Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best

Comedy Lists Best Mst3k Episodes
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89. Ep. 511, Gunslinger, 1956

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Character: “The good die first.” Servo: “But most people are morally ambiguous, which explains our random dying patterns.”

Honestly one of the better films featured on MST3k, Gunslinger comes out of Roger Corman’s prolific ‘50s era, when he was churning out low-budget (but generally watchable) popcorn genre flicks. It stars one of his regulars, the tough Beverly Garland, who is made a temporary marshal after her husband, the previous marshal, is killed. Bruno Ve Sota plays exactly the same kind of portly sleazeball that he was in Daddy-O—talk about typecasting. Joel and the Bots cleverly seize upon the impossible geography and physics of Corman’s makeshift little Western town, pointing out the physical impossibilities of certain characters walking off screen and just appearing in a different location instantaneously. It all inspires a spectacular host segment wherein Servo, always the most intellectual member of the riffing crew, explains to the others how it all works: “We simply observe the apparent relative state of a John Ireland in one place, while in actuality he co-existed in the objective vector state. You just exist in one observable region in phase space, and then realign your point of origin!” Simple!

88. Ep. 522, Teen-Age Crime Wave, 1955

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: When seeing a room full of cigarette butts: “Holy cow, did you have Rod Serling over?”

The thing that always stands out to me about Teen-Age Crime Wave isn’t so much the film, but how great all the host segments are. Sure, the film is quite solid, a melodramatic “teens in trouble” flick in the vein of Teen-Age Strangler or High School Big Shot, and it receives a thorough riffing. But every one of the sketches is memorable, and indicative of the wilder, more high-energy tone that came into the show after Mike became the host. Frank knocks it out of the park in the first segment, howling in pain when he’s sprayed with Dr. F’s “Mace Mousse” invention. We also get a salute to the “doughy men” of the ‘30s-‘50s, and their powers to inhale beef, alcohol and space on the screen, along with a great “deli” sketch that sees Mike and the Bots opening a restaurant with plenty of in-joke entrees: “Miles O’Beefe,” “Split Pia Zadora Soup,” “Sid Tuna Melton” and the “Manos Ham of Fate Reuben.” MST3k is a show defined by the in-theater segments, but Teen-Age Crime Wave is one of those episodes you should watch just to appreciate the brilliance of its puppetry and perfectly cast performers.

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87. Ep. 620, Danger!! Death Ray, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “They really have captured the grandeur of pasty white guys walking in herds.”

Look, if you’re going to make a movie about a death ray, you might want to think of a more plausible origin for said device than a scientist who created a DEATH RAY for “peaceful purposes only.” Regardless, it’s a pretty hilarious concept for a spy thriller, and I adore the sketch lampooning the “peaceful purposes” death ray in particular, which ignites Crow’s ping pong eyeballs in spectacular fashion. The film itself is something of an impenetrable fog, but it features some very catchy, amusing theme music and more European mustaches than you can shake a stick at. There are just some weird faces in there—including the guy who Mike describes as “if Michael Caine and Andre the Giant had a child.” The crew is also extremely amused by the toy helicopters and submarines that this movie guilelessly attempts to substitute for the real thing. It’s better than Mighty Jack-level prop works, but not by much. As Mike says: “Ah, the ocean’s beautiful in this part of the tub.” And from Crow: “Special effects by Billy!”

86. Ep. 803, The Mole People, 1956

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “This is easy archaeology; people just bring you stuff!”

You’ve got to love the excitement factor of a science fiction movie that is introduced by a “professor of English” who drones on and on about discredited 1800s “hollow Earth” theories and gestures incessantly. Thus is our weird introduction to The Mole People, a Mike-era film that is suggested far earlier in MST3k continuity by the presence of mole people “Jerry and Sylvia” as servants/helpers of Dr. F and Frank back in the earlier seasons in Deep 13. Clearly, the Best Brains crew was already familiar with this particular story. It’s your standard “explorers blunder into a new, dangerous world” story, but the characters are what make it memorable. There’s irritatingly bland John Agar, returning from Revenge of the Creature and Women of the Prehistoric Planet, but the best is Nestor Paiva as the character who is quickly dubbed “The Load” by Mike and the Bots for his zero sum contributions to the group’s well-being. His complete and total helplessness is a source of consistent amusement, and he seems to exist only to weight everyone else down. Says Mike: “Geez, they’re only keeping this guy so they can hollow him out and crawl inside when he dies.”

