Friday, April 8, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: My First MST3K

A title that screams quality and respect!
When you grow up with a family that runs video stores, movies are all around. Not only that, but all kinds of movies are all around. I had access to the highest heights of cinema like Citizen Kane and Seven Samurai and the dregs of the dregs like Planet of the Dinosaurs and Space Mutiny. Having such a wide swath of movies to pick from I had this idea in my head that all movies needed to be respected, or at least given a fair shake. How many times had a stupid looking VHS cover held something really great within? Ok, maybe not "really great" but at least entertaining.

I eventually ran into a movie that did deserve all the mocking I could hurl at it, but that is a post for another time. But as a hint, it involves Roger Corman.

In any case, mocking a movie openly was not something I really thought about doing. First of all, you just didn't talk during a movie. That rule was hardwired into my mind. It was rude to anyone else who may actually be enjoying the experience. One thing I learned over the years is that every movie, no matter how poorly conceived or just plain abysmal it is, has at least one die hard fan. But I also had that "respect the art" idea in my mind.

So when my girlfriend told me about his great show where this guy and two puppets watched a bad movie and mocked it, I thought it was the worst idea for a television show ever. I mean it doesn't matter how bad the movie was, it didn't deserve to be mocked. And talking during a movie - you just didn't do that. Of course I thought I knew bad movies. I was young and ignorant. I hadn't seen The Killer Shrews, Monster a Go-Go, Manos: The Hands of Fate or the complete works of Coleman Francis.

Would you trust this guy to make you laugh?
But she insisted Mystery Science Theater 3000 was hilarious and that I had to give it a chance. I still doubted her, and did my best to avoid actually watching any of the show. I did see a few moments here and there at her house. But they were the host segments featuring some guy talking with puppets... PUPPETS! And what the hell did that name even mean? Was there a 2000 or a 1000? I was actually thankful I didn't get Comedy Central.

Now, let me also add that in my girlfriend's home, everyone talked over the television all the time. So I didn't get to actually hear any of the jokes. But all this told me was that the reason she liked the show as because she grew up in an environment where talking over a movie was OK. Poor girl. It is a miracle she married me.

One night, I stopped by her house after my shift at the video store ended and we headed back to her room to hang out and watch some television. Little did I know that this stupid puppet show was about to start, and that she set up a clever trap!

"Jack" talks Fugitive Alien!
Her bedroom was small and the only place to actually sit and watch the television was to kick back on her bed. So there I am cuddling with my girl and this show starts up and I roll my eyes. But she says "Just give it a chance, please." And when your girlfriend says, "please" well you have to listen, right?

At this point Comedy Central was doing this odd thing where they were splitting the hour and a half show into two 45 minute segments and creating two one hour episodes split over two nights. Surrounding the show was an odd host segment with Mike Nelson dressed and acting like Jack Perkins who used to host the series Biography. He would introduce the move and provide some silly comedy, the typical opening and end credits for the series were replaced by these new host segments.

Anyway, "Jack" starts the show and says the movie is going to be Hercules Against the Moonmen. It was the perfect movie for me to be introduced to this concept. First of all, I love watching those old goofy Greek myth movies. The fact that moon men were somehow involved in the plot piqued my interest even more.

Big beefy buttery Hercules is on the case!
The movie is a mess. There is an evil queen who makes a pact with the moon men who demand human sacrifice. They will smash the moon into the earth and take over, something silly like that. Hercules runs around, beats people up, falls into traps and pretends to be seduced by the evil queen. There are battles, a guy who gets stabbed by a spike wall trap, a killer gorilla, and huge rock monsters. It is silly fun and Joel and bots unleash some hilarious jokes at the movie.

Before I know it, I'm chuckling at some of the comments. The timing is perfect and I'm impressed at how varied the jokes are. They range from commenting on Hercules gait as he strides about the screen, and a guy who looks like he is wearing candy bar armor, to the fact that the guards look like they stepped off a Little Caesar's package (Pizza Pizza!).

No seriously... where did it go?
At some point everything just clicked. The riffs were on a roll, the movie was ridiculous and my girlfriend and I were feeding off each other's laughter. Some of the jokes would strike her as really funny and some would click better with me, and some we would crack us both up. Then came the moment when Joel pointed out that the wounded prince (who is over acting big time) was missing a nipple. I'm not sure if it was a bad camera angle, some kind of odd censoring or just the way poor quality of the print but sure enough the guy was missing something. I literally fell off the bed laughing. I couldn't breathe and my girlfriend actually asked if I was OK.

I was. Hell I was a better. I realized I had a new favorite television series.

I have a lot of nostalgia associated with Mystery Science Theater 3000. It reminds me of time I spent getting to know my wife, enjoying my final year of high school and the adventures of college, the times we'd play episodes in the video store and marvel at how quickly they would rent out (almost guaranteed to to happen when you put one on). I'll always have a place in my heart for the nipple-less prince in Hercules Against the Moonmen and the time a television show actually made me fall on my ass with laughter.

No, I've got everything under control. Happens all
the time. Know exactly what to do.
Don't be against the moon men. Click and ad before you go.


  1. Good nostalgia morsel. My taste for bad movies always has been something I’ve had to explain to – not share with – my companions, so my nostalgia for the flicks is more solitary. Usually I prefer them straight up (like my whiskey on the rare occasions I have any), but perhaps an MST3K mixer would have been a better way to introduce the pleasures of bad movies to my reluctant friends. (I don’t actually dislike Coke in the Jim Beam.)

    It’s an old saying that nobody tries to make a bad movie. Some (most?) folks succeed anyway, but there is something to respecting the effort.

    1. Yeah I'm finding more and more folks who enjoy watching cheesy movies. I think the internet has helped popularize that. There are plenty of YouTube channels that deal with making fun of movies, television shows and video games.

      That said, the tend to be on the more aggressive side of comedy. MST3K would go there sometimes, but a lot of time it felt more like you were sharing the joy of watching the cheese with a couple of friends who were good comedians.

      Making movies is a difficult and time consuming process. So I can see how making fun of a movie is disrespectful to the creators. But at the same time, we are getting some kind of enjoyment out of the work (even if it isn't the enjoyment they intended). I usually think about it that way and I feel a little less guilty about mocking someone's work.

      Hopefully I'll be able to react the same way when someone mocks something I wrote. That hasn't happened yet... hate mail, yes; mocking... not yet. :)

  2. Yes, those Hercules episodes are some funny ones. Some of the MST3K movies which I wouldn't normally think I'd find interesting turn out to be some of the better ones.

    I first encountered the program at my brother's apt. when he was living in Denton. We got up on Saturday when I was visiting on vacation and it came on. I think the movie was either about the giant Tarantula or something like Teenagers From Outer Space. But it immediately appealed to me as they were watching an old 50s SF movies, and also making fun of them. My brother also commented that they were a good way to wake up on a Saturday morning with coffee in hand, and that Joel made a good host as it looked like he was sleepy and had just gotten out of bed too. Fun times.

    1. Sounds like you caught "Earth vs. The Spider" one of the many giant critter movies directed by Bert I. Gordon. Mr. Gordon was featured on several episodes including "The Amazing Colossal Man", "Village of the Giants" and "The Beginning of the End" which features Peter Graves battling giant grasshoppers.

      I guess Joel is always asked if he was high when making the series because of his sleepy look. He says he never was high on anything while making the show, and that is just how he looks. But I know the show took a lot of work and late nights to get completed, so I'm thinking the poor guy was just tired sometimes. :)