A new list of MST3K recommendations
With the series reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 coming to Netflix in April, and me in need of some cheering up anyways, I thought I’d give you some opinions on the new to Netflix episodes you should definitely watch. Also all are available to watch online elsewhere, as well as purchase.
Werewolf –This movie is wonderfully ridiculous, and could have been tailor made for MST3K. The movie is about a writer – who, I should note, is never actually seen writing – who picks up a case of werewolfism from being hit with the skull of a skinwalker. I should point out that none of our stars seem to be American, which wouldn’t be a problem if this wasn’t taking place in Arizona, and if anyone could, say, act. But save for Joe Estevez, who makes the briefest appearance here, this seems to be a movie stocked with people chosen for reasons beyond acting ability. The wooden but very beautiful female lead makes sense, sure, but who thought Paul, our marble mouthed hero, was hot? Or Yuri, the Russo-Mexican (?) bad guy who wears a different hair color and style in every scene in the goddamn movie? This is one of my all time favorites, because it’s so bad it’s ridiculously watchable, and has great little accidental jokes that the guys hardly need to add anything to. Such as when Paul tries to say the simple line “I screwed everything up, didn’t I?” but mangles it to the point where Crow repeats back, baffled, “Skooed?” Yeah, sounded like that to me too. Also, the security guard who morphs into a werewolf while driving, and keeps driving, is a bit of cinema absurdity that’s hard to surpass. It’s a catastro-masterpiece.
Teenagers From Outer Space – Here’s a huge slice of ’50’s cheese, where thirty year old teenagers come from space to raise hoards of “gargons” – that appear to be lobsters – and destroy the planet, when sensitive space “teen”, Derek, revolts, and decides that humanity is worth saving. The movie is charmingly terrible in that Ed Wood way, although most of the actors – save for our scenery chewing bad guys, and our “star”, who’s a bit wooden – act a little better than you expect them to. There’s a naiveté to all of this that’s almost charming, although the force perspective shadowy lobster is an effect so laughably terrible there was no way it could have flown at any time in the history of cinema.
Future War – Oh, this film. I’d also subtitle the Box Holocaust. Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before : a human raised by aliens to be a slave escapes and falls to Earth, where he comes across a doubting nun who used to be a prostitute. She decides to help him when his alien cyborg masters sic dinosaur puppets on them, and in the end, they win their battle with the help of a street gang. You know, that old saw. This movie is wall to wall absurdity, and it wouldn’t be nearly as funny if it didn’t take itself so damn seriously. Most of these kickboxing battles between the slave – let’s call him Jean Claude Gosh Darn – and the cyborgs happen in or around huge stacks of empty cardboard boxes. They hate those boxes! But my favorite scene is at the end, in the Arby’s employee chapel (partially a joke, but also, kind of not), where, during the climactic fight, Jean Claude’s shirt accidentally on purpose comes off. It may be one of my favorite moments in low budget cinema. Besides the driving werewolf.
Manos: The Hands of Fate & Space Mutiny – I’m not going to advocate for these, simply because of course you should watch them. They’re acknowledged classics of the MST3K catalog. And how can you go through life having never seen the glory that is Torgo, or Blast Hardcheese? You have no excuse now.
Puma Man – Please enjoy if you can this terrible superhero film, about a long lost descendant of ancient aliens who is the Puma Man, which means he can fly … which isn’t really a thing pumas are known for. Not that it matters, because the real hero of this film is the tall sidekick, sort of a Magical Negro character turned Magical Aztec. Helping this poor dope who flies with his butt sticking straight up, and whose biggest obstacle is an aging Donald Pleasance in a pleather outfit. This is so bad, you may actually rethink Batman Vs Superman. (But probably not.)
