?During the 10 years it was on the air, Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured some bad movies. Some really bad movies. Movies that prove without a doubt that if there is a God in heaven, he does not love us, because no good-hearted deity would allow any of his subjects to make a movie like Red Zone Cuba, let alone watch any of the other Coleman Francis film.
But sometimes — and we stress sometimes — the movies Joel or Mike and the ‘Bots weren’t the worst thing ever. Some of these movies weren’t even that bad, all things considered. Admittedly, when you end up watching films like Monster-a-Go-Go and your scale of what constitutes a bad movie expands exponentially, your scale of “what’s kind of all right” expands, too.
But that’s what this list is about — the films MST3K featured that would be most watchable, even without commentary from Joel, Mike and the ‘Bots. We’re not saying these movies are necessarily good or anything, or that they didn’t deserve the MST treatment — of course they did. It’s just that if you were shot into space and forced to watch MSTied movies without any of the riffs, these are the 10 flicks that would probably cause you the least mental anguish.
10) I Accuse My Parents
Jimmy’s your average, all-American 30-year-old teenager who’s neglected by his wealthy, boozed-up folks and thus crafts himself a complex fantasy life of parental love and affection. This network of lies somehow leads to him becoming a patsy for a local crime-boss (most likely because, as Joel and the ‘Bots point out, Jimmy’s is kinda stupid). We like this movie because, unlike most of the “true crime” morality plays MST3K has featured, this one actually has a happy ending and some likable characters, particularly the burger-slinging Good Samaritan featured in the above clip. Plus, watching Jimmy screw up his life by being so incredibly stupid is pretty fun to watch, although not as much as his hilariously awful parents.
9) Viking Women and the Sea Serpent
TO BE LIKE THE COR-MAN, TO FEEL LIKE THE COR-MAN…Hee-hee! You gotta love Roger Corman! [Ed’s note: You don’t. –Rob] Dude has cranked out cheap, thrown together, silly little sci-fi/horror flicks since time immemorial, and has provided a number of films for MST3K. Viking Women is the best of these; a charming, engaging little fantasy film about a group of Norsewomen who voyage across the sea to find their missing men. It’s basically a lot of attractive women wearing fur bikinis in various action sequences, which is all right by us. We’re also amused by its utterly na?ve offensiveness: The film makes it abundantly clear that blonde, blue-eyed, white people are fundamentally superior — physically, mentally, and morally to darker individuals. Even the lone brunette among the Viking women is portrayed as evil and duplicitous, and is only redeemed when she sacrifices her life for her flaxen-haired comrades. You just couldn’t make a movie like this nowadays! Well, unless you count The Last Airbender.
8) Jack Frost
This was the last in the show’s string of Russo-Finnish children’s fantasy flicks (The Day the Earth Froze, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, and The Sword and the Dragon). All of these were quite a bit of fun and a step up in overall quality compared to conventional MST3K fare, thanks to their incredibly high production values (for 1960s Russia) and ridiculously weird subject material. We single out Jack Frost for its utterly adorable heroine, amusing characters, and all around batshit insanity. We’d love to offer a synopsis, but to be honest, we’re still a bit hazy on the exact plot — there seem to be several stories crashing into each other here. We prefer to just sit back and ride the wave of Nordic/Slavic madness.
7) Danger: Diabolik
MST3K ended its ten-season run on a strong point with Diabolik, a Euro-Trash spy/crime thriller akin to such earlier films as Secret Agent Super Dragon and Operation Double 007, but far, far superior. Based on a popular Italian comic, the plot centers on the titular “hero”, an infamous international thief and his hot girlfriend. When they’re not screwing on piles of stolen money (this was one of the most… shall we say NSFW movies ever shown on MST) they’re evading cops and crime bosses and generally having a merry old time. A fan of this genre could do a lot worse.
6) I Was a Teenage Werewolf
Michael Landon — yes, the guy from Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven — stumbled onto the entertainment scene with as an angry young man who becomes an equally angry werewolf. Yes, it’s kind of goofy — milk seems to be involved a lot — but no more so than other ’50s monster flicks, and Landon actually brings a decent amount of pathos to his tormented teen. MST3K‘s Mary Jo Pehl even said the movie was “quite competently rendered,” making it a cinematic masterpiece compared to most MST subjects.
