Pumaman. The Mole People. Werewolf. Mitchell.
If these titles fill you with glee rather than horror, then you’re in for a treat tomorrow when Mystery Science Theatre 3000 celebrates its 25th anniversary on the Internet with a return to its old-school tradition: Thanksgiving Day bad-movie marathons.
A beloved cult haven for terrible films, Mystery Science Theatre—shorthanded everywhere as MST3K—ran for 10 years before signing off in 1999. But it’s continued to enjoy a large fan following, and has even lived on in the forms of “riff” companies Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, which continue its tradition of making fun of horrible movies by creating a “riff” track over the movie itself—less a laugh track than a track full of amused eye-rolling and affectionate mockery.
For many years on Thanksgiving, MST3K would host a marathon of films culled from fan favorites. This year, creator Joel Hodgson is hosting a return to the tradition, inviting fans to share their favorites with him on his Twitter as he prepared to choose which six classic films to stream tomorrow, beginning at 12pm EST.
Many of the MST3K movies are considered cult classics, from Manos: the Hands of Fate, widely considered the worst movie of all time, to the bewildering Beast of Yucca Flats. Cult directors like Roger Corman, Coleman Francis, and Ed Wood populate the many films skewered over the years. A look at the IMDB bottom #100 list reveals a litany of films popularized and made famous through their appearance on the show, from the “Big McLargeHuge” stinker Space Mutiny to the indescribably hokey Final Sacrifice, in which a Canadian Movember participant named Rowsdower saves a gangly teen from an alien-worshiping cult by drinking a lot of beer.
On top of the terribleness of the films themselves, MST3K is known for the obscurity of its own references, many of which require a near-encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture to grok. Fans, known as MSTies, have devoted countless hours to cataloguing every esoteric reference found in the riffed versions of the films, from obscure and vintage geekisms to sharp high-culture references that would make professors proud. They’ve also formed teams around their favorite hosts, which include Joel and Mike (creator Joel Hodgson and head writer Mike Nelson), and two beloved robots, Crow and Tom Servo.
Yesterday, Hodgson guested on a Reddit AMA to answer questions from fans, many of whom just wanted to tell him how much they appreciated his contribution to geek culture. “I've been on this site for 2 years or so, this is the first time I'm genuinely star struck,” commented redditor christinaperiwinkle. “I have been watching your show for at least 13 or 14 years now, I still cannot believe how funny it still is to me.”
Hodgson himself repeatedly expressed his awe at the dedication of the fanbase and commented that he was “amazed to hear Frank Zappa was a fan,” among many others.
Hodgson attributed the success of the show to the fact that “it's a comedy show that carries its context with it.” But it may be more than that. Featuring its own wacky sense of humor and forming something of a pop culture catalog of its own over the years, MST3K is an off-beat, quirky phenomenon.
And, let’s face it, once you’ve slogged your way through 10 seasons of terrible movies, there’s nothing for it but to band together and form a network of fans with other people who’ve shared the same wonderful traumatic experience.
Screengrab via YouTube