85. Ep. 1112, Carnival Magic, 1981

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Al Adamson is the name Alan Smithee uses when he doesn’t want his name on a film.”

Carnival Magic is quite easily the worst and most completely inexplicable film of season 11, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It doesn’t receive the strongest riffing of these new episodes, but man—what a truly bizarre film this is. The “deep hurting” quotient is higher here than it is anywhere else, in a tale of a rinky-dink carnival that is saved from the brink of collapse by a cut-rate magician’s talking chimpanzee act. Sounds like some sort of lighthearted comedy, right? Nope! The movie veers in a completely different direction than any sane screenwriter would possibly recommend, into a den of sleaze, sex and the threat of vivisection for our talking ape friend, Alexander. The choice of how to portray the chimp’s vocalizations—grunted out in barely legible sentence fragments, rather than the witty banter that any audience member would be correct to expect—is a mystery to which there is no reasonable answer. Regardless, Jonah and the Bots satirize it with a sparkling host segment that expounds on Alexander’s “ordinary, unimpressive small talk,” which from Crow amounts to “Mmm, looks like rain,” and “My ankle’s sore.” The riffers don’t quite fully capitalize on the deepness of Carnival Magic’s unique sense of ennui, but they do beautifully call attention to the pathetic police officer squatting on top of his own police cruiser while a tow truck drives it down the road, so there is that. Says Jonah: “I know it’s wrong to hate an animal, but I’m in a sort of Elmer Fudd/Bugs Bunny emotional quagmire with this chimp.”

84. Ep. 502, Hercules, 1958

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “And there’s the constellation Feces, just below Taurus.”

Oddly enough, the very first of the Hercules movies made was the last of the series watched by the SOL crew, but it makes for the best overall episode. As in Hercules Unchained, it stars the massive Steeve Reeves, Mightiest of the Hercs, with special effects and cinematography by legendary Italian giallo maestro Mario Bava, which goes a long way in also making it the most purely entertaining film in the series. It’s a mish-mash of Greek myth, combining Herc’s story with that of Jason and the Argonauts as they hunt for the Golden Fleece. The riffs swirl around in a typical melange of quips about big, oily musclemen, wrestling and the doddering old senior citizens who cater to them. I particularly enjoyed the riffs comparing the vain, easily frightened Thetus, to Tom Jones throughout. The total abject devotion of all the other men toward Hercules is naturally hilarious.

83. Ep. 309, The Amazing Colossal Man, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “No man is a Three Mile Island.”

The Amazing Colossal Man is truly the kind of movie that gave birth to the MST3k concept. It’s a earnest but very silly slice of atomic age cheesiness and Cold War paranoia, with a title character who is iconic in the ‘50s sci-fi genre in his own right. It’s a film that could only be the product of Mr. BIG, Bert I. Gordon, with his everlasting passion for Things That Are Large. Glenn Manning is a great protagonist for MST3k because he’s so very sullen, confused and pissed off about the physical changes he’s experiencing after exposure to radiation. And really, who could blame him when all he has to wear for the film’s entire conclusion is a giant cloth diaper? It really takes any sense of fear out of the spectacle of the 60-foot Glenn Manning when all you can worry about is whether his dirty diaper is going to stay secure. The highlight is one of the crowning moments in silly ‘50s science fiction; the development, presentation and use of the “giant syringe” the size of a bassoon to prick Glenn in the ankle and stop his incessant growth. Truly, one of the great, underrated film props in sci-fi history.

82. Ep. 1108, The Loves of Hercules, 1960

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Do you realize how much duct tape it’s going to take for us to repair that hydra?”

I wasn’t really expecting to love this episode—the Hercules films of the original MST3K were never exactly my favorite, and the fandom’s reaction to The Loves of Hercules seems pretty divisive—but I found myself pleasantly surprised with its earnest stupidity. Nepotism plays a major part, as it gives us bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, the husband of female lead/dress protruder Jayne Mansfield, as a particularly chunk-headed Herc who struggles to lift moderately sized objects and makes you pine for the good old days of Steve Reeves. His thick Hungarian accent and puppy dog determination to give a respectable dramatic performance are made only funnier by the fact that the impetus of the whole story is how he’s immediately on the prowl for attractive women after his wife is murdered in the opening moments. The SOL crew lambast the cheapness of production (“an international cast of nearly 25 extras!”) and Herc’s utter lack of concern for his dead wife, as soon as he spies Mansfield. There’s some clever film references as well—when a bull charges at Mansfield, Jonah quips “Russ Meyer presents Ferdinand the Bull as you’ve never seen him!”, simultaneously evoking Meyer’s penchant for Mansfield-esque buxom women and the children’s story of Ferdinand, which was memorably recounted to Tor Johnson in MST3K episode The Unearthly. The thing I’ll really remember about Loves of Hercules is the ending sequence, though—simultaneously one of the weirdest and funniest things from the new season, as the crew begins to shrilly sing/mimic the chorus present during the closing credits and then carries on that sustained note through the entire final host segment. Simple joke, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

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81. Ep. 1013, Danger: Diabolik, 1968

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “I hurl my skinniness at you!”

