During its 10 years on the air, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was often smart, sometimes mean, and always funny. It was rarely disturbing, but when you have nearly 200 episodes with five host segments to fill — those skits on-board the Satellite of Love not set in the theater — you’re going to encounter some dark moments on occasion. Here are MST3K’s most traumatizing moments.
1) Tom Servo’s New Head, The Violent Years
Tom Servo trades in his traditional gumball machine head for something a bit more… terrifying. As Crow weeps in horror, Mike is forced to, uh, push in Servo’s eyes and tear his head off, revealing the only thing more horrifying that Servo’s new puppet head is Servo’s new eyeless puppet head dangling loosely off his neck as he runs around screaming and chasing Crow.
2) Refueling, The Starfighters
Thinks to a lengthy focus on an incredibly boring romantic subplot, alongside countless shots of planes doing nothing but taking off, flying, landing, and most of all, refueling, The Starfighters is a disaster whether it’s supposed to be a military promo film or a regular movie. But the movie’s countless refueling scenes lead to a host segment where Servo and Crow are flying, and Crow… uh… docks his beak in… well, Tom Servo’s keister, which proves problematic when Tech Support finally answers Crow's phone call. The movie’s haunting “Refueling” theme makes the whole scene even more unsettling.
3) Mikey and the Llama, The Amazing Transparent Man
There are two particular entries that justify the entire existence of an “15 Most Disturbing MST3K Host Segments” list, and this is the first. When Dr. Forrester and “Aunty McFrank” try to turn Deep 13 into a charming underground bed-&-breakfast, they foolishly ask Mike and the ‘Bots to provide some “local color.” This is the result. Just watch… and don’t give Mikey no matches.
4) Timmy, Fire Maidens from Outer Space
When Crow prays for a friend, one arrives! This should be the first clue that something is wrong; the second clue is that Timmy is an all-black Crow that only regular Crow can understand (in fact, he’s the matte-black Crow puppet the show used in the theater scenes in front of the green scene). The third through sixth clues are: Timmy attacks Cambot, Timmy pushes Crow into Joel, Timmy messes with reality, Timmy invades the theater during the movie and siezes Servo. In the end, Joel confronts Timmy the only way he can — with an Aliens homage.
5) Circus Ideas, The Day the Earth Froze
After a terrible short titled “Here Comes the Circus,” which involved a lengthy video of two clowns spanking each other furiously while on a trapeze, Crow and Tom decide to come up with their own circus shows, each more horrifying than the last. Crow’s boldest show idea: “You know what would be really funny? If we could somehow make the audience members… question their love for their spouses.”
6) Pillow Talk, Master Ninja I
Joel and the ‘Bots call on Dr. F and Frank, only to find Dr. Forrester, er, smothering the supine Frank with a pillow. Forrester quickly recovers, but otherwise, no explanation is given. Or needed, I suppose.
7) Nude Servo, Teenagers from Outer Space
Tom Servo is nude! Granted, all he’s done is cover himself in pink paint, but seeing the pink, fleshy Servo-shaped blob is somewhat disconcerting, or, as Joel so aptly puts it, “THE HELL?!” At least Crow is there to give Servo the bracing dose of reality he needs.
8) Ernest Borgnine’s Children’s Books, Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders
When a young boy is sick, his kindly grandfather arrives to read him a whimsical story. Is it Peter Falk, carrying The Princess Bride? No, it’s Ernest Borgnine with a story about an abusive husband, his barren wife, and some seriously disturbing magic, then another tale about a cymbal-banging monkey toy with the ability to kill, who murders a young boy's dog. Naturally, Mike orders Borgnine’s complete series of children’s books to check out, and the events of “Fluffy Bunny’s New Blue Suit” will haunt him and the ‘Bots until the end of days.
9) Why Doesn’t Johnny Care?, Time of the Apes
This young star of a Japanese Planet of the Apes rip-off is famous for his exultant “I don’t care” before he tromps off into danger, and Joel and the ‘Bots take a moment to examine the root cause of Johnny’s problems. “Nobody stays too long in Johnny’s world; would you?”
10) Mike Becomes Janeway, Laserblast!
In the final Comedy Central episode, the Satellite of Love was beset by troubles, including a near miss with a black hole. In order to save the ship, the less-than-competent Mike snapped and became the super-competent (and confident) Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, complete with wig and boobs. None of that is a problem, and the ‘Bots are much more pleased at their survival than worried about Mike’s sanity. Of course, once the danger has past, Mike’s psychosis — or maybe Janeway’s — fully reveals itself.
11) Crow Chooses a Mom, Invasion USA
In one of Dr. Forrester’s science experiments not based wholly around making people watch bad movies, he presents Crow T. Robot with two “mothers” — a rather disturbing Dr. F doll and a more traditional wire mother. Despite the Dr. F. doll’s many fine attributes, Crow chooses the wire mother, and when I say “chooses” I mean “he suckles from her single nipple and screams when anyone tries to separate them.”
12) Tom’s Death Ray, Danger!! Death Ray
Much like the obviously confused scientist in the movie, Tom Servo has built a death ray — for peaceful purposes only. Also like in the movie, it is immediately used for purposes other than peace; in Servo’s case it’s because he saw Crow walking somewhere, and couldn’t help himself. Even Crow has to admit it’s pretty funny — at least until his eyeballs catch fire and he can’t stop screaming.
13) “What a Pleasant Journey,” The Girl in Lover’s Lane
Inspired by the good-hearted, train-jumping vagrants in the movie, Joel and the ‘Bots sing a traditional “train song.” Joel and Servo’s verses are charmingly banal, but Crow takes his portion in a dark new direction — that is, unless you know another train song that ends with verses like “Within a matter of days / All of our skin will fall off.”
14) Pop Pop Pop, Gunslinger
Joel turns Servo into the classic game Kaboom, in which players try to avoid popping a balloon while advancing across a game board. Since 1) there’s no board, and 2) Joel is making up the dice rolls, it seems like he’s more interested in merely making Servo’s head explode than actually playing a game. This is probably why he takes Gypsy’s suggestion to heart. The only thing more disturbing than Joel, Crow and Gypsy’s ever more frantic shrieks of “POP HIM POP HIM POP POP POP!” is the low groans Servo makes at the beginning when Joel is first “expanding his mind.”
15) The Holo-clowns, Attack of the Giant Leeches
The other reason this list exists is to make sure people know about this host segment, easily one of the creepiest things a Minnesotan puppet show has ever managed to put on TV. In the previous MST3K episode, Being from Another Planet, Joel summoned a couple of “Holo-clowns” to help cheer up Crow and Servo. Now, three weeks later, the Holo-clown haven’t left, and they’ve gotten weird. Whether they’re screaming incoherently or asking Gypsy if she wants a salted nut roll, they make Mikey and the llama look like charming dinner companions in comparison. After Joel finally banishes the Holo-clowns from whence they came, Crow sums up the situation as only he can: “Well! Let’s not do that again.”