Like most of you, I’m a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you’re reading this because a glitch in the Google algorithm sent you here instead of the John Simon Appreciation Society, I’ll try to fill you in.
MST3K (or Mystery Science Theater 3000 for long) is an evolutionary step in the horror host concept. Starting in the 1950s, local stations would purchase movie packages for screening. These would consist of one or two good movies the station actually wanted and a few dozen Z grade stinkers that had been produced by the likes of Monogram and PRC. Following the stripper credo of, “If you’ve got it, you might as well show it,” these lesser offerings would be presented in the small hours by a horror host, usually the weatherman or booth announcer dressed up in Halloween finery. Many of the earlier ones did little more than announce, “We’ll be right back,” and, “Welcome back,” in the commercial bumpers.
It was Vampira who set the standard for the memorable horror hosts by making snarky cracks about the movies during the bumpers. Later horror hosts upped the game by featuring full-blown skits during breaks in the movie. A few, like Sinister Seymour, would use the magic of blue screen to insert themselves into the movie being featured and engage in tomfoolery. So by the time Joel Hodgson and Jim Mallon met in 1988, the basic parts needed for MST3K had already been fabricated and just needed to be assembled.
Thanks to not having subscribed to cable, I’ve never watched any of the original series in its first run, relying instead on the home video releases. Things got much better in this regard when Shout! Factory took over from Rhino, as they put in far more love and effort in their collections. But eventually they got to those last few rights holders who wouldn’t acquiesce at any price. Filling in the last few holes with the aid of a tape circulator, my hard copy media collection was complete.
But there’s no point in having such a collection if you don’t view it. Through some quirk of fate, there were nine episodes which I had never gotten around to watching. For the record these were Daddy-O, It Conquered the World, Teenage Cave Man, Being from Another Planet, Attack of the The Eye Creatures, The Human Duplicators, Colossus and the Headhunters, High School Big Shot, and The Amazing Transparent Man. Feeling the need to correct this oversight, I had resolved to watch the entire run at a rate of one episode a day and in production code order.
This does not include the KTMA episodes. The only one of them which I possess a recording of is The Last Chase, and I got that more because I was intrigued by the premise of the movie in question. The KTMA series is a very different product and, though it offers some insights in the origins of the show, doesn’t really compare favorably to the nationally released episodes. It’s kind of like the Sneak Previews/At the Movies precursor Coming Soon, where Gene Siskel looked like a porn actor as he and Roger Ebert engaged in lifeless back and forth while sitting on folding chairs in a PBS studio.
Anyway, during this period which occurred from June 2020 to January 2021, I would type up some random musings after each viewing about both the movie and the episode, as well as noting bits of related trivia I had come across while editing the MST3K Wiki and post them on my Facebook timeline. And now you, dear readers, shall have the dubious privilege of exposing yourself to these thoughts.
Two more items of note. Most episodes would conclude with a stinger, in which an odd or inexplicable clip from the movie (sometimes the short) would run along with the production company logo. However, this practice didn’t begin until the second season with Rocket Attack U.S.A., and occasionally an episode after that point would fail to include one. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to offer suggestions for potential scenes that could have been used. The second detail concerns the Bechdel Test. Some of you may recall my fellow Mutant Al writing on the subject many years ago. The principle is to determine if a movie has at least one scene where two female characters talk about something other than a male. As a thought experiment, I found it intriguing and applied it to the films screened on MST3K. But though some people seem to believe it can be used to divine feminist intent, as we’ll soon see that is a load of horse hoo.
But now the Movie Sign Klaxon is blaring, so it’s off to the theater before the main cabin depressurizes and we all asphyxiate horribly.
101: The Crawling Eye [Grade: C-]
And we’re off. And what better way to start than with an alien invasion movie? Except this may not have been the first episode to be aired, as the documentation is a bit sketchy. Aside from taking place at a resort town in the Swiss Alps, it’s typical of the genre and hits all the standard beats. The audio is terrible, though, and you really need to crank up the volume to have any idea of what’s being said. This may explain why Anne getting paired off with Truscott at the end seems to come out of nowhere.