I just referred to Mario Bava a couple entries ago, and here’s the only film the classic Italian giallo and horror director ever helmed that was featured on MST3k. It also happens to be historically important because this is MST3k’s final episode, which gives us Mike & the Bots’ descent to Earth and eventual resettling in the Midwest, where they continue to watch MST3k movies like The Crawling Eyeon the couch—a fairly satisfying conclusion, I think. The film is a colorful, ‘60s-style Euro spy caper, starring a returning MST3k presence in John Phillip Law, who iconically played the villain “Kalgan” in Space Mutiny. Here, he’s the suave super spy Diabolik, who is a bit like Robin Hood, if Robin never managed to get around to the “give to the poor” part of his mission. The film is entertaining enough all on its own; it’s hard not to appreciate the technicolor splendor and absurd costuming, especially on Diabolik’s “futuristic” race car suits, or campy elements like his use of “exhilarating gas” and “anti-exhilarating gas capsules.” Although this episode is ultimately more important for its fallout, the movie receives a solid farewell riffing.

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80. Ep. 319, War of the Colossal Beast, 1958, /w Mr. B. Natural

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “That hurt, I’m all messed up inside; if only an androgynous man would come visit me.”

A solid film, with a legendary short in the form of the inestimable Mr. B. Natural. Our movie is the half-baked sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man—turns out that Col. Glen Manning survived his plunge off the Hoover Dam and somehow ended up down in Mexico without anyone noticing a 60-foot man passing by. There, he’s content to be disfigured, live in the desert, continue wearing diaper shorts and make very irritating grunting sounds every five seconds. It’s close to the first film in quality, but forget about War of the Colossal Beast and let’s talk about Mr. B! Oh my, what a short this is. “Knew your father, I did,” says the androgynous “Mr.” B by way of introduction, as the “spirit of music” visits young Buzz, who is having trouble fitting in and generally not being despised by the kids at school. What follows is one of the trippiest, most twisted trips down the rabbit hole in the MST3k library, as the spritely Mr. B dances, cavorts and generally makes everyone feel extremely uncomfortable while teaching Buzz to play the trumpet. We get lessons on trumpet manufacture, introversion, substance abuse—you name it! Everyone needs to see Mr. B. Natural.

79. Ep. 317, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, 1957, /w The Home Economics Story

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Sorry about the costume. Corman’s poodle died, and he doesn’t like to waste anything.”

This film once held the dubious honor of “longest film title ever,” until it was usurped by fellow MST3k entry, Incredibly Strange Creatures, and a few more since. Still, quite a mouthful from Roger Corman, who imagined a big budget action epic and then made the fairly dull Viking Women instead. The riffing is a bit Hercules-esque, with the historically motivated jokes landing more often than they thud. Host segments, meanwhile, are very unique on this episode, experimenting with taking the concept of a running joke to its theoretical zenith, via … waffles? Yes, waffles—every sketch and host segment in this episode is wall-to-wall with waffles, in the silliest ways possible, because you should “consider the waffle as a fine and suitable alternative to stuffing or potatoes.” It gives us Crow as Willy the Waffle, “the wonderful, whimsical, wise-cracking waffle” which is a fascinating call-forward reference to the short film A Case of Spring Fever, which wouldn’t actually be featured on MST3k until the second-to-last episode ever, Squirm. Also in the mix: An unusually long but entertaining short, The Home Economics Story, which is almost like a mini-feature in praise of ‘50s domestic conformity. It’s a weirdly segmented but fun episode.

78. Ep. 322, Master Ninja 1

, 1984

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Gerbil.”

