Here are the eight episodes of MST3K that are the most likely to have you trying to remember how many loops there are in a hangman’s knot.
?While Mystery Science Theater 3000 produced many hours of bonafide hilarity over its ten seasons of mocking bad movies, there’s no question that some of the movies were not just bad, but excruciating tests of one’s will to live. Despite the best efforts of Joel, Mike and the ‘bots, a select few of the movies were so sack-crushingly depressing — not just in incompetent film-making, but in actual cinematic content — that not even the most skillful bon mot could prevent the peeling away of one’s soul, scene by life-eating scene.
8) The Violent Years
Though perhaps best remembered by MST3K fans for the infamous “women gang-rape a dude” scene, The Violent Years is an Ed Wood-directed exploitation flick about a spoiled rich brat who turns to a life of crime. Said life soon brings her to a sad end, dying in childbirth (see aforementioned scene) following a shoot-out with police. Oh, and because the parents did such a lousy job with their dead daughter, the preachy judge at the end refuses to let them adopt their grandchild. Thought not shown onscreen, it’s safe to assume the parents offed themselves shortly thereafter.
7) The Brute Man
Like Andre the Giant and Richard “Jaws” Kiel, titular actor Rondo Hatton had acromegaly, and the filmmakers exploited his condition by casting him as a disfigured murderer. That should tell you all you need to know about this movie.
The Brute Man is a former college football star who, through a random series of circumstances and mostly due to his own actions, ended up mixing some chemicals that burn his face badly. So he responds by strangling anyone even tangentially related to the incident, though again, he was the one who mixed the wrong chemicals. In the midst of his crime spree he befriends a blind woman and then tries to kill her–not a real sympathetic character, that Brute Man. Fortunately, he gets killed instead. Nobody really wins and life seems pointless. The cinematography is as dark as the story.
You may be surprised to see Shakespeare’s most critically acclaimed play on this list, but let’s face it — Hamlet is depressing. It’s about a guy who: finds out his uncle murdered his father and married his mother; kills his girlfriend’s dad and then watches as she goes insane; has his two best friends killed; and then, after hours of dawdling, finally (spoiler alert!) kills his uncle and everyone else before dying himself.
Now, take that story and film it in the darkest, barest setting you can find, use tar for film stock, and for the final touch, cast it entirely with soporific Germans (oh, and then dub the whole thing back into English). By the time the movie’s over, it’ll have you reaching for the ear-poison.
5) Parts: The Clonus Horror
The Clonus Horror made the news a few years back when people noticed the 2005 turd The Island had a very similar plot, and in fact the producers of Clonus Horror sued and got a settlement from The Island producers. Never was so much fuss made about two such unworthy movies.c
The Clonus Horror is the story of a dim bulb who slowly realizes something is very weird about the world he lives in. He eventually discovers that he is in fact a clone, part of a secret complex of clones created solely as organ farms for rich individuals. Once they reach adulthood, the clones are killed and freeze-dried so as to preserve their organs in prime condition. Escaping the complex, the nameless Hero Clone finds a retired journalist to help him and eventually locates his “father,” the man he’s cloned from. Long story short, the bad guys running the clone farm close in, Hero Clone’s girlfriend is lobotomized, Hero Clone himself is murdered and the elderly journalist and his wife are blown up(!). The ending suggests the bad guys and their crimes will be revealed to the public, but anyone we even slightly cared about is dead. So, kind of a downer.
4) The Girl in Lover’s Lane
This actually isn’t that bad a movie per se–it’s what happens near the end of the movie that makes it so depressing. The Girl in Lover’s Lane features one of the few likable characters in MST3K history, Carrie the waitress. Carrie falls in love with the film’s hero, Bix Dugan a.k.a. Big Stupid, whose indecision about committing lasts just long enough for Carrie to be murdered by some other guy for no reason at all.
The lesson to take from this movie? Even nice people get murdered. Also: never love anyone because they will probably die horribly.
3) The Skydivers
Director Coleman Francis was responsible for dishing out a lot of pain to the MST3K guys. Most of his films were incomprehensible wrecks, but The Skydivers manages just enough cohesion to be really, really depressing. It centers around a mopey idiot named Harry, whose tepid infidelity to his harmless wife Beth drives her into an equally dull romance with his best friend. There’s also skydiving. One particularly enthusiastic-but-stupid skydiver dies. Then the woman Harry was cheating with, Suzy, and her dumb-as-rocks new boyfriend, Frankie, sabotage Harry’s parachute. And so, just after making up with Beth, Harry dies. The police then chase the (unarmed) Suzy and Frankie and gun them down without any real evidence they did anything. They die.
2) Manos: The Hands of Fate
While Manos ends up on pretty much any MST3K list, it definitely deserves its place here. A suburban family, including a little girl, decide to take a vacation in the middle of nowhere and end up at the house of the Master and his big-kneed, goat-like servant, Torgo. The girl’s cute little dog gets killed by a hellhound — always a crowd pleaser — and things go downhill from there. It’s shot like a Zapruder film (as Joel notes, every frame looks like “someone’s last known photo”) and ends with a shutout for evil: the rebellious Torgo is brutalized and exiled, the dad becomes the new Torgo and the mom and the little girl become brides of the Master. And it’s all presented through the most inept filmmaking imaginable.
1) High School Big Shot
High School Big Shot is a movie that encapsulates depression in so many ways: it’s tedious, slow, lifeless, dreary, dark, cynical, and without a single iota of hope or joy. What there is of a story has something to do with Marvin, a high school loser who gets mixed up with local gangsters to impress his hateful, two-timing girlfriend. At one point, Marvin splits five bucks with his even more pathetic father so they can both go on dates. Marvin’s plan for a big score goes awry, he gets killed and his dad hangs himself. Even the million bucks ends up in the ocean, so the cops fail too. The film is allegedly similar to Stanley Kubrick’s earlier film The Killing — the way a cyanide pill is similar to Tylenol, that is.
HONORABLE MENTION: “The Days of Our Years”
This is technically a short, attached to the episode featuring The Amazing Transparent Man, but it actually runs much, much longer than necessary — the necessary length being perhaps thirty seconds. In this incredibly morbid piece, a reverend wanders around a town introducing us to various likable people before explaining how a split second of carelessness ruined their lives forever. Joe the newlywed gets in a car accident and becomes a surly invalid his new wife must care for. George spends his life staring across the street at the family of his lifelong best friend, whom he accidentally killed at the railroad yard on an off day. And on the day his son is born–before he even gets a chance to look at his child — Charlie is blinded when he accidentally surprises a welder and gets an eyeful of blowtorch. The lesson is clear: be afraid of everything all the time, because even the slightest lapse in attention could condemn you and your loved ones to a lifetime of suffering.