It’s official! We’re getting 14 new episodes of MST3K!! Including a holiday special! Now that the insane rush of the kickstarter is over, speculation can turn to more pressing issues, like trying to guess which cheesy movies the villainous Kinga Forrester will inflict on our new host, Jonah.
Obviously, Joel has chosen to be cagey about such details, which is understandable, as MST3K only works by taking forgettable (and cheap) films that nobody cares about and raising them to new cult status. Certainly, nobody would be cheering about a remastered version of Manos: The Hands of Fate or donating towards a 4K restoration of The Atomic Brain if Joel and the bots hadn’t paved the way first.
Whatever the new movies turn out to be, Joel has promised that they’ll be in keeping with classic MST3K fare, which among other things generally means no nudity, nothing too crass, gory, violent, or offensive, and a minimum of swearing, though they have been occasionally known to self-censor. Also, for technical reasons, they shy away from anything with a soundtrack or licensed music (Well, licensed music that anyone cares about. The Band That Played California Lady is probably fine.) No mention has been made about whether the new team will tackle any movies released later than 1996, the most recent movie riffed on the original series, but I’m guessing they won’t stray too far past the early 2000’s, as it’s just not as much fun mocking lackluster CGI as it is a guy in a bad rubber monster costume or a forced perspective hand puppet.
That said, there’s a near infinite supply of grade Z movies out there begging to be mocked, but I’ve whittled my list down to just
10 11 choice titles for the new SOL crew to tackle, based on their close connection to writers/producers/directors riffed on in the past. Hardcore MSTies will recognize names like Samuel Z. Arkoff and Bert I. Gordon, and nod sagely, recognizing the hallmark touches of cinematic pain. Also, to be fair, I’ve deliberately excluded any film properties that have already been featured on the show before (including the KTMA season), Rifftrax, or The Film Crew.
So... In no particular order, let’s begin with:
#1 — Night of the Ghouls (1958)
Reason: It’s the only unMSTied nonpornographic Ed Wood horror film we have left besides Plan 9 (which has already been riffed on by both Rifftrax and Mike solo), and you haven’t been properly blooded as a MST3K host unless you’ve been forced to sit through at least one Ed Wood movie.
This one’s even a semi-sequel to MST3K classic Bride of the Monster, though knowing Ed Wood, that was solely so he could pad it out with stock footage from his own library.
Interesting fun fact: Wood completed principle photography on this picture in 1957, but couldn’t afford to pay the film lab for the post-production work, so the negatives were held hostage for over 20 years, until a film archivist discovered their whereabouts, paid off Ed’s long overdue tab, and released the stinkbomb on home video in 1984, six years after Wood’s death.
Wood was apparently never happy with the final cut of the film, and wanted to make several additions to spice things up, including (of course) inserting posthumous footage of Bela Lugosi. If they actually did decide to use this one, I almost feel sorry for Jonah. If Ed “good enough” Wood doesn’t think a film is up to snuff, you know it’s gonna hurt.
#2 —The Cyclops (1957)
Reason: Likewise, it’s also not MST3K without a Bert I. Gordon picture, and this is the only one of the classic 50’s Bert I pictures left unriffed. If I had to lay down money on any of the films on this list making it into the new series, this would be the one.
As you can see from the trailer above, it uses the exact same stock footage as King Dinosaur and the same terrible front-projection techniques as The Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason they didn’t use it during the original run was because they were all sick and tired of making fun of the same stupid iguana with a fin glued to his back.
#3 — Phantom From Space (1953)
Reason: W. Lee Wilder was the far less talented brother of famous director Billy Wilder, and it’s amazing none of his movies ever made it onto MST3K. The only reason I’m not including the Peter Graves classic Killers From Space on this list is because it was already riffed by Mike, Kevin and Bill as The Film Crew, but what Phantom From Space lacks in incompetence, it makes up for in tedium and lots of scenes of wormy looking scientists standing around the Griffith observatory talking at each other while a (mostly) invisible alien floats objects around on strings. Also, said alien looks suspiciously like the Robot Monster who accidentally put his helmet on backwards and left his monkey suit at the cleaners.
