Although Mystery Science Theater 3000 was dedicated to making fun of bad movies, not all the movies the show featured were truly awful. Many were merely crappy, but some of them were so ineptly made, so heinous, so unwatchable that trying to imagine viewing them without Joel, Mike and the ’Bots is terrifying. Here are the most wretched movies they had to sit through—and no, Manos: The Hands of Fate is not #1.
19) Robot Monster
Perhaps the B-est “B movie” ever made, Robot Monster sounds generic enough—evil robot has conquered the world, the remnants of humanity try to survive. What makes Robot Monster so spectacularly bad is that the titular Robot Monster is a dude in an ape costume, just with a space helmet on. His world-conquering device is a bubble machine, and while he has apparently killed all but five members of the human race, those five are from a single family who inexplicably live about a half-mile from him in nominal safety. Oh, and then the movie is bookended with footage of two lizards, with fins glued onto their backs to appear dinosaur-ish, stolen from another movie. And also, the movie turns out to be a dumb kid’s dream.
18) The Blood Waters of Dr. Z
A scientist is branded mad by his peers. He decides, as per standard mad scientist procedure, not to start trying to act normal, but instead to turn himself into a monster to murder those bastards who had the temerity to deem him insane. Dr. Z takes the craziness a step further by decided to turn himself into a half-man, half-walking catfish. First, the suit is absurd; second, Dr. Z is pitifully slow, even when swimming; third, the movie spends an inordinate amount of time following the catfished Dr. Z as he swims around, with ridiculous narration and a dynamic score the drifting monster does not deserve. It’s like Jaws, if half of Jaws was spent in the water, following the shark as he swam around. And, uh, he was a dude in a crappy catfish suit.
17) Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
This PBS fundraising movie stars the excellent actor Raul Julia, but please don’t hold that in its favor. This painful, shameful 1983 movie is vaguely based on a Jack Vance story, but is more a rip-off of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil crossed with a painful homage to Casablanca. Julia plays a programmer at a Big Evil Corp who enjoys watching old movies, which is of course Bad; eventually, Julia topples the system by pretending he’s in Casablanca, complete with low-budget Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. Inexplicably, everyone in the film acts like they’ve come straight from community theater, including Julia, who was actually a quite talented actor! It is excruciating to watch, especially when it thinks it’s being funny.
16) The Dead Talk Back
When a woman is killed at a boarding house, the cops investigate which of the strange, overacting tenants may have done it. Technically, The Dead Talk Back is a procedural, except in this case the police are morons who stage interview after interview while somehow learning nothing of worth. They’re forced to seek help from “Doctor” Henry Krasker, who is trying to contact the dead lady, so she can say who murdered her. Also, for reasons unknown, about two-thirds of the movies scenes have the dialogue removed so that the bland detective can narrate what we’re seeing, instead of just letting us watch it. By the way, Krasker’s experiments don’t work, and instead the cops have to arrange a charade where someone pretends to be the dead woman so the killer confesses, meaning the dead never actually talk back in this dumb movie.
15) The Starfighters
While this movie has higher production values than virtually all the others on this list, it remains a baffling mystery: Is it a regular movie, designed for regular audiences, or is it an Air Force recruitment/propaganda flick? Because it has way too much footage of jets—including a legendary 10-minutes of planes refueling in midair—to be a normal movie, but it also has spends way too much time on the pilots’ romantic lives to have been commissioned by the military. Both aspects of the film are dull, and neither include conflicts of any kind, making this a film where almost literally nothing happens.
14) The Skydivers
The best of the films directed by Coleman Francis—a name you will see a lot on this list—The Skydivers is still an Ed Wood-level debacle, full of strange people who clearly gave Francis cash to make the film in exchange for getting on camera. The movie is ostensibly about the crumbling marriage of the mumbling, taciturn Harry and the chipper, dim Beth, as they commit affairs with the drunken, evil slattern Frankie and the dimmer, chipper-er Joe, respectively. There’s also about 30 minutes of skydiving footage, despite the fact the movie is only 75 minutes long.
13) The Robot Vs. the Aztec Mummy
The second sequel in the Mexican “Aztec Mummy” franchise of the ’50s, this time the evil Bat tries to get the treasure out of the mummy’s tomb by constructing a very silly robot. Despite the title, the robot only tussles with the mummy very briefly at the end, and the rest of the movie is a collection of interminable scenes, starring a variety of characters you don’t care about talking about things that aren’t interesting. It is impossible to watch this movie and remember anything about it. The only reason I know there’s a robot and a mummy in it is because of the title.
