Now that life is inching back towards some sense of normalcy with the first restrictions lifted in many places, it’s time to revisit my earlier blog post about MST3k episodes with coherent movies. This time we’re going for maximum insanity: episodes with movies that are incoherent.
After spending over two months indoors we’re all losing our minds anyway. As we shift into phase two of the reopening, we’d might as well jump into the depth of absolute madness.
The movies in these episodes go from having an outlandish plot to barely having one at all. Either way, trying to follow the story beats will leave you feeling like someone’s rubbing sandpaper on your brain.
Obviously with the types of movies MST3k tended to feature this could be a super long list so I’m focusing on the worst of the worst — but I’m not ruling out a part 2 to this list. And of course I’m limiting it to episodes you can stream online as of today. To be nice, I’m also going to try to come up with redeeming qualities for these films… just don’t expect much in that department.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Available on Amazon Video
Okay: this one can’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with MST3k.
Manos means “hands” in Spanish so even the title is kind of… off. The story begins with a family on a road trip — with plenty of footage of driving around — while looking for a place to stay. They wind up stuck in a mysterious lodge despite the warnings of a man with huge knees named Torgo. At night the master of the lodge conducts some sort of ritual with a group of (enslaved?) wives to determine what to do with these newcomers.
This infamous film was, according to legend, the product of a fertilizer salesman in El Paso who made a bet that he could make a “horror” film. Seems about right.
The movie is such an obscure dud that it’s become almost synonymous with MST3k as few had ever seen it before. Thanks to MST3k a collector found a better print of Manos: The Hands of Fate and managed to restore it and re-release it on Blu-Ray.
Even though there’s some great riffs in this one, there’s too much time to fill due to its severe pacing issues. Best riff: “Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.”
Redeeming qualities: MST3k made Torgo a recurring character on the show (as played by Mike.)
This episode features the 1940 short Hired: Part II which deals with training the sales staff at a Chevrolet dealer.
The Day Time Ended (1979)
Available on Netflix
A family meets at LAX and drives to the middle of nowhere, where they move into a weirdly shaped new home powered by solar panels. Unfortunately for them a cosmic event has caused time and space to do… something?
Nearly as soon as they arrive there’s a sense that something’s amiss. A mirror repairs itself. A glowing pyramid steals a pony, then shrinks to the size of an inch. Some tiny aliens appear. A menacing floating camcorder shows up. Late at night a bunch of different types of aliens start fighting outside. Does that sound like a story? No?
The family seems remarkably unphased by everything that’s going on, most likely due to the actors not having the slightest clue to what would be inserted in post production. Clearly more care went into how the alien monsters look than anything else.
While the riffs in this one are on point, what makes this episode memorable is a host segment where Tom Servo chastises Jonah and Crow for attempting to write a coherent sci-fi script. Tom quickly breaks into song (a Music Man parody) about cramming your script with concepts in place of an actual plot.
Redeeming qualities: The stop motion effects, which honestly belong in a much better movie.
The Creeping Terror (1964)
Available on Amazon Video
Films have narrators for one of two reasons: a stylistic choice, or because there would otherwise be no other way to tell what was going on. This monster movie is distinctly in the latter category. Making matters worse the narrator — who sounds like one of those disembodied voices from a 1950’s educational film — doesn’t seem to know what this movie is about either.
Unfortunately the “monster” in this movie is a walking carpet. The terror comes from the carpet eating people, or more accurately screaming as they slowly crawl under it. There’s a lot of scenes and different characters, though little resembling a story arch.
The non-existent plot, production values, and lengthy narration provide ample material for Mike & the bots to riff on in this one — especially when they add their own narration. Best riff: “Something sort of happened… kind of.”
Redeeming qualities: It’s only 74 minutes long.
The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961)
Available on Amazon Video
Film nerds love to debate which movie is the worst ever made, but there’s little question who’s the worst director of all time: Coleman Francis, a man so terrible at directing he makes Ed Wood look like Stanley Kubrick. Although all three of his films appeared on MST3k I decided I had to pick just one for this list and it’s a doozy.
The Beast of Yucca Flats is ostensibly some sort of thriller or horror movie involving an atomic bomb explosion that turns a man into a monster… I think? Almost the entire film could be generously described as filler.
