As it was written in my official Ghosts of the Stratosphere Bio, so shall it remains true: I am a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. To say it’s shaped my entire comedic outlook is an understatement. I feel really, second only to the Marx Brothers, MST3k really influenced the way I deliver jokes, comedic timing, and most of all how I host a program.
Honestly, listen to any of our podcasts and then watch any opening segment of MST3k hosted by Joel Hodgson, and you’ll see a lot of same ways Joel and I introduce who we are, where the show is, who my fellow co hosts are (I think Chad’s more Crow T. while Stew is more Servo) and then lead the audience into the middle of wacky antics already in progress.
I’ve been a fan of the show since I was in the 8th grade and was one of the many that supported Joel Hodgson’s Kickstarter to bring back MST which launched its rebirth on Netflix. I did so even with the knowledge that Joel would not be returning as host, because I, like him, understand the need for this show to keep moving forward, giving new fans the chance to fall in love with the show just like I did. Turns out we were right as the first new season was a smash hit and is already being brought back for a second one.
And with the recent announcement that they have already started post production of that second season for Netflix, I thought it was a great opportunity to give everyone out there a good ol’ fashioned MST3k Favorite episode list!
Like my other top 5 lists I thought I’d lay some ground rules to start:
1) I had to pick one episode from each host era. I don’t want to get into a land war in Asia over who was the better host: Joel or Mike. It’s definitely not Jonah, he’s too green to be in that conversation yet. However, to be fair to all fans, I selected at least one episode from each of the 3 Hosts. In fact, although I could have just filled this entire list up with my favorite Joel episodes, I was proud of the fact that there are two…count them…Two Mike episodes on this list. I’m an equal opportunity fan, and have demonstrated that, so please stop hucking eggs at my house.
2) These are episodes I had to have at least one riff committed to permanent memory. It has to be line of dialogue, a quip, something that stuck with me so much that I still to this day randomly drop it in conversations much to the chagrin of my wife who usually has no idea what I’m talking about.
3) Only one episode per season. Again I could have filled up this entire list with just episodes from Season 4. That is and will always remain the greatest shining jewel of MSTness! Everything before or after can not compare to that season in all it’s majesty. From Rebel Set, to Crash of the Moons, Attack of the Giant Leeches, Monster a Go Go, Killer Shrews. Fire Maidens…the list is endless! Everyone a hit! But no…must show self control…must pander to the masses…must be egalitarian…
I never thought a robot shooting lasers at cavemen could be this boring.
As my token Jonah episode on this list, I chose this laughably bad Star Wars rip off movie from 1978. I mean seriously, it’s like someone chowed down at an all you can eat buffet of Star Wars related ideas: Enormous elaborate spaceships, mental powers, quirky robots that act like humans, laser swords, funky looking aliens etc. And then they went into the bathroom and proceeded to vomit all those ideas out everywhere in the messiest way possible, made a hot chick in a bikini roll around in it, and say it’s a movie.
Yes, I’m sure there are websites where those kind of movies appeal to a select few “wonderful” human beings (and you are one them…I just have no words for you other than shame). However, the rest of would rather have a more pleasant experience with our space opera than what Starcrash delivers.
Still, this is another of those movies that was practically made to be riffed on my MST3k what with the gaudy special effects, the nonsensical dialogue, and including the Hoff in an early acting role. Yep, before Knight Rider made him a household name, Starcrash was his first poor acted science fiction vehicle…sorry Kitt.
Plus the host segments on this one are insanely good, especially the guest appearance of Joel Hodgson’s old comic buddy, the great Jerry Seinfeld. Sure it’s a bit out there as he plays the part of venture capitalist, Freak Masterstroke, but hey, if there’s anything that comedians in cars having coffee has taught me, Mr. Seinfeld is definitely one to find the humor in whatever is going on and make the best of it. I love his suggestion of taking Jonah “the doofus” and those robots guys, turning them into apps and making them live on people’s phones. I feel like that was an actual conversation at some point between Joel Hodgson and some Hollywood backer that knew nothing about the show or its history and it was the reason Joel eventually went to the fans for backing.
