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Goodbye Sci-Fi

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett reflect on MST3K's final broadcast.

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Episode guide: 912- The Screaming Skull (with short ‘Robot Rumpus’)


Short: (1956) A Gumby cartoon. Gumby builds robots to do his chores for him.
Movie: (1958) Newly married headcase Jenni sees human skulls everywhere in her new home.

First shown: 8/29/98
Opening: Tom has become a beautiful butterfly
Intro: Tom’s still a butterfly, but you can’t really tell; Pearl, Observer and Bobo pull a not-so-fast one on M&tB
Host segment 1: The bots try to work through the pain of the Gumby short
Host segment 2: The bots try to scam a free coffin
Host segment 3: Crow, disguised as a screaming skull, freaks Mike out
End: The coffin arrives from Coffins Etc.; Bobo fails to pull an even-less fast one on M&tB
Stinger: Hubby flings his stool.
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (244 votes, average: 4.36 out of 5)


• This is another one of those episode where the spectacularly funny short outshines some decent riffing on a drab, dull movie. I wonder how it even came up that they would be able to use this cartoon. The segments are hit and miss, but a couple of them are real classics.
• Bill’s thoughts on the episode are here.
• This episode is not yet on DVD.
• This was the last episode of the show broadcast on Sci Fi Channel, January 31, 2004.
• Nice build on Servo in the opening segment; kudos to whoever did it.
• Watch Mike as Servo explains his metamorphosis. His reactions are great.
• The opening bit in the castle is one of those long-walk-for-a-little-bit gags, but I have to admit everybody’s costumes are pretty funny.
• I wonder why Pearl didn’t mention the short in her intro.
• M&tB are still wearing their costumes as they enter the theater.
• The short is simply sublime, hilarious from start to finish. The reaction by fans was overwhelmingly positive, with a lot of calls for more cartoons.
• Fave riff from the short: Thank goodness for the internal genitalia!
• Alex Nicol, who plays unhinged gardener Mickey, was also the director. So I think you can pretty much blame him for this movie.
• Again, another nice build for segment 1. And the segment is hilarious, a rare look at the world through the eyes of the bots.
• Last time around I wrote a long plea for somebody to explain the movie to me, and I got several good responses. As I understand it, we are to believe that, in addition to the skulls evil hubby Eric was placing around the house, the ghost of Eric’s dead first wife was capable of conjuring up tangible, corporeal objects (see the skeleton in the wedding dress, which is clearly a physical object–though it is transparent as it runs around the garden) in revenge for what we assume was his murder of her?
• This may not be the worst print of a movie they ever riffed, but it’s up there.
• That’s Barb Tebben as the as operator at Coffins Etc.
• Arty riff: “Pinched lady at Giverny.”
• Jenni disrobes down to her underwear at one point, and I think the movie was trying to titilate the audience a bit, but jeez-louise that is the least sexy bra ever.
• Segment 3 is an all-time favorite, one of those Looney Tunes-style segments that works perfectly. I particularly like the way Mike keeps screaming in horror as he carefully selects just the right golf club.
• Also note, right at the end of the sketch, Mike’s elbow accidentally(?) brushes against Servo’s head — and of course it immediately falls off.
• That’s Patrick in the closing bit as the delivery guy. His “this must be a great place to work” comment is probably something they heard at BBI a lot.
• I have to assume Kevin was boiling in that costume inside a costume.
• And the episode closes out with a little blast from the past: a forced perspective gag. Paging Joel…
• Cast and crew roundup: Executive producers Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson worked on too many MST3K movies to name. In front of the camera, Peggy Webber was in “Space Children.”
• Creditwatch: Directed by Kevin. Andrea DuCane couldn’t do hair and makeup this episode (the only episode in season 9 where she didn’t) so Mary K. Flaa took her place. Barry Schulman, who renewed them one last time just before getting canned, gets a special mention in the credits.
• Fave riff: “Wow, too bad. So…some?” Honorable mention: “GET A BOX!”

169 Replies to “Episode guide: 912- The Screaming Skull (with short ‘Robot Rumpus’)”

  1. Black Doug says:

    @Hotcha: I think that’s unfair; Torgo’s handicapped. Ortega should sub in for him.


  2. jjk says:

    To #143. John and William Hudson were twin brothers who both did a number of similar horror and sci-fi movies in the 50’s. I thought it was the same man too.
    It’s too bad the Gumby short wasn’t the full length movie in this episode. It was a lot better than The Screaming Skull.


  3. Depressing Aunt says:

    I like this one. I don’t even mind the movie. The silly “soundtrack” helps a lot on that score. Did the filmmakers just not know from legitimately scary music? And for some reason, I’m relieved when the Snows realize Eric is a creep at the end. Like, every time. (I think I just hate to see people involuntarily committed into mental wards in movies; you can probably imagine the angst “France” caused me.)

