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Episode guide: 113- The Black Scorpion

Movie: (1957) Giant scorpions emerge from a Mexican volcano and go on a rampage.

First shown: 2/3/90
Opening: The robots are throwing a party for Joel
Invention exchange: Joel has invented a man-sized party favor; the Mads have mutated
Host segment 1: J&tB attempt to speak Spanish
Host segment 2: Crow and Tom ponder the strange habits of Joel, failing to notice — until it’s too late — that Gypsy is going through some changes
Host segment 3: The Bots’ put on a puppet show; J&tB discuss stop-motion animation
End: J&tB read some letters; the Mads are starting to feel better
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (91 votes, average: 4.12 out of 5)


• This is a fun, kind of middle-of-the-road episode. The movie is really not that bad; indeed there are moments where you really can get caught up in the story (though the romance between Richard Denning and Mara Corday is completely flat). The riffing keeps up with the movie, and it’s pretty funny, which makes it, overall, a fun experience. But the host segments continue the trend of the last few episodes: they’re mostly long setups that don’t pay off.
• This episode is included in Shout!Factory’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXX.
• This episode is captioned for the hearing impaired! Yay, Shout! However, there are a few mistakes in the captioning.
• Nice spit take from Joel in the opening.
• Josh’s make up in this show is remarkable! Quite a job. Faye Burkholder and Clayton James are listed as the makeup people in the credits. Kudos to whoever is responsible.
• Thanks to several commenters for pointing out a big goof in this episode: In the opening, Dr. F says the movie features special effects by Ray Harryhausen. It does not; the effects are by Willis O’Brien. In segment 3, Joel correctly describes Harryhausen as O’Brien’s protege, even though he doesn’t seem to be aware that O’Brien’s work is featured in the film he’s watching. In the early days, BBI didn’t do much in the way research. I suspect that, until about season six, the closest thing they had to a research library was a dog-eared copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.
• They do love that “Fentonville, east of Muncie” joke, don’t they? We’ll hear it several times in the episodes ahead.
• Callback: “This is where they filmed Robot Monster!” (Actually, no.) “Scorpions like this always have lots of ice cold beer around.” (“The Crawling Hand.)
• Joel and the bots produce giant wienies and hold them up to the screen as if they are toasting them on the footage of the volcano. At lease I hope that’s what they’re supposed to be. I’m not quite sure the effect works
• In the ACEG, Mike apologizes for the use of a peeing sound effect in episode 102. But he fails to mention the applause sound effect used every time Ramos is introduced in this ep. Who’s supposed to be clapping, anyway?
• Gypsy’s scorpion tail falls off in host segment 2. They keep going.
• Crow’s Bing Crosby sounds a LOT like his Dean Martin, and vice versa.
• There’s about five minutes after segment 2 when they seem to do nothing but golf riffs. Not really sure why. The scenery in the movie doesn’t really resemble a golf course.
• We get a couple of uses of the “SEEMED like [fill in the blank] … At first!” bit.
• At the end of the closing segment, Josh simply says “Bye!” and walks off the set. And the first cast member departure takes place (if you don’t count episode 104). Weinstein used to get short-shrift by many, but I think, thanks to his excellent work on Cinematic Titanic, that’s changing. Looking back, Weinstein was clearly a gifted young man with a sense of humor and style well beyond his years. He certainly held his own in many ways with co-stars many years his senior. And Weinstein also deserves credit for another achievement–it was Weinstein that spotted struggling young comedian Michael J. Nelson and suggested he be hired.
• Stinger suggestion: A shot of the Milling Around Festival.
• Cast and crew roundup: producer Jack Dietz also worked on “The Corpse Vanishes.” ?Screen writer David Duncan also worked on “The Leech Woman” and “The Thing That Couldn’t Die.” In front of the camera, Richard Denning was also in “The Day the World Ended.” Arturo Martinez was also in “The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy.”
• CreditsWatch: Melanie Hartley and Neil Brede were, once more, additional production assistants. The additional production staff was, again, Jim Erickson and a new name: Elisabet Sandberg.
• Favorite riff: “It’s the Oaxaca steps sequence.” Honorable mention: “Remember that bad thing we saw? It looked just like this. This is bad.”

85 comments to Episode guide: 113- The Black Scorpion

  • 51
    Matt Sandwich says:

    Unga Khan FTW! That’s the first time I’ve ever used ‘FTW’ online or elsewhere. Seems more than appropriate here.