When any episode’s “film” is constructed from two TV show episodes crudely stapled together, you know you’re in for a disjointed ride. Such it is with both Master Ninja entries, which are so alike that I’ve simply listed them in order here. Both come from multiple episodes of the 1984 NBC action-adventure The Master, which unsurprisingly was canceled after a single season. Both star weathered spaghetti western star Lee Van Cleef as the titular “Master,” and an unbearably bland Timothy Van Patten as his padawan learner, driving around in a van with a gerbil, fighting bad guys. Master Ninja 1 is probably the slower of the two, but it does have the unusual honor of featuring a young Demi Moore in a fairly prominent role. The best portions are those featuring ninja movie veteran Sho Kosugi as Van Cleef’s nemesis, Okasa, as well as the hilarious Van Patten Project sketch, wherein Crow explains how the entire entertainment industry has been infiltrated by the Van Pattens, led by patriarch “Don Dick Van Vito Patten Corleone.” His evil plan: “To place an annoyingly bad actor, preferably one of his own hellish drop, in every B-grade, made-for-TV and low-budget film in Hollywood!”

77. Ep. 324, Master Ninja 2, 1984

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Character: “I stopped believing in causes.” Joel: “Now I just believe in effects.”

The gerbil gets even more screen time and quips in this so-called “sequel” to the first Master Ninja episode—in reality, simply two more episodes of The Master that have been unceremoniously dumped into a film. As I described above, the two episodes tend to blend together in my mind, but I give a slight edge on the riffing to Master Ninja 2. We don’t get any young Demi Moore this time around, but that’s more than made up for by the presence of the worst James Bond of them all, George Lazenby. The premise of the first sequence—which sees the master/padawan duo helping a country girl organize a union to oppose some greedy warehouse owners—is especially hilarious to me when you consider this is supposed to be the plot of a ninjitsu action program. The second is a bit more in line with what you’d expect, involving the foiling of terrorist kidnappers. I love the host segment where the SOL crew shows off their own fantasy Mystery Machine detective vans, especially the Gypsy-Mobile that is filled with—what else—“150 Richard Basehart ventriloquist dummies stacked like cordwood.” Rock on, Gyps.

76. Ep. 311, It Conquered the World, 1956, /w Snow Thrills

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Honey, would you get that crow out of the fridge? I’m going to make them eat it now.”

A cheap sci-fi monster film, even by Roger Corman standards, everything about It Conquered the World screams “We threw this together in a week.” Luckily, this is one of those times where the slapdash execution of the film is much more of a plus to the finished episode than a negative. The design of the creature from Venus—my god, what a mess this thing is, which Joel refers to at one point as a “safety cone gone horribly wrong.” I love the way it’s practically immobile, perhaps even more so than say, The Creeping Terror. There’s literally no way that it should be capable of being a threat to ANYONE; a small child would have no difficulty avoiding “IT.” The film stars Beverly Garland, our Corman heroine from Gunslinger, along with the ever-hilarious Peter Graves, who is prone to pointless philosophical babble, much like the co-pilot in Phantom Planet. His “deep” ending soliloquy is parodied mercilessly through the final host segments and even during the ending credits instead of the normal theme music. This kind of film is basically just cinematic pablum, it’s easy to swallow and digest, and mildly entertaining because of its inherent silliness and stupidity. The short, Snow Thrills, is a bit less memorable than most, although the crew’s confusion over “ski joring” is amusing.

75. Ep. 508, Operation Double 007, 1967

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “A spy movie is starting to sag, and Ed Asner is there!”

Did you know that Sean Connery has a brother who was also an actor? No? Well, watch Operation Double 007, and the reasons for that will become abundantly clear. Also known as Operation Kid Brother, the film is a campy, tongue-in-cheek parody of the more famous Connery brother’s iconic spy series, and one that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. The film does at least deliver on the “goofy villain” front, which inspires a great host segment wherein Joel parodies the villain’s odd smoking jacket fashion and general sleaziness. There’s plenty of other great riffs that reference iconic moments in the Bond franchise, but my favorite thing in the episode is the second host segment that sees Joel and the Bots charting the parallel careers of Sean and Neil Connery. Example: “Here, Sean calls the most powerful and influential people in Hollywood and is put through immediately. While Neil calls Pizza Hut and is told they won’t deliver to him because of bounced checks.”

74. Ep. 505, The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, 1952

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I can’t tell if that’s a Magritte, or a hole in the wall.”

