Hey, hepcats! It's time to take a groovy look back at the teensploitation and high school movies that made for regular fodder on MST3K.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has made fun of so many movies and a lot of the movie types are what you’d expect from such a goofy science fiction show. Movies about guys in rubber monster suits? Check. Movies about mad scientists playing God and it being their undoing? Check. Movies about dumpy white guys going to space? Check. Cheap ripoffs of James Bond? Check. Japanese superheroes who look absolutely ridiculous at every given moment? Check.
But then there’s one genre of movie that’s felt off-brand despite the fact that they’ve covered it a ton of times, as early as the first season. I’m talking about teensploitation. Very old movies about teenagers being dangerous jerks and destroying their own lives, as well as the lives around them. There were so many of them and one of the things that I find interesting is how it’s something that separates MST3K from its brother RiffTrax. Outside of Reefer Madness – which is too infamous not to cover – RiffTrax rarely ever touches these kinds of movies.
But school is back in session, so now’s as good a time as ever to look back at movies that told mom and dad that their kids were up to no good and were likely going to stab them with a switchblade.
UNTAMED YOUTH (S1E12)
It’s a moderately watchable movie from the least watchable season. Well, second least watchable if you count the KTMA stuff.
Janey and Penny are two wandering musicians who picked the wrong town to skinny dip in. The corrupt sheriff has them arrested and the judge puts them to work at a local farm. As it turns out, the guy running the farm, Russ Tropp, has been working with the sheriff to get as many young people arrested and thrown his way so he can save money on workers. While the judge isn’t knowingly in on it, Tropp dates her for the sake of getting what he wants.
The judge’s son does some volunteer work at the farm, where he both uncovers the corruption and falls in love with one of the sisters.
The movie would be incredibly dull if they didn’t have a bunch of musical numbers sprinkled throughout to distract us. Though in comparison…maybe the dullness isn’t that bad.
This one is borderline and shows the awkwardness of Hollywood casting. By just about every metric, Daddy-O feels like a teensploitation movie, except for the fact that the main characters are allowed to legally drink. They look to be the exact age of pretty much every major “teen” character from the rest of this list, but they’re presumably in their twenties.
Either way, Daddy-O is about a street racer/truck driver named Phil whose meet-cute with reckless driver Jana leads to the two of them having a race. Elsewhere during the race, Phil’s friend Sonny is killed via vehicular manslaughter and Phil gets the blame. This leads to Phil working as a singer named Daddy-O in order to join the criminal underworld and discover who is truly to blame for Sonny’s death.
What makes it truly memorable are the two main villains. The one in charge is your usual evil fat guy who gets a million food jokes thrown his way. Then there’s someone who I can only describe as a jacked David Letterman wearing Coke bottle glasses.
Daddy-O’s big climax where the main bad guy tries to shoot our hero in a wine cellar should be harrowing, but it gets increasingly silly as it goes along. I’m sure it sounded badass in the script.
THE BEATNIKS (S4E15)
The good news is that Eddy gets recognized for having an angelic singing voice and gets signed to a big contract that puts him on the track to becoming rich and famous. The bad news is that he’s in a gang of delinquents who go around robbing businesses for kicks and his entourage is made up of criminal lunatics! What’s a guy to do?
The highlight of this movie is Peter Breck as Moon, the craziest and most dangerous member of the gang who refuses to let Eddy succeed in any way. The over-the-top performance comes off as if a young Steve Martin was trying to sell you as a homicidal maniac. But what’s really great with him is how his performance is so animated that there’s never any continuity when they cut to a different shot. His body is always in a different position and it gets increasingly distracting.
By the way, there are no actual beatniks in this movie. You can always watch The Rebel Set if you want that.
I ACCUSE MY PARENTS (S5E7)
Jimmy’s father was always too busy for him and his mother was a lush. Therefore, when the movie begins and he’s on trial for murder, he flat out tells the judge, “I accuse my parents!”
