#19. Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders


19. Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders (1995) - Season 10, episode 1003

"Remember that kitten, Billy? That was nothing compared to this. At least the kitten went quick, Billy."

A grandpa tells a trio of horrible stories about death to his grandson, pretty much scarring the kid for life. The end.
Famous for:  Rock 'n Roll Martian (aka Fuckin' Old Martian).

[expletive deleted]

My favorite riff:  Pretty much any joke about Grandpa Borgnine's story and Billy's horrified reaction to it. Because... oh my god.

It's a shame this was the last episode MST3k ever aired because, honestly, that might have been their all time best running gag. They may have actually peaked