Bad Hercules movies were always kind to the original Mystery Science Theater 3000. The best episodes were often centered on those bad Steve Reeves vehicles, providing many memorably hilarious moments. So when I saw a Hercules movie in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return‘s episode list, I was looking forward to it.
It was well worth the wait.
1960’s The Loves of Hercules doesn’t have Steve Reeves, but its weird story, bad but earnest acting from Mickey Hargitay as Hercules, and terrible production values give The Return one of its best episodes yet. The laughs never stop in this episode, as even the skits have some gut busting moments.
“The Herc Abides”
Mickey Hargitay’s Hercules is a very different hero from Reeves’ muscle headed bully, but he provides ample material for Jonah, Tom and Crow. This Hercules is more of a lovable goofball that is oddly not as strong as the legends portray him. He has trouble lifting heavy objects, something troubling given his penchant for heaving them at his enemies. The guys’ jokes go all over the map, but all of them are hilarious. The guys make fun of Hercules’ tiny nipples, odd accent, and gullibility (“In fact, I believe everyone I’ve ever met!”).
One running gag pays off in a completely off the wall way. Early in the episode, Jonah riffs on Hargitay’s voice sounding a little like Eddie Vedder. It’s out of left field in the best way, as I couldn’t stop laughing whenever Jonah would burst into Pearl Jam songs during some action sequences. The joke comes back hilariously by the end of the episode, showing just how important timing is in comedy. Jonah could have easily run this gag into the ground, but he times it perfectly.
Jonah and the bots aptly point out that real life married couple Hargitay and Jayne Mansfield create zero on-screen chemistry. It’s as though they took lessons from Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Her performance on its own is pretty bad though, as the boys have fun poking at her odd vamping.
In a funny moment, Crow repeatedly points out that Mansfield is obviously replaced by a male stunt double during a bull attack and the others angrily yell, “And your point is?!?” It’s not only funny, but a nice nod to the sometimes overly nitpicky nature of the show. It’s cool to see the guys make fun of themselves.
The Loves of Hercules also provides a hallmark of the old Hercules movies: Bad special effects. Hercules lightly taps a terrible three headed Hydra with a sword during the big action sequence. The guys barely have to say anything during the fight, though their riffing is suitably funny. Most of the action is terrible in the movie, as Hercules often comes off as an awkward man-boy wrestling seemingly peaceful creatures.
M. Waverly and Other Tales
In a brief moment, Max (Patton Oswalt) reveals that the show’s title is also the name of the actual theater on the Satellite of Love. So yes, there is an actual Mystery Science Theater. Maybe I’m thick or not paying attention because in all my years of fandom, I never realized this. This is just one example of how strong the material outside of the movie riffing truly is in the episode.
The opening invention exchange works really well because two favorites take center stage. Baron Vaughn’s Tom Servo steals the scene as he tries to talk Jonah into sending an already dead turkey into a deep fryer via a carnival dunk tank. Max also has a fun moment when he despairs over killing the jumping beans key to Kinga’s (Felicia Day) invention.
The introduction of new bot M. Waverly during a typically silly skit is also fun. What starts out as a somewhat pedestrian parody of the gossipy hand maidens in The Loves of Hercules takes an ugly turn as the bots take issue with Jonah’s latest creation. “This isn’t some sitcom,” the bots yell as they take Waverly off screen and tear him to bits.
But the highlight of the skits comes at the end of the episode. I won’t spoil it because it is so freaking brilliant, but it transitions nicely from the end of the movie to the end of the episode. Everyone gets involved and shows off the reboot’s penchant for musical numbers.
Hercules to the Rescue
The Return hasn’t exactly struggled before this episode. There is already a perfect episode in the first season with Avalanche, but the episodes following it struggled to reach those same heights. The Loves of Hercules is just as brilliantly hilarious as Avalanche, possibly even funnier.
Eight episodes in and there are two perfect episodes. Not bad for a first season.
SCORE: 10 OUT OF 10
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return is currently streaming on Netflix