    Like a lot of folks, since my first encounter was with TV’s Frank, who I always absolutely loved, I had a hard time getting used to Josh. (Until the Interwebs came along, Robot Holocaust was my only Josh episode– admittedly a great one.) And while his tenure with the show wasn’t helped by the fact that they were still finding their sea legs (that’s the nice way of saying it, right?), I’ve definitely come to appreciate his talent. Yes, especially considering his age at the time.

    Thanks also to those who brought up the ‘Bit of a Chat’ podcast. I’m looking forward to listening to it.

    I love it when a thread comes together!


  • 52
    Cronkite Moonshot says:

    @#48 Dan in WI… Actually it’s almost certainly a Writers Guild thing. They don’t allow two members to use the same name professionally, so when Josh (J.Elvis) moved out west and joined the WGA he would have had to use a different name because Josh Weinstein, Simpsons writer extraordinaire, was no doubt already a member of the WGA by then. J. Elvis could have just added his middle initial, but he probably wanted to differentiate himself even more from the other Josh Weinstein. By the way Josh Weinstein is highly respected and well known Simpsons writer who along with his writing partner Bill Oakley is responsible for some of the most memorable episodes of that series. They also did a few episodes of the classic Futurama together, and Weinstein is now a producer on the revived version of Futurama. If there is one thing I know/love more than MST3K it’s The Simpsons and Futurama.

    Also I wanted to throw my hat into the discussion of Joel’s relationship to the bots, and the why’s and hows of it’s development. I actually agree that in the KTMA episodes it probably had much more to do with their off screen relationships coming through, probably mostly due to the informal nature of the series, and the fact that they were just trying to figure out what it was they were creating. With season one I think it was a combination of them sticking with what they had been doing already while still trying to figure the show out in it’s new form. I don’t think the change to a more parental relationship between Joel and the Bots was fast, nor did it occur right away at the beginning of season 2. I would say their relationships were still more like equal friendships through much of season two. But I also think the eventual change was pretty natural, and also corresponded to the improvement overall in the host segments. They simply got much better as the parental style relationship developed. I can definitely understand why as well, because that kind of relationship is a much bigger springboard in comedy. A guiding “parental” figure is more able to take questions and instigate discussions to comedic effect. Joel gradually took on that roll, and the bots just gradually made the switch from the roll of friends giving their other friend the business into children giving their parent the business. It’s a similar roll, but with much more comedic possibilities. Look at sitcoms. You can have an entire show just built around one house and it’s parents trying to deal with their kids, and take that basic set up quite far before it runs out of steam. On the other hand if you start off with just a group of friends/equals you quickly have to introduce all kinds of other elements to propagate new stories, and create a more interesting show. Things like new places for them to go, inter-group romantic relationships, extra-group romantic relationships, and just other contrived situations in general. So I think it was natural, just from a writing standpoint, that the Joel relationship developed into what it was. And when you look at the later Mike/Bots relationship in comparison you can see the situation I just described even more. It was also natural that Mike’s relationship with them would be more of a friend than a parental figure given that Joel was their creator, while Mike was just the “new guy” and more of an equal. And because of that change in the characters relationships almost right from the start of Mikes era the host segments started getting more complicated, and by the end they were often very elaborate sketches, sometimes even involving the different environments, which never happened during the Joel years. I can’t think of any Joel era host segments off the top of my head that didn’t mainly just feature Joel and the Bots on the bridge of the Satellite of Love (maybe talking to someone on the Hexfield Viewscreen), but in the Mike era we had some radically different kinds of host segmnents. Just off the top of my head I can think of Crow going back in time to the cheese factory, Mike and the bots out in the woods when reality was being twisted in the wormhole, Mike’s trial, Mike and Crow going over to sit with Pearl in her Widowmaker, the entire Nanites thing involving a whole new environment with them, and so much more.


  • 53
    Cronkite Moonshot says:

    Can everyone please forgive my idiotic use of the word “roll” instead of “role”? Please?!


  • 54
    Watch-out-for-Snakes says:

    You are forgiven Cronkite Moonshot, if I can be forgiven for my confusion of the two Josh Weinsteins. Oops, is all I got to say.


  • 55
    DICKWEED 1 says:

    This is a good episode. I would say top 10 of season 1. If the host segments were better it would crack top 5. My biggest ? is about the Mexican Kenny/Juanito. Who’s damn kid is he!!! Finnias @ #7 Bing used to beat his wife and kid’s. I think gary was the oldest. He’s not the guy we think of from the xmas specials or A Wonderful Life! Things were kept a lot more hush hush back then. Imagine if they had TMZ/The Internets back then? We’d think a lot different about guys like him, John Wayne,Sinatra ect. Now about Josh leaving. I didn’t get cable till season 3, so of course Franks my boy. But since i’ve found this site and started watching the show in order it’s been cool seeing the evolution of things and josh rightfully belongs as a founding father!! Now my problem is if his reason for leaving is that he didn’t like the structure of the scripted shows. Why in gods name would you go work on that dumbass funniest video show!!!! I was a little bummed when I found out a few years ago he wasn’t the guy from The Simpsons! But he probably still gets residuals!! So god bless him. We all gotta pay the bills!!!!