The scariest laughing horse this side of MST3k’s Santa Claus episode belongs to the one in The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, and it’s indicative of what a bizarre, dreamlike film this truly is. Originally titled Sadko, it’s another entry in the show’s “Russo-Finnish fantasy” cycle, and is just as weird as the likes of The Sword & The Dragon or The Day the Earth Froze. Seafaring fantasy is the name of the game, but it’s suffused in a fog of dreamy un-reality that is unique, even among the Russo-Finnish movies. Sinbad is hilariously, stupidly naive and upbeat, assuming that he can find and return the “bird of happiness” to solve his homeland’s various problems. Joel and the Bots have fun with it—they always seem to love the really silly, earnest movies—and they especially zero in on the bear-fighting scene, and on the hoards of rotund, long-bearded merchants constantly giving Sadko the business. The only spots where it lags a bit are in the occasional visits to the underwater kingdom, which are so aggressively absurd that they give off the vibe of an irritating children’s educational TV show. Still, from start to finish, Sinbad is an utterly unique, fever dream of an episode that stands very much on its own. Also: The Mads’ “chinderwear” invention exchange (for chin butts) is undoubtedly a series classic.

73. Ep. 705, Escape 2000, 1983

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “So the hero of our movie has to go hire another hero?”

It’s the film that gave new meaning to the phrase “Leave the Bronx!” A fuzzy, ‘70s-looking (but ‘80s-born) sci-fi action movie that cribs part of its aesthetic from The Warriors and part from Logan’s Run, Escape 2000 has the inherently crooked form of weirdness that only being cheaply made in Italy can provide. As a powerful, evil corporation tries to remove street gangs, elderly people and gutter folk from the Bronx via persuasion (and then incineration), they’re opposed by people with bizarre names such as “Strike,” “Trash” and “Dablone,” which Mike and the Bots immediately change to “Toblerone.” Then again, this is also a movie where Henry Silva’s garish, melting face is attached to the title of “Floyd Wangler,” so apparently anything goes in Italian B-movie nomenclature. Jokes fly fast and freely, mocking the obvious Italian settings that are meant to approximate the streets of New York, and the particularly egregious, dingy “punk” costume designs. Host segments are more of a mixed bag; I must say that the earlier Pearl material with her constantly whining at “CLAYTON!” can be rather grating. Thankfully, Mary Jo settled into the role as chief Mad much more effectively in season 8 and onward.

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72. Ep. 817, The Horror of Party Beach, 1964

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “The monster immediately gets up and puts on his copy of Metal Machine Music.”

This episode didn’t seem particularly riotous to me when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me considerably on repeat viewings. You can’t go wrong with what is probably the dumbest-looking monster in MST3k history, complete with a mouth full of loose hot dogs. The teens in Horror of Party Beach are typical of the dumb, 30-something kids also seen in the likes of Catalina Caper, but these ones are a special kind of stupid. I loved their sandy rumble fight scene, which features actors being thrown into other actors and flipped like cheerleaders as projectile weapons—as Mike says, “You have defeated me sir, you and your noble band of choreographers.” And then you’ve got the coven of feminist folk-singers attacked by the monsters, which inspires such gems as “Every male of any species has the biological urge to panty-raid.” By the time the monsters are finally defeated by the awesome power of SODIUM!, despite being saltwater in origin, it’s shaped up into a darn good episode.

71. Ep. 806, The Undead, 1957

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I’ve never known more about what isn’t going on in a movie.”

I really am a sucker for almost any slice of prime, vintage Cormanism, and The Undead is no exception. It’s a better overall film than say, It Conquered the World or Night of the Blood Beast, and at least attempts a medieval time period, with the sort of hilariously cheap, shoddy results (and accents) you’d expect and hope for in a 10-day Roger Corman film shoot. The story bears some resemblance to both The She-Creature and I Was a Teenage Werewolf, revolving around hypnotism and how it’s somehow able to get in touch with “past lives” and employ some form of ill-explained time travel. Regardless: Woman gets hypnotized, ends up in the past and is put on trial for witchcraft. The Observer-packed host segments are on the forgettable side (except for Mike zoning out in the intro, which is great), meaning that The Undead is one of those episodes where the in-theater portions really determine its final rating. The riffing may be an acquired taste, as the audience is made to put up with a whole lot of bad “ye olde English” dialog, but if you can put up with a metric ton of “thou arts,” it’s a good time. Mike and the Bots particularly enjoy the clueless antics of the portly gravedigger “Smolkin” and his depressing folk songs, and the literal appearance of a cackling, overacting, pitchfork-clutching Satan.

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70. Ep. 312, Gamera vs. Guiron, 1969

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: Crow, as a little Asian girl: “I’ll show her, I’m gonna grow up to break up the Beatles!”