There’s actually a rather good restored colorized print available from Legend Films, and the movie’s in the public domain, which makes it perfect riffing material. Alternatively, I’d also be willing to accept any of W. Lee Wilder’s other sci-fi horror films, including The Man Without a Body, which I haven’t seen yet, but features a mad scientist who specializes in transplanting monkey heads via poorly done matte effects, who schemes to replace a dying businessman’s brain with that of the rotting cranium of Nostradamus, as one is wont to do in these situations.
#4 — Gamera vs. Jiger (1970) (AKA. Gamera vs. Monster X)
Reason: Like we need an excuse for another Gamera movie! This was the 6th of the original Daiei! Gamera flicks, and just as goofy as its predecessors. This one really plays up the “Gamera is the friend of all children” angle, and features the obligatory Kenny and Helen substitutes joined by a pair of annoying caucasian kids, just in case that helped improve the picture’s marketability to Americans. It also features the return of fan favorite Corn Job from Gamera vs. Guiron, though as far as I can tell he’s playing a different character this time, but still an idiot.
#5 — The Flying Serpent (1946)
Reason: From the same great minds that brought you Mad Monster, I Accuse My Parents and Lost Continent comes... basically a complete rehash of the far more popular 1940 Bela Lugosi film Devil Bat, minus the star power of Bela Lugosi.
It’s got all the hallmarks of classic MST3K fodder, in that it’s dull, grey, and features lots of dramatic “action” sequences of middle-aged white guys driving well below the speed limit or shuffling slowly away from a hideous flapping monster that looks remarkably like a soiled dish rag that somebody taped Johnny Depp’s hat to. It’s also in the public domain, though I don’t know if anybody’s ever bothered to go back and clean up the print, which might be a problem if the new series is hoping to record everything in HD.
#6 — Dimension 5 (1966)
Reason: We all love it when MST3K does a spy movie, and the new series needs a suave secret agent to rival the likes of Bart Fargo, Rex Dart (eskimo spy) and Sean Connery’s brother. Well, my friends, and it’s high time the internet learned that the only thing better than a goofy 60’s spy flick, is a goofy 60’s spy flick that’s also a time travel espionage thriller starring a ton of guest actors from Star Trek and
Odd Job the hat killer from Goldfinger. This movie has just the right amount of cheese, as it tries desperately to pass itself off as a sci-fi James Bond on the same budget as an episode of Time Tunnel.
Comparatively, it’s not even that terrible a movie. It actually reminds me a bit of the Gary Seven episode of Star Trek, and is definitely a cut above The Human Duplicators and Women of the Prehistoric Planet, which were also written by the same guy. I’d say it falls nicely into that category of films that would be just barely watchable on their own, but infinitely better when enjoyed in the company of some really funny friends.
You can watch the entire thing on youtube here if you’re curious.
#7 — I, Monster (1971)
Reason: Because there may just be a worse movie in Christoper Lee’s career than Castle of Fu Manchu. I have been not so subtly begging Rifftrax to riff this film for years, but you know what... I’m glad they didn’t, because it’s infinitely more suited to MST3K.
First of all, as a gimmick, the entire film was supposed to be shot in 3D, but the process was deemed unsatisfactory and too expensive, so they abandoned it halfway through, which means there’s lots of extremely odd sequences with Lee randomly throwing crap or waving objects in front of the camera for no logical reason, and the climactic fight scene at the end of the movie is quite literally obscured by a wall.
Secondly, it appears that the rights to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were still owned by another film company, so they had to call the character “Marlowe” and “Blake” instead, and use makeup effects that could in no way be mistaken for those previously utilized by Universal or Hammer, so Lee’s monster transformation consisted entirely of giving him a unibrow, buck teeth, and a terrible wig. Yes, this is the face of your monster:
Now tell me that isn’t a mug just aching to be replicated by Jonah and/or a couple of bots who enjoy playing dress-up.
Add onto this an incredibly plodding screenplay that tries its best to avoid any connection to the original Robert Lewis Stephenson novel, plus thoroughly inconsistant lighting that varies between vibrant Hammer-style color to “dark for night” shooting that looks like it was filmed inside a sock, and you’ve got the highly riffable disaster that is I, Monster.
Unfortunately, because the film is Amicus, it might be slightly harder (or more expensive) to obtain than several of your other bargain basement films.
