With around 200 episodes, Mystery Science Theater 3000 has covered so many sub-sections of movies. They have Japanese superhero movies, old timey movies about juvenile delinquents, way too many “movies” that are just two episodes of a TV show edited together, and so on. One of these staples is the good, old fashioned giant monster movie.
Godzilla, Gamera, and their many knockoffs have shown up on the Satellite of Love throughout the years…though strangely mostly in season 3. With Godzilla: King of the Monsters here, it’s time to take a look at the kaiju movies MST3K has to offer.
The problem is figuring out what movies I would personally consider a kaiju showcase. There are a lot of movies with dinosaurs and stuff, but do they really have the same spirit of a Godzilla-esque film? The way I see it, a kaiju movie needs to involve a giant being interacting with a modern society. Simply going back in time or to a land where giant lizards roam free doesn’t cut it.
THE BLACK SCORPION (S1E13)
The first season of MST3K is pretty rough to get through. Not as rough as the first-first season on KTMA, but the movies weren’t easy to endure and the riffs usually didn’t make up for it. There’s a reason why they never played the reruns back when the show was still airing on Comedy Central. Black Scorpion was the final episode of that season and, to its credit, they were starting to figure things out.
The movie is a rather grisly affair for such an old, black-and-white deal. A couple volcanoes appear out of nowhere and some scientists go to investigate. What they eventually find is a pack of giant scorpions, depicted via stop-motion animation that looks slightly jerky, but that only makes it all that much creepier.
GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (S212)
It’s the Godzilla movie that wasn’t intended to be a Godzilla movie. It was supposed to be about a size-changing robot superhero named Jet Jaguar taking on a giant bug creature named Megalon, which is in turn controlled by an underground society of people in ridiculous outfits. Since the studio figured this wasn’t enough, Godzilla and Gigan (the Sagat of giant monsters) show up as afterthoughts. Other than a quick cameo early on, Godzilla doesn’t appear in his own movie until the latter third.
But hell, what an appearance it is, as he and Jet Jaguar take part in a bout of gigantic tag-team wrestling. The fight itself goes on for quite a bit and gives us the ever-so-stupid Godzilla flying dropkick that they do twice in a row because they probably put too much trouble into making it happen.
GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (S2E13)
It’s the OTHER Godzilla movie that wasn’t intended to be a Godzilla movie. No, this was originally meant to be a King Kong flick but they went with a different protagonist. Some dudes get imprisoned on an island run by evil folk who keep people from escaping via a giant crab monster. The prisoners find Godzilla’s comatose body on the island and use lightning to wake him up so he’ll start kicking ass.
Once again, it takes Godzilla an awful while to show up and do anything and the sea monster is lame as hell, but luckily the movie is so busy with nonsense that it’s all well and good. Mothra shows up, Godzilla busts up the bad guys’ headquarters, and Godzilla even gets in a really bad fight with a giant bird.
Season 3 featured a lot of Gamera movies cluttered together. The first one is a pretty straightforward, albeit not the most exciting monster movie. Gamera is certainly a silly-looking Godzilla knockoff, but one who better lends himself to ridiculous shit like turning into a shell UFO and flying away or eating fire from the explosions used against him.
When Gamera isn’t destroying everything, he takes a second to save the life of a random little kid who digs turtles. Then much of the movie is dedicated to the kid insisting to everybody that Gamera actually isn’t so bad and that they should ignore all the death and destruction he’s leaving in his wake. What makes it even worse is how he’s constantly lingering around high-level military goings on for no reason other than to be ignored.
GAMERA VS. BARUGON (S3E4)
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that this is the one Gamera movie without an annoying kid character eating up screentime. The bad news is that this movie barely even has Gamera in it at all. They explain his return in the beginning, he shows up to lose to the new kaiju Barugon, and then he comes back at the very end for the assist in stopping Barugon.
The story mostly revolves around some guys stealing what appears to be a priceless treasure from a cave, which not only leads to death via the group turning on each other, but also the eventually discovery that it’s an egg. Barugon hatches from the egg, immediately grows giant, and then starts whipping out a Yoshi tongue that can freeze things and rainbow lasers. Gamera monster designs were something else, where they not.
GAMERA VS. GAOS (S3E8)
This time around, Gamera is taking on a giant bird thing called Gaos. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill Gamera movie where the highlight of the episode is the final battle. The riffers make fun of Gamera for getting his ass handed to him, but when Gamera fights back by throwing a rock directly into Gaos’ mouth, the guys completely lose it.
