As a kid, I watched the UHF station channel 44 in Tampa many a summer afternoon and evening, and the highlight for me was a show called Creature Feature. A dapper older gent, made up like Bela Lugosi trying really hard to be a Cure-loving goth with slicked-back hair and an opera cape, hosted it under the name Dr Paul Bearer. I loved this guy, and this show, well before I grasped the joke. He played piano, sang Tom Lehrer songs, and made painful puns about the movies he showed. But the best part was that the featured film almost always involved horrific giant somethings, often in the cheesiest possible black and white. I was enraptured. My dad obtained Bearer’s autograph for me at some local function they both attended, which was cool, but the monsters were cooler. Not that I like giant spiders or hideous misshapen Things lurching out of my closet –
HIDEOUS MISSHAPEN THING: Youuu raaaaannng?
Get back in there. Or at least take that muumuu off, it doesn’t go with those heels!
Anyway. Being scared was delicious fun, but even better for my eight-and-nine-year-old psyche? Being able to laugh at the scary fuckers.
I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but I can tell you that the first Mystery Science Theatre 3000 epsiode I watched was Earth vs the Spider, and I was immediately hooked. This was like watching Creature Feature again, except with amazingly culturally literate best buds who could make me laugh so hard I had to run to the bathroom. Often. While sober.
Of course, only a portion of MST3K episodes involved hideous monsters (unless you count Coleman Francis or Richard Kiel, who up the ante).
|"Oh my god you're huge."|
For those of you already devoted MSTies, you’ll have your favorite eps, and unless one of them is Pod People you’re dead to me. But for those of you who’ve never seen the show, it ran from 1988 (on public-access TV in MN) until 1999 (dying a sad death on the channel formerly known as SciFi). Many episodes are available on DVD; many more on Youboob. The premise: a mild-mannered janitor with a knack for inventing odd devices works for some mad scientists, who send him unwillingly into space on a satellite in order to force him to watch horrible films and gauge his reactions. Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson, creator of the show) fights back by building some robot friends: Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Cambot. They survive the horror of forgotten flicks like Hercules vs the Moon Men or Fugitive Alien by riffing on them nonstop. Dr Forrester (Trace Beaulieu, who also plays Crow T. Robot) and TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) try to outdo their experiments every week with worse films, drawn from sewers full of Japanese monsters, cheap bargain basements of Sandy Frank imports, and justly-ignored “classics” by directors such as Bert I. Gordon. Joel (later Mike Nelson, after Joel left to explore other projects), Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Crow throw back every ounce of spunkiness that a guy and some robot puppets can muster. While the contest between the Mads and the Satellite of Love crew was a continual stalemate, the viewing audience always won. There were cast changes as the years went on, for good or ill; me, I’m a Joel-and-the-Bots fan. Still have my fan club mug and pins bought at the ConventioConExpoFest-o-Ramas (I attended both...I got stories, yo).
Now, I know there’s folks who hate it when someone talks over the film...even if the film smells so bad even the roaches have left the room. If this is you, leave now. Go watch The Notebook or some other wussy, watered-down crap as punishment for being boring. If I’m bored, or very down, or even gathered with close friends having a blast, there is no better time than now to watch me some MST. Because nobody else can, in the course of one not-quite-two-hour episode, have me sprawled on the floor laughing several pounds off my ass with a skit about death and ruin, the most creepyshit dogfood commercial ever, a Gulf War joke, a pot joke, and a line about Tet (all in "Mighty Jack", one of the marvellously craptastic efforts dubbed and dragged into the US from Japan by Sandy Frank). It also has one of my favorite songs:
"Slow the plot down, laddies, sloooow the plot down..."
That’s right, you little operetta-loving hairgelled monkeys: songs. The guys came up with an original song every few episodes. Even put ‘em on an album. You ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve been in a group of completely unrelated fans waiting for a bus at the convention who all spontaneously break out singing: “This is the bus, to take us to the hotel...This is the stop, to wait for the bus... He TRIED TO KILL US WITH A FORK LIFT...”
The con, you ask? How was it? Either of them? Oh, well, apart from touring the Best Brains studio and seeing This Island Earth as a LIVE SHOW with the guys in an historic theatre and the PARADE OF TORGOS, I guess it was okay...
Smug? Me?? Huh huh huh...
|I put the 'smug' in 'mugshot,' bubbe!|
The best thing about MST3K was that, even now when I rewatch it, it allows me to be a grown-up child. I can appreciate the truly awful SFX in the films, the lackluster directing, the lack of plots or subtext or really any redeeming storytelling feature. I snigger at obscure references to literature or music or cult films of better quality. And I am still allowed to feel utter joy at the lair of the giant spider (Carlsbad Caverns) full of desiccated mummies of victims or a pack of rabid Giant Shrews gnawing through a stockade wall, despite the just plain stupidity of both. I can laugh at love again. I can be the best human I can be with this show, and really, isn’t that what life’s all about?
"You're not my REAL father!"
For anyone curious, my all-time favorite eps are as follows(in order as I jot them down here, because really, can you argue the merits of Richard Kiel in a sofa cover over, say, Trumpy the Alf knockoff?). WATCH THEM. WATCH THEM ALL. For KICKS, man.
Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (sorry...no full ep link for this one)
The MST guys went on to do some fantastic projects after the show ended. Mike, Kevin, and Bill Corbett continue to make Rifftrax of movies current and forgotten, and will have a LIVE RIFFING of SHARKNADO in July! (Hell YES I plan to go!) Joel, Frank, Trace, Mary Jo Pehl and Josh Weinstein all riffed under the banner of Cinematic Titanic. But for me, the best snark in the universe remains in these cherished episodes. Watch them. Love them.
Think about it, won’t you? Thank you.
|"Frank? Did you leave the tunnel hatch open again?"|