Mystery Science Theater 3000: Unforgettable Riffs Of Very Bad Movies [Stuff to Watch]

Ads by Google

bad moviesBefore Rifftrax there was Mystery Science Theater 3000, lovingly shortened to MST3K, a pseudo sci-fi show that fused lovable characters with forgettable cinema. The show ran from 1988 to 1999, featuring a man and two robots trapped by an evil scientist on a space station who are forced to watch bad films, over which they make jokes – or “riff” (hence follow-up, Rifftrax).

If you’ve never heard of the show and are about to hit your browser’s “back” button then be aware that the show is highly decorated and was featured in a 2007 edition of Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest TV shows ever made. Despite being off the air for more than a decade the show is still considered popular by its cult following for making light of 197 individual pieces of terrible movies, and many other short films.

Oh yeah, and I’ve just found a lot of original episodes online ready to be streamed. So settle down, grab the popcorn and remember to buy the DVDs if you decide you really like them.

Riding With Death [IMDB]

My absolute “favourite” episode of MST3K (I say favourite because I have many favourites, though this one is my “desert island riff” of choice), Riding With Death was a terrible 1976 straight-to-TV film fused together from two separate episodes of failed 70s TV show, Gemini Man.

IMDB’s description of the film is hilariously correct, dubbing the plot “Dimwitted, meaty guy foils criminals by turning invisible” – and that’s pretty much all there is to it. The film makes no attempt to disguise its true, stapled-together routes with two obvious episodes played pretty much back to back. Hilarious, must watch MST3K.

Overdrawn At The Memory Bank [IMDB]

A film that’s almost as bad as its title, Overdrawn At The Memory bank doesn’t actually even appear on IMDB – which has to speak volumes about its unquestionable quality. Another TV movie, the film features a lot of blue screen action, visible pixels and a questionable plot.

In a future dystopia, a lowly programmer for Novicorp is caught watching Casablanca on his workstation. For reasons that are too daft to explain his mind is tranferred into that of a baboon, but problems arise as his consciousness becomes trapped in a computer… and… – look, it’s bad, ok? But MST3K makes it funny. Honest.

Manos: The Hands of Fate [IMDB]

This particular movie has such a cult following among the Rifftrax and Mystery Science communities that Mike Nelson and co have performed the riff live, in cinemas around the US. The film itself is a tour-de-force of awful, and that makes it prime material for riffing.

Ads by Google

Featuring some whacky characters, paper thin plot and acting so wooden it’s beginning to rot, the film sees a family getting lost and stumbling into the path of a devil-worshipping cult lead by an evil master and his servant known as Torgo.

Agent for H.A.R.M. [IMDB]

I’m not sure the plots really matter any more – if you’re still reading by this point then you’re probably already a fan, or at least thinking of becoming one. In this 1966 movie a man invents a bacteria that can devour the human body from the inside out. But you surely don’t care as long as the jokes are there right?

Don’t worry, dear reader, they are.

The Incredible Melting Man [IMDB]

As if the title didn’t give it away, the plot here involves an astronaut who, and to quote IMDB, “is transformed into a murderous gelatinous mass after returning from an ill-fated space voyage” – yes, ill fated just about covers it.

Another fusion of horror and sci-fi, this film actually scored more than 3 on IMDB at the time of writing which is a rare treat considering the rest of the films above struggle to get a rating higher than 1. It’s still terrible, though.

The Rest

I could probably fill this page with every MST3K that’s made me belly laugh, but instead I’ll point you in the direction of which aims to be a comprehensive list of all Mystery Science Theater episodes online, ready for streaming. There is also an active subreddit dedicated to the memory, preservation and discussion of the show over at /r/mst3k.

Remember there are DVD box sets available with your favourites, so do buy (or donate to the current project at the Rifftrax homepage) if you’re especially fond of what you’ve seen.

Feel free to reel off your favourite episodes, shorts, movies and even Rifftrax in the comments below!

Ads by Google
Comments (16)
  • Stash Merkin

    Check out Last of the Wild Horses. While the movie is predictably awful, the wraparound host segments cleverly lampoons the Mirror, Mirror episode of Star Trek. Complete with Mike in a sinister Spock goatee! In the evil MST3k Mirror universe, evil Mike sends bad movies to Dr. Forrester who is trapped in space.

  • Ryan Minor

    ‘Overdrawn at the Memory Bank’ is listed in IMDB:
    It was an episode of the PBS series ‘American Playhouse’.

  • John Paul Wohlschied

    You forgot Space Mutiny, a 1988 South-African sci-fi film where Santa Claus is the captain of Battlestar Gallactica. Who can forge the final battle with dueling armored floor cleaners? It would have been faster to just get out and run. Check out some clips:

    • Tim Brookes

      I watched this the other day, and it was truly awful. And by that I mean it was marvellous!

    • John Paul Wohlschied

      Besides the epic chase scene, I just the love the idea that Santa Clause has his own spaceship. It all makes sense now, that’s how Santa gets all the presents delivered in one night. And his HQ is a spaceship.

  • MST3K 4EVER!

    Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Jim Mallon went the Rifftrax route. Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Coniff, Mary Jo Pehl and Josh Weinstein are now Cinematic Titanic, a touring live-riff group (DVDs of some of their performances are available and clips are viewable on YouTube).

    • Tim Brookes

      Yeah my friend has bought a good new Cinematic Titanic DVDs which he can’t watch as they’re NTSC and he only has a PAL DVD player. So he downloaded them to watch instead. I personally prefer Rifftrax myself, but that’s because Mike, Kevin and Bill’s voices are so perfectly suited to riffing and I’ve gotten used to them.

  • Peter

    Everyone reading this article owes this to themselves to watch the MST3K episode “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders,” one of the best worst movies they ever riffed!

    • Tim Brookes

      So I watched this last night and it was everything you said it was an more. The “don’t forget to believe in magic… or I’ll kill you!” gag at the end had me in stitches. Also that toy monkey was comedy rather than horror.

    • Tim Brookes

      It’s now on my to-watch list, thank you!

Load 10 more
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.