Spoiler alert, but it works! Somehow!
To be fair, Jimmy is kind of an idiot and falls into a world of crime without realizing it for a while. It’s just that he also gets there by lying for no real reason all the time. Just lies stacked on lies stacked on lies. He is fortunate enough to come across a delightful diner owner who is able to turn his life around by being a good dude.
A lot of these movies get nihilistic, but I’m genuinely glad that Al made it out okay.
THE GIRL IN LOVERS LANE (S5E9)
This one starts off so fun and promising, then crashes and burns into being so dark and hapless.
We begin with a runaway rich kid Danny befriending a drifter named Bix Dugan, who is referred to by the riffers as “Big Stupid” throughout the movie. Bix takes Danny under his wing and they become traveling hobos together. Danny screws up here and there, they get into fights, etc. Good setup.
Their travels bring them to a small town where Bix falls in love with a waitress named Carrie. Bix is lost between whether he wants to continue being a drifter or if he wants to settle down with Carrie. While all of this is going on, there’s a total creep named Jesse going around and he also has eyes for Carrie.
Though his eyes are looking in different directions, so I guess he has eyes for a lot of people.
TEEN-AGE STRANGLER (S5E14)
There’s a serial killer on the loose and police are baffled. Their main suspects are from a gang of street racers and one of them, Jimmy, doesn’t have an alibi. While Jimmy is innocent, this does open up a can of dramatic worms that causes chaos in Jimmy’s life. Plus the chaos that comes from having someone go around strangling people to death in your neighborhood.
Anyway, none of that’s important. What’s important is Mikey Walton. There are many stand-out performances and characters on MST3K. You have your Torgos and your Rowsdowers and your Mitchells. John Humphries’ Mikey is in that conversation. It’s his one and only acting credit and he had no idea what he was doing, acting like the weeniest weenie to ever be a teenage weenie. His performance is somehow both aggravating and endearing, making Teen-Age Strangler a must-watch episode.
TEEN-AGE CRIME WAVE (S5E22)
Hyphens were really popular with teenagers, huh?
The setup for this one is that an innocent girl Jane is on a double-date and calls it quits, only to stumble onto a crime perpetrated by her date-friend Terry. Both are arrested and Jane’s parents refuse to believe that she was unknowingly roped into the situation. Convicted as an accomplice, Jane is stuck as Terry’s cellmate until they’re freed by Terry’s boyfriend Mike.
There isn’t much of a “crime wave” in here as nearly the rest of the movie is spent on a farm, where Terry and Mike hold an old couple and later their son hostage. From there, it’s all about sitting on the tension as Mike goes increasingly insane and trigger-happy.
Things go – get this – horribly wrong!
VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (S5E23)
Here we have the one movie that’s on this list and my list of kaiju-based MST3K episodes. So you know you’re in for an interesting flick.
A kid genius played by a very young Ron Howard creates a special goop that, when ingested, turns living creatures big. While this could be used to fight world hunger and stuff, some jerk teens steal the goop and use it on themselves. A bunch of jackasses become a bunch of giant jackasses and take over the town.
It’s one of the rare comedies you’d see on MST3K, what with it being rather difficult to humorously make fun of a movie that misses the mark with humor. This time they get away with it because Village of the Giants is fetish central and overwhelms with its horniness. Not only is there a whole segment of the rotten teens growing out of their clothes, but they absolutely play up the size difference of a normal-sized man and a giantess’ hot air balloons.
Plus it has one of the all-time worst special effects in any MST3K movie when they try to have the normal-sized good teens interact with the legs of one of the giants.
GIRLS TOWN (S6E1)
Untamed Youth star Mamie Van Doren returns and she’s more voluptuous than ever! Seriously, there’s a running gag where whenever we see her walking away from behind, Mike starts singing the theme to Gigantor. She’s joined by Mel Torme as the villain and Paul Anka as…just some singer guy who hangs out with nuns or whatever it is he does.