There’s so little going on in this one that by the time it ends, they just replay the highlights of the Gamera/Gaos scenes. You know, for padding.
THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (S3E11)
This one is rather interesting in the sense that it predates Marvel’s Incredible Hulk by several years, yet it feels almost like an adaptation. An army lieutenant Glenn Manning is part of an experimental bomb testing, when he gets hit with the blast while saving someone else’s life. Instead of dying, he instead starts to gradually grow bigger and bigger while becoming angrier and less intelligent. Next thing you know, he’s causing a rampage and fighting the military.
The build-up isn’t the most eventful, but it’s decent drama. The effects of Glenn being huge aren’t bad when he’s just sitting around, talking to people. It’s when he starts storming through Las Vegas that things get really iffy and silly.
Due to his size, Glenn has to wear a giant diaper. I recall the MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide talking up how nightmarish it is to imagine how smelly that thing must have gotten.
GAMERA VS. GUIRON (S3E12)
This is not only the craziest kaiju movie MST3K has ever watched, but it’s also one of the best targets they’ve ever taken on. There’s just so much weird shit going on here. It has to do with two kids accidentally hijacking a UFO, befriending Gamera in space, then ending up on a planet of cannibal women with southern accents, who control a giant monster with a knife head.
It has everything: terrible dialogue, monster vs. monster fights that are equal parts cheap and brutal, Gaos being brought back with a literal new coat of paint, Guiron shooting throwing stars out of his temples, random and constant talk about traffic accidents, threats of head-shaving, kaiju gymnastics, and the oldest-looking little Japanese girl you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended, even if the hosting segments are a serious pain to sit through for the most part.
EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (S3E13)
So neat thing about this one: the main character walks by a big poster for The Amazing Colossal Man. It’s like a bad movie inception.
A teenage girl’s father goes missing and she investigates alongside her boyfriend. What they find is a cave where a giant tarantula lives. Or, to be more specific, close-up footage of a tarantula juxtaposed with faraway shots of people. When the people aren’t physically interacting, it looks fine. Visually, it’s fine. Audibly, you’ll be dealing with the giant spider screaming constantly. Not fine.
Thankfully, the movie isn’t too long, as it’s preceded with an exciting short about correct pronunciation.
GAMERA VS. ZIGRA (S3E16)
Our final Gamera feature has him taking on Zigra, which is both the name of an invading planet (whose ship looks like a bowl of jellybeans) and the name of a large, metallic shark/bird. It’s not the best Gamera installment, but it does feature adorable seals! That’s something!
If anything, Gamera vs. Zigra features one of the all-time goofiest MST3K movie moments, where Gamera jams Zigra’s snout into a boulder to weigh the monster down, then plays Zigra’s ribs like a xylophone and dances about. No wonder they had to stop with these. How do you follow that?
WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (S3E19)
We get our sequel to Amazing Colossal Man that almost feels more like what should have been the end of the first movie stretched into feature length. Well, except for Glenn being recast. Glenn is back with less humanity than ever and with some wicked battle damage where a bunch of his skull is visible. It’s pretty rad, actually.
The main reason anyone really remembers this episode is because it has one of MST3K’s top shorts in Mr. B Natural. In it, an adroginous sprite enters a boy’s bedroom to teach him about the wonders of music. This is one of the many types of “education through weird talking being” shorts that MST3K and RiffTrax would go through, giving us such characters as a spring elf, a talking paper bag, a curmudgeon car with a mustache, and a bar of soap with arms and legs.
THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (S4E2)
With MST3K being a bastion for unlikable creep loser heroes, we get Chase, who is the goodiest two-shoes you’ll ever meet and might be just a bit too competent. He gets deputized to help get to the bottom of a series of missing people. As it turns out, they’ve been eaten by a lizard that is once again a real animal portrayed on film in a different scale.
The episode is mostly remembered for a running gag based on Chase singing a song about “singing whenever he sings.” He annoyingly does that during one scene and next thing you know, the riffers are breaking out that tune by having each character mumbling it to themselves whenever a scene is beginning. Even the lizard itself!
At least the creature’s death is pretty awesome, all things considered.
VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (S5E23)
Calling this movie a kaiju flick is stretching it, but it’s such an oddball entry that I can’t help but want to include it for the sake of discussing it. A very young Ron Howard creates a special goo that turns animals giant, which at one point leads to a couple giant ducks hanging out at a teen dance party. Soon a gang of asshole teenagers steal the goo and turn themselves into giants, who go on to rule the town.