The Gamera movies are all nuts, but this one is pretty easily the zaniest of all of them, and I also think that helps make it the best. Guiron … what a monster he is. He’s basically a giant, living machete whose entire face is a giant, razor-sharp blade. And woah, does he use that blade with gusto, slicing apart a poor Gyaos like he’s preparing sushi. It’s an almost disarmingly visceral bit of violence for a kids’ Gamera movie—it makes you realize that despite these movies being all about giant monsters fighting each other, you rarely see one that is mercilessly brutalized and killed, with small children watching (and looking hilariously unimpressed) the entire time. It’s just filled with one classically silly moment after another, from Gamera swinging on the uneven parallel bars to the beautiful, brain-eating alien women. But maybe the biggest laughs come as a result of a very poorly written conversation filled with “hellos” and “thank yous!” that Joel and the Bots satirize brilliantly. This sequence is quintessential MST3k.

69. Ep. 700, MST3k: The Movie, 1996

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Then I ram my ovipositor down your throat and lay my eggs in your chest, but I’m NOT an alien!”

Much has been written about the troubled production and awkward marketing/release of the only MST3k feature film in 1996, so I won’t go further into it here—suffice to say, things didn’t go quite as intended, and the format was ultimately more conducive to the small screen where it began. But that doesn’t mean The Movie isn’t a fun watch; on the contrary, it may be one of the best episodes to use for introducing someone to the series. It neatly reestablishes the basic relationship between Mads and SOL inhabitants, and throws a softball of a movie for them to lay into. This Island Earth is definitely a step or two up the quality scale from typical MST3k fare, but this simply makes it a breezy watch that still offers plenty for the riffers to call upon. The poorly disguised aliens with their massive foreheads are hilarious, as is the iconic, brain-throbbing design of the “Metaluna mutant,” which is occasionally included as an oft-forgotten entry in the Universal Monsters hall of fame. It all comes together during the fabulous montage scene of our stuffy scientist heroes assembling their “interocitor,” with Mike and the Bots rattling off one zinger after another. Also, an odd trivia factoid: At 75 minutes, this “feature film” is actually considerably shorter than an average episode of MST3k.

68. Ep. 816, Prince of Space, 1958

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “Empirical data suggests the accuracy of my earlier contention that your weapons against me are without merit, haha!”

What is it with Japanese kaiju and tokusatsu (special effects/superhero) genre movies and kids with upsettingly small shorts? WHAT IS THE CONNECTION?!? Regardless, Prince of Space is another trip back to Japan, with more children protagonists who are big fans of the title character, an undercover boot-shiner who moonlights as the rocket-piloting Prince of Space to defend Earth from the squawking chicken men of planet Krankor. Our villain, who is ALSO called Krankor, is an immediate highlight, combining outlandish costuming with stilted dubbing and an unforgettable wheezing style of laughter. In general, this is one of those episodes where Mike and the Bots come out like a house on fire, with tons of laugh-out-loud riffs in the first half of the episode that focus on the dumb kids and especially on the hero and villain’s constant, repeated catchphrases, ‘ala “Your weapons have no effect on me!” However, as the episode goes on, the repeated journeys back and forth between Earth and the villain’s planet begin to wear thin and get tedious, and the riffing slows down a bit as a result. Still, the first half of Prince of Space is among the crew’s strongest work, and the episode is still packed with memorable lines. We like it very much!

67. Ep. 618, High School Big Shot, 1959, /w Out of This World

Movie pain meter: High
Best riff: “Now, let’s take a look at the lighter side of wholesale bread delivery!”

This is one dark movie, and I mean that both literally and tonally … but especially tonally. It may be one of the most depressing films ever featured on MST3k, which is certainly saying something. Poor Marvin is simply a loser; there’s no other way to say it. Everything he does is an immediate disaster, and that includes his attraction to a delinquent girl who gets him tangled up in the world of organized crime. Soon, poor Marvin is in way over his head, and his pathetic, alcoholic father is no help at all. My favorite moment: Tom gets carried away during the “ferry boarding” scene and refuses to stop singing “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” so Mike launches him across the theater, noting that “it had to be done.” The episode comes bundled with a truly surreal short, Out of This World, which bears some resemblance to Once Upon a Honeymoon … except it’s about wholesale bread salesmen being guided and tempted by angels and demons. It’s a sublime, dreamlike examination of boring sales minutia, presented in a mode that is so colorfully campy that it’s practically a built-in oxymoron. And at 20 minutes, it’s impossibly long for the pedantic “salesmen need to work hard” message.

