Despite having over 200 episodes to its name, Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn’t necessarily synonymous with the holidays unless you’re talking about Thanksgiving. Even then, it’s because of an annual marathon and not a Thanksgiving-based episode (there was one of those, but it was rereleased with different host segments later on). While MST3K’s sister series RiffTrax might throw out at least one Christmas riff every December, MST3K only has three.
Coincidentally, there’s one for each host. That’s kind of neat.
That’s not to say that your options are too slim if you want to kick back and watch some Satellite of Love this Christmas. There are certain episodes that fit in one way or another. Maybe not as well as a movie specifically about Santa Claus where the satellite is decked out in colored lights, but sometimes you need to stretch.
EXPERIMENT 321: SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS
From the Joel era, we get the first true holiday episode and it’s a doozy. It’s a children’s film with its heart in the right place, but with a bunch of wacky concepts and low-budget production decisions that keep it from being competent. On Mars, the children are all learning and no play, which makes them empty and joyless inside. The Martian leader Kimar decides to kidnap Santa and bring him to Mars so that he can make the kids happy.
The straight-laced Kimar gets headaches from all sides, such as the two Earth children they take with them, the dopey comic relief martian Dropo, and the always-plotting Voldar. Voldar wants nothing to do with Christmas and hopes to make Mars stronger by doing away with Santa and taking control. It’s kind of insane, but there’s a lot to laugh at.
This one’s very memorable for some of the host segments, including Crow introducing the world to his holiday tune “Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas.” Also notable is Crow saying that for Christmas, all he wants is to get to choose who lives or dies, made even better by Joel’s parental, “Oh, I don’t know…”
EXPERIMENT 512: MITCHELL
Mitchell is one of the most beloved episodes of MST3K and also one of the most important. It’s the one that gets rid of Joel and brings in Mike as the new host. As major as that is, the quality of the movie and the riffs that come with it match it and make it a classic.
The plot of the movie has to do with an incredibly unlikeable maverick detective who targets some drug lords and wins the heart of a prostitute. It’s essentially Dirty Harry, only more grimy than dirty. And also very bloated. Just unsavory in general. Yeah, Joe Don Baker gets roasted in this one hard.
So why is it a Christmas episode? Even though it has no bearing on anything in the plot, Mitchell takes place during Christmastime. In the opening, John Saxon plays a rich dude who shoots and kills a would-be burglar. Meanwhile, the background shows a Christmas tree with a bunch of gifts underneath. It’s just that instead of a jolly fat man we get a cantankerous one instead.
Much like the Christmas theme, John Saxon proceeds to vanish from the film. This isn’t the fault of the filmmakers, but for MST3K having to cut out his death scene for time.
EXPERIMENT 521: SANTA CLAUS
When you get right down to it, Santa Claus is just a strange idea. A unique and fatherly superhero with a nonsense power set, ridiculous headquarters, and questionable sidekicks. His strange existence is compounded with even stranger details to cover up all the flaws in his concept. The Mexican movie Santa Claus comes off as someone playing Telephone with what Santa’s all about and creating something even more gonzo.
Watch as Santa prepares for Christmas up in his space fortress, accompanied by children from all parts of the world, laughing robot reindeer, a freaky pair of giant lips, and Merlin the Magician. He mainly focuses his attention on a poor girl named Lupita, who desperately wants a dolly.
And if those Martians from the earlier movie weren’t enough, now Santa Claus has to face the forces of Satan himself! While THE Devil is heard but not seen, he sends his weasely minion Pitch to screw over Santa, corrupt children, and just plain ruin Christmas.
It starts to drag at the end, but there are enough head-scratching moments to make this one worth checking out. Namely how some kid throws a rock through a window at an animatronic Santa display and it somehow hits the real Santa off in space.
EXPERIMENT 813: JACK FROST
While this episode isn’t presented as Christmas-themed, the movie itself is celebrated as a Christmas classic in parts of Eastern Europe and that’s good enough for me. Besides, the titular character is so Santa-esque that you kind of have to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Jack Frost is a Soviet fairy tale adventure from the 1960s that happens to be one of the best movies MST3K has ever targeted. All things considered, the movie totally owns and is pretty well-made for its time. It’s just that despite the competence, it’s too bonkers not to laugh at for most of the time. It’s a Russian fairy tale. You’re going to get some nutty situations.
The movie is about a girl named Nastya who is treated like garbage by her evil step-mother and step-sister. You know the type. She ends up coming across Ivan, a mighty wanderer whose ego and lack of compassion gets him in trouble. Ivan ends up being turned into a half-man/half-bear by a magical, tiny man with a mushroom head. The only way to break the curse – and ultimately win over Nastya – is to understand humility.