  • 56
    crowschmo says:

    I ordered this ep from Skyroniter and got it just in time for this discussion. Okay, not great.

    Not a bad little movie. A bit slow, but effects aren’t too bad. Characters are a bit dull.

    Liked Josh’s makeup in his mutated state, and Dr. F was funny as a, I guess shrunken headed- skeleton (it was a little small Smile ).

    Host segs were so-so overall, but cute.

    One of the other dynamics that changed from the Joel years to the Mike years was that Joel would do a lot of movie related lecture-type thingees talking about special FX, sound FX, etc. They got away from that in the later eps.

    Nothing overly hilarious riff-wise in this one, but still some funnies.

    Some faves:

    “And then, tragedy struck – we ran out of stock footage.” – Crow

    “Uh, Tom – there’s no ‘south’ in space.” – Joel

    “Meanwhile, on a pole somewhere…” – Joel


    The best: “It’s an ancient squeaking scorpion!” – Servo

    But what made me laugh the most was Crow’s “expressions” when Joel was reading that letter. Trace did a good job making that puppet look alive. Smile

    Exit Josh, enter Frank and Kevin.


  • 57
    Greasyfries says:

    #20, while this film doesn’t contain any footage of the infamous KONG “spider pit”, some of the beasties in the cave sequence were, in fact, originally built for that scene back in 1932-33.


  • 58
    Cronkite Moonshot says:

    @#54 Watch-out-for-Snakes… Actually back when I first started seeing Josh Weinstein’s name in the Simpsons credits I thought it was J. Elvis too for a little while. I just thought I’d blather off some info on him since the one thing I’m more obsessed with than MST is The Simpsons and Futurama. I don’t expect everyone to be.


  • 59

    The confusion about the two Josh Weinsteins is understandable, especially when Bender’s catchphrase “Bite my shiny metal ass” sounds like something Tom Servo might have said…


  • 60
    Dan in WI says:

    Cronkite #52> It is indeed a Writers Guild thing. I learned that this weekend at the Milwaukee Cinematic Titanic events. The story Josh told during his warm-up bit was two fold. I think he was serious though it could have been a part of his shtick too I guess. First he stated that by adopting the middle name Elvis it made his initials J.E.W. which he said struck him as hilarous at the time. Second he stated it was an homage to his hero Elvis Costello. Now that may have been made up because from their he launched into a routine about being the world’s first Elvis Costello impersonator as opposed to the thousands of Elvis Pressly impersonators.


  • 61
    Wydok says:

    I didn’t notice it earlier in the episode, but during Host segment 2 the door is a different color. I also didn’t notice this in any episode earlier this season.


  • 62
    Wydok says:

    Nevermind on the door color, I think it’s the quality of my copy…


  • 63
    touches no one's life, then leaves says:

    Not really on-topic, but, speaking of bugs, what’s the deal with that bug-creature that scuttled from one side of the corridor to the other when the camera/Cambot takes us from the bridge through the 6-5-4-3-2-1 doors to the theater? Was there supposed to be any significance at all to that? Anyone? Thanks.


  • 64
    Blooglspash says:

    touches no one’s life, then leaves:
    Not really on-topic, but, speaking of bugs, what’s the deal with that bug-creature that scuttled from one side of the corridor to the other when the camera/Cambot takes us from the bridge through the 6-5-4-3-2-1 doors to the theater? Was there supposed to be any significance at all to that? Anyone? Thanks.

    I’d imagine it’s about as significant as any other detail in the door sequence (i.e., not at all, it’s just a show; you should really just relax), but who knows?

    On topic, this is a decent episode by S1 standards. Very little stands out besides the FX except for that annoying kid (a precursor to Kenny, perhaps?). It’s also nice to finally have captions (not to mention every episode of S1) on an official MST DVD.


  • 65
    asdf says:

    I always wondered about the bug too.


  • 66
    Cheapskate Crow says:

    I actually enjoyed this movie, the special effects were quite good for the time. In fact several times the riffs were done over movie dialogue and I found myself getting annoyed, I think their timing on this kind of thing got much better later on. For one of the very few times in the entire series, I had a “Why are these guys talking over the movie?” old guy moment.

