As we all know, October is the time to watch scary movies. More often than not, that means having to watch really bad scary movies. If you’re going to watch some really bad movies, then you might as well have it accompanied by professional jokes from professional comedy professionals. Enter RiffTrax, the long-running website that stars Mystery Science Theater 3000 mainstays Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. Having been around for over a decade, those guys have tackled all sorts of movies about killers and creeps and disco-dancing Draculas.
Here are thirteen targets that I highly suggest checking out. I’m going with all VOD movies because that’s how I roll. Also know that there’s a good chunk of these available on Amazon Prime.
From the early days of RiffTrax when all VODs were public domain comes this rather short film that’s just…man. It’s a low-budget exploitation flick from the early days of cinema that comes off as an Edgar Allan Poe story mixed with a fever dream mixed with a sitcom plot gone horribly wrong.
Dr. Meirschultz is a mad scientist who experiments on bringing the dead back to life, accompanied by his assistant Don. Meirschultz makes one of the most questionable decisions of all time when he gives Don a gun and DEMANDS he commit suicide so that he could be brought back to life. Don, in probably his last sane act, just shoots the mad scientist dead.
Now trying to hide this act, he hides the dead body by encasing it behind a brick wall, dresses himself up as Meirschultz, and tries to wing it. As you can guess, winging it in the form of a doctor – crazy or not – isn’t something that works out so well. Like, say, deciding to inject a man with adrenaline to cure his mental problems. Don, much like the movie, becomes increasingly insane.
PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)
This was a combination that simply needed to be. Putting guys from MST3K up against one of the most famously bad movies of all time is like having Vincent Price sing “Monster Mash.” Just this perfect match that has to happen for the world to have balance. While there are multiple versions of RiffTrax tackling the movie, I suggest the RiffTrax Live version, which happens to be the very first installment of RiffTrax’s theatrical experiment. There’s more energy with the audience there.
If you don’t know Ed Wood’s masterpiece, the film is a mess that’s ultimately about a team of human aliens who decide that mankind is going to self-destruct upon advancing in technology. Their plan – their ninth plan – is to summon a trio of zombies to cause trouble. One of said zombies is partially portrayed by the legendary Bella Lugosi. In truth, Wood only had a scant amount of Lugosi footage before he died, meaning most of his scenes had to be finished with a much taller and far-from-believable attempt at a body double.
It’s a stupid movie. Stupid! STUPID!
Ghosthouse is an Italian knockoff of Poltergeist. In the haunted house genre, logic usually goes out the window. The evil spirits are in control and the victims/survivors are at the whims of forces that can change the rules. With Ghosthouse, the people are so off to begin with that you get a cocktail of nonsense once the ghosts show up.
The true highlight of the movie is Jim Dalen, a doofus hastily introduced by hastily dropping a huge pile of unnatural exposition on us. While the actor is certainly enthusiastic, his delivery of really anything can use a lot of work. Even his reaction to his impending death is comparable to the infamous, “They’re eating her!” scene from Troll 2.
Otherwise, enjoy the creepy girl, her clown doll, the Kramer-like groundskeeper, and the general incoherence.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993)
Back in the ’70s, they did that tense thriller about the killer who was calling from inside the house. Fast-forward into the early 90s and suddenly there’s an ill-advised sequel bringing back both Carol Kane and Charles Durning. With a new girl being stalked by a new stranger, Jill Johnson (Kane) is a college counselor out to protect this victim, especially due to the similarities to what she endured in the first movie.
When a Stranger Calls Back essentially has three stages to it. The first is the endless opening sequence where our initial protagonist Julia is stalked during a babysitting job. You might start thinking that the entire movie is going to be this scene, but it finally ends at the 26 minute mark in a 90-minute movie. Then it becomes a pretty standard, if dull, procedural for the second act.
Suddenly, Durning’s character figures out the “how” of the villain’s mysterious actions and that’s when things go completely off the rails. See, this isn’t one of those mysteries where we know the bad guy before the reveal. Once we know about his special talent, the movie goes from zero to sixty in letting us see what kind of a creepy weirdo he is when he isn’t stalking college girls. I won’t go deep into spoilers, but I will say it involves wearing blackface in a topless bar and a finale where he’s clad in only a thong and body paint.