#8 - The Gypsy Moon (1954)
Reason: Because we still want to slap Winky. A lot.
The Gypsy Moon is actually the second of the Rocky Jones Space Ranger “movies” occuring before the events of Crash of the Moons, and featuring everybody’s favorite gregarious alien... John Banner!
There’s also plenty of Winky (some might say far too much Winky), Cleolanta, space friars, and an extremely early version of Google Translate that only works on John Banner.
In fact, both The Gypsy Moon (Rocky Jones II) and Menace from Outerspace (Rocky Jones III) have been released on DVD, and as far as I know, are now in the public domain, so they’d be great riffing material, though I could see if the new team wanted to shy away from any direct comparisons to classic episodes or characters. (Plus I doubt we’d be able to get Mike back to reassume his role as the delusional basement-dwelling Winky)
#9 — Battle of the Worlds (1961)
Reason: Another one that I’m amazed the original cast didn’t get around to riffing because it’s a perfect storm of overacted non-action, cookie cutter characters, made cheaply in Italy production values, and a pre-Star Trek era vision of mankind’s exciting future where everything is rocket-powered and usually preceeded with the word “Space.” Oh, and it’s also in the public domain, so it has that going for it as well.
Plot-wise, it’s actually a bit similar to Crash of the Moons, in that a “rogue planet” enters the solar system, and appears to be on a collision course with Earth, and only a curmudgeony Claude Rains (who looks like he would be right at home swatting at imaginary elves with Grandpa on the front porch) is smart enough to realize the planet is under alien control, and the only way they can stop it is by leading an expedition to the mysterious planet and shutting down it’s computer-controlled flying saucer defense fleet, so they can “safely” nuke it from orbit.
Oh, it also contains the greatest epitaph in cinema history as Rains’ character refuses to leave the about-to-be-nuked planet because of SCIENCE!, and as survivors watch an old man explode from the safety of their rocket ship, the Commander woodenly delivers the immortal line “Poor Benson—if they’d opened up his chest, they would only find a formula where his heart should have been.” Cut to a shot of Benson’s little dog waiting patiently by the window for him to return home. Fade to black. And now you have that depressing Futurama episode stuck in your head for the rest of the afternoon. You’re welcome.
#10 - Day the World Ended (1955)
Reason: This one’s a bit of a cheat, since it’s been on MST3K before. Twice. Sort of. It was featured as part of Sci-Fi Channel’s MST3K: The Home Game experiment in the early days of the internet, where fans were encourage to log into a chat room and live-riff the movie alongside thousands of other fans, while moderators rushed around posting the funniest riffs on-screen, usually 20 seconds or so after whatever funny observations we made were actually relevant.
Still, it’s grade-A farm fresh riffing material, clubbed over the head and brought dripping to your door by the rubber monster suit power team that is Roger Corman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, and Lou Rusoff (the same writer who brought us such other MST3k classics as It Conquered the World and The She-Creature.) Sadly, this one doesn’t feature the charismatic B-movie presence of Peter Graves, so you’ll have to make due with a smug Mike “Touch” Connors from Swamp Diamonds instead.
UPDATE: #11 - Holiday Special - The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)
Reason: When the Kisckstarter reached it’s final stretch goal, Joel announced we’d be getting a holiday special, and while there are plenty of terrible Christmas movies out there (I’m looking at you, Jingle All the Way), there are few more deserving of riffing than The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, a staple of the 60’s and 70’s holiday matinee, right up there (or down, depending on your perspective) with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
It’s got everything we need to become the next MST3K holiday classic— an unrepentantly camp Snidely Whiplash-type villain named, I kid you not, Phineas T. Prune, a gloriously ridiculous plot about buying the north pole so he can foreclose on Santa and then keep all the world’s toys for himself, Italian actors mouthing their dialogue in English later to be dubbed in by someone else, a creepily animated intro that puts Catalina Caper and Wild Women of Wongo to shame, midgets in grandma wigs pretending to be elves, and multiple musical numbers culminating in the grand finale where a reformed Prune and Santa ride off in his sleigh singing a festive little ditty called “We’ve Got a Date with Children.”
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the Ballyhoo “Making Of” documentary above, and try to imagine how we lived so long without a MST3K or Rifftrax version of this film.