Jack Frost – There’s no simple way to say this: this movie is bananas. I mean, it’s a Russo-Finish children’s film that mashes together a variety of different – but mostly Russian – fairy tales, and shoves them in a blender. There are recognizable chunks, but mostly it’s a slurry of weirdness. If you have taken LSD or strong cold medicine, you may want to wait until you’re sober to tackle this one. Or maybe not. Maybe it enhances the experience. The plot involves a Cinderella like girl named Nastinka, and an arrogant Prince whose taught a lesson by having his head turned into a bear’s head. Jack Frost does eventually enter the film, and plays a major role in the plot, but there’s really no reason the film is named after him. There really is no reason for any of this, but here we are.
I Accuse My Parents – There are many weird short, instructional films, and MST3K riffed a lot of them. (I would personally recommend A Date With Your Family, Once Upon A Honeymoon, Why Study Industrial Arts?, and Last Clear Chance, all MST3K riffed. Find them on YouTube!) But I Accuse My Parents is, in many ways, a feature length instructional film, although its message is muddled at best. Wealthy but alcoholic parents somehow lead to their thirty year old teenage son getting involved with a mobster, but being way too stupid to realize he was actually involved with a mobster until it’s spelled out for him. He’s saved by a simple, good hearted, church going café owner who gives him a break. Somehow this leads to him being acquitted of murder. (As they say, “Thank God I’m white!”)
If you have seen all of these, and want to watch more MSties, I’ll recommend these with certain caveats.
Time Chasers – This no budget time travel films has its charms, but I’ll be the first to admit the movie itself is sometimes a little too painful in spots. The main character is unappealing, although, thinking about it, I’m not sure there’s any likable characters. Even if it had an adequate budget, there are so many story problems! Is it just me?
The Giant Gila Monster – A forced perspective lizard gives a small ‘50’s town hassles. This isn’t just a monster film, though, which is a shame, as I love a good cheesy monster film. This is one of those ‘50’s movies that was trying to reach out to teens with tepid musical numbers. Only two, but they seem interminable, and you don’t really see enough of the forced perspective lizard.
Pod People – I think this was my first official MST3K episode, and it is a pretty good one. Again, the movie bogs down in the final third, and it’s doubly weird, because there seem to be three movies going on at the same time, that eventually crash into one another. The best has a horrible band – the musical sketch about their nonsensical song is a classic – getting chased through woods by a monster. The second story has hunters coming across alien eggs that they smash because their bastards, and the weakest story – yet the one with the most time devoted to it – is a kid with a lot of animals who befriends one of those alien creatures. Still, this leads to a riff about other animals being different kinds of “potatoes”, which is why I still, to this day, refer to birds as “little winged potatoes”.
Laserblast – This was the last movie in Mst3K’s Comedy Central years, and the funny thing is that abbreviated year, year seven, had some of my favorite episodes in it (Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell, Night Of the Blood Beast, Incredible Melting Man … really, you should check them all out). This was probably the weakest episode of that year, although having said that, it’s completely the movie’s fault. It’s a murky tale of a teen finding a deadly alien weapon that somehow infects those who pick it up, and makes them killers until the stop motion aliens come to sort them out. The problems start at low budget, sure, but it costs nothing to have likable characters, and this movie still doesn’t manage it.
Zombie Nightmare – Speaking of unlikable characters, here’s a terrible, low budget ‘80’s horror film, which has a hair metal soundtrack, and Adam West in a prominent role. But the stealer of the show is the weird voiced coroner, who sounds an awful lot like The Penguin. Coincidence? Probably.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians – This is a goofy, low budget kids film, that shows its lack of cash, talent, and everything else at every turn. Pretty harmless overall, but it is the source of the MST3K instant classic song “Let’s Have A Patrick Swayze Christmas”, which should be a holiday standard by now. I mean, I don’t sing Christmas carols, but I’d sure as hell sing that.
None of the MST3Ks are worth avoiding – that would be Teenage Caveman, and Castle of Fu Manchu – but understand the rest are kind of up and down. No series is perfect, especially one that depends so much on really bad films.