There are a few recognizable actors in the films, with the most familiar being Forrest Tucker (Sergeant O’Rourke on F Troop). Hard core fans of British television might notice that the observatory professor is Warren Mitchell, who was Alf Garnett on ‘Til Death Us Do Part. For those giving blank stares, that was the show All in the Family was adapted from, with Garnett being the inspiration for Archie Bunker. Then there is Janet Munro. It took me several years to realize that I had seen her before as Roberta in the 1960 film version of Swiss Family Robinson.
As is typical for early Season 1 episodes, the riffing is both sparse and tepid (though having the riffs being scripted is still an improvement over the scattershot improvisation of the KTMA era). But once the titular monsters show up in the final quarter, the eye puns come fast and hard. The host segments inevitably display some Early Installment Weirdness, the most notable being where Servo and Crow don’t understand why humans are so bothered by seeing someone’s head being ripped off. For good or for ill, this sort of disconnect between robot and human views became less common in later episodes.
- Proposed stinger: Truscott gets noosed by a tentacle.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Sarah and Anne have multiple non-male conversations.
102: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter 1) [Grade: C]
Since so many of the films screened on MST3K were too short for a two-hour slot (with some barely cracking an hour), there was a need for material to fill it up. As serials are so strongly associated with the old-time movie viewing experience, it made sense to use one. Radar Men from the Moon (though radar doesn’t figure all that prominently) is typical of the Rocketships & Ray Guns science fiction of the 1950s. It has some decent action scenes and would probably be watchable in its own right. Though some of the wild ass guesses made by the characters to kick off the plot feel like a bit of a stretch. The only other notable aspect at this point is that senior henchman Graber is portrayed by Clayton Moore of The Lone Ranger fame.
Much of the feature is told in flashback and apparently consists of footage from the prior Aztec Mummy films. Handy for those of us who just jumped in, but I can understand those following it from the start being incensed at such needless padding. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say there was only 15-30 minutes of new material. The title bout is rather underwhelming, with both combatants being sluggish and lumbering. Speaking of sluggish, the pacing could stand a shot of adrenaline. Combined with the sporadic riffing, I can understand why it’s among the least popular episodes for the fan base. But I have a special fondness for it, and I appreciate Dr. Krupp giving the narrative a much-needed dose of mania.
This is also one of the rare instances during the Joel era where a multi-host segment sketch was featured. Though the dialogue for it can be clunky and a few of the gags (such as the Demon Dogs relieving themselves on the Bots) are obvious, it’s still good for a few laughs.
- Proposed stinger: “Oh boy, are you a big liar.” “You shut your mouth, you’re the liar.”
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Flora and her daughter talk about the former’s sleepwalking.
103: The Mad Monster (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter 2) [Grade: D+]
Though Radar Men from the Moon has yet to wear out its welcome, a few signs are cropping up. First off, there’s that bane of all serials where the apparent demise of the hero in the previous week’s cliffhanger is resolved with a lame cop-out. In this case, Cody dived out of the ray gun’s line of fire which deceptive editing had omitted. Another thing is the repetition of certain exposition points that the audience might have forgotten since last time (it’s not like they were expecting these installments to ever be screened again). Then there’s the padding to get the serial up to twelve chapters. While not as blatant as later instances, Cody and Ted stealing a tripod mounted ray gun only to be forced to abandon it doesn’t really accomplish much in a narrative sense.
As for the movie, it must be said that Dr. Cameron’s idea of using werewolf soldiers is stupid. Their apparent lack of reasoning ability would make them only suited for direct assaults. Even then, in a war zone they’d encounter firepower considerably more potent than a random yokel with a shotgun. But then for a mad scientist, practical applications take a back seat to Showing Them All.
As an interesting aside, the cast features a couple of regulars from the Universal Classic Monster films. Dr. Cameron is George Zucco, who has been in plenty of villain roles, primarily for The Mummy series. Meanwhile test subject Pedro is Glenn Strange, who was one of the performers to take the role of the Frankenstein Monster after Boris Karloff quit over the characterization going from simply misunderstood to actively evil.