SILENT RAGE (1982)
It’s refreshing when we can see someone fight back in a horror movie. Tough as Jason is, at least we’ve seen a psychic girl throw him around like a ragdoll and a space robot absolutely punk him out. It’s cathartic when an unkillable murderer goes up against someone tougher than your average exhausted teen boxer.
Well, how about Chuck Norris? In this early 80s romp, we mix the generic Chuck Norris action movie style with a slasher flick. A lunatic is shot up by some cops, then his cadaver is used as an experiment in cell regeneration. It’s one of those extra special bad ideas that blows up in everyone’s face and next thing you know, the unkillable zombie is getting repeated facefuls of jumping roundhouse kicks.
It’s a curious little cinematic experiment that doesn’t quite work, but is worth sitting through for the novelty.
THE LAST SLUMBER PARTY (1988)
Not only is this one of the best October movies to watch from RiffTrax, but it might be in my top three of all time. The movie is already broken and falling apart throughout, but the final five minutes is so off-the-wall that you might get physically angry with it.
It tells the tale of three teenage girls celebrating the end of the school year by having a slumber party while some of their guy friends show up to mess with them and/or mess around with them. One girl is the daughter of a doctor who had been treating a mentally-unstable patient with plans of a lobotomy (which he may have already had since he sports the scar, but whatever). The mental patient dresses up as a surgeon, escapes the hospital, and goes on a killing spree that involves staring bug-eyed at the camera and cutting people with a scalpel from just off-camera.
The killer invades the slumber party and quietly increases the body count, all while the movie inexplicably decides to shift who is supposed to be the protagonist. The whole movie is unstable and off, but wait until you see the brief section where there’s a second killer needlessly introduced!
THE DARK POWER (1985)
Lash La Rue was a Hollywood legend and one of the biggest western names in movie history. So in-between the laughs, you can’t help but cringe at him showing up in The Dark Power during his twilight years. It almost feels like someone played telephone with Silent Rage and came out with a movie with even less dignity.
The main plot has to do with a handful of young women living in a house built over a cursed Native American burial ground. Or whatever. Regardless, it means that they’re soon stalked by dopes in terrible rubber mask zombie outfits. Their main hope for survival is the over-the-hill sheriff, played by Lash. Like in his many other, better movies, Lash expertly wields his whip against the evil zombies…and boy does it look embarrassing.
Lash also stars in the similar Alien Outlaw, which isn’t quite as fun, but certainly has its moments.
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL NIGHTMARE (1987)
This is an instance where RiffTrax truly acts as a service because of all the schlock movies I have ever seen in my life, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare got the biggest reaction out of me. This one stayed with me for a long time. You really need to see this movie from start to finish and you need Mike, Bill, and Kevin to punch it up and keep you entertained through the dull parts. Namely the many shots where the director doesn’t know when to cut.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is an Evil Dead ripoff starring a touring rock band called Triton, headed by actual 80s rocker Jon Mikl Thor. They decide to lay low in a cabin for a little bit to work on their music and practice. Turns out the place is haunted by the Devil himself and it doesn’t take long for band members, their manager, their girlfriends, and their groupies to get torn to pieces in silly ways.
Then…man, I can’t even do it justice. The final ten minutes features a twist that comes completely out of nowhere with no foreshadowing whatsoever. The movie doubles down on this by going completely bonkers with some of the most laugh-out-loud imagery as we see the ultimate battle of good and evil. I STILL laugh about it to this day. I’m laughing right now as I type this! Seriously, you need to watch this movie!
THE NIGHT THAT DRACULA SAVED THE WORLD (1979)
Hotel Transylvania took the idea of having a comedian play Dracula, had all the Universal Monsters hang out in Dracula’s castle, and made it work. The Night That Dracula Saved the World, otherwise known as The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, is like the live-action failed attempt at Hotel Transylvania. Instead of Adam Sandler, our Dracula is played by Judd Hirsch.