    #141 re: “I want everything for me”–this should really be used in everyday conversation, I feel. It’s funny!

    And oh, the short! I really wish Rifftrax could somehow riff some more Gumby shorts. Seems like a natural fit, to me…

    4 robot rumps all around.


  4. Depressing Aunt says:

    “Frances”, not *France*… Silly spell-correct!


  5. Sampo says:

    Smoothie of Great Power: Thanks for the catch on William & John Hudson. Don’t know how that error crept in but it has been booted out!


  6. Smoothie of Great Power says:

    As #152 explained, they were twins. Kind of sad that William died in 1974, but John survived him until 1996.

    #149 while not my favorite in this one, the “HOW-deeee!” riffs in Assignment: Venezuela are mine in that one. The delivery there kills me every time.


  7. pondoscp says:

    I love the short on this episode, but after the opening of the movie, this episode becomes a cure for insomnia to me! Even after the many, many, many Sci-Fi airings of this one back in the day, I can just not focus on it! I tried last week, and sure enough, out like a light! I’ll give it another shot this weekend.


  8. touches no one's life, then leaves says:


    Hey, just think how many circa 1958 films there are that *haven’t* been riffed. There must be much worse out there.

    Hm, according to Wikipedia (so, you know…), “High School Big Shot” (because when you think gray and depressing, you think “High School Big Shot”) was filmed in 1958. Maybe gray and depressing was really big that year.


  9. ToolAssist says:

    I love how awful the print for this movie is. I’d say it’s up there with the worst.

    Mr. Snow: Eric, I think I should tell you that Jenni has conf (cut) in me about the sanitarium.
    Crow: She conf-d you?

    Eric: I told her Jenni was impressionable, but not that (cut) literal (cut) Mr. Snow.
    *M&tB laugh*


  10. The Screaming Skull is one of those old clunkers I remember from my teenage late-night “Creature Feature” watching days. Even then, it seemed a bit dull, and slow to get moving. Still, the MST3K version, while not an instant favorite, was one of those episodes that grew on me very quickly, due in large part to the riffing:

    “Can we help you, movie lady?”
    “The film broke, and it was horrible!”
    “Alas, poor Yorick, she threw him well!”
    “You know, the Bible speaks of losers like you…”

    …and, one of my favorites, one of those brilliant riffs that comes from bad splices:
    Rev. Snow: Eric, I think I should tell you that Jenni has conf (cut) in me about the sanitarium.
    Crow: She conf-d you?

    I’ve seen this episode a million times, and I bust up every time it gets to that bit, probably the funniest bad-splice riff since Racket Girls.

    Btw, while we’re on the subject of Peggy Webber, was she ever in a movie where she didn’t appear constantly distraught and neurotic?


  11. Happenstance says:

    Segment 1 (Mike helps the Bots with their claymation therapy) and Segment 3 (Screaming; skull) are two of my all-time favorites. They put me into hysterical laughing fits every single time. When Crow and Servo explode into unintelligible snarling while portraying Bollus and Horseflop (Horsefly?), I’m in tears. Also oddly fond of Servo’s butterfly stage (probably because of Mike’s revulsion and the party proboscis).

    Strangely, the movie’s utter predictability would normally infuriate me but here it allowed me to relax and concentrate on the riffing…and the riffing is excellent, nailing everything from the condition of the print to the technical incompetence of the film itself, while giving us another peek into the confused and confusing sexuality of the ‘Bots.

    HOLY ****, AND THEN THERE’S MICKEY. I have no doubt that Mickey was the deciding factor in choosing The Screaming Skull and the riffing is merciless and hilarious. Another one that leaves me on the floor is when Crow loses patience with Mickey’s fumble-bumbling: “GET A BOX!!”


  12. Sitting Duck says:

    The Gumby short (as well as some of the riffs) brings to mind the conundrum regarding old-timey cartoons (and even a few modern ones) featuring anthropomorphic non-humans. Namely how females are just about always fully clad, while males either are nude or wear nothing below the waist (Mickey Mouse and Goofy are the only exceptions which come to mind). Discuss.


  13. Nadroz says:

    I was lucky to tape the final re-run of this episode! I was going to record it without the commercials, but my brother had broken his knee, so I just let it tape while I was at the hospital with him. I love the Gumby short!


  14. touches no one's life, then leaves says:


    Still, that’s something that’s not really the fault of the movie itself. Doesn’t seem quite fair to mock the film for something that isn’t intrinsic in it.


  15. Ill Gotten Pants says:

    I’m convinced this episode contains the movie with the fewest actors in any MST3K’d movie. Just five and a half actors. Husband, wife, older couple and Mickey. I count the ghost wife as a half.


