It’s October and outside of checking out RiffTrax’s offerings, you’ll have to go back to the previous ten seasons to dive deep into a man and his robots making fun of B-movie horrors. So if you’re in the mood for the Satellite of Love this Halloween season, here are some of the best horror movie episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to watch.
Just as a warning, the list does skew a little bit more to the Sci-Fi Channel era, but that’s to be expected considering the library they had to play with.
Pod People is considered to be one of the all-time favorites in Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a variety of reasons, but at the core, it’s because it’s two very different movies crammed into each other. At first, they were making a routine slasher film about a group of musicians being murdered by an alien. Then E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial came out and made a bunch of money, so they tried to make a rip-off movie about a annoying kid making friends with an alien named Trumpy.
As you can guess, they go together like water and oil. Bad for the studio, good for us.
This is one of those delightfully bad movies and it shows considering two of the host segments are the Satellite of Love crew reenacting some of the most ridiculous scenes almost wholesale instead of going the parody route.
MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE
You can’t be a fan of MST3K without knowing about Manos. On the off-chance you haven’t heard of the epic disasterpiece, by all means go check it out, though beware. There’s a reason it’s considered by many to be the worst movie ever.
On paper, it isn’t that bad. It’s a really dark and bleak film about a family getting lost and stumbling upon a creepy home of a cultist, his brainwashed wives, and his goat-legged henchman. The writing almost works, but everything else about it is a complete mess. The acting is bad and the production is outright laughable, especially considering all the audio is dubbed over by three people.
Torgo became the show’s breakout star and to this day, people recognize his dopey theme song.
Zombie Nightmare is the perfect storm of ’80s weirdness. You have the has-been actor (Adam West), the will-one-day-be-famous actress (Tia Carrere), and the D-list rock god (Jon Mikl Thor) doing a dumb revenge movie with a low budget. Thor, also known for Rock n’ Roll Nightmare, which RiffTrax covered, stars as a guy who gets killed by some jerk-ass teens running him over. His body is resurrected by a voodoo priestess and he goes on a rampage, looking for vengeance on those responsible.
While the gorier moments are cut from the MST3K version, there’s just so much to love: the constant jokes about West and Carrere, the jokes about pre-zombie Thor being way too into showing us how jacked he is, and the awkwardness of having people somehow failing to outrun a shambling zombie.
SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN
Samson is the English name for El Santo, the legendary Mexican pro wrestler who starred in dozens of films where he wore his in-ring attire just for kicks. As a young one, I didn’t know this fact going into the episode, so when Samson shows up with a mask, cape, tights, and no shirt apropos of nothing, I certainly sympathized with Crows’ exasperated laughter.
The movie is an odd one, as you can expect. It starts off as aping Dracula, but then a professor calls up the masked wrestler to help solve his problems and rescue his kidnapped daughter. What follows is a whole lot of judo chopping from vampires and wrestlers alike, as well as a scene where an evil wrestler is unmasked to reveal a werewolf…who starts judo chopping people.
Any MST3K fan deserves to check this episode out regardless, as it’s the ep that writes TV’s Frank out of the show.
INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN
Hey, you know how in the original Fantastic Four comics, space radiation caused astronaut Ben Grimm to turn into a big, melty freak of nature instead of a rock man? Imagine that, but as a terrible ’70s horror film with bad acting and decent (though totally gross) make-up effects.
The story behind the movie basically explains everything that went wrong. The writer and director William Sachs wanted to make a horror parody. After he filmed the footage, the studio decided to dump out the comedic scenes, reshoot to add more straight horror, and hope it would make them money. What we got is prime riffing material.
So come for the shambling, radioactive zombie man made of gross jelly. Stay for the amazing, old, randy couple who may be the best murder victims in MST3K history.
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF
This one’s campy, but not actually all that bad. Starring Michael Landon, it merges the usual wolfman/Jekyll and Hyde tropes you’d see in black and white movies and merges it with troubled teen drama. A kid named Tony has some anger issues and when it affects his friends, he goes to a psychiatrist, who also has some kind of febrile plot to hypnotize Tony into devolving into a werewolf. This irresponsibility causes Tony to transform at the sound of bells and he goes about killing innocent people.
The movie features one of my favorite dumb riffs that’s stuck with me for years. One of Tony’s friends has a doofy musical number at a party called “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe.” A couple minutes after, Tony punches the guy for a completely different reason and as the guy slowly gets back up from the couch, shocked and scared, Crow chimes in with, “Eeny Meeny Miny WHOA!”
It’s so stupid, but I laugh every time.
Unfortunately, due to rights issues, this episode isn’t available in any official capacity. So…keep circulating those tapes.
GIANT SPIDER INVASION
I’ve been told by my editor to cool it on the giant monster movies for this list. Makes sense, since Godzilla-types aren’t the kind of monsters that I really associate with Halloween. That said, even though the climax of this movie involves a giant spider, there’s enough to this cheesefest to allow it on the list.