It’s a giant movie with the soul of a beach comedy of the era and it sidesteps the violence by actually being somewhat smart about the reign of terror. The giant teens straight-up destroy all the sources for the town to call for help and they even keep the sheriff’s daughter hostage because getting shot probably still sucks. Regardless, the movie still makes for a prime MST3K target because it’s crazy horny and it has one of the more laughable special effects when one giants’ legs are shown in the form of a giant sculpture while cars drive around it.
THE DEADLY MANTIS (S8E4)
I just can’t recommend this foggy, boring mess. A bad movie is a bad movie, but this one will just put you to sleep. The giant mantis effects are actually quite good when you can see them and we aren’t watching the creature fly around for the 80th time.
I honestly can’t come up with any talking points on this one. It’s a lame THEM! ripoff that never finds its pulse.
THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (S8E10)
First things first, this one is going to be redone soon via RiffTrax Live on August 15, so definitely get on that.
This is one of those perfect storm movies for MST3K. Via a meteor, a bunch of spiders invade a Wisconsin town full of…colorful characters and a sheriff played by the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island. The attacking spiders come in various sizes from regular to dog-sized to gigantic. The gigantic spider comes off as more of a parade float than a movie monster, mainly due to it having an obvious car underneath it all.
Anyway, go Packers!
Gorgo almost works as a movie and I can even see why episode guest star Leonard Maltin gave it a 3-star review back in the day. It’s a mishmash of Godzilla, Jaws, King Kong, and Mothra. An Irish village is threatened by a giant lizard and a handful of English treasure hunters offer to capture it. They end up selling the creature to a circus owner named Dorkin, which itself is ripe for humor. Gorgo is dangerous, but kept under control enough that there’s some suspense on when the shit is going to hit the fan.
Then we discover that Gorgo is merely a baby and its mother is PISSED. It’s a good setup, but once Mama Gorgo appears, the movie loses its momentum. At least you get to enjoy the novelty of England getting leveled instead of Japan.
As a positive, while the movie has the trope of a little boy connecting with the titular monster, it’s dialed back a lot and is sort of foreshadowing for the big reveal about Gorgo’s age.
Reptilicus is a memorable episode mainly for being the first episode of the show’s relaunch with Jonah as the new test subject. This time our giant monster is a lizard that’s running amok in Denmark, armed with acid loogies and a Wolverine-level healing factor. It’s another situation where things get tedious once the monster is on the rampage. It’s also a bit rough because our new riffers aren’t used to the show’s format just yet and they can’t stop stacking joke upon joke upon joke while refusing to give the scenes time to breathe.
The real highlight of the movie is Dirch Passer as the janitor Peterson. His goofball performance is genuinely great, but it doesn’t absolve him from being made fun of by Jonah and the bots.
The other reason the episode is so damn memorable is for the host segment where they sing “Every Country Has a Monster,” which is a total earworm.
YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (S11E9)
Yongary is another Godzilla knockoff, this time from South Korea. For the most part, it’s a pretty solid affair, but has enough weird spots to keep it worth being MST3K fodder. Mainly, it’s yet another monster who goes on to kill countless civilians, only for a child to talk about how great he really is underneath. At least with Gamera, this paid off by Gamera eventually becoming a kaiju superhero thing. Yongary’s “bonding moment” with the kid is when he sees Yongary dancing around for whatever reason.
Nobody who dances can be pure evil! Just like that Buffalo Bill fellow.
Yongary’s death truly is a thing, I tell ya. It goes on and on and becomes increasingly uncomfortable, especially with all the blood coming out the creature’s butt.
ATLANTIC RIM (S12E2)
MST3K tackled its first Asylum film in Atlantic Rim. It was one of those knockoff movies that they release in hopes that your confused parent would pick it up for you. See also any movie starring Bruce Li and Jack Chan. The most basic of concepts remain from Pacific Rim: there are giant monsters appearing from the ocean and the best way to fight them is a series of mechs.
Unfortunately, the protagonists are incredibly unlikable, the storytelling is atrocious, and the special effects are cheap for something that came out this century. Despite being the most modern movie to ever be featured on the show, it’s also an extremely rough one to get through. It just reeks of the people behind it shrugging because they already got paid.
A big pile of bull butter, is what it is.