As an episode, this is a prime example of the weaknesses of the low riffing rate in the early episodes. Unlike the prior two movies, there are long stretches without any dialogue or background music. Had this been a later episode, they would have filled this dead air with riffs. Without any wisecracks, the effect is soporific. Despite this, there are a couple winners among the host segments. Most notable is where Servo tries to romance a blender, establishing his wannabe chick magnet persona.
- Proposed stinger: Wolf Pedro sneak attacks the skeptic scientist.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. The Shirley Temple clone negotiates with her mom for a later bed time.
104: Women of the Prehistoric Planet [Grade: B+]
Talk about your marketing deception. The title evokes imagery of minimally clad nymphs frolicking about. The reality falls short of this. Though you could amuse yourself by picking out the actors known for their television roles, like Heyboy of Have Gun, Will Travel, Angel Martin of The Rockford Files, Sam Fujiyama of Quincey M.E., and Dorothy Miller of the 1960s version of Dragnet.
The actual plot comes across as a lesser episode of Star Trek with the crew of the Enterprise inexplicably missing. This particularly comes through in the heavy-handed racial relations message. That aspect has made it the subject of much contemporary censure (particularly over the spacefarers being portrayed by Caucasian actors and the Centaurans by Asiatic actors). Though in defense of the writers, despite how clumsily it was handled, their intentions appear to have been sincere. Another issue was the exposition regarding near light speed time dilation, made painful through use of the Cabbage Head technique and resulting in the subject matter being more confusing.
Speaking of confusion, while the production code number would indicate that it ran early, it was the last episode of the season (made obvious by the mentions of Robot Holocaust and Project Moon Base during the letter reading) Apparently the shooting of the episode was delayed because of unexpected difficulties in obtaining rights for the film. The host segments featured another multi-segment sketch wherein Joel and the Bots attempt to disarm the Isaac Asimov Doomsday Device. Not sure how one’s view of Asimov would affect your enjoyment (I personally can’t stand him), but I thought it was amusing.
- Proposed stinger: “Hi-keeba!” *thump*
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Sally bitches about their predicament while Zenda attempts to mollify her.
105: The Corpse Vanishes (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter 3) [Grade: C-]
If you’re not fond of chases, then this chapter of Radar Men from the Moon is not going to be for you. On the plus side, the plot sees some genuine advancement rather than getting sidetracked in padding.
The feature happens to be one of the steps in the sad decline of Bela Lugosi’s career where he was being typecast in mad scientist roles. Its most glaring flaw (pointed out by Crow in the end) is that Lorenz insists on kidnapping the brides in such an overt fashion. My best guess as to why is that whatever he’s extracting from the brides can only come from virgins. Of course, this doesn’t consider the possibility that the lovebirds might jump the gun. More innocent times, folks. Though it would have been neat if, much like in Cast a Deadly Spell, Lorenz ended up being taken away by an eldritch abomination during the climax because it turned out that Pat is a girl with some experience. But it’s doubtful the Hays Office would have been amused. As poverty row studio mad scientist films go, it’s engaging in its own right. A good thing too, as the riffing is still a bit tepid and the host segments unmemorable. The one exception is this rather surreal barbershop sketch that must be seen to be believed.
And now comes the first crack in the belief that the Bechdel Test can divine feminist intent in a movie. As you can see below, it passes quite handily. Yet the climax involves our spunky girl reporter being damsel-napped by Lorenz and remaining quite helpless throughout. What’s more, during the conclusion where’s she tying the knot with Foster, it’s explicitly indicated that she’ll be abandoning her reporting career. So chew on that, why don’t you.
- Proposed stinger: The Countess bitch slaps Pat.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. A bride and her mother talk about the possibility of the former dying at the altar. The Countess harassing Pat. Pat explains her scheme to Peggy.