An oily teen, his grating girlfriend Roxy, and Roxy’s pervy dad discover a very tall caveman in the desert. The caveman, played by Richard Kiel (better known later as Jaws in the Bond movies), falls for Roxy and drags her to his cave, and later follows her to the big city. It sounds innocent enough, but I assure you it’s not. The movie was a vehicle for Arch Hall Jr., who plays the teen, courtesy of his dad Arch Hall Sr., who plays Roxy’s dad. They both fancied Jr. an Elvis in the making and gave him several songs in the film, despite the fact Jr. looks like a giant cherry tomato. What’s worse is that the not-young Arch Hall Sr. was dating the actress who played Roxy, and their slimy sexual connection pervades the movie, even though he’s playing her dad—including a scene where the “dad” intimates to his “daughter” that she should have sex with Eegah to keep him happy and themselves safe. It’s all really, really gross.
10 & 11) Castle of Fu Manchu and Invasion of the Neptune Men
A ’60s movie about an evil Chinese mastermind (regrettably played by Christopher Lee in what is now termed “yellow-face”) and a ’50s black-and-white movie from Japan about alien invaders taking over the planet. They sound different, but they are shockingly similar in that they’re both completely incomprehensible. Things happen in these films, actions clearly occur on screen, and yet somehow the plots remain unknowable and excruciatingly dull. They are not movies so much as they are visual punishments.
9) The Creeping Terror
The Creeping Terror is a movie only in the most technical sense. Things have been filmed, and that film has been stuck together to produce what is generally termed a motion picture, but that’s it. The people in the film are certainly not actors. The “monster” in the film is basically a bunch of guys under a large carpet, whose victims have to actually crawl into the creature’s mouth to be “devoured.” Also, the soundtrack for the film was either lost or never made; every single line is dubbed (poorly) and most of the film is narrated, because otherwise no one could possibly tell what is supposed to be happening. Imagine if Ed Wood had less talent and a smaller budget, and then you have a sense of what The Creeping Terror is.
8) The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman
This has nothing to do with DC Comics’ stable of Bat-characters, although the Batwoman of the title does fight crime, with help from her scantily clad batgirls” (who were all apparently “cast” straight from the local strip club). There’s some sort of business about an “atomic hearing aid” that can listen to anything anywhere, and an evil person named Ratfink who wants it, but the movie also has portions of another film, The Mole People, haphazardly added to it, so it hardly matters. The movie is mainly interested in ogling its female cast and being painfully unfunny. Tom Servo sums it up best when he stopping making jokes and just starts screaming “END! EENNNDDD!” at the screen.
7) The Beast of Yucca Flats
The fact that professional wrestler (and Ed Wood mainstay) Tor Johnson plays a brilliant Russian scientist in this movie is only the first sign that something is wrong. This Coleman Francis movie, about how Tor turns into a very large, very slow killer after an off-screen nuclear blast, is nothing but bleak people on bleak landscapes doing bleak things. Like The Creeping Terror, no sound was recorded during filming; Francis’s solution was two-fold: 1) to film literally no one talking, so that every single person in the movie is forced to speak off-screen; and 2) personally narrate the film, which resulted in stream-of-consciousness nonsense that sounds like True Detective run through a clinically depressed Google Translate. Best non-sequitur: “Flag on the moon. How’d it get there?”
6) Attack of the The Eye Creatures
In certain respects, this movie is much more professional than many of the movies on this list; there is a simple but coherent plot, many of the actors are serviceable, and it’s edited in a reasonable way. However, there is no movie on this list whose director gave less of a shit about it. The best Eye Creatures have monster suits with their zippers clearly visible in the back; other Eye Creatures wear masks… along with slacks and loafers. The best example has to be the title, in which no one cared to proofread the six-word title, duplicating “the.” However, it’s the two perverted army guys that really make Attack of the The Eye Creatures; they spend the movie leeringly using army resources looking for teens having sex. They are gross and slimy and you will need to take a shower after watching this film.
