In the not too distant future, April 14, an 18-year-long cancelled show will claw it’s way back to life on Netflix in the form of 13 brand new episodes. That show is the cult hit, Mystery Science Theater 3000. When the streaming service debuts the new episodes, it will feature a brand new host and new voices for the robot inhabitants of the Satellite of Love.
As a huge fan of the show, I have found myself wondering how the S.O.L. (Satellite for Love to the noobs) and the bots could still be in space, since the ship crashed and the bots were living happily with their last human companion, Mike, in the original series finale in 1999. But then I remember the theme song (Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax), and promptly forget my hangups. What I haven’t forgotten in these almost 20 years since the final episode aired is how much I love the show.
MST3K managed to balance comedy, science fiction, unwatchable movies, and puppets to create a unique, thoroughly hilarious, one-of-a-kind show. In preparation for the new episodes, I have been going back through my near-complete set of the show’s DVDs and rewatching some of my favorite episodes. With almost 200 episodes it is impossible to tackle all of them before the new show debuts, so for those of you who love the show, and those that have never seen it, I have compiled a list of some of my personal favorite episodes to get you ready for the revival. Give them a watch and get ready for a trip to Gizmonic Institute way down in Deep 13.
Every episode I selected is/was available on DVD. Episodes are also listed by episode number, not personal preference.
322/324 (DVD Volume 20): Master Ninja I and II
“Don’t worry, I won’t leave this bar through the window.”
In the 1970s and 80s, a lot of action TV shows got made and many were not well received. After producing an assortment of episodes, networks would often decide to pull the plug on a show. To try to make some money back on the produced, unaired episodes, production companies would cobble together two or three episodes and turn it into a half-assed made-for-TV movie and go on with their day. This is what happened to a show called The Master, which featured an aging American World War 2 vet named John who stayed in post-war Japan (great idea) to learn to be a ninja.
He comes back to the US to look for his estranged daughter and in the process meets a 20-something idiot named Max to become his apprentice, which makes John, wait for it, The Master! The show is as terrible as it sounds and was haphazardly glued together to create two made for TV movies called Master Ninja 1 and Master Ninja 2. The highlights include the Max getting constantly thrown through glass windows during the multiple bar fights he finds himself in, a very young Dr. “Ducky” Mallard from NCIS playing a terrorist freedom fighter, and Demi Moore in one of her first on-screen roles as a fleeting love interest for bar-fighting Max in the first episode… I mean the first half of the first movie. The effects are laughable on their own (a ceiling falls down before Master Ninja kicks it), the acting is atrocious, and the bots and Joel frequently take jabs at the fact that it’s a TV show, not an actual movie.
424 (DVD The Essentials or a Shout! Factory single): Manos: The Hands of Fate
“The Master will not be pleased.”
The typical premise of an episode of MST3K is that the mad scientist, Dr. Forrester, attempts to find the one movie that will drive his captives insane. During a discussion in the middle of the film, the main characters realize that their evil captors may have finally done it. They can’t take it anymore. Dr. Forrester even realizes what he has done and apologizes to his prisoners.
This movie is considered the premier episode of the entire show. What is particularly notable about this season 4 finale is that the movie being watched is often cited as the worst film ever made, and it’s not even by Ed Wood! As the story goes, Harold P. Warren, a fertilizer salesman, made a bet with a friend that making movies isn’t hard and he could make one. Well, he made one, and what the world got was Manos: The Hands of Fate (Editor's Note: This movie is comedy gold.).
The movie tells the old familiar plot of a family lost on a car trip and they, of course, end up at the home of a strange cult run by a Rasputinesque Master who wants to take as many women as possible to be his wives while his half-man half-goat slave does his bidding. You know the type. The movie’s sound is typically muffled and impossible to make out dialogue, the actors don’t know what they are doing, and there is an uncomfortable and, frankly, tasteless implication for the child of the family at the end of the movie. This film is the worst thing you will see and the crew of the S.O.L. tear it to shreds. I am guessing Waren wasn’t a very good fertilizer salesman since he couldn’t see what I giant turd this movie was.
512 (DVD Volume 28: The 25th Anniversary Edition): Mitchell
“People don’t like you, Mitchell.”
I only started watching this show during the 8th season after the original host, Joel, had already left. As such, I really liked the new host, Mike, and I often consider the latter episodes my favorites. After some creative differences on the show, the creator and host, Joel, decided to leave.