106: The Crawling Hand [Grade: F]
This is the first movie that proves to be a genuine slog. First and foremost is how some of the actors seem to believe the most effective way to emote is by yelling their lines. Our maladjusted semi-protagonist Paul is also a real piece of work. Upon discovering a severed hand on the beach, his first instinct is to collect it. Apparently, he regards Herbert West as a role model. It’s a wonder that he’s ever had a girlfriend. Then there’s the monster and how unconvincing it is in execution. All things considered, the nature of the hand’s demise is a proper fate for such an ill-conceived threat. While the riffing rate and quality is slowly improving (with plenty of Gilligan’s Island jokes due to the presence of Alan Hale Jr.), it can’t quite compensate for the tedious nature of the movie. Considering that this was the only Season 1 episode that was available on home video for many years, you can understand why the first season had such a bad reputation.
- Proposed stinger: “And don’t even come back!”
- Bechdel Test: Fail. Both conversations between Betsy and Marta center around Paul.
107: Robot Monster (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapters 4 and 5) [Grade: A+]
This week’s set of Radar Men from the Moon chapters bring up what I consider one of the more inexplicable cliffhanger resolutions. I speak of when the prior chapter concludes with the car the hero is in smashing into an obstacle or going off a cliff and the next one reveals that the hero bailed out. I get that most of the safety features in modern vehicles didn’t exist back then, but is jumping out of a moving car really any better? I’m also skeptical that anyone would have the reflexes needed to open a car door and jump out in time. Then we have the issue of how these serials were meant to be viewed one episode a week. Watching two in a row exposes the weaknesses of the narrative. In this case, Graber’s attempts to obtain cash through illicit means get tedious.
Good thing the feature is such a winner. Robot Monster is one of those films which encapsulates the primary tropes of 1950s alien invasion movies. The alien invader being realized as a guy in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet is visually distinctive. And it’s all because, with a budget of $16,000 (chump change even for 1953), director Phil Tucker couldn’t afford a guy in a proper robot suit as he wanted. It’s for that reason that it was almost passed over. Thanks to being regularly screened by late night horror hosts across the nation, the Brains saw it as too obvious a choice. Were it not for difficulties in obtaining rights to other films, we might never have had this breakout performance. And what a performance it was. The inherent goofiness of the production seems to have really gotten their creative juices flowing. Combined with the increased riffing rate, this is arguably the best episode of the first season
A closing thought. While the cast consists of obscure performers (some of whom never did anything else), there is one prominent name involved. The score was composed by none other than Elmer Bernstein. Though listening to certain tracks, you could be excused for your disbelief that this is the same guy who scored The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape, and The Magnificent Seven.
- Proposed stinger: Ro-Man carrying a kicking and screaming Alice.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Carla offers Alice a gift, who thanks her for it.
108: The Slime People (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter 6) [Grade: C]
Once again, the old bail out of the car trick is used to resolve last week’s cliffhanger. Now granted, the scene occurs with an out of control truck going down the middle of a narrow mountain road. So it’s not like they could maneuver out of the way. Unfortunately, the process is made awkward by having Cody and Ted both exit through the passenger side door. More padding is thrown in with Graber and Daly dropping a nuke in a dormant volcano, which somehow results in widespread flooding. After featuring some stock footage of the carnage, the subject never comes up again.
As for the feature, it’s something of a step down compared to Robot Monster. The primary flaw comes from it being so talky. But even when action occurs, you can’t tell with all the fog. Now the use of obscured visuals in horror films is a longstanding tradition. Not only can it hide how cheap-looking the monster costumes are (and the ones used here are real eyesores), but it can even add to the mood. But there’s a difference between obscuring and opacity. With as much fog as was being cranked out, they may as well have made it a radio drama. Fortunately, the riffing is frequent and strong enough to counteract these deficiencies. The highlight of the host segments involves Commando Cody being put on trial for violating the laws of Man and Nature.
- Proposed stinger: A looter swipes a drunk’s wallet, then takes a swig.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Lisa and Bonnie comment on some skanky marinade they discover at the butcher’s shop.