The story here is that a girl named Mary Lee accidentally kills a guy during a date and her sister Silver gets the blame. Silver is stuck in a home for female juvenile delinquents called Girls Town that’s run by nuns. While she has to learn to get along with everyone, the movie splits into another storyline about a bad guy knowing the truth about Mary Lee’s involvement and blackmailing her into being her drag race partner before threatening to sell her into slavery.
There’s a lot going on in this one and the riffs are totally on-point. One of the more fun subplots involves one of the girls, Serafina, obsessing over Paul Anka’s character. She is so into him in a way that was supposed to seem adorable at the time, but comes off as rightfully creepy and stalkery in modern times.
THE VIOLENT YEARS (S6E10)
This one is written by Ed Wood, so while it isn’t very good, it’s also shockingly better than you’d expect.
Paula is the leader of a gang of teen girls who go around robbing gas stations and raping men. It’s actually kind of interesting how the latter of which is treated as a horrible act in the context of the movie despite Mike and the Bots acting like it’s the best thing ever and thanking Dr. Forrester.
The gang’s reign of terror takes an odd turn as a crime boss gives them the mission of messing up a school classroom. Knock over desks, break a globe, clean the board, etc. Yeah, that’ll show…someone. The police show up, a shootout happens, and then things get increasingly dark.
It’s a good companion piece to I Accuse My Parents. Paula’s parents get the blame to a harsh degree and it doesn’t feel earned, compared to the cartoony parents from the other movie. Actually, you should probably watch I Accuse My Parents second. Way happier ending in that one.
KITTEN WITH A WHIP (S6E15)
A young Ann-Margret stars in what is almost a solid thriller that unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere (other than Mexico) and peters out until it’s over. A teen girl on the run breaks into a senator’s house to hide and sleep, only to be discovered in the morning (as Mike puts it, randomly finding Ann-Margret in your bed is the very definition of “getting lucky”). The senator tries to show sympathy for the girl, but that proceeds to blow up in his face as she’s kind of a total psycho.
Soon it becomes apparent that he can’t do anything but do what she says or else he’ll be slammed with scandal and she’ll probably be seen as the victim in all of this. Then her friends show up and things get even rowdier as the senator is forced to suck it up and let them have their way.
Lots of fun mood swing overacting from Ann-Margret here as well as a sequence that I can only describe as what a Batman ’66 brawl would look like if you were completely sloshed.
HIGH SCHOOL BIG SHOT (S6E18)
This is the last meat-and-potatoes troubled teen movie MST3K covered and it’s fitting because it’s so nihilistic that it makes The Violent Years look upbeat. It follows Marv, a high school loser who endures setback after depressing setback. His father is an alcoholic who can’t hold a job and Marv’s interest in classmate Betty leads to her dating him for the sake of getting him to do her homework and THAT blows up in their faces too, meaning Marv loses his college scholarship.
As always, this leads to Marv getting involved with the criminal underworld and a whole lot of dying and downers. Even Mike and the Bots are taken aback by how endlessly bleak this movie is.
But hey, at least we get plenty of jokes about how awkward Marv looks. Might as well rub it in.
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (S8E9)
It’s a shame this is one of those episodes that’s in rights Hell, making it impossible to watch it in an official sense, because it’s both a totally fine movie with a wild premise that makes it perfect for the show. Tony is a teen with anger problems, which is already a good enough start to get him on this list, but then his therapy involves seeing a sinister psychiatrist who hypnotizes Tony into becoming a werewolf. And I don’t mean makes him think he’s a werewolf. Tony straight-up transforms into a beast due to hypnotism!
You see, devolving is supposed to save mankind from the horrible future. That’s the reasoning for the psychiatrist. I don’t know, it was the 1950s.
You end up with a troubled teen who you kind of feel for because he knows he’s a problem, but then he starts transforming into a werewolf and kills people, so his issues are way more out of control. Luckily, one of his victims is someone who breaks out into a musical number about halfway through, so there’s that.