Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam (1986)

dr otto and the riddle of the gloom beam

“The final blast from the Gloom Beam will obliterate the women and children from the planet! And, if we’re lucky, we could hit a few innocent bystanders.”

The Scoop: 1986 PG. Directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney, Myke R. Mueller, and Jackie Welch.

Summary Capsule: A madman assumes many guises in order to destroy the world! *dun dun dun*


Eunice’s rating: 5 out of 5 of Willy’s facial expressions.

Eunice’s review: We open up with a man who a lot of people will recognize as Ernest P. Worrell. He tells the unseen Vern about his new Changing Coffin. When he opens it up a hand reaches out and pulls him screaming inside. Cut to the opening credits which are news clips of disasters set against a woman crooning out “Our love festers like an open wound.”

Welcome to the strange world of Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam.

If I made a list of movies that influenced the cult watcher I am today this would be in the top five. The year was 1991, and I was about seven. In the small town I lived in, the nearest movie theater was two hours one way, the nearest bowling alley/arcade one. There are two (and later three) “mom and pop” video rental places and they all thrive because there isn’t anything to do.

I suspect my family put the owners’ kids through college. We’d raid the new releases wall, and then my mom would let my brother and I pick out movies from the stacks. This was one of mine. I’m guessing someone just saw that it had Jim Varney and put it in the children’s section, because I don’t know how else it got there. Strange kids we were though, we fell in love with this hidden beauty and would go on to re-rent it so many times my mother went through the trouble of hunting down our own copy. Bless her, and her obscure movie finding abilities.

Dr. Otto von Schnick (-ick –ick) doesn’t want to rule the world, he just wants to destroy it. Armed with the Gloom Beam, his whiny killer robot Willy, a trio of henchwomen, and a hand growing out of his head, he plans to make all the world’s wealth useless beginning with Cincinnati, “the financial capital of southern Ohio.” Out to stop him is Lance Sterling, an idiotic goodie two shoes, and Doris, the butt kicking brains of the operation who must have the patience of a saint because I would’ve throttled Lance two seconds in. These two, plus the titular riddle, are humanity’s only hope. But Otto and Lance grew up with each other creating a competitive streak and…

Well after that the story gets fuzzy and you shouldn’t think too hard about it. The rest pretty much goes as follows: Lance and Doris get lost. Dr. Otto uses the Changing Coffin to change his appearance and sets up a genre themed Wyle Coyote-esque trap. Doris manages to get them out of it, while Lance remains oblivious. Repeat.

But the plot isn’t important. This is a comedy. A little dark, occasionally twisted, very bizarre comedy. It’s the sort of movie that while the technical aspects are bad it is just, intentionally, entertaining because that’s all it’s trying to achieve. The ridiculousness of the plot is offset by the genius of the gags. The basement level budget by the straight faced, mostly good acting. Jim Varney in particular really shines as he goes through different personas. Also, I get the feeling like everyone had a great time making it, and I love that! I mean it has: a mad scientist, pirates, a hand growing out of top of someone’s head, wanton gleeful destruction of a science fair, and a trash bag monster. How can you resist? Honestly, if there was one movie I would send out copies of to my fellow Mutants this would be it.

Yet, in all this time, I’ve never met one person who has seen it before and that makes me a little sad.

Thanks Dr. Otto for being a weird little gem and helping to make me into the Mutant I am today.

Mutant Day Care!
Mutant Day Care!


  • A dryer hose is a perfectly acceptable fashion accessory?
  • Nobody questions why there’s pirates in the woods?
  • The Dump may be the most ghetto monster ever?
  • The secret service guy bumping into the flag?
  • Feather duster torture? Just another day in Kyle’s office really…
  • Robot’s got nards!
  • The character of Ernest was created for local commercials in the early 80s by Nashville ad agency Carden and Cherry, who hired Jim Varney. Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam is technically the first Ernest movie, with Ernest Goes to Camp coming out in 1987.
  • There was a DVD release of Dr. Otto in 2007. While I haven’t seen it, apparently the opening bit with Ernest and Vern has been cut out for some reason.

Groovy Quotes

The riddle: When the money is scrambled to the very last cent
Riots and hatred soon will commence
When all the world’s commerce will be put in a bind
From the evil that lurks where the sun never shines
It is I Dr. Otto von Schnick -ick – ick –ick
Who has played on you this trick -ick –ick –ick
But who’s Dr. Otto? You may well ponder
While all your magnetic cash is squandered
It’s he who had an eye and yet couldn’t see
It’s he who served bouillabaisse when he was she
It’s he who gambled with brains and a gun
It’s he who had all and yet had none
And to stop this horrible twisted trick
Just exchange the poles of Old Saint Nick
And if that doesn’t do to save the day
Put another quarter in and try another play

Dr. Otto: He got away! He got away! You let him get away!
Willy: Sir, my actions were specifically directed in capturing Lance Sterling. It would be illogical to assume that, as you say, I let him get away. I can’t believe you said that! Do you believe what we machines put up with? I mean I did everything a robot could possibly do. I shot my little arrow, I-I flashed everything up on the screens he wanted, I-I did everything that I, as a machine, could possibly do, and what does he say? “You let him get away.” Me! Me!

Otto: Come on, Willy, let’s play Senseless Violence.

Otto: Notice, if you will, the robot’s lifelike movements. It’s ability to understand spoken commands. And a vocabulary of nearly 700 words, such as: “ATTACK WILLY!” “SEARCH AND DESTROY!” “TORA! TORA! TORA!” WHAHAHA!

Rhonda Sue: So, did you win the science fair?
Dr. Otto: In a way. I won a special scholarship which allowed me to become what I am today: the human scum of the Earth.

Tina: My makeup’s running, my hair’s a mess, and I’m going to die! Why? Because I didn’t listen to my mother and fell for a foreign accent with a hand growing out of his head.

Tina: Auntie wants to freeze dry you and use your body parts to feed her army of zombies.
Lance: Well at least we won’t be wasted. I signed the donor card on the back of my driver’s license.
Doris: Can- Can you just stand by and let her turn him into part of an army of zombies? Can you do that to the zombies?

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  1. This is one of my favorite movies! It is just twisted and dark, and silly…I still have a VHS copy which I put onto DVD- I am a lucky mutant!

  2. I watched this movie yesterday (my 2nd viewing) and listened to the related episode on Ernest Goes To Podcast. Next to Ernest, Dr. Otto is my favorite Jim Varney character. This movie is insane, but it always leaves me wanting more Dr. Otto!

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