With Halloween on its way, there are rumors going around that Dracula wants to do away with the holiday. Dracula calls a meeting with his monster brethren to get to the bottom of things, only to discover that the Witch started the rumors because she feels underappreciated. Dracula can’t simply fire her green ass, since Halloween can only happen if the Witch flies her broomstick around the moon. Yes, that is a thing.
Wackiness, awful effects, and bad comedy ensue as Dracula and his buddies try to capture the Witch and force her to do her job in order to save Halloween. While we have the usual monsters like Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman, the real treat is the Zombie. He doesn’t do anything of note, but he looks exactly like Brain Guy from MST3K to the point that Corbett wonders aloud, “I’m in this…?”
THE LAST SHARK (1981)
A lot of bad movies can be seen as knockoffs of successful movies, but The Last Shark goes even further by being so blatantly Jaws that it originally got pulled from theaters for plagiarism. That’s not me making a joke. Despite its many similarities, the thing to remember is that Jaws was a masterpiece. The guys behind Last Shark certainly tried, but they didn’t have the actors, crew, special effects budget, or even music that put them in the same ballpark as anyone involved in Spielberg’s vision.
What you get is a familiar jaunt that is hilarious in its ineptitude. The killer shark puppet doesn’t look too bad, even if it doesn’t resemble the constant shark stock footage they keep playing. The real star is the shark’s kill scenes because they’re so over-the-top goofy, like when the shark propels a victim (or his stunt dummy) like 25 feet into the air.
I will give the movie this! Unlike Jaws, we do get to see the idiot mayor get killed! At least this movie knows to give the viewers what they want.
Comedies are hard to riff, but Hillbillys in a Haunted House is a special kind of weird that’s hard to replicate. With the title and the opening few minutes, there’s a feeling that the movie is rather charming in its own right. Not exceptional cinema, but cute as a live-action Scooby-Doo type of feature. It centers around a couple country singers and their goofball manager Jeepers having to spend the night in what appears to be a haunted house. Sounds okay enough as an Abbott and Costello knockoff with musical numbers.
As the movie progresses, it continues to get stranger and stranger. We discover that there’s a team of mad scientists/spies living in the basement of the house, played by has-been horror icons John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. Plus they have a gorilla with them because why the hell not?
One of the highlights is a scene where Jeepers turns on a TV and watches a country performance. Inexplicably, the video keeps changing to close-ups of the different villains creepily leering at him. This was comedy in the 60s, I suppose.
Ruby is a movie where I found myself saying, “I don’t know what it is I’m even watching,” about ten minutes in. It’s the kind of movie that’s almost coherent, but not quite. It goes into various directions, but can’t quite hold it together. Then you toss in the exceptional overacting and you’re in for a good time.
Once upon a time, a mob boss was killed by his henchmen, as ordered by his pregnant moll Ruby. Ruby went on to give birth to a mute child Leslie and became a guilt-ridden lush, drunkenly ranting about her younger days. Years later, Ruby runs a drive-in movie theater built near the swamp where her dead ex was murdered and her employees are the former mobsters. Those employees then start getting killed off in supernatural ways that mostly come off as suicides. While Ruby continues to go off the deep end, likeable former mobster Vince tries to take control of the situation by bringing in an expert in the supernatural and being a good father figure to Leslie, who is also affected by the haunting.
Got all that? It comes close to being decent, but is just too off to succeed, making it a good RiffTrax target.
RETRO PUPPET MASTER (1999)
There are so many Puppet Master movies out there. So many. This umpteenth prequel installment is special, though. As it tells the story of major series character Andre Toulon as a young man, the role is given to Greg Sestero, otherwise known as Mark from The Room and the author of The Disaster Artist. Yes, this takes place just a few years before he’d reach notoriety for telling people to keep their stupid comments in their pockets.
Sestero and his French accent are far from the worst thing about this turd. On paper, the origin of how Toulon created the killer puppets isn’t bad. It hits me as something that sounded cool as hell when the screenwriter put it together. Unfortunately, it’s about an hour of story stretched into an hour and a half and there’s some rough patches due to bad directing and budget.
When it comes time for the inaugural puppets to start killing, they join Toulon in fighting a team of resurrected mummies on a train. That may sound cool, but it’s one of the lamest fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. And I saw Tom Waits vs. John Lurie from Down by Law!
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!