66. Ep. 1205, Killer Fish, 1979

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “She looks like every Barbie in a Goodwill toy bundle.”

None of the season 12 episodes really deserve to occupy a sole “last place” position; nor is there a standout that is notably below the others in quality, so this ultimately comes down to which of the films was simply the least memorable on its own, and that is definitely Killer Fish. For a film with such a pulpy, exploitative type of title, this one is primarily just a bore—a yawner of a ‘70s heist drama that plays out like Oceans 11 might have if George Clooney had double-crossed all his partners by filling the Bellagio with flying piranha. Every action in Killer Fish is dragged out to twice the necessary length, while long portions feel like they consist entirely of the gang of stranded thieves smirking at each other.

The riffers don’t quite capitalize on the lack of inertia, but there are some amazing solo riffs, like Crow’s disgust at the leering sleazebag’s laughter: “Ugh, I wonder how they spelled ‘nyeghehehe’ in the script.” There’s a fine running joke about Universal Studios rides, and I very much appreciate the deep horror geek reference to Trilogy of Terror when the guys see actress Karen Black: “You just know there’s a Zuni fetish doll with a knife hiding behind that door, right?” They even try for a unique, Gypsy-fronted, in-theater musical number during the boredom of the scuba diving scene, which is more or less pulled off—but the repeated visits by Growler to the theater afterward eventually start to feel a little forced. The best stuff in the episode comes in fits and spurts, but line of the night goes to Servo during the host segment, when he appears as the ultimate “killer fish,” which he describes as “an octopus, doing cartwheels, holding razor blades.”

Bonus: Killer Fish contains my favorite actor cameo of season 12 in the form of Roy Brocksmith, who you would recognize as the histrionic psychologist in Total Recall.

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65. Ep. 624, Samson vs. The Vampire Women, 1962

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “He’s got a full acre of area!”

This episode gives us an excellent film for the riffing, but at the same time it’s dominated by the
sad departure of TV’s Frank from MST3k. Frank Conniff is a giant personality, both as a writer and an on-screen presence, who perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy between cynicism and playful naiveté/good-heartedness that was unique to MST3k. Cause of death? Well it’s not entirely clear, but it seems to be that he simply ate too much Chinese food, in typical Frank fashion. He’s escorted into Second Banana Heaven by the radiant specter of “Torgo the White,” to a place where “all the lackies, toadies and sidekicks are free from their oppressors.” But to circle back to the film: The hilarity of Samson vs. The Vampire Women goes a long way toward easing the pain of Frank’s departure. It’s one of the many luchador/superhero movies made by Mexican icon El Santo, who becomes “Samson” in the English dub, and is curiously absent from the proceedings for the first 45 minutes of the movie. Seriously, the hero basically isn’t in the movie until the halfway point, but oh what an entrance he eventually makes, getting a hysterical cackle out of Crow. Rather than the luchadore, though, most of the memorable riffs are hurled toward the passionless female protagonist, the ineffectual Mexican police and of course the ancient, leathery vampire women. Still, I’ll always remember this episode for Frank, and for Dr. F singing “Who Shall I Kill?” in tribute.

64. Ep. 514, Teen-Age Strangler, 1964, /w Is This Love?

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: Crow, as Mikey: “The Amish kids beat me up again!”

In the movie tagline hall of fame, it’s tough to beat Teen-Age Strangler: “A caress … an embrace … then DEFILEMENT AND DEATH! Budding young teenie-boppers were this Bluebeard’s prey.” It’s another crime film of the “juvenile delinquency”-obsessed ‘60s, but what sets this one apart are the characters and the legendarily over the top performances. Good lord, there’s some acting in this movie that would make John Waters blush with embarrassment, particularly from the sniveling, greasy-haired kid “Mikey,” who instantly is catapulted into the weirdo MST3k hall of fame. Seriously, for a film with a fairly simple premise, Teen-Age Strangler is bizarre on every level, from characters who read their lines straight to the camera to the “Yipes Stripes” musical number. The short is almost as good, although not quite as great as the similar Are You Ready for Marriage? I love the jokes about the apparently advanced age of the protagonist’s college roommate, who is alternatingly compared to a senior citizen and a Romulan, thanks to weird, straight-edged eyebrows that look exactly like a backslash. Everything about this episode is gleefully weird.

