For most filmmakers, a film is an affair of the heart; the product of countless hours of work, meticulous attention to detail and thorough teamwork. As such, a director could be valuable in relation to his work. If it’s being ridiculed or the analysis seems particularly off the mark, the director could take to social media and get in a fight with critics. It has happened occasionally. However, some directors are built differently.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a show that loves criticism and has been a hit since its first episode aired on KTMA-TV in Minneapolis in November 1988. but the structure follows a host (first played by series creator and showrunner Joel Hodgson, then others) trapped on an orbital ship, Satellite of Love, by two mad scientists called “The Mads”. There, he’s forced to watch B movies (in most cases, the B stands for Brutally Bad) while they jot down his reaction to each one. To stay sane, Joel assembles some robots for the company: Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy. Together, the group watches the films and riffs on them to hilarious effect. Previous episodes have featured movies like Sharknado and Manos: The Hands of Fate, and not all creators of those movies appreciated the feature-length roast.
In Wired’s oral history of the series, Hodgson, host Mike Nelson, and various cast and crew reminisce about the show’s early days in the ’90s, when the show received steady fan mail that contained equal parts praise and condemnation. Nelson explained:
“Sometimes we’d open them up and be like, ‘Oh, mine’s a ‘why the hell are you guys talking about my movie?’ letter.” It was really exciting to get one. Most of the time, we heard those kinds of complaints second-hand ‘Cause no one would call you up and say, ‘How dare you make fun of my really, really shitty movie that everyone acknowledges sucks?’ But in private you’d hear, ‘Oh, I was working with this director and I approached MST3K and he started screaming’.”
But again, some directors are built differently. One of the funniest MST3K episodes was the product of a director sending his film straight to Hodgson. A creature feature from 1988 that is absolutely not a “Gremlins” and “Critters” nick, but definitely a “Gremlins” and “Critters” nick: Rick Sloane’s “Hobgoblins”.
“I knew then that we were in trouble.”
Hobgoblins is a low-budget indie through and through, for better or for worse. There’s a lot to the story, but its central gimmick is a horde of magical furry hobgoblins (aliens who crashed on a Hollywood studio lot and then escaped) who can trick their victims into hallucinating their wildest fantasies before the mythical creatures catch them kill. This leads to a sort of “Trouble With Tribbles” situation, with the little villains going all different ways and slaughtering citizens at will. Writer-director Rick Sloane not only loved his work, he loved it so much that he found a way to keep it in the public eye far longer than the box office would have allowed: he sent his films to the MST3K -Production company Best Brains for one of their television evaluations.
“I actually showed them three films. I really avoided giving them ‘Hobgoblins’ because I had a bad feeling they were going to grab that one. But I know Hobgoblins is bad. I mean, I was there when we made it. On the very first day of shooting, when the script called for a puppet fight, we threw a puppet at one of the actors. But the dolls couldn’t do anything, so the actors dressed and undressed them themselves. I knew then that we were in trouble.
“Eventually I gave them the film and they had it for 12 hours before they called me and said they wanted the film. The night the MST3K episode aired, I called all my friends and told them to watch it. But if I had seen him firstly I wouldn’t have told anyone when it was on [Laughs]. They improved this film – they made it watchable. But I never liked the fake interview they did with me over the credits. They pull down a cardboard cutout and say, ‘Let’s do an interview with director Rick Sloane,’ and they’re like, ‘Is it true that you have rat feces for your brain?'”
A good sport
Sloane loved the episode, which aired June 27, 1998 while the show was on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy). In fact, he enjoyed ripping so much that when he was developing the 2009 sequel Hobgoblins 2, Sloane wrote the music for the film, which was based on a silly ditty sung by Mike Nelson and the bots from the same episode. This author paraphrases, but the central theme of the text states that “hobgoblins everywhere!”
In recent news, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which had long strayed from cable TV, was revived in quick succession by Netflix and was predictably canceled, but found a second life via crowdfunding. The show has just entered its 13th season on Gizmoplex, a streaming service built just for the show and all things MST3K. The season premiered on March 4th, exclusively for backers after a robust Kickstarter campaign, but the rest of us will have to wait until May 6th, 2022 for our fix from the Peanut Gallery.