Then Jack Frost himself appears with like 20 minutes left to go. There’s also a house with legs and a magic pig sled. Like I said, nutty situations.
EXPERIMENT 820: SPACE MUTINY
On the surface, Space Mutiny has nothing to do with Christmas. It’s an over-the-top space flick about a meathead living action figure fighting bad guys on a spaceship. It happens to be one of the most beloved episodes for being the right cocktail of cinematic crap and birthing one of the funniest running gags in the show’s history (“Big McLargehuge!”).
So why is it on this list? Cameron Mitchell plays Commander Alex Jansen and due to his appearance – namely his bushy, white beard – he is the butt of so many Santa jokes from Mike and the bots. His quiet and dignified leadership is constantly being undercut with cracks about toys, elves, and how he and Mrs. Kringle have an open marriage.
Truth be told, that’s probably not even in the top five reasons to check this ep out, but it’s a good excuse to give it a go in December.
EXPERIMENT 908: THE TOUCH OF SATAN
The Touch of Satan is like an early ’70s gender-flipped premake of Twilight. You got the naïve young guy wandering around and falling for a woman who turns out to be well over a hundred years old and supernatural. Then the two have lots of conversations filled with unnecessary pauses. Just like Twilight.
Touch of Satan is great if you want to see jokes about walnut farms, discussing the living arrangements of fish, and yelling “ZA!” at random people. Not great if you want jokes about snowmen, gift-giving, and St. Nick.
The reason I even mention it is a great opening bit on the Satellite of Love where Servo and Crow do some caroling and sing about wassailing. Even though it’s July. Everyone admits that they aren’t even sure what wassail even is and it ends up being a plot to steal Mike’s debit card, but it leads to a funny payoff with a very dated reference to “skunky beer” commercials.
EXPERIMENT 1002: GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS
Girl in Gold Boots tells the tale of a would-be go-go dancer traveling across the country with a guy who can get her a gig and a hitchhiker. This all leads to discovering how go-go dancing is linked to the drug-laced underworld, but the movie is more remembered for a restaurant called “EAT” and characters teleporting due to terrible editing.
There’s a curious moment in the movie where the trio make it to Los Angeles, which is all lit up to celebrate Christmas. There’s even a driving montage with a song playing over it about how it is very much Christmastime. Then, as they park and leave their car, they end up going to a haunted house.
Mike gets into the yuletide spirit at one point when a scene begins with a close-up of a dancer’s butt. “Uh… Merry Christmas, I guess.”
EXPERIMENT 1102: CRY WILDERNESS
Many were worried that the newly-revived MST3K wouldn’t be able to stand up to the original stuff, but I’d say that Cry Wilderness proves that the spark remains as strong as ever. While the premiere episode Reptilicus is a good basic movie to introduce the new generation, Cry Wilderness follows immediately after and becomes an instant classic.
A little boy named Paul claims to be best friends with Bigfoot himself (whose costume lacks gloves). Bigfoot appears to him at night and warns him that Paul’s father is in great trouble. Paul leaves school, hitchhikes to the national park where his father works, laughs at raccoons, and has to protect Bigfoot from a big game hunter who sort of looks like Eric Bischoff.
The final scene, for no real reason, begins with Paul’s classmates wishing their teacher a Merry Christmas. So…yeah, go figure. Stuff just happens in this movie. It’s an absolute trip.
EXPERIMENT 1113: THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN’T
Santa Claus and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians may be high-concept and outlandish as hell, but at the end of the day, they make enough sense. Throwing aliens and demons into the mix about a guy who can fly around the world and make endless stops in one night is out there, but at least they’re mostly logical in terms plot (though that rock hitting Santa in the face is still bizarre). The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is more quaint, but it will also have you awkwardly raising your hand in confusion at its developments.
A lowly lawyer Sam Whipple (played by the guy who wrote the story) randomly meets Santa Claus and discovers that a Scrooge-like rich guy named Prune (played by the director) owns the deed to the North Pole and is demanding a heavy rent or he’ll kick the Clauses and their elves out before Christmas. Sam suggests he and Santa get jobs at a department store as working there for just a couple days will earn them enough to save Christmas.
Jonah and the bots repeatedly make fun of the self-insert main character by acting like he’s got this fetish for being treated like a baby as a way to explain his behavior. The other memorable thing about this disaster of a film is how it features a musical number called “The Name of the Song is Prune,” which is so amazingly terrible that you will question what the hell you’re even watching.