In closing, this episode is always very special for me because it contains my reward for the above mentioned contribution to the MST Kickstarter, a shout out in the credits of the episode. Yep, if you watch the credits for this episode among the mountain of other people named in the section “MST3k Revival League”, you’ll see Jakob & Jojo. Yep, it’s the second row of all those names that start with Jake, fairly close to the top of the list. The names of my kids will forever be etched on the annals of time in that particular episode. As a result, this will always be one of my all time favorite episodes, regardless of how many more they might do.
Favorite Riff: “Believe it or not, I’m not William Katt” – Sung to the tune of the theme song to the super-hero themed TV series The Greatest American Hero
4) The Final Sacrifice
Rosdowermobile, Away! And together they fought crime all throughout Southwestern Alberta!
I won’t lie, I did miss this episode when it originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in the late 90s, as by then I was sort of hit or miss when it came to watching new episodes. I saw the vast majority of season 8 and most of season 10, but season 9 is a bit of a lost era for me, when I found myself watching more reruns of older shows that the current ones being aired. And it’s a real shame as I was sort of a “Tommy come lately” on this particular gem from that season which I didn’t see until Thanksgiving of 2006, during my annual unofficial Turkey Day viewing of my own handpicked shows.
The story is definitely a weird one with this whisper thin kid named Troy trying to locate some miraculous lost city located somewhere in the Canadian Wilderness while being pursued by an evil cult that wants to get there first. I guess Troy’s Dad was also looking for the lost city and run afoul of the cult resulting in his death. It’s either that or Troy’s Dad left to play for Don Shula’s ’72 Dolphins as the MST gang makes several fantastic riffs about him looking like Hall of Famer, Larry Csonka.
Regardless, along the way, he teams up with one of the biggest breakout characters of MST outside Torgo, Rowsdower! This burly, out of shape, beer swiggin’ superstar is like the low rent Han Solo of this movie, driving around in his beat up pick up truck instead of a Millennium Falcon. He for whatever reason takes a shine to Troy, decides to help him fight off the culties, and their misadventures make for excellent fodder for Mike and the Bots.
The two of them also meet up with his weird old hermit, called Pipper, who could be considered the Yoda/Obi Wan Kenobi of this film, despite his preference for talking like Yosemite Sam from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The entire movie seems like its one step up from being someone’s film school final project, trying to tell some sort of epic incredible story on a shoestring budget. Although I admire that in some weird way, you know that the more serious this movie tries to take itself, the more ridiculous it becomes. No wonder this episode of Mystery Science was voted the fourth best all time in a poll recently done of MSTies fans that backed the recent Kickstarter campaign. It really is sort of a perfect movie to make fun of.
Favorite Riff: “And I will lay Larry Csonka down. Kiss him soft. I’ll take Larry Csonka breath away” – Sung by Tom Servo to the tune of Sarah McLaughlin’s Possession
3) Red Zone Cuba
I’m Cherokee Jack.
Ah, yes, Senior Coleman Francis’ Magnum Opus, his Citizen Kane, his Godfather, his “Cotton King of the South breaks out of jail, gets caught up in the Bay of Pigs Operation, and drowns some old dude in well”. Yeah, the Godfather is much better.
Look as someone that’s made films in his day, I understand how difficult the entire process can be, so I’m not going to knock anyone’s artistic vision. But I’m to this day baffled as to what the point of Red Zone Cuba was other than be perfect fodder for Mike and Bots to rip into. Grainy is the term that best sums it up. This is in terms of cinematography, the story line, the characters, everything about this movie feels like it got rolled down the side of a slag heap and whatever was still left remaining Coleman Francis rubbed in his armpit before slapping a title on it.
I can only imagine the writing room at MST3k while they were originally viewing this, trying to make sense this meandering train wreck as we follow three awful human beings drifting from one terribly lit location to the next, stealing cars, trading in those stolen cars, stealing more cars, jumping trains, hatching a plot to mine for silver? Ok, I’m done.
Luckily, the MST3k folks stuck at it and delivered this gem from season 6 which includes an equally good short about posture when publicly speaking and making the “knee test”, although Crow is right about the fact that Posture Pals was the definite word on posture. Still my cousin, JA, somehow convinced his high school English teacher to let his entire class watch this short as a part of his presentation on effective speaking. I’m not sure how he did that, but I thought that was some slick shite right there.