Speaking of cheese, hearing Mike and the Bots react to screaming mobs with, “PACKERS WON THE SUPER BOWL! WHOO!” is almost as priceless as the fact that the movie has the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island as the sheriff.
In this movie, we get what feels like hours of footage of various Wisconsin yokels enacting their boring subplots while rock-hard spider eggs fall from space and gradually start hatching and, I guess, growing. Through the film, we see a bunch of real tarantulas, a couple dog-sized spider puppets, and a giant spider puppet the size of a tank.
The whole thing is an enjoyable mess.
THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES
Just look at that title. Really look at it.
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Etc. Etc. is kind of like if you took Teenage Werewolf, grabbed the badness dial, and turned it to eleven. It’s especially awful. A teen named Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler), who looks like Nicholas Cage merged with Pee-Wee Herman, visits the carnival with his girlfriend and incomprehensible best friend. A fortune teller then hypnotizes him into becoming a “zombie” and he commits murders for her.
It’s remembered for two things, mainly. One, the fortune teller has a hideous goon named Ortega, who became the show’s replacement for Torgo.
Second, much of the movie is made up of inexplicable song and/or dance numbers by what’s supposed to be strippers. These go on forever and get increasingly head-scratching. It’s part of the movie’s “charm.”
Devil Doll is one of those old movies that could have been decent with another draft and – radical thought – any form of charisma. Despite brief moments of genuine creepiness, the whole thing is boring when it should be tense.
It deals with a hypnotist/ventriloquist named the Great Vorelli, who has a dummy named Hugo. Hugo is alive, as we gradually discover, but Vorelli is the true monster. He uses his hypnotism to get what he wants – and more specifically who he wants – while also being behind murder and the general mistreatment of Hugo.
There are some good laughs mixed in, but be prepared for some real dryness.
Werewolf was released in 1996. The MST3K episode about Werewolf was released in 1998. New or not, they were certain they needed to give it the business.
I will admit that the movie’s ultimate lack of plot does come off as somewhat original. Usually, werewolf movies run the same path of somebody getting turned, then struggling with it for the entirety of the story until the tragic conclusion. Here, a guy gets turned into a werewolf and then gets killed almost immediately. A jerk decides to go infect someone else into becoming a werewolf and that doesn’t last all that long.
Finally, the film’s protagonist (I guess) gets turned pretty late into the runtime and we let that play out.
The villain’s constantly altering hairstyle is something to behold, at the very least.
Oof, this one’s rough. It’s an embarrassing attempt to recreate Gremlins, only with little monsters that grant wishes in ways that kill their victims. It’s 80s cheese balled up and thrown into the garbage.
It’s the kind of bad movie that keeps your interest throughout, which is what makes it one of the better episodes in the series, but it’s also one of the all-time worst things ever shown on the Satellite of Love.
The actor playing the most annoying character, a sleazy club MC, would later go on to have a successful career playing Cosmo and Mr. Turner on Fairly OddParents. Go figure.
THE TOUCH OF SATAN
Touch of Satan is the Twilight before its time. I don’t mean because of the romance where one person is over a century old. I mean that it’s a dull movie that pads itself out by taking 30 second pauses in-between each line. Except the lines aren’t winners either, giving us such gems as, “This is where the fish live.”
The story deals with a young man driving through the country and stumbling across a seemingly-young woman who turns out to be a witch who had to sell her soul to Satan in order to save her sister from villagers many years ago because they thought SHE was a witch. Now the younger sister is an insane serial killer and is old as hell.
If anything, the movie teaches us the lesson that premarital sex actually saves people from Satan’s contract. Good to know.
Soultaker is a wonderful thing. A handful of teens get into a car accident, caused by a Grim Reaper-like figure called the Soultaker, as played by Joe Estevez (brother of Martin Sheen). The Soultaker’s job is to hunt them all down and turn their souls into circular glow sticks under the orders of his boss, played by B-movie regular Robert Z’Dar. To give the Soultaker some menace and a sense of wrongdoing, he’s mainly all about this for the sake of hooking up with one of the girls, who is played by Vivian Schilling.
Coincidentally, Schilling wrote the story. I imagine there’s probably better ways to self-insert yourself into a movie than having Joe Estevez make evil heart eyes at you.
It’s a unique slasher film of sorts where the victims are unnoticed by the world around them, what with all of them being ghosts, displaced from their bodies. It’s enjoyably silly and the constant jokes about Estevez being the lesser Sheen, as well as every joke about Z’Dar’s catcher mitt face help carry you through the runtime.
It’s also a rather important episode of MST3K due to the one-off returns of both TV’s Frank and Joel. We get to see the big first-time meeting between Joel and Mike, where Mike’s immediate reaction to such an epic moment is, “I’m wearing your tube socks!”
Of course, these are only a taste of what the show has to offer. There are plenty of other great Halloween-themed episodes to check out. Squirm, The Undead, The Killer Shrews, and so on. What are some of your October favorites that I may have missed? Sound off in the comments below!