So according to the theme song for Mystery Science Theater 3000 the mad scientists subject Joel or Mike to “cheesy movies, the worst we can find. La la la.” Now, you could make a fair argument that some of the movies featured on the show aren’t even that bad. Cheesy I’ll give you, but not the worst.
But one of the reasons I love the show so much is that it exposed me to a whole world of weird, off the wall and just plain “the hell?” movies that I’d never heard of. Some of them may be sparks of genius that we will never understand, and others must have been created by a fevered brain boiling with ideas inspired by the beings from another dimension… or drugs. It could always be drugs.
In any case, I picked my top ten strangest movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I selected one film per season, but I’ll also mention a few runners up (because some seasons were rich in weirdness). Watch any of the following at the risk of your own sanity, or at least the loss of a few brain cells. Ready? Let’s go!
Season One: Robot Monster
In a post-apocalyptic future a bizarre alien torments a young boy and his family. He is called Ro-man, short for Robot Man. Thing is, he doesn’t look like a robot, at all! He uses a bubble maker to create a shield of bubbles. He wanders around a wasteland and kills a couple people. It doesn’t sound too strange, right?
- Ro-man the alien is a gorilla suit with a deep-sea diving helmet. Wasn’t that a ghost on Scooby Doo?
- Ro-man has some very odd meandering speeches about the Hu-man
- The bubble machine gets a mention in the credits – because it is that cool!
Season Two: The Ring of Terror
This odd little film starts with a funeral director looking for his cat named Puma. Eventually he tells us a story about a group of medical students, and how a hazing goes wrong. Someone dies. There is a ring, but I have yet to experience any terror.
- What is the deal with the whole looking Puma sequence that goes on way too long?
- Why are all the medical students in their 40s and 50s? Seriously these folks look way too old.
- Is this a dark comedy, a teen (mid-life crisis) comedy, a horror film or just a huge mess?
Season Three: Pod People
A spaceship lands on earth and the aliens who look like furry brown elephant things wander around. One of them is murderous and kills some egg poachers and then starts killing off a teen pop band that his vacationing in the woods. The other meets a young boy and befriends him E.T. style.
- The aliens are not scary looking at all, but they are supposed to be cute… kinda.
- The three different sets of characters seem randomly thrown together.
- Is this a horror film, a family friendly adventure, or just a huge mess?
Runners Up – Time of the Apes, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Season Four: Monster a Go-Go
An astronaut returns from space in his super tiny capsule. But he has been mutated in a lumbering huge hulk of a monster that kills and kills and kills. Soon scientists and the military are mobilized to stop him, but he is nearly impossible to catch. And the movie just kinda stops.
- All key plot points are provided by rambling narration
- Scenes seem to be haphazardly edited together
- “… there was no trail. There was no giant, no monster, no thing called “Douglas” to be followed.” That’s the end folks, right there!
Runner Up – “Manos” the Hands of Fate, Bride of the Monster
Season Five: Santa Claus
I don’t like to pick on child friendly fantasy films, because they are made for kids and just have to be colorful and entertaining. But this movie… even with Santa Claus, even with the fact that it is dubbed, even considering it was supposed to be silly and fun… this movie is just plain strange!
- Santa comes across as insane, bonkers, mad as a hatter and just plain scary.
- The antagonist is a demon from hell. I’m not even kidding.
- This movie has so many strange things in it. To list them all would take at least three pages.
Runner Up – The Magic Voyage of Sinbad, Alien from L.A.
Season Six: The Starfighters
Some pilots arrive at an air force base and are trained to pilot the F-104 Starfighter. They refuel in mid-air… a lot. They play stupid pranks. Mostly we get to see a bunch of flying and guys jumping into a pool in their “poopie suits”.
- Bob Dornan is the main character and romantic lead.
- All the mid air refueling footage adds up to be about 10 minutes of screen time, an eternity!
- Who the hell was the target audience for this film!?
Runners Up – The Creeping Terror and The Dead Talk Back
Season Seven: The Incredible Melting Man
An astronaut is exposed to solar radiation through the rings of Saturn. His spaceship returns to earth, but he is an oozy drippy mess. He is also insane and must kill! So he spends the rest of the movie melting and killing. Dr. Ted Nelson loves crackers in his soup but is also tasked with finding and stopping the melting man before it is too late.
- How can someone who is melting get stronger and faster?
- There is an incredibly long scene that follows an old couple in an orchard.
- Yelling, “I’m Dr. Ted Nelson.” will get you shot by the police.
Runner Up – Laserblast!
Season Eight: The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies
Surprisingly the title only tells part of the story. A group of friends go to a carnival and have their fortunes told. Jerry acts like an ass so the fortuneteller hypnotizes him and he goes on a killing spree. In the meantime there we get to see a lot of singing and dancing featured in a burlesque show. There is a mutated looking guy named Ortega. Jerry ends up getting gunned down by cops at the end.
- Singing, dancing and even bad comedians are all featured prominently in the film – for pretty much no reason.
- The dream scene where Jerry gets caught in some kind of modern dance hell
- There are no zombies in the movie – at all.
Season Nine: The Puma Man
An Aztec travels to London to find the savior of the world, Puma Man! It turns out to be a dweeby guy, who whines a lot and can’t fly without failing his arms like a spaz. Donald Pleasance wants to take over the world using papier-mâché heads. Puma Man attempts to stop him but is really just inept. Oh yeah and there are aliens somehow worked into the plot.
- The sidekick is more effective and likeable than the “hero”.
- The flying sequences are so, so bad.
- Is this supposed to be funny, thrilling, or is it just a mess?
Runner Up – The Hobgoblins
Season Ten: Merlins’ Shop of Mystical Wonders
A grandpa tells his grandson a few strange stories about Merlin when the power goes out in the house. The stories contain pet murder, horrible mutations, evil spirits, child endangerment, and an old man asking women if they have seen his monkey. By the time the movie ends you will question your sanity as well as the sanity of the storyteller – Ernest Borgnine!
- Did the director really think that cobbling together three different films/storylines was going to make a cohesive film?
- So many strange things happen in this movie it is competing with Santa Claus.
- Who the hell was the target audience? The movie feels like a Tales From the Darkside episode with whimsical moments inspired by The Princess Bride.
Runner Up – Future War
Strangest Short: Out of this World
I couldn’t make this one up if I tried. So an angel and a devil are chatting away about bread salesmen. They decide to tempt one bread salesman to resume his lazy ways as part of a bet. But he faces down both of them proving that maintaining grocer goodwill and plus volume is the only way to succeed in the business of bread delivery and sales.
- What the hell is going on with a devil and an angel hanging out in heaven together?
- Why are they obsessed with bread delivery and sales?
- Why the hell was this made?
Runners Up: A Case of Spring Fever, Once Upon a Honeymoon, Design for Dreaming
So there are my picks for the top ten strangest films in the Mystery Science Theater library. So if you feel like something a bit unusual, you can’t go wrong with any of these.