Of the numerous aspects of this movie that can only be described as entirely incompetent, the one that stands out the most is the lack of dialog. We see characters speak but never hear them. People get strangled but don’t shout or scream. All the dialog is from characters we can’t actually see, or are too far away to see their mouths move. The narrator only adds to the confusion with non sequiturs such as “Flag on the moon… how’d it get there?” or “Touch a button… things happen.”
Mike and the bots focus their riffs on the strange narration, the ugliness of the cinematography, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Redeeming qualities: More effective than Ambien at treating insomnia.
This episode also includes two shorts, both infinitely more coherent than the main film: Money Talks! in which the ghost of Ben Franklin offers financial advice to an annoying teenage boy; and Progress Island, U.S.A., an advertisement for doing business in Puerto Rico. The riffs are particularly sharp in the latter.
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)
Available on Amazon Video
A monster musical comedy that’s not scary, not funny, and filled with boring dance numbers that have no connection to the plot. The plot? To the extent there is one, it’s about a fortune teller at an amusement park who hypnotizes people into becoming murderers and deforming their faces with some chemical. These “zombies” eventually escape and kill people in the park.
But you know what the worst part is? According to Wikipedia, this film was originally shown with The Beast Of Yucca Flats as a double feature. Yikes.
The riffs focus on the poor audio, the beehive hairstyles, and the main character’s resemblance to Nicholas Cage. Best riff: (on the quality of the cinematography) “Outtakes from the Manson Family Christmas.”
Redeeming qualities: Well… there’s some perfectly good establishing shots of LA in the 60’s.
The Pumaman (1980)
Available on Amazon Video
When researchers wearing flashy black leather outfits discover a gold Aztec mask with alien mind control technology, their leader Dr. Kobras uses it against an assistant to prevent her from revealing their findings to the world — before declaring they must kill “the Pumaman.”
That’s the first scene in the movie, and it doesn’t get much less odd from there. The aforementioned Pumaman turns out to be a random white guy who can fly when wearing a special belt given to him by an Aztec man.
There’s so much to make fun of in this movie the riffs barely scratch the surface, though not for a lack of trying. Best riff: (regarding the way Pumaman flies) “He flies like a moron.”
Redeeming qualities: The hilariously poor special effects.
The Starfighters (1964)
Two decades before Top Gun came out, The Starfighters brought an Air Force movie to the screen. But instead of interesting characters and exciting drama, The Starfighters eschews all of that and more. This movie features very little in terms of story, conflict, or characters; but plenty of scenes of Air Force personnel talking about military stuff, people talking on phones, etc. Around half of the running time appears to be Air Force stock footage — especially footage of midair refueling. Overall it’s about as interesting as watching paint dry.
The riffs center around the movie’s musical incongruities, wasteful military spending, and most of all the vaguely sexual nature of the way the aircraft are treated. There’s also some memorable host segments featuring Crow trying to set up a home PC and get on “the information superhighway.” Best riff: “The cutting room floor was remarkably clean.”
Redeeming qualities: Confirms my theory that many filmmakers in the 1950’s and 60’s had somehow foreseen MST3k and were intentionally making movies for it.
The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)
I should start by pointing out this movie has nothing to do with the DC Comics character, who wouldn’t exist until a couple decades later. Instead it’s about an all young female group of secret agents who communicate via wrist radios with their boss, the mysterious masked Batwoman. One of them gets kidnapped by an evil masked man named Rat Fink who’s after her wrist radio, which is somehow related to an “atomic hearing aid.” Also there’s a mad scientist who mostly seems to specialize in drugs that induce dancing.
That’s about as close as I can get to understanding, let alone explaining this movie. I don’t get the feeling the actors knew what this one was supposed to be about either. There’s never any sense of stakes or danger. At one point some cave monsters are brought up and we see footage of them (from another film, no less) and then they’re almost immediately forgotten about.
At a certain point the riffs stop being riffs, becoming pleas for the sweet release of death. During the overly long ending scene Tom Servo desperately screams “END! END!” at the screen.
Redeeming qualities: Nope.
The episode features a short film called Cheating about a kid in high school who was kicked out of the student council for — you guess it — cheating. This provides ample fodder for the host segments with Crow remaining on the pro-cheating side.
This post is already going long — I have a few other completely incoherent MST3k movies I could add in here but I think I’ll leave them for another time.