I’m a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was a bit of a latecomer to the series — I started watching it during the Sci-Fi Channel years — but I’ve seen practically every episode now, some dozens of times. Here, for no particular reason other than I’m bored, are my ten favorites. (There’s a strong bias here towards Mike episodes, simply because I prefer his style to Joel’s.)
1) Prince of Space. A horribly-dubbed Japanese space adventure from the 1950’s. Prince of Space is a silly, unintimidating hero with a ridiculous costume, and his nemesis, Phantom of Krankor, is the funniest character to ever appear in anything, ever. The best MST3K movies are the ones that are funny even without the riffing, and this one is absolutely hilarious.
2) Puma Man. This was the first episode I actually sat down and watched, back in the day. It’s an awful Italian-produced superhero movie starring a dorky-looking professor-dude who becomes the Puma Man: a flying goofball with a stupidly bland costume and a sad, tired archenemy played by Donald Pleasance. Everything about this movie is funny, from the lousy acting to the atrocious special effects and the dumb story, but it was the music that really sold me on this one. I loved the riffing on the theme song: “When you want the flavor of bacon in a dip.”
3) Space Mutiny. One of the most incompetent movies ever made. They simply didn’t have the budget, or the talent, or the creativity, to bring the premise to life; unable to build a futuristic spaceship set, they simply shot the whole thing in a run-down factory, and wound up reusing a bunch of shots from Battlestar Galactica for the space-fighting scenes. Add to that the scenery-chewing Kalgan, Reb Brown’s typically awful acting (“Let’s get out there and kick some ass!”), the goofy floor-polishing carts, the obvious continuity errors, and man, this is a great episode.
4) The Giant Spider Invasion. A sleazy giant spider movie. The most terrifying thing in the movie isn’t the spiders, but Robert Easton’s character, a surly jackass who wears a dirty back brace.
5) Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell. A fantasy film — this is actually the third Deathstalker movie — produced by Roger Corman. It’s got a generic fantasy plot, a really low budget, a smarmy lead, lots of weird little moments (“Potatoes are what we eat!”), and a great villain in Thom Christopher, who yells and screams and overacts like crazy. The riffing in this one is really terrific.
6) Werewolf. Bizarre little werewolf movie, starring a cast who all speak with different accents; only a few characters in the film are actually able to pronounce the word “werewolf” correctly (instead we get war-whilf, wir-wilf, etc.) This is another one with fantastic riffing: “Think of my family in Latvia!”
7) Skydivers. The doughty Coleman Francis directed three movies: Skydivers, The Beast of Yucca Flats, and Red Zone Cuba. MST3K tackled all three of these, but Skydivers is easily my favorite. It’s a strange, dreary movie (actually, all of Coleman Francis’s movies are dreary), with a bare-bones plot, odd acting, and confusing editing. Admittedly, it took a while for this one to grow on me; it can be pretty hard to get past the incredible drabness of the movie and enjoy the riffing.
8) The Creeping Terror. A very, very unusual alien-invasion movie, featuring a giant slug-like creature that very slowly creeps up on people and eats them (the people help him out by crawling into his mouth). The movie is strange in that it doesn’t really have a soundtrack; practically the entire film is narrated.
9) Santa Claus. A holiday favorite (I watch it every Christmas), this is a Mexican fantasy film about a Santa Claus who lives in space, employs an army of children to make his toys, works with Merlin the wizard, and does battle (of a sort) with one of the devil’s minions, a greasy-faced goober called Pitch. Lots of horrible dubbing, and full of strange little touches.
10) Samson vs. the Vampire Women/Devil Doll. Okay, I cheated a little on this one, but these two are basically tied for ten. Samson is actually an El Santo movie; in this one Santo faces a bunch of sexy vampire women and their “cheap thug” wrestling minions. Devil Doll is a British production about a creepy ventriloquist. It’s a rather boring movie, actually, but the scenes with Hugo, the ventriloquist dummy, are a blast (“I can eat like you can! You are not the only one who likes to eat!”)
Runners-Up: Jack Frost, Angels Revenge, Horror of Party Beach, Eegah!, Mitchell, Boggy Creek II, Track of the Moon Beast, Blood Waters of Dr. Z, Outlaw, and The Sinister Urge.