MST3K Returns With a Season of Rip-Off Movies!

Today, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which, if you don’t know, is one of my favorite things ever) finally revealed the six movies they’re gonna riff into pop-culture stardom for Season 12. Here’s the trailer announcement for “The Gauntlet,” as they’ve titled the season.

If you didn’t catch all the movies as they flashed by, they are: Mac & Me (1988), Atlantic Rim (2013), Lords of the Deep (1989), The Day Time Ended (1980), Killer Fish (1979), and Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982). As a fan of schlock cinema, I’m proud to say I’m familiar with all these titles, although the only one I’ve seen all the way through is Ator. 

The season’s theme is a parody of Netflix binge-watching: Jonah, Tom, and Crow have to endure all six films back-to-back, allowing for crossover comedy from episode to episode. Maybe Tom will be incomprehensible by the last film and continually forget which movie he’s supposed to be riffing. That’s completely in Tom’s character.

But I noticed a theme running through the actual films. With the exception of The Day Time Ended, the rest of the slate is made up of movies that are blatant rip-offs of popular films from their time. Allow me to guide you through this festival of sly low-budget intellectual theft so you may better prepare yourself for when the episodes drop on November 22.

Mac & Me

This is the best known of the bunch because Paul Rudd has dragged clips of it around talk shows as a bait-and-switch joke. But I remember Mac & Me from way back when it came out. It was mercilessly mocked for its mix of crass commercialism and grotesque imitation: it’s a McDonald’s advertisement masquerading as an E.T. knock-off. Or an E.T. knock-off masquerading as a McDonald’s advertisement. Either works. I wonder if Rudd will have to retire it and start using Nukie as his go-to gimmick film. RedLetter Media has plenty of extra copies stacked around.

Atlantic Rim

This one will present a major challenge to the MST3K team, because this isn’t simply any old rip-off. This is a full-on Asylum “mockbuster.” If you haven’t heard of The Asylum before, they’re a production and distribution company specializing in cranking out the cheapest carbon copies of recent or upcoming big-budget films. They have nine movies releasing in 2018, and they include such originals as Tomb Invader and Triassic World. Take a guess what Atlantic Rim is copying. Take a hard, long guess.

Asylum films are awful, and rarely in an amusing way. Sharknado is arguably their best work. Their mockbusters are executed lazily and with horrific CGI. They’re a serious chore to get through, and Jonah and the ‘Bots are going to a have steep fight to make Atlantic Rim entertaining. I’m morbidly intrigued to see what they do.

Lords of the Deep

Ah, Roger Corman! Now here’s a fellow who’s much better at the “mockbuster” game—he practically invented it back in the ’50s. This is a multi-copycat film: the late ’80s had a rush of underwater-themed SF and horror movies like LeviathanDeep Star Six, and the big bruiser of the bunch, The Abyss. Corman’s company, Concorde Pictures (for whom I interned for a few months after graduating college), put out Lords of the Deep to catch a movie wave that never built up too high, since only The Abyss is much talked about now.

Killer Fish

Jaws … with the exception of Halloween, no film has sparked as big a flood of immediate cheap mimeographs. There were dozens of killer-beasts-on-the-loose flicks in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with an occasional killer car, robot, or alien thrown in. Killer Fish belongs to an important subset of the Jaws rip-offs: the Italian Jaws rip-off! Nothing gets me more excited in schlock movie riffing than Italian genre films. They’ve provided so much glory to MST3K over the years: all those sword-and-sandal films, Secret Agent Super Dragon, Double 007, and Warrior of the Lost WorldKiller Fish is from director Antonio Margheriti (under his pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson), who gifted us with a bunch of sword-and-sandal films, Euro Westerns, and the cheese classic Yor, The Hunter From the Future. I’m excited about this one.

Ator, The Fighting Eagle

Oh, hi there Italian genre film industry! You still hanging around?

Yes, when Italian studios weren’t making Jaws or Road Warrior rip-offs, they were making Conan the Barbarian rip-offs. This is a special one for MST3K fans (“Misties” to you!), because the show already riffed on this film’s sequel, Blademaster, back in Season 3 under its alternate title Cave Dwellers. Miles O’Keefe, once again graces us with his pecks as super-warrior and barbarian-scientist Ator, who fights a spider puppet. It’s a good time even without riffing.

As for The Day Time Ended, our odd movie out — it’s a mash-up of aliens, a rural siege, time travel, and a post-apocalypse. One of those blender movies that isn’t a direct copy of anything, but an indirect copy of everything.

Season 12 arrives in less than two weeks. I won’t binge the episodes. As with Season 11, I’ll watch one episode per week to savor the greatest television show of all time.