Why MST3K’s “Pod People” is the Perfect Halloween Tradition
As a lead into Halloween, I wrote an article featuring some of the best Halloween appropriate episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Then there was a horrible realization: they were all Mike episodes. Not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, Mike Nelson is hilarious, and I grew up with the SciFi years of MST3K, so it’s in my wheelhouse. There’s gotta be some love for the man you started it all though, Joel Hodgson.
I began to make another list of Joel episodes perfect for your new Halloween traditions, but I got caught up, enamored even, with the infamous classic Pod People. It’s supposed to have been scary and straightforward, but it’s a jumbled mess. It’s incredibly weird and somehow that all just fits so perfect for Halloween.
There’s one man to blame for this hodgepodge disaster of a movie: Steven Spielberg.
That’s right the man had nothing to do with this movie, but has everything to do with why it exists in the wonderful way that it does. You see, Pod People was initially intended to be a straight up and down horror movie featuring an alien on a murderous rampage. I mean, at least it would have had a plot. Then Spielberg made E.T., and it was a pretty big deal.
Apparently, even low budget, let’s make this as quickly and easily as we can productions, still have to listen to the people with the money. With the success of E.T. the producers, if they can be called that, wanted to ride that wave to golden beaches. That’s an expression, right? So began the creation of the mix and match disaster that is an MST3K classic.
Since E.T. featured a kid caring for an alien, this movie would too, dammit! Let’s make the alien cuter, and the whole rampage will have to be sidelined as just part of the story. One of my favorite things about the movie is that any time something exciting finally happens the movie cuts away as soon as possible, probably another editing choice to make it less violent and more family friendly.
This movie has everything going right for Joel and the bots. There’s terrible dubbing, completely wacky out of nowhere scenes, acting that doesn’t exist whatsoever, and such a confusing plot that the gang has to give each narrative thread labels just to keep things straight. Thanks a lot, Steven!
The best parts about this movie start coming in when the kid, Tommy, hatches (which is utterly disgusting) his alien buddy he so lovingly names Trumpy. Not only is this alien not cute in any way, but it’s also not scary either. Another alien that looks just like Trumpy is killing off the rest of the cast, not that it seems to affect the kid’s parents too much, who are more concerned with everyone making it to dinner on time. I mean, I get it, let’s not miss a meal just because something is hunting us all down.
Then, the alien shows off it’s…gosh, do I want to call them superpowers? Sure, maybe we can get an Avengers tie-in someday. It can make things float around via stop-motion animation and make a Simon game light up by itself. And yes, Simon is played exhilaratingly on screen for audiences everywhere. To which Joel finally says “Wow Trumpy, you can do stupid things!” Ah, I remember when that was just a funny MST3K reference and not something I said every day.
Most Mystery Science Theater movies are off the wall, a little bananas, terribly acted, and mostly confusing. This one takes the cake though. It tried so hard to be something and was changed last minute. It was changed so much that an entirely different movie The Galaxy Invader was played behind the credits with no reason or explanation at all. It’s not good when your credits are the scariest/creepiest thing about your horror movie!
Halloween has always been about leaning into the spooky, scary aspects of the holiday. It’s an exploration of fear in a lot of ways, all while trying to get the most candy as possible. Is there anything more perfect than that symbolism right there? We want things to be scary, but really we just want to play it safe, get more candy than the next kid, and try again next time. Pod People wanted to be scary but decided to play it safe, make as much cold hard candy…er cash…as possible, and move on to the next project.
Pod People and Halloween were destined for each other.
Best Riff—As breakfast is rudely interrupted by one of the characters dying, and Molly the mother directs everyone back into the kitchen away from the corpse.
Crow: “Well, your breakfast is getting cold, and she’s not getting any warmer.”