109: Project Moon Base (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapters 7 and 8) [Grade: C-]
The previous installment’s cliffhanger had to be the least suspenseful of the lot. Cody gets knocked off a cliff while wearing his rocket pack. How will he ever survive? If you think that’s bad, the worst is yet to come. While lower tier studios like Republic were notorious for cutting corners, here it gets ridiculous. For the second trip to the moon, the exact same footage from the first chapter is reused without any real effort in disguising the fact. Combined with the cliffhanger resolutions always coming across as half-baked, it’s understandable why the Brains ultimately bowed out early.
The feature is most notable for having been co-written by renowned science fiction author Robert Heinlein. Much of this can be seen in how the physics are much better thought out than you usually see in these 1950s rocketship movies. The effects shots showing people in the space station walking on the walls and ceiling also displays some creativity. Another idea of interest concerns women being more prominent in the space program because of their lower average weight, resulting in less fuel being expended to get them in orbit. This last one is a concept that would be revisited in the okay-ish anime series Rocket Girls.
The character interactions leave something to be desired and provide plenty of ammo for those who accuse Heinlein of being a sexist pig. The above-mentioned weight issue of getting personnel in orbit results in some tasteless cracks made at the expense of obese reporter Polly Prattles. But what specifically chafes my hinder is the mutual hostility between Briteis and Moore, as it touches on one of my least favorite tropes. I speak of how a man and a woman expressing hatred towards one another is presented as meaning they’re in love. This goes back at least to Much Ado About Nothing, and a variant can be seen in the Kitchen Knight template frequently employed in certain tales of Arthurian lore. Can’t possibly be because they despise each other.
Also, in our old future of 1970, they’re still using baseball trivia to smoke out commies.
The riffing features some interesting visual interactions, such as Joel holding up Sixties Batman-style sound effects during one of the inevitable fistfights in the serial. Also, during a scene in the feature where General Greene spouts some exposition regarding spaceflight physics, Joel holds up cue cards. The hosts segments are top notch, particularly the infomercial for that miracle substance SPACOM (SPACOM being the name of the space agency in the film).
- Proposed stinger: Briteis writhes in high G agony.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. None of the female characters converse with one another.
110: Robot Holocaust (with Radar Men from the Moon: Chapter 9) [Grade: B-]
In retrospect, it was inevitable that Radar Men from the Moon would be cut short. As Josh Weinstein noted in an interview on the subject, each chapter featured the exact same beats (the flying scene, the fistfight, etc.) and it got a bit tedious. Had they tackled it later in the show’s run, it might have been achievable. The RiffTrax skewering of the 1949 Batman and Robin serial showed that it could be done. But their inexperience at the time made it too great a challenge.
Probably the best way to sum up the feature is that it looks like someone mixed together notes for a Terminator fanfic and a Conan the Barbarian fanfic. It was then padded out with results from a Dungeons & Dragons random encounter chart. Matters aren’t helped by the presence of that crutch of inept screenwriters everywhere, the exposition narrator. He’s always popping in at random, offering worldbuilding details that don’t add much to the narrative. The hero party is a bland collection of archetypes. The one distinctive character is a robot that is like someone decided to cross C-3PO with Fagin. Judging from the athletic builds and mediocre acting talents of the cast (as well as the obvious use of Central Park for location shooting), it’s a safe bet they were predominantly dancers from Broadway chorus lines. Production work is bad as well, with literal sock puppets being used for monsters at one point.
It’s the conflict resolution where matters get truly absurd. The defeat of the Skynet analogue called the Dark One comes about from the human slaves miming the work of loading fuel into its power generators. I don’t think even the most hackish Doctor Who writer (as much as I love that show, some of the methods they used to defeat antagonists could be quite inane) would have dared to employ something so idiotic. The reveal of the Dark One’s hench-vixen Valeria being an android doesn’t serve much of a purpose either.
Riffing continues to be strong, with them getting a lot of mileage from Valeria’s poor diction resulting from the thick German-ish accent of the actress. The host segments however are surprisingly mediocre, especially compared to the previous few episodes.