They write him off the show and replace him at the end of the episode, in story, with a new captive for the Mads’ dastardly experiments, Mike. This episode was Joel’s final movie and it is non-stop laughter. I watched Mitchell for the first time just two years ago and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Despite my love for Mike, I actually consider this my favorite episode of the entire run of the series. Joe Don Baker stars as Mitchell. He is somehow a James Bond-type character combined with an overweight, surly drunk. The filmmakers somehow thought he would be considered sexy and is a little too frequently seen shirtless and in bed with women. The primary jokes revolve around how awful this as well as his apparent alcoholism in the film. There is a lot to laugh at this film and the crew take advantage of every opportunity. When you watch Baker and a child scream at each other for a solid 30 seconds, just remember you are not having a stroke, you are actually watching the main character and a small child yell as loud as they can in each other’s faces.
521 (DVD Volume 16): Santa Claus
“Down with the Proletariat!”
In the run of the series, there were two Christmas-themed episodes to appear on MST3K: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and this film, Santa Claus. Martians is a classic episode, but Santa Claus is a personal favorite of mine that is hilarious even without the running commentary. It is a well-loved Mexican holiday film that is poorly dubbed over in English. It features Santa Claus trying to complete his typical Christmas Eve journey but this night is special; he has to make sure to bring a doll to Lupita, a poverty-stricken girl in Mexico. But the Devil and his servant Pitch are trying to prevent the spread of holiday cheer by sending a group of naughty boys and an attack dog after Santa. Luckily, Father Christmas has his trusty sleeping powder and a flower that helps him disappear.
If you thought that was all bat-shit insanity, you need to actually watch it. His giant wind-up reindeer are the stuff nightmares are made of. Also, instead of elves, his toys are made by enslaved children from around the world made of racially insensitive stereotypes, and Merlyn the Magician is his friend, for some reason. Honestly, Santa’s castle is more like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse of the Damned.
This is only Mike’s 8th episode as host, and as such, features a nice reference to the original MST3K host, Joel during the middle of the movie. For Christmas, the robot Gypsy had started knitting Joel a sweater, but had to change it when Mike showed up, resulting in Mike’s “Joike” sweater. I would be lying if I said I haven’t looked online for my own Joike sweater.
814 (DVD Volume 36): Riding with Death
“Hi, I’m Ben Murphy."
Season 8 of the show began MST3K’s 3-season run on the Sci-Fi Channel and for the first time on the show, none of the original season 1 cast members appear. This season is actually when I started watching the show, so these episodes mean a lot to me, as they are my first exposure to MST3K. I had a hard time finding just a few episodes to call my favorites, I absolutely love everything from season 8.
With that said, I was probably most excited when it was announced that Riding with Death was finally to be released on DVD earlier last year. This is another example of piecing together episodes of a terrible, failed TV show to sort-of make a movie. The original TV show was called Gemini Man, and it featured Ben Murphy playing a guy who can make himself invisible with the push of a button on a crappy digital watch. The made-for TV movie is cobbled together from two episodes that sort-of have a theme. One features transporting an explosive substance in a truck while the other is about organized crime at a race track, so in both cases, the characters are RIDING WITH DEATH! It is as poorly put together as the Master Ninja movies and the seemingly random sci-fi addition of a character who can just become invisible whenever he wants makes this just way over the top. The crew has a great time making fun of trucker talk as well as how unnaturally excited Ben Murphy appeared to be while playing the part.
816/819 (Volume 7 and 37): Prince of Space/Invasion of the Neptune Men
“I like it very much.”
I put these two episodes together because on first watch, you get the feeling that one is a sequel to the other. Sadly, they are not. They just happen to have identical protagonists in a very similar story. Since, both come from our film-making friends in Japan and since the plots are so painstakingly similar, I lumped them together on this list.
To start, both films involve an alien invasion of Earth (through Japan). In Prince of Space, it’s the evil invaders from the planet Krankor (Crank Whore?) Their silly, hooked-nose appearance as well as their high pitched bizarre laughter make for terrific chicken impression jokes that pepper the episode. Invasion of the Neptune Men features aliens who are armored in a metallic cone-shaped costume with what looks like an old 45 attached to their heads. The “missing record” joke is a favorite of mine. Both movies feature a protagonist from Japan who put together his outfit, weapons, and his own space ship… somehow, without any real explanation.
Our hero is known as Prince of Space in the first movie, and Space Chief in Neptune Men. Their costumes are almost identical, and even the lead actors look so similar that for the past 20 years, I was under the impression it was the same guy, making Neptune Men a sequel. But an IMDB check proved me to be completely wrong, making it even crazier how similar these two movies are. And, like any Japanese film from the late 50s early 60s, it is, of course, poorly dubbed over in English. The crew makes ample fun of the awful, monotone dubbed voices as well as the terrible dialogue and horrific effects.
There are so many other amazing episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but this list contains some of my favorites through the show’s history. Please feel free to check out this very funny show on your own and be sure to check Netflix for brand new episodes starting in April.
What episode is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!