Not Everyone Was Embarrassed To Have Their Films On Mystery Science Theater 3000

For most filmmakers, a film is a labor of love; the product of countless hours of manpower, painstaking attention to detail, and thorough teamwork. As such, a director might be precious about their work. When it's mocked or the analysis seems especially off, said director might take to social media and get into spats with critics. It's happened on occasion. Some directors, however, are built differently.

"Mystery Science Theater 3000" is a show that critiques with love, and always has since its first episode aired on KTMA-TV in Minneapolis, in November of 1988. The show has undergone several iterations and hopped several channels over its 218 episode run, but the structure follows a host (first played by series creator and showrunner Joel Hodgson, then others) trapped by a pair of mad scientists called "The Mads" on an orbital vessel, Satellite of Love. There, he is compelled to watch B-movies (in most cases, the B is for Brutally Bad) while they note his reaction to each one. To keep his sanity, Joel fashions together some robots for company: Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy. Together, the group watches the movies and riffs on them to hilarious effect. Past episodes have featured the likes of "Sharknado" and "Manos: The Hands of Fate," and not all of these films' creators appreciated the feature-length roasting.

In Wired's oral history of the series, Hodgson, host Mike Nelson, and assorted cast and crew reminisce about the early days of the show in the '90s, when the show received steady fan mail that contained praise and condemnation alike. Nelson explained:

"Sometimes we'd open them up and say, 'Oh, mine's a "Why the hell are you guys talking over my movie?'" letter.' It was really exciting to get one of those. Most of the time we heard that sort of complaint secondhand, because nobody's going to call you up and say, 'How dare you make fun of my really, really crappy movie that everyone acknowledges is crappy?' But privately you would hear, 'Oh, I worked with this director, and I brought up MST3K, and he started yelling'"

But again, some directors are built differently. One of the funniest MST3K episodes was the product of a director sending their film directly to Hodgson. A 1988 creature feature that's totally not a "Gremlins" and "Critters" nick but is definitely a "Gremlins" and "Critters" nick: Rick Sloane's "Hobgoblins."

'I knew then that we were in trouble.'

"Hobgoblins" is a through and through low-budget indie, for better and for worse. The story has a lot going on, but its central gimmick is a horde of magical furry hobgoblins (aliens who crash-landed on a Hollywood studio lot and then escaped) who can make their victims hallucinate their wildest fantasies before the mythical creatures kill them. This leads to a sort of "Trouble With Tribbles" situation, with the little scamps running any which-a-way 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 make sure it stays in the public eye for way longer than the box office would have allowed: He sent his movies to the MST3K production company Best Brains for one of their televised evaluations.

Sloane elaborates:

"I actually submitted three movies to them. I really avoided giving them 'Hobgoblins,' because I had a bad feeling that 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 photography, when the script called for a puppet fight, we threw a puppet on one of the actors. But the puppets couldn't do anything, so the actors were pulling them on and off themselves. I knew then that we were in trouble.

"Eventually, I submitted the film to them, and they had it 12 hours before calling me and saying they wanted the movie. The night the MST3K episode aired, I phoned all my friends and told them to watch. But if I had seen it first, I wouldn't have told anybody when it was on [Laughs]. They improved that movie — they made it watchable. But I've never been fond of the fake interview they did with me over the end credits. They drag down a cardboard cutout and say, 'Let's do an interview with director Rick Sloane,' and ask, 'Is it true you have rat droppings for brains?'"

A good sport

Sloane loved the episode, which aired on Jun 27, 1998, during the show's stint at the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy). In fact, he enjoyed the ribbing so much that when he developed the 2009 sequel "Hobgoblins 2," Sloane penned music for the film based on a goofy ditty sung by Mike Nelson and the bots, from the same episode. This writer is paraphrasing, but the central theme of the lyrics states that "Hobgoblins everywhere!"

In recent news, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," long departed from cable tv, was revived and predictably canceled by Netflix in quick succession, but found a second life via crowdfunding. The show just entered its 13th season on the Gizmoplex, a streaming service crafted just for the show and all things MST3K. The season premiered on March 4th exclusively for backers following a robust Kickstarter campaign, but the rest of us will have to wait until May 6, 2022 to get our fix from the peanut gallery.