  16. Richard the Lion-footed says:

    I was never sure why people had problems understanding the movie. The idea that a husband wants to drive his wife off, only to have REAL supernatural forces at work, is fairly standard horror movie fair.

    This is one of our favorite episodes for most of the reasons already mentioned. The “As previously implied” riff comes up almost as often as “Teenage Werewolf’s” “And that is all the foreshadowing we can afford right now. . .” when watching today’s, what passes for, “television.”

    A solid episode that I wish they would release on DVD someday.


  17. The Grim Spectre of Food says:

    For me, this is up there with Pumaman and The Touch of Satan as the best of Season 9. I have a fondness for the film that vastly exceeds its actual quality, and as others have stated, the highlight is Mickey. Forget Ortega, Mickey is the best ersatz-Torgo of the Sci-Fi years.

    The reason I really love this one, however, is the short. As has been said again and again, “Robot Rumpus” is one of the finest 10 minutes of the series.


  18. This is a good not great episode, saved by the short and some of the Host Segments. The movie portion is the least enjoyable for me actually, which is strange. I don’t find The Screaming Skull (movie) to be very watchable; it doesn’t really engage me as a viewer, it’s not really weird or memorable enough to be an episode that I would return to over and over again.

    The Gumby short is funny, I like it. Wouldn’t be in my Top 10 MST shorts, but still.. it’s good. Plus it leads into Host Segment #1, which is pretty funny, if just for the line “Work the lumps.”

    HS#2 is too long and doesn’t really bring any laughs, but HS#3 is excellent as Mike goes full-Gumby on Skull-Crow, which by the way, seems to be extra durable (note that Servo’s dome takes a whack near the end of the skit. Not so durable).

    The only clunk-clunkers are the opening and closing bits. Tom as a butterfly. . .. .um, okay. Not really that cool, but I do like when they return from commercial break and Servo’s back to normal and in explaining how he got his round shape back he barks “I hit the pecan sandies. Hard.” Gave me a laugh.

    The Mads attempted prank on Mike and the Bots is pretty stupid in my opinion. I don’t like it. HOWEVER, in the closing bit when Bobo is wearing the monkey suit (damn, must of been hot in there!) the unfunniness of the whole endeavor is perfectly captured in the cutaway to Mike and the Bots giving Bobo the death stare. I laughed out loud.

    So yeah, The Screaming Skull is a mixed bag. Not the worst of the season, but still in the bottom tier of Season 9.
    Just like every episode of MST, it does offer some good RIFFS:

    from the short:

    Mike: “Pokey left a big surprise in your begonias.”

    Servo: “Miss Gumby is stacked.”

    Crow: “That squares my breasts.”

    Mike: “Thank goodness for the internal genitalia!”

    from the move:

    Servo: “I went someplace and I’m sad.”

    Servo: “It’s like they had two servings of tension that they’re trying to stretch out for seven people.”

    Mickey runs away,
    Servo: “I had a victim in the oven!”

    Mike: “So they put a tiny bit of movie in a box then filled the rest with a bunch of foam peanuts..”
    Crow: “Yeah. This scene for example. This scene is a foam peanut.”

    Mike: “Yeah, Mr. Snow, then Mr. Horse, then Mr. Mary Jane.”

    Mike: “It’s the society for un-strangled wives.”

    The Screaming Skull,
    gets 3 out of 5, um, skulls I guess.
    :skeleton: :skeleton: :skeleton:


  19. Thomas K. Dye says:
    April 8, 2010 at 9:51 am

    …I loved the bit where Eric repeatedly slaps Mickey and Three Stooges slap effects are foleyed in. Mike and the Bots notice it, too, and play it for everything it’s worth. “Stop hitting me, Moe!”

    D’ahhh ha ha ha ha ha ha haahhh, oh, god yeeaahhh. I wonder how many generations of comedy buffs carry indelible memories of the Three Stooges attached to that sound effect, like a comedic version of the “Wilhelm Scream”. It’s kind of like the “tension hook” theme from the Creature From The Black Lagoon — DAH DAH DAAAAHHHHHH! — turning up in other movies on MST3K, like Planet Of The Prehistoric Women, Hercules And The Captive Women, and The Thing That Couldn’t Die.

    I first saw Screaming Skull in its original form on the local “Creature Feature” as a young teenager in the early ’70s, and I laughed my butt off at that scene. Here’s this supposedly tense, serious scene in a supposedly dark, serious, scary movie, and the sound/foley people were somehow entirely unaware that the slapping sound effect they chose was the same damn slapping sound effect that they used in all those Three Stooges shorts… and there I am, about 16, after having spent almost my entire boyhood watching the Stooges every day after school, watching that “serious” scene and laughing until I damn’ near wet myself.


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