63. Ep. 1109, Yongary: Monster From the Deep, 1967

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “I gotta tell you, I didn’t see this coming. Did Werner Herzog slip in and direct this last scene?”

There’s no shortage of monster movies in season 11, but Yongary strikes me as the best and most balanced of them, without the dragging sections one finds in Reptilicus or the delayed arrival of the monster in Beast of Hollow Mountain. Much was made of comparing Reptilicus in particular to the Gamera movies when it was the first episode of this season released to the press, but it’s Yongary that far more accurately channels that classic Gamera vibe, despite being South Korean rather than Japanese. You know you’re in for a good time from the moment that you meet the film’s resident Monster Movie Kid, Icho, who is lying in wait in the middle of nowhere with an experimental ray gun, which he uses to torment his newly married sister and her husband for no particular reason. A little boy, named “Icho,” who possesses a gun that makes people violently itch and scratch? That’s some prime MST3K material right there, as when Icho sees a new device and wonders “What is this machine, and how can I use it to hurt people?” Yongary, meanwhile, is a tunneling, horned take on Godzilla who feeds on gasoline and has one hell of a hard time ambling from point A to point B in his restrictive monster suit. He has got to be the most uncoordinated, least graceful kaiju in cinema history, which leads to tons of joking about his spastic movements: “One last macarena before I die!” But it’s Yongary’s convoluted, dramatic death throes that really seal the deal—it’s hard to accurately convey how disturbing it is to watch the great beast, twitching in a pool of water and bleeding out, while the heroes smile and laugh and celebrate his destruction. It is grim as all get out.

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62. Ep. 810, The Giant Spider Invasion, 1975

Movie pain meter: Medium
Best riff: “You know, they’re poor only in money … and spirit, and dignity, and moral fiber, and hygiene.”

PACKERS WIN THE SUPER BOWL! Packers! Woo! Oh, what a greasy, country-fried monster movie this is—almost on the same level as Boggy Creek 2, except its Wisconsin equivalent. Every single character is actively unappealing, but also hypnotic in a “where the hell did they find these people?” sort of way. The characters and setting definitely put Mike and the Bots into a “Midwestern” frame of mind, and they spend the majority of the episode absolutely savaging every aspect of the upper Midwest and Wisconsin in particular. Every time we see crowds running in terror, it’s because of PACKERS! The “giant spider,” meanwhile is as cheap as cheap can be. Rather than using a ‘50s-era rear projection method, as used in films such as The Giant Gila Monster, the filmmakers instead decided to build a big spider prop onto the platform of grandpa’s four-door sedan. You can literally see the tires rolling underneath the giant spider at times! Riffs go after the rotund Skipper, Alan Hale Jr., who plays the bumbling town sheriff who is entirely too amused by his own jokes, and especially after poor Ev, the pathetic alcoholic who enjoys “fermented Yoo-hoo,” according to Crow, who also simply adds that “this movie hates us.” How could you possibly be rooting for anyone but the giant spider? Bonus Bride of the Monster call-back in the end, when they blow the thing up: “I guess someone tampered in God’s domain or something.”

61. Ep. 306, Time of the Apes, 1974

Movie pain meter: Low
Best riff: “Any more gasping, and they’re going to run out of air in this room.”

I know we didn’t include KTMA episodes in this ranking, but if you ever want a clear illustration of the show’s evolution from Minneapolis local TV to when it was hitting its stride on The Comedy Channel, Time of the Apes is the perfect example. It’s amazing how much tighter and better written the show has become in the space of a few years, filling in the blank spaces and dead air from KTMA ep. 17 with pithy jokes and insightful observations. Our film is another bizarre Japanese TV-show-turned-feature-film, brought to us by Sandy Frank, the same man responsible for getting all of the Gamera movies dubbed. In this sense, he’s sort of a hero of MST3k for the films he provided, but that doesn’t stop the SOL crew from hilariously dubbing him “the source of all our pain” in the show-ending Sandy Frank song. Joel’s crazed, rubber-limbed dancing is a definite highlight here—if there’s one thing you can say about him as a performer, it’s that Joel is never, ever afraid to completely embrace the silliness. I also love the bit when Joel and the Bots get up and exit the theater during one of the film’s many false endings, only to return after realizing (to their great chagrin) that the movie is still going. Riffing is loose and conversational, pointing out the absurdity and great variety of the Japanese ape man costumes and especially having fun with little Johnny, who is told by his mother “Johnny, don’t go, it’s too dangerous!”, only to reply with a cheerful “I don’t care!” A classic MST3k moment.