- Proposed stinger: Nyla suggests using Furry Underoos Guy as a minesweeper, and Deeja responds by bitch slapping her.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Deeja gives in to defeatist talk and Nyla mocks her for it.
111: Moon Zero Two [Grade: A]
If MST3K were to do a Hammer movie, you’d think it would be one of their trademark Gothic horror films, particularly the ones from their decline period like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (though that one might have been a bit too sleazy). Instead they presented this science fiction nugget which looks as if it could be remade into a middle of the road episode of Firefly.
Though despite the space Western theme, space colonization has never looked so British outside a Doctor Who serial. If you look at the cast list, many of the actors have appeared on that show. Catherine Schell was in “City of Death” (though she’s better known as Maya of Space: 1999). Adrienne Corri was in “The Leisure Hive”. Dudley Foster was in “The Space Pirates”. Bernard Bresslaw was in “The Ice Warriors” (as well as being the cyclops in Krull). And that’s just among the primary actors.
This being the 1960s, the opening credits feature an animated sequence in the vein of The Pink Panther films. Its theme of the U.S./Soviet Space Race grandstanding being swept aside as private sector efforts take over could be regarded as mildly prescient.
The Invention Exchange from the Mads is one of the more disgusting things they’ve come up with, Pez-style toothpaste tubes featuring the heads of Jack Nicholson from The Witches of Eastwick, Mr. Creosote from Meaning of Life, and Linda Blair from The Exorcist. The remaining host segments are middle of the road, neither terrible nor memorable.
- Proposed stinger: Clementine whacks Hubbard where it counts
- Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between two females is when Clementine and Elizabeth talk about the former’s brother.
112: Untamed Youth [Grade: D+]
This is the first episode in the national series which featured a crime drama. I’m not all that fond of them, as the ones they usually screened consist of greasy, loathsome people being greasy and loathsome. It’s something of an early Women in Prison film. But since it was released during the 1950s and distributed by a major studio, there’s none of the nudity or lesbian rape popularly associated with the subgenre.
The role for which Mamie Van Doren was cast is something of an oddity. Though no stranger to these Rebellious Teens Being Oppressed by The Man movies, she typically did sex symbol type characters in the vein of Marilyn Monroe. In this one, she’s intended to be more of a naïve ingenue. Note how shocked she is when told that the job not working in the fields offered by the Evil Ranch Boss involves being a full-service maid (nudge nudge wink wink). While possibly intended as anti-typecasting, her performance is less than convincing.
Another oddity happens during the opening scene where the crooked sheriff discovers the two sisters skinny-dipping in an irrigation pond (okay, so there is some indirect nudity). When he asks their ages and they reply 22 and 21, he expresses skepticism in a fashion which implies that he thinks they’re minors. Seeing as how the actresses in question were 26 and 24 at the time, that’s a curious supposition. But the biggest absurdity must be the song and dance numbers which occur in the bunkhouse. You’d think that slaving away in the cotton fields under the baking Texas sun all day would sap their energy for such shenanigans.
The host segments are a mixed bag. One of the more distinctive ones involves a tribute to Greg Brady of The Brady Bunch (apparently one of the ranch inmates bears some resemblance). These sorts of sketches were most frequent in the early episodes and were notable in how Joel’s delivery was so wooden compared to the Bots. The effect is rather jarring when the current speaker switches to or from him.
- Proposed stinger: Spazzy guy dances alone.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. The various female inmates have multiple non-male conversations between themselves as well as with the judge.
113: The Black Scorpion [Grade: B]
The first giant critter film to be screened. Rather than using guys in suits as is the way in Japan, it employed stop motion animation by none other than Willis O’Brien of King Kong fame. He’s clearly working with a smaller budget as, though the scorpions are decent, the models and human figures they interact with are quite unconvincing. For some reason, the single closeup that was constantly used had the scorpion dribbling saliva.