    Agree with everyone else that the host segments were lame, host seg. 3 became a lecture instead of a host segment but with no funny twist like later segs of this type would have. I found the end segment oddly entertaining though, I am surprised they put such a brutal critique of Crow on the air but I give them a lot of credit for doing so. Also I agree with others that I appreciate J. Elvis a lot more now than I did when I first saw these, I was lucky enough to see CT live a couple of times and he is a very talented individual. Annoys me that we are the same age and he is much more gifted in comedy but that’s my own personal problem.

    Bring on the glory years and TV’s Frank!


  • 67
    snowdog says:

    Well, I did a little better with season 1 this time than on the last pass, having finally seen over half of them. Even though I own official copies of each episode, I still find them difficult to sit through. The make up job on Josh was both very good and very hideous! It’s a shame his last appearance on the show was looking like that! But I loved the Dr F puppet!

    It strange that the Brains didn’t seem to be putting as much effort in the host seg writing as the season progressed, or more likely, they got rushed to get the episode count done before CC’s deadline.

    This episode did have some decent riffing. The weinie props didn’t work too well. I think they were too big and looked a lot like giant bananas at first.

    On the whole, a typical “good” season one ep. Once again, very much looking forward to season two, though.


  • 68
    Bruce Boxliker says:

    I’d seen a lot of other seasons long before I ever saw a season 1 episode, so Josh as Servo & Larry was jarring, and I instantly took a dislike to him. Many years later, I’ve come to appreciate him on his own terms, and I think he’s every bit as good as Kevin & Frank.
    I really like this movie (along with the riffing, that makes it one of my favorites of season 1). Anything with Willis O’brien or Ray Harryhausen effects are always fun. The climactic battle with the scorpion in the arena was amazing! Which also brings me to my question for this episode: Why do helicopter & jet pilots always fly within striking range of giant monsters? Seems like it’d be pretty easy to avoid getting slapped out of the air. I’m pretty sure most aircraft aren’t equipped with melee weapons.


  • 69
    Kansas says:

    A good stinger (no pun)for this movie would be the Mexican officer grabbing the electric harpoon with his bare hands and getting shocked. My father and I saw the unriffed version of this a long time ago and got a big laught out of that. To quote Snidley Whiplash “Nobody could be that dumb”.


  • 70
    littleaimishboy says:

    Most annoying Little Kid in all of MST3K?

    (Unless Monkeyboy from “Lost Continent” counts.)


  • 71
    Sitting Duck says:

    The Black Scorpion fails the Bechdel Test. The only conversation between two females occurs between Teresa and Florentina, which is about Juanito.

    For the stinger, I would go with the frequently reused shot of the titular scorpion drooling.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but the blue tint that was added in seems a bit more obvious than in previous episodes.

    Am I the only one who would have liked something horrible to have happened to that kid?

    Another show with a case of production number shenanigans is Babylon 5. In the second season, the episode Soul Mates aired before A Race Though Dark Places, but had a later production number. The relevant discrepancy comes from how the character Talia Winters expresses serious doubts about the Psi Corps in Soul Mates, while in A Race Through Dark Places she’s still plainly loyal to the Corps. What’s makes this especially interesting is that the events in A Race Through Dark Places could certainly be seen as causing her to question the motives of the Corps. Presumably they originally meant to show them in the production number order, but Race got delayed in post.

    Favorite riffs

    Horny, broad-voiced announcer uses his mighty voice to put fear in the viewer’s mind.

    And then tragedy struck. We ran out of stock footage.

    The horse must have eaten her.

    “I want a magnifying glass to watch this little monster.”
    You mean the little kid?

    This is the operator. I’m not in right now. Nothing important is happening, so I left. This is a recording.

    I’m telling you Brad, I’m going to get to Messina before Monty.

    Hey, he was in our foursome last week! This is a rough hole.

    I’ll send the rope back down for you, I promise. By the way, can I have your bike?

    “Remember, this is not the balcony of the neighborhood movie theater.”
    Although the floor is just as sticky.

    Meanwhile, at the toboggan room at the IHOP.

    I was afraid of this. Scorpion hoboes.

    Now, if you’ll look out the left side of the train, you’ll see the right side of the train.

    You’re looking live at blasted out Velagro Stadium, where just in a few minutes, puny local authorities will attempt to take on a giant, bloodthirsty, genetically bloated scorpion!


  • 72
    pondoscp says:

    On an unrelated note (didn’t know where else to post this), Tom Arnold was on Howard Stern this week, and he said Joel Hodgson inspired him to do standup!


  • 73
    pondoscp says:

    And I love this episode. Goes great with the green sauce!


