?Obviously, any time of the year is a good time to watch the coolest, smartest, and funniest comedy series in the history of nerd-dom. But if you’re like me (and I know I am!), the urge to experience the Satellite of Love crew tear a heinous piece of celluloid to veritable shreds is at its peak during All Hallows Eve.
During MST3K‘s 10 year run Joel, Mike, and the ‘Bots have sunk their teeth into some truly foul excuses for horror films, mostly of the alien invader, creature-feature, giant something-or-other, and mad scientist varieties, so there’s countless options for anyone wanting a Halloween MST marathon.
So here are 10 films that, with the SOL bunch’s help, will provide
hours of fun and the perfect cinematic complement to any Halloween party. The episodes on this list are drawn from a variety of horror subgenres, but a general sense of classic, atmospheric, spookiness is what I was looking for — with a generous helping of old-fashioned MST3K-grade cheese, of course.
Note: This is a reference, not a ranking — the order is more or less arbitrary.
Enjoy, Roboteers! And have a Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, Wicked Mischief Night, Splendid Guy Fawkes Day and Feliz Dia De Los Muertos!
10) Revenge of the Creature
This cheesy and totally unnecessary follow-up to the B-movie horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon is best known as the inaugural episode of Season 8, and the beginning of MST‘s Sci-Fi Channel era. Still, the Gillman is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable monsters for a reason, and the special-effects make-up is a cut above most MST3K fare. Enjoy this clip of the great scientific minds of Revenge of the Creature at work, and watch for the very first on-camera appearance of none other than Clint Eastwood!
9) Manos: The Hands of Fate
I’m really not sure if Manos really counts as a horror movie, but then, I’m not really sure if Manos counts as a movie, period. But it’s generally considered the most popular MST3K episode ever made for a reason, and somehow always gives me the Halloween vibe: Maybe it’s the spooky jazz soundtrack, the zombie-esque “brides,” the Master’s awesome “Hands” cloak, or even Torgo’s terrifyingly large thighs. But thinking about it, it was probably my homemade Torgo costume from Halloween ’96 (sorry–I don’t have pics).
8) The Thing That Couldn’t Die
Not to be confused with the similarly titled The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. A creepy (though admittedly kinda hot) country girl with ESP finds a treasure chest while divining for water containing the immortal head of a colonial-era Satanist doomed to live forever separated from his body. Said head begins hypnotizing the cast in an attempt to become reunited with his missing body, like you do. Notable for scenes of Tom and Crow cheering for possible lesbian sex.
7) Ring of Terror
A college prank goes awry for the world’s oldest medical students in season two’s Ring of Terror, a shockingly ineffective cheap-o spook story. The beginning is actually the best part: A graveyard keeper named Rigor “RJ” Dobson and his cat Puma (pronounced “Peeuuma”) provide an introduction that’s much more entertaining than anything else in the film (and provides the basis for a longtime running gag on the show).
6) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living sand Became Mixed-Up Zombies
Ray Dennis Steckler — a name that will live in infamy alongside Arch Hall Sr., Coleman Francis, and the great Hal Warren — tried marketing this unholy mess under a slew of titles, including The Incredibly Mixed-Up Zombie, Diabolical Dr. Voodoo and The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary, but a turd by any other name — well, you get the point. Utterly lacking in zombies (or budget, or coherence, or reason…), the film’s kinda fun if you can appreciate batshit insanity, and has some creepy imagery that lends itself well to Halloween viewing, particularly in the character of Ortega, an unpleasant gent who looks like he has a dime store Hobo mask melted to his face. He’s the evil Gypsy’s (and mistress of the titular, ahem, “zombies”) henchman, and is sort of the “Torgo” of the SciFi-era.
5) The Screaming Skull
Now, if you’re confused enough to actually look for a good horror movie amongst MST3K‘s offerings, The Screaming Skull comes quite close. The spirit (in the form of the titular screaming skull) of a woman murdered by her husband returns to warn his new bride of her impending doom. John Hudson is coldly disturbing as the homicidal hubby, and Alex Nicol (who also directed) is believable, even compelling as the simple-minded gardener/chronic mastubator Mickey. Sure, it’s often confusing, and stretches of it move at the speed of continental drift, but overall it’s not terrible for the genre and the time period. The Screaming Skull was also noteworthy for a unique publicity stunt: A disclaimer at the beginning offers a free coffin to any viewer who dies of fright while watching the film, inspiring a hilarious host segment where the ‘Bots attempt to cash in on this deal, calling up the filmmakers and claiming to be dead.
4) The Unearthly
Ed Wood favorite Tor Johnson finds himself in the employ of another washed-up horror legend, John Carradine, in the reasonably eerie The Unearthly (based on characters created by Ed Wood, but not written or directed by him). Carradine is yet another mad scientist who has invented a new gland that he believes is the secret of immortality; to obtain test subjects, he runs a private sanitarium where he accepts patients without families with various “nervous complaints” and uses them instead. JC is appropriately mad, the various patients actually have personalities, and we actually get to hear Tor speak! (This film gave MSTie-dom the classic line: “Time for go to bed!”) The best parts, though, involve the disturbing experiments on the catatonic “Jedrow”, which are reminiscent (somewhat) of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
3) Samson Versus the Vampire Women
If you thought cinematic madness was the sole province of Japan or Bollywood, consider the humble nation of Mexico. First our friends south of the Rio Grande brought Mike and company the traumatizing kiddie Christmas flick, Santa Claus. Then, the same American producer (K. Gordon Murray) got his hands on this horror epic about luchadores fighting female vampires (as they are wont to do). There’s actually a lot of fun to be had here: The vampires, while a bit over the top, would have scared the piss out of me as a kid, and once they get some fresh blood in them, they turn into some truly stunning women (and a couple of buff dudes, so nobody’s left out). Samson, the titular masked brawler, has all the acting chops one would expect of a pro wrestler, but he certainly attacks his role with energy and sincerity (then puts it in a headlock and body slams it). The film also features some of the coolest set designing I’ve ever seen on an MST3K film, with lots of dusty cobwebby crypts and other old-school horror trappings.
MSTies remember this episode best as TV’s Frank’s final episode, where he was assumed into Sidekick Heaven by Torgo the White.
2) Bride of the Monster
I admit: I’ll happily watch an Ed Wood movie with or without the assistance of MST3K, and Bride of the Monster is a big ball of cheesy delight! Elderly, drugged-up Bela Lugosi, and the great Tor Johnson (appearing in his first film) head a cast made up of Ed’s crew of shiftless nobodies, and leads who got their roles by helping to finance the film’s production. The plot — such as it is — involves a mad scientist’s attempt to breed a race of supermen through the use of atomic energy, only to be killed by stock footage of an octopus, and an entirely unexplained nuclear explosion. Yeah, it’s terrible, but Wood loves his work, and that love comes through, even if it’s unaccompanied by anything resembling talent. All in all: Good, clean Halloween fun!
Hobgoblins! The name itself inspires terror in cinephiles everywhere. Indeed, the debate over whether this film, or Manos is truly the most odious film the SOL crew was ever forced to endure rages on, and seems even to have overtaken the classic “Joel vs. Mike” dispute in vehemence. The sole 1980s offering on this list, Hobgoblins follows a short-lived tradition of cheesy Gremlins rip-offs popular throughout the mid-to-late ’80s (Ghoulies, Critters, Munchies, etc.). While definitely the worst of a bad lot, fans of horror trash will find much to sink their teeth into. Plus, there’s something perversely admirable about a film that dares to not feature a single likeable character: I mean we’re not even offered the usual teen horror payoff of watching characters like this die horribly! Everyone lives!