, it fell into a richly deserved obscurity and only one print is known to exist. We like to imagine that this was because some hero has dedicated himself to destroying all copies.
There’s a lot about this short that’s just flat-out creepy: the not-so-androgynous Mr. B, the blatant lies about how being in band will make you popular, and the fact that this was actually intended to be shown to people. In short, it marks the MST crew at their finest.
The show’s all over Youtube, so give it up for your favorite moments in the comments below!
by Dan Seitz