Favorite Riff: “Drink Night Train, Go to the Basketball Game, Throw up under the bleachers.” -Mike
Arch Hall Jr. Strikes Back! ROXY! I got sand in my shorts! ROXXXY!
The story of Richard Kiel playing a Caveman rebel without a cause, stealing pretty young chicks and their extremely creepy dads out in middle of the desert. Seriously, half the movie happens in a cave, with the director/dad Arch Hall Sr. leeringly watching as his daughter in the movie nearly gets raped by a poorly bearded giant. It’s enough to put anyone off their soup.
Arch Hall Jr. plays the part of the hero as a faux Elvis or Ricky Nelson or any of those other fab teenage white-bread heart throbs being pushed on an unsuspecting world. Greasy, annoying, unpleasant and it’s little wonder the gang from MST are rooting for Eeagh to win most of the time, despite being made out to be this movie’s monster.
Love everything about this episode, especially the host segments. From reducing Crow to near absolute zero, the invention exchange with the Green Acres music producing pig, to Joel pining over the loss of the full service gas station from the American experience.
That particular segment really resonated with me and still does as they list the little evil things in life that are dropped on our doorstep that we have to accept mainly because they are too subtle to notice. It’s the kind of segment I strive to have on the Ghosts of Stratosphere because although it’s done in a humorous tone, it really makes you think and relate pop culture to more philosophical views of the universe. Like using Joe Camel to sell cigarettes to kids is completely awful, even if you have differing opinions of the band Styx or the comedian, Sinbad.
Season 5 for me was the end of an era of innocence a bit and one I still look back on with bittersweet memories as I was really upset when Joel left the show. But luckily there were still a couple gems in those first 12 episodes of the season, like Warriors of the Lost World, or Secret Agent Super Dragon. But Eeagh will always be the last great road-stop on that highway out of the Joel years. And for those of you paying attention to that statement…no…I won’t talk about Mitchell. My My My Mitchell causes just too much heartache.
Favorite Riff: “Eegah drives a Tank?!?” – Joel (“Watch out for Snakes” was way too easy…)
1) Manos, the Hands of Fate
That’s not how you wear your Depends, Torgo.
Like there was any question that this would be the number one experiment on this list. Universally acclaimed as one of the single greatest episodes ever made for this series by critics and fans a like, the terrible story of an innocent family running afoul of a strange satanic cult run by the Master and his “goat legged” caretaker, Torgo, is now the stuff of cult movie legend. I say goat legged in quotes because although as the story goes that was in the intention of director to make Torgo some sort of Pan like Satyr, the prop made to give the illusion of the backwards goat legs didn’t work, and instead it just made Torgo hobble around like he had watermelons in his pants…but I digress.
If Red Zone Cuba looked grimy as a movie, then Manos looks downright squalid. As Joel and the Bots correctly put it in one of their riffs, every frame looks like someone’s last known photo. It’s distressing, horribly sexist, sweats like rotten onions, and yet as you watch through the MST3k lens, you can’t help but laugh.
From the quips about the full contact nightgown wrestling, to dissolving to the same scene, Torgo marking his territory, Charrrr Finger, this movie has some of my all time favorites. I still remember being 15 and spitting milk all over my friend, Shaft’s, kitchen while we were watching this and they made that “You never had a dog” riff.
Throw in a really fantastic short in Hired Part 2 at the beginning (I may be wonderful, but I think you’re wrong), and some killer host segments, like the Bots breaking up during the skit about taking a tour of the southwestern states while being forced to use Manos footage on the green screen, or Joel showing up in a Manos style poncho with footprints instead of the hand prints, just pure gold. And then it tops out with Torgo as the Pizza delivery man, with the crazy bread in the pants, and I’m sorry, I still lose it every time during that skit.
Yep, as I mentioned Season 4 was by far my favorite era of this show with classic after classic, and yet to have Manos tower over all of them as the greatest MST3k episode ever in my mind, that’s no small feat. So put that in your Cartooner, folks! You can find me at the Valley Loogie with Robin Stone, the Love Machine.
Favorite Riff: “DO SOMETHING! Gawd!” – Joel (It’s the unmitigated frustration of the delivery. That’s what does it.)