Much like AottEC, Hobgoblins is a cogent film with an actual beginning, middle and end; it’s kind of like Gremlins, except the Hobgoblins make wishes come true that inevitably have unforeseen, Monkey Paw-style consequences. In fact, given that the monsters are reasonably made puppets, Hobgoblins is sadly one of the most professionally made films on this list. What makes it unwatchable is that basically the entire cast are as sleazy as AottEC’s sleazy army dudes. The cast of college kids who set the Hobgoblins loose are all obsessed with sex in that gross ’80s way, where all the girls are either sluts or virgins… who secretly want to be sluts. Again, like AottEC, you will need to take a shower after watching this film. The difference is that after Hobgoblins, no amount of showering will make you feel clean.
4) Manos: The Hands of Fate
Although Manos: The Hands of Fate isn’t the worst movie on this list, please don’t think it isn’t awful. Its infamy has made its awfulness more fascinating than it should be, but it is still a film made with a bold ineptitude on all levels. It begins with 15 minutes of a family driving aimlessly, before encountering a strange motor lodge staffed by the large-thighed Torgo. (It turns out Torgo is a styr, and his thighs are enormous because they are goat thighs, although the movie never once makes this clear.) It seems like the sort of movie a fertilizer salesman with delusions of being a filmmaker might create, and it absolutely was—a crappy horror story inexpertly told, poorly acted, and incompetently assembled. It is a bad movie on every single level. And it’s depressing too—not because of the “twist” ending, but because the failure just pervades the entire movie. As Joel put it, “Every frame of this movie looks like someone’s last known photograph.”
3) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies
Who could make a movie worse than Manos? Meet Ray Dennis Steckler, who wrote and directed this movie—and, most disgustingly, was the lead actor under the infuriating pseudonym Cash Flagg. Mixed-Up Zombies is an poorly made as Manos, but 1) it contains a lengthy, leering scene of strip show at a nightclub, 2) it contains a giant, useless, interminable dance number in the middle, and 3) it often tries to be funny. Imagine if Manos had songs and thought it had a sense of humor, and that’s Mixed-Up Zombies. It’s agony to sit through, because not only is it terrible, you hate everyone involved in making it. Steckler went on to sell video tapes of nude actresses he had audition for him, so rest assured he deserves all the hate you can give him.
2) Red Zone Cuba
If an alien race ever watches Red Zone Cuba, it will wipe out humanity without hesitation. There may be no movie, which of course was written and directed by Coleman Francis, more devoted to showing humanity at its worst and its most useless, as a group of criminals escape jail and wander around aimlessly, somehow getting stuck in an invasion of Cuba. The reason Red Zone Cuba beats Beast of Yucca Flats is because Francis combined his unbelievable lack of talent and resources with a grandiose vision he could never come close to achieving. Francis wanted to recreate the Bay of Pigs invasion, when America attacked Cuba. The result was half a dozen out-of-shape guys running up the same hill over and over and over again, as if that could somehow masquerade as an actual attack by U.S. forces. Kids making movies in their back yard could achieve the same result (if not a little better). Besides that madness, the characters are all unlikable people who do unlikable things for the entirety of the film until they’re gunned down by other unlikable people. It’s an unlikable film, is what I’m saying.
1) Monster a-Go-Go
There is no MST3K movie more unwatchable than Monster a-Go-Go. Period. It is a non-movie. Like The Beast of Yucca Flats and The Creeping Terror, it has no sound, and a strange narrator appears to be making things up as the movie goes along. Like the Coleman Francis films, there was no budget or skill. Like Castle of Fu Manchu and Invasion of the Neptune Men, the story never, ever comes close to making sense. Like Manos, it appears to have been made by someone who had only heard about movies second-hand.
This story is about an astronaut who returns to earth and who may be a monster of some unknown sort, but even that gives the film too much credit. You have to watch the movie several times even just to pick that information up, because there are no characters, no events, no story being told. In fact, there is no monster! At the end of the film—after we have actually been shown random scenes of a tall dude walking around in pitiful zombie make-up for a bit, who you’d have to presume is the astronaut-turned-monster, the narrator suddenly announces “There was no monster.” Yes, it turns out that you’ve been watching a bunch of people looking for a monster that doesn’t exist. Although the movie has shown you this monster. Monster a-Go-Go negates its own existence in its final scene, as if the wretchedness you just sat through wasn’t punishment enough. Comparatively, Manos is a masterpiece compared to the unwatchable, nightmare paradox that is Monster a-Go-Go.