On the human side, we have a couple of geologists who go to Mexico to study a volcano, the eruption of which helped free the title scorpion from its underground environment. For romantic interest, we have a rancher gal portrayed by Playboy centerfold Mara Corday. However, said romance is tepid, neither convincing enough to be engaging or hilariously dysfunctional enough to be entertaining. As is too frequently the case, there’s also a snot-nosed punk kid who initiates peril by blundering into the middle of a prehistoric bug hellpit. Thankfully, he gets dropped late in the second act, never to be seen again.
Of the host segments, the most memorable is the tribute to Mexico, featuring highly suspect subtitles. Though I imagine some folks (they know who they are) would get their knickers in a twist over it.
- Proposed stinger: The harpoon gunner gets shocked, and the current is belatedly shut off.
- Bechdel Test: Fail. The only conversation between two females occurs between Teresa and Florentina, which is about Juanito.
Bechdel Test totals as of Season 1: 9 Pass, 4 Fail
And there you have it. Tune in next time as we answer the question, “Who shot J. Elvis?” And remember, cold fusion isn’t a toy. So don’t treat it like one.
The only two of these I might recommend to a neophyte are “Robot Holocaust” (best of Season 1 for me) or “Moon Zero Two” (good episode featuring a very watchable movie). “Robot Monster” is not a terrible episode, but mostly notable because it’s an iconic bad movie–and “Radar Men of the Moon,” always a slog, pulls it down.
I’ve never seen KTMA (besides clips), but Season 1 is way below the series’ standard. J. Elvis Weinstein was fine as Tom, but TV’s Frank was a huge upgrade over Dr. Erhardt. For someone who wanted to watch them in approximate order, I would recommend starting with Season 2 (or even Season 3) and circling back to Season 1 later. Good start to your series, but I hope you will add some top riffs in future entries.
Just for the record, I personally rank these Robot Holocaust>Robot Monster>Women of the Prehistoric Planet>Moon Zero Two>The Crawling Eye>Untamed Youth>Mad Monster>Aztec Mummy>Black Scorpion>Corpse Vanishes>Project Moonbase>Slime People. All are below average for MST3K episodes to me, though “Holocaust” approaches the level of an average episode.
I’ll grant that it was something of a handicap to be preceded with two Commando Cody chapters. But I still stand behind my judgment. I’ll grant that Robot Holocaust was strong in the riffing. But I just found the host segments to be so underwhelming. I imagine there will be a smaller to nonexistent proportion of D and F rank episodes for later seasons.
I’ll consider adding a Favorite Riff for each episode.
I noticed you didn’t include The Crawling Hand in your ranking there. Just an oversight, or a desire to believe it never existed?
How much Crawling can one Season have? Put Crawling Hand after Untamed Youth. I have some fondness for it because it was the first Season 1 episode on DVD and therefore the first Season 1 episode I saw all the way through.
Going through my old notes, here are a few of my favorite riffs from Season 1.
The Crawling Eye: Dear Diary, once again the fat guy got the bed.
The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy: Once that robot gets into gear, you’re really going to see him kick some Aztec.
The Mad Monster: That felt good. Now I’m going to turn my daughter into a woodchuck.
Women of the Prehistoric Planet: Think of us as Klingons without the kling.
The Corpse Vanishes: Why does the Earth have a shadow? Why are there clouds in space? Why are we watching this? Daddy, what’s Vietnam?
The Crawling Hand: You spend a hard day loading bodies, and you got one more than you bargained for. It’s Miller Time.
Robot Monster: While Mommy braided Cindy’s hair, Daddy read from the Home Repair and Improvement Bunker Guide.
The Slime People: If you drag out our rotting, broken carcasses, it means it didn’t work out very well.
Project Moon Base: Yes, Your Excellency. Get a bomb. Hire some thugs. Get new thugs. I’m beginning to not believe in this world conquering thing, anyway.
Robot Holocaust: The whole movie is just socks and violence.
Moon Zero Two: If we don’t die. you want to catch a movie or something? I mean, if you’re not alive, I totally understand. It won’t hurt my feelings or anything.
Untamed Youth: That’s the problem with today’s youth. This is how their image of prison is.
The Black Scorpion: I’ll send the rope back down for you, I promise. By the way, can I have your bike?