Before 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.
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.
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 mst3konline.blogspot.com 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!