  • 74
    touches no one's life, then leaves says:


    But is it a pet? A household pest? A prehistoric Nanite?

    While re-watching #701 (back from the end of the universe and all), it occurred to me that, upon entering the theater, Mike might say something to the effect of, “I can’t believe that thing in the corridor is still alive after all this time.” He didn’t, of course.


  • 75
    Cornjob says:

    I’ve long considered Josh to be the great unsung hero of MST3K. He was there at the beginning helping to make the show what it would become. And then he jumped ship right as the ship really took off. Seeing Josh in action again might be my favorite part of Cinematic Titanic. His Servo was as good as Kevin’s in my opinion. Compared to Frank I think his Mad Scientist was too similar to Dr. F. The dynamic between Frank and Dr. Forester was far more broad from the start. But I’d be the first to give a big THANK YOU! to the great Josh Elvis Weinstein and his eternal MIGHTY VOICE!!


  • 76
    Ian L. says:

    Not to disrespect MST3K, but the time it was featured on Whose Line was much funnier than the riffs provided by Joel and the bots.


  • 77
    Zee says:

    The main resource book they used in the early years was the PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM, Joel has mentioned it in interviews and you can see it on the writer’s room coffee table in THIS IS MST3K. Great book, and it’s sequel is even better!


  • 78
    senorpogo says:

    @72- Interesting. Google produced this other interview with Arnold where he goes into more detail.


  • 79
    thequietman says:

    Well, for the first time I can say I’ve seen season one from start to finish (with the exception of episode 104, as I continue to search for a copy of the elusive Rhino volume 9 DVD set).

    As we bid farewell to Dr. Erhardt, I actually find this episode underwhelming compared to the last two. Interesting that all three had some connection to Warner Bros., but this one in some ways actually feels too good for MST3K. It’s sort of like “Deadly Mantis” where it’s not really bad, just dated in its bloodless violence and shoehorned romance. It’s not wacky like “Moon Zero Two” and not painfully earnest like “Untamed Youth”.

    I will note one thing though. When the scorpions derail the train, not only was the locomotive’s tender coupled backwards, but I could still make out the words “Lionel Lines” on it!

    Fave Riff: Here, let me move this high-tension power line with this piece of metal. Just gotta dip it in water first!


  • 80
    Richard the Lion Footed says:

    Ian L.:
    Not to disrespect MST3K, but the time it was featured on Whose Line was much funnier than the riffs provided by Joel and the bots.

    True, but Whose Line did not “Riff” the movie, they re-dubed a short scene. It is often easier to come up with your own funny dialogue than to respond to someone elses. Imagine riffing the original Japanese spy move Vs. what Woody Allen did in “What’s up Tiger Lily.”


  • 81
    AFFA says:

    Thanks for mentioning in the main entry, Sampo, about the Closed Captioning available on this DVD. Does anyone know why this particular episode was captioned? I turned it on to see how they did it, and it’s pretty confusing–no distinction made between the actual dialogue of the movie and the riffs. I’ve always thought MST would be nearly impossible to caption (especially as the seasons progress, and their rate of riffs per minute increased), but it’s a valiant effort. In later seasons on the Sci-Fi channel, I thought there were some episodes where the “CC” logo was displayed during the opening credits, but other than MST3K:TM I’ve never seen one actually captioned. The “Black Scorpion” episode of MST was originally produced well before legislation mandating cable channels to caption the majority of their programming, that’s why I’m curious about this. If it wasn’t original captioning from the Comedy Central airing (or was it?) then Shout! had to do the captioning specifically for the DVD. So, was this an experiment? Anyone know?


  • 82
    pondoscp says:

    @81 – Over the last few sets, Shout! has started to finally add closed captions to the episodes. The Black Scorpion has captions for no other reason than being in a recent set. This is great because now my deaf friend can enjoy the show.


  • 83
    AFFA says:

    @pondoscp: Wow, how did I miss that, that they’re starting to caption all of the new sets?? Thank you so much for filling me in–I have deaf friends too (I’m an interpreter) and have never thought this show would be possible to share with them. How cool! Once again, thanks to Shout! for their meticulous care in how they treat this show we love Smile


  • 84
    Cornjob says:

    The rock group The Scorpions used footage from the train attack as an intro to a concert tape or MTV show or something. The stop motion animation is by far the standout feature of the movie. Compared to the giant bugs in Beginning of the End or Giant Spider Invasion… well you just can’t compare them.


  • 85
    schippers says:

    It’s, like, been four years since my original post, and I haven’t watched this episode in all that time. I just wanted to point out that I posted four years ago. Thank you, won’t you?