When Mystery Science Theatre 3000 returned with its six-episode second season, “The Gauntlet,” it took me a few days to see it had even happened. I was busy, and so I didn’t have time to watch six terrible movies with Jonah Ray and the gang! And you might not have, either. That’s why I made the noble sacrifice of watching, and ranking, all the latest episodes of MST3K.
This season, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of MST3K, follows last year’s reboot season with the return of Ray, Felicia Day, and Patton Oswalt — along with Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn as our beloved robot friends.
These six episodes are ranked, in order, from least good to best good. I tried to order them based on the so-bad-it’s-good quality of the movies, as well as the colour commentary provided by Jonah and the robots. I also may have given a special bump to the one with a musical number in it, because that automatically turns anything from good to great.
6. The Day Time Ended
This 1980’s sci-fi thriller felt like The Room meets things that are much worse than The Room. Taking place entirely at a home in the Sonoran Desert, The Day Time Ended is about a family that witnesses basically everything weird that could ever happen to a human being. A flying UFO shows up, stop-motion monsters do battle on the front lawn, a little girl talks to a Barbie-sized extraterrestrial.
Then, at the end of it all, time… stops? I guess? It’s really hard to say.
The movie was silly enough and the gang did their best to liven things up, but it becomes so repetitive by the middle that it stopped being fun to watch. If you want to check it out, I’d skip straight to the ending, because that’s when things get weird. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t crack up every time that little girl asked for her pony. That would totally be me, in any situation.
Favourite quote: “This whole movie is like the cold open of a Columbo episode.”
5. Lords of the Deep
This one was tough. It was one of my personal favourites, but it also wasn’t particularly special, so I kept it lower on the list. Lords of the Deep was a 1989 clone of The Abyss, this time about a seemingly sentient race of manta rays.
The special effects were terrible and the sets looked like living rooms with a few extra flashing lights… window blinds and all. It also had a villain who was so deliciously evil, he was practically licking the screen.
I also want to note that this is one of the only movies on the list whose lead actor is actually good. Priscilla Barnes, who played Claire, has gotten continual work over the years, including as Magda on Jane the Virgin. It’s good to know she was able to make a name for herself after being in a stinker like this.
Favourite line: “That’s so Raven, that’s so Raven, that’s so Raven. Whoa, that was so Raven.”
4. Ator, The Fighting Eagle
The first in a four-part series, the 1982 fantasy epic Ator l’invincibile (released in America as Ator, The Fighting Eagle) is a mockbuster of Conan the Barbarian. It’s cheap, ridiculous, and pretty fun to watch — with so many fur mankinis that you’ll start to wonder if the guy is nude and just naturally hairy like that. Come for the spider gods, stay for the uncomfortable incest.
Plus, after you watch the movie you can go to the Wikipedia page and check out all the behind-the-scenes drama. For example, a “hobgoblin” suit used in the fourth movie was repurposed from Troll 2, and was actually released as Troll 3 in Germany. Ator… it’s goblin spelled backwards!
Favourite line: “Sick tat. What is that, a sideways Batman?”
3. Mac and Me
This is arguably the most famous good-bad movie on the list, and one we’ve been waiting for MST3K to riff on for a long time. Mac and Me is a truly bizarre film that tried to capitalise on E.T.’s fame.
It starred Jade Calegory as Eric Cruise, a young boy who finds a truly terrifying alien boy and decides to name him MAC (because he’s a Mysterious Alien Creature). It’s a film that made several questionable choices, like the whole “cliff” scene (if you’ve seen Paul Rudd on Conan O’Brien’s show, you know what I’m talking about).
Also, if you’re curious about that alternate ending where Eric was shot in the chest — no, they don’t show that here. But Jonah does have a total freak-out about how the scene should have been; it’s just as funny and features much less child trauma, which is good for all of us.
Favourite line: “I wanna see the movie this composer thought he was scoring.”
2. Atlantic Rim
Who says mockbusters only happened in the 1980s? MST3K jumped into one of its most recent movie riffs to date with 2013’s Atlantic Rim, an Asylum mockbuster created to trick aunts into thinking they were renting Pacific Rim at RedBox.
While it’s one thing to watch a movie that’s trying to capitalise on a trend from 20 or 30 years ago, it’s another thing entirely to watch one that’s doing the same thing for a franchise you love in the here and now.
The movie is beautifully terrible, featuring a trio of C-list action stars that wear wetsuits, control robots in their colour-coded boxes, and kinda-sorta get into a love triangle because what else are you going to do with your lady robot fighter? You’re supposed to root for the white guy because he gets all the coolest dragon fights with his giant CGI robot, but you also want him to die because he’s pretty much the most terrible human being to ever walk the planet.
Spoilers: He’s fine. Because he’s the white guy.
Favourite line: “He’s like if a puka shell necklace was a person.”
1. Killer Fish
I had no idea this movie existed, and now I’m so glad I have it in my life. Killer Fish is a 1979 Italian-French-Brazilian horror film that’s part Jaws, part James Bond, and all incredible.
It starts with an epic jewel heist, complete with exploding vans because hey, if you’ve got the budget for it, why not? The thieves hide the jewels at the bottom of a reservoir, which a criminal mastermind has stocked with his private supply of killer piranhas (OK, sure).
It’s kill or be killed as the thieves — alongside a seemingly innocent modelling group — try to survive the horde of fish while grabbing the greatest prize of all. Is it love? No, it’s jewels.
The movie is not only a big pile of adventurous nonsense, it stars Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man) and Karen Black, an award-winning actress who also gained cult fame for movies like Airport 1975 and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses.
There’s also a woman in the movie who looks just like Cara Delevingne, and every time I saw her I wanted her to whisper “Enchantress” for no reason.
PS: The entire cast of MST3K has an amazing musical number in the middle of this movie and it is not to be missed.
Favourite line: “God really knew what he was doing in not having human males grow antlers.”