The Late Movies: Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Favorites

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During the first half of the 1990s, fans of really bad movies were able to enjoy their pumpkin pie with a heapin’ helping of cheese, thanks to the annual Mystery Science Theater 3000 Thanksgiving Turkey Day Marathon. In case you’re planning to recreate your own MST view-feast this year, here are some of the worst of the worst of their episodes that popped up during previous marathons. Add to these suggestions the recommendations we expect our readers to chime in with below and soon you’ll be channeling your very own inner Turkey Volume Guessing Man!

The Sidehackers

“Hard Riders! Mounted on Burning Steel! …with only their leathers between THEM and HELL!” proclaimed the original lobby card for this 1969 action film about the unsung sport of sidehacking. For the uninitiated, this is a type of motorcycle racing where a metal cage is mounted on the rear, and a competitor hangs on to the metal bars in a squat position with his tushy grazing the ground as the driver squeals around the track. This particular film resulted in a procedural change for the MST writers; previously, they’d never watched a film in its entirety before choosing it, but when the writers sat down to watch Sidehackers and begin writing their riffs, they were horrified to discover that there was a graphic and brutal rape/murder scene involving the hero’s fiancée about halfway through the picture. Of course they cut that scene from the episode, and after the edit Crow simply commented, “For those of you playing along at home, Rita is dead,” to explain the female lead’s sudden disappearance.

Manos: The Hands of Fate

This ersatz horror film was written by and starred Texas fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren in 1966 using a spring-loaded camera that only shot 30 seconds of film at a time and the same four actors to dub all the voices. Despite a limited budget and an inexperienced crew, Warren overcame all these obstacles and produced a film that surpassed….. okay, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. Manos is an exercise in sadomasochism; it’s not just that it’s bad, but that it’s mostly long stretches of nothing strung together. Contrary to Hollywood El Paso legend, John “Torgo” Reynolds did not wear his prosthetic goat-legs backwards during filming (causing painful skeletal damage and an addiction to painkillers). According to a co-star, Reynolds was already regularly enjoying the recreational drugs typical of the era prior to ever donning his costume, so his 1966 suicide might not have been strictly Manos-related.

The Skydivers

This 1963 Coleman Francis delight has the dubious honor of once being the lowest-rated film on the Internet Movie Database. Set in a dreary unnamed desert town, Beth and her husband Harry manage a small airport where they also offer skydiving lessons. All seems well for a while until Frankie, Suzy, and Joe show up and a barely intelligible love pentagon forms. Beth and Harry distract themselves from all the sabotage, murder, and adultery surrounding them by throwing the world’s wackiest airport party, featuring the music of famed session guitarist Jimmy Bryant. Who couldn’t have fun on a dance tarmac filled with beefy bathing beauties, farmers, mini-skirted skaters and a random Scotsman all twistin’ the night away?

The Starfighters

It’s the age-old conundrum: the brash young Air Force lieutenant loves fighter planes, but his Congressman (and war hero) father is pressuring him to fly heavy bombers. Add to this endless scenes of mid-air refueling and a demonstration of the poopie suit, and you’ve got a 78-minute Cold War public service advertisement for the military.

Master Ninja

This “movie” was actually two episodes of a short-lived 1980s TV series called The Master cobbled together. Lee Van Cleef portrays John Peter McAllister, the world’s only Occidental Ninja Master, who is criss-crossing the U.S. in a van owned by Max Keller (Timothy van Patten) in search of his long-lost daughter. Along the way, the duo assist many people in various types of distress using ninja skills and a vast array of martial arts weaponry. Part of the fun of watching this episode is spotting the upper-middle aged Van Cleef’s obvious body double during the ninjutsu fighting scenes. Or you could distract yourself by forming a funk/fusion band and writing your own Master Ninja Theme Song. Here’s how it might sound.

Space Mutiny

The plot of this 1988 colonizing-a-new-world-in-outer-space film is secondary to the unintentionally memorable moments throughout the film. For example, the character who is killed on camera only to show up alive and well at her desk in the next scene, or the futuristic space scooters that are obviously industrial floor polishers covered in spray-painted cardboard. Then there is the litany of macho nicknames that Mike and the ‘bots give to the hunky hero Dave Ryder. Your tummy ache after watching this will definitely be from laughter rather than too much turkey and stuffing. By the way, the two lead characters in this film were married in real life and just celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary this year. Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Cisse Cameron (the spandex-clad female lead) as “Miss False Eyelashes” from Billy Jack, her first film role.

Girls Town

I’m sure that Mamie Van Doren’s excellent posture has something to do with why this particular episode is on “repeat” on my husband’s MST playlist. Van Doren, 28 at the time, is charged with a crime she didn’t commit—but a sympathetic judge sends her to Girls Town rather than reform school. Mel Torme, pushing 40, is the leader of the n’er-do-well teen gang that got Van Doren in trouble in the first place. Paul Anka plays teen heartthrob Jimmy Parlow and sings his future number one hit “Lonely Boy,” but it’s his rendition of “Ave Maria” that makes Mamie rethink her life and decide to walk that righteous path of the straight and narrow.

The best way to watch a riffed movie is with a theater full of like-minded fans, so we heartily recommend seeing members of the show's cast performing with both Cinematic Titanic (live shows) and Rifftrax (live theater simulcasts) when they’re playing. Both also offer DVDs. Now’s your chance to recommend your personal MST Turkey Day favorites, be they films or shorts. Are you a sword-and-sandal type of guy, or are you the one who can’t get enough of Gamera? Put down your Industrial Arts tools long enough to let us know!

November 21, 2012 - 5:00pm
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