The world’s whitest jazz pianist, Tom Stewart, plans to get married to his too-lovely, too-young girlfriend Meg. Unfortunately, he forgot to break up with his crazy girlfriend Vi first. Through a rather complicated set-up, Vi ends up dangling from the top of a lighthouse, Tom chooses not to rescue her, and Vi drops into the sea. This frees up Vi to haunt the bejeezus out of Tom until he goes crazy, murders an oddly aggressive beatnik, almost murders Meg’s 10-year-old sister, and eventually falls from the same lighthouse (which, needless to say, throws a wrench in the wedding plans). Although the movie starts slow, it’s creepy in an amiable 1950s kind of way, with decent haunting effects and rather good performances, especially Richard Carlson as Tom, who manages to make his creep of a character somewhat likable… at least until he starts murdering people.
4) Girls Town
Another early ’60s juvenile delinquent classic, Girls Town proved surprisingly effective: The immortal Mamie Van Doren plays a girl from the wrong side of the tracks whose thrown in the nun-run Girls Town reform school after being accused of a crime committed accidentally by her little sister. The star-studded cast — aside from Van Doren’s breasts, of course — include Mel Torme as a street-smart tough (!) and Paul Anka plays a reformed street-smart tough (!!!). It’s a by-the-numbers teen exploitation movie, sure, but it’s a fun flick with an attractive cast (Mel’s goiter notwithstanding). Plus, you get to watch nuns kick Mel Torme’s ass. That’s gotta count for something.
3) Hercules Unchained
A great man once famously said: “…If you want something visual, that’s not too abysmal, we could take in an old Steve Reeves movie.” Four different actors played the beefy, bearded, demigod in silly, Italian-made films on MST3K, and Signore Reeves was easily the best. Hercules Unchained, like Corman’s work and the Russo-Finnish flicks, is a big ball of silly fun. The plot mostly concerns Herc drinking from the “waters of forgetfulness” and ending up as the big sweaty love-toy of a sexyevil queen…which is somehow woven into a VERY loose adaptation of Oedipus at Collonus by Sophocles. There’s still great sets and great action set pieces, at least when Herc isn’t napping (above @ 4:36). It’s a blast, and it’s chock-full of such charming, head-scratchingly absurd dubbed dialogue as the oft-quoted: “I’m so sleepy I can’t seem to keep awake!”
The original Godzilla movie is considered a classic. Do you like the original Godzilla movie? Then you should like Gamera, because it’s the exact same movie, except starring a giant turtle instead of a giant lizard. Well, there are two differences: 1) unlike Godzilla, Gamera can fly (advantage: Gamera), and 2) it stars the first of the Japanese Monster Children — the kid who is somehow able to intimately understand the giant monster, manages to come to every major scientific and military briefing about the monster, and is inevitably wearing hot pants (advantage: Godzilla). Still, Kenny isn’t as bad as the Japanese Monster Children would later get, because he’s not supposed to be adorable as is he is deeply weird, a fact thoroughly conveyed by his turtle obsession. The movie is still a classic of giant monster cinema.
1) The Magic Sword
Our number one has the distinction of being the only film in MST3K history that the SOL crew actually thanked the Mads for sending! This kinda makes The Magic Sword and Manos: The Hands of Fate (the only movie the Mads ever apologized for) the “Yin and Yang” of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is a charming little fantasy flick starring 2001‘a Gary Lockwood and loosely based on the legend of St. George. It also features Bewitched guest star Estelle Winwood and horror legend Basil Rathbone. Lockwood’s George embarks on a quest to rescue the lovely Princess Helena from the evil wizard Basil’s castle with the help of his stepmom, the sorceress Estelle, and seven mythical knights. There’s a lot of deadly magic, weird monsters, and even a giant fire-breathing dragon in the way, of course. Joel and the ‘Bots did a great job riffing the movie, but it you watched it without them, you’d be absolutely fine. Which is good, because the Powers That Be have a real hard-on about keeping even a sliver of this episode off of YouTube, meaning the above vid is a clip from the unmodified film. Enjoy!