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Netflix’s new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 marks an important milestone for the venerable movie mocking franchise. Not only are their targets starting to become newer than the show’s original 1988 debut, but they’re specifically going after one infamous company known by bad-movie fans the world over as the Canon Films of the 2000s. We’re talking about The Asylum, the masters of “mockbusters.”
What is a mockbuster? It’s The Asylum’s specific flavor du jour, a movie that is just similar enough to a popular film that it might confuse you. They act as funhouse mirror versions of studio hits, showing what would have happened if Transformers was made on a shoestring budget. While more well-known for its viral hit Sharknado, The Asylum catalog is full of films that aren’t just bad, they’re so bad they’re good. We’ve gathered up a few of the best for Jonah and the gang to look at after they recover from Atlantic Rim.
1. Sherlock Holmes
The cover of this version of Sherlock Holmes features London under siege by dinosaurs, sea creatures, and a fire-breathing dragon. If you’ve seen an Asylum film before, you’ll be pleased to hear that this scenario is only partially a lie. It’d be a spoiler to say exactly what’s going on, but the actual facts of this case are even more ridiculous than taking that scenario at face value. While the film doesn’t do much to try to imitate Robert Downey Jr.’s now forgotten turn as the great detective, it has a character all its own.
Based on a tale kept “out of the journals,” Sherlock Holmes barely manages to adapt anything about the good detective. Mockable moments include a scene where a candelabra attached to a phone receiver passes for a rotary phone. There’s also a homage to Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.’s other blockbuster franchise. It’s just a bizarre little film with plenty of opportunities for clever jokes.
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The Expendabelles is a long-rumored all-female spinoff of The Expendables. It’s currently trapped in production hell alongside the fourth entry in the franchise. Back when Expendables 3 premiered, The Asylum decided to get ahead of the curve and mock a movie that wasn’t even out yet. Mercenaries also has the same basic plot as Suicide Squad, so there’s plenty of material to work with.
Starring B-movie legends Cynthia Rothrock and Brigitte Nielsen, Mercenaries hits all the marks you’d expect. Just like The Expendables, you’ll probably wish for fewer guns and more action by the end, but it’s still worth a late night laugh.
3. Rise of the Zombies
We’ve recommended the previous two Asylum films based on the enjoyability. They’re bad films, but they have some fun moments and mockable scenes. Rise of the Zombies is a movie that seems determined to be unlikable from the first frame. As you can tell from the cover, the film stars Danny Trejo in one of those roles where he’s pushed as the star in order to trick people. Levar Burton also shows up a scientist that exists away from the rest of the cast for the entire film.
No, the true star of the film is My Name is Earl‘s Ethan Suplee. He’s a fine actor when it comes to sitcom comedy, but he just does not have the chops to carry an action horror vehicle, especially one that breaks out into religious propaganda in the third act. The pacing is glacial, and any exciting action scenes on offer feel lost in a sea of watching bland characters wander around for no reason. It’s a fascinating study in how not to make a film, and the SOL crew would eat it up.
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4. Death Racers
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000 is a legend on the midnight movie circuit. The 2008 Jason Statham reimagining is not, although the sequels to that film are bad in some of the right ways. None of them compare to The Asylum’s Death Racers, a chaotic mess of a film that stars the Insane Clown Posse going up against WWE wrestler Raven. It also has a nonsensical plot that doesn’t involve racing at all. You can always tell a bad movie is something special when even the title of the film is lying to you.
The one thing that might hold this one back from an MST3K screening is just how shameless it is. There’s plenty of ultraviolence and sexually suggestive scenarios, as well as at least one scene that would most likely need to be edited out. If they can get past that hurdle, the emotional scene of Violent J willing Shaggy 2 Dope to go on after his unfortunate injury is enough to recommend watching this one.
5. Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies
Do we even have to say more? Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is already a contender for MST3K all on its own, so the Asylum spin on the idea is pure gold. Lincoln wields a traditional scythe in several large-scale battle scenes and it’s funny every time, especially when German actor Bill Oberst Jr. delivers one-liners in the “special” accent he’s trying for the whole film.
Even better is the crew of period-appropriate townspeople he protects, including a special young boy. The reveal that this boy is, in fact, a young Teddy Roosevelt, is enough to have us rolling on the floor. It’s truly one of the most bizarre concepts The Asylum has ever brought to the small screen, and a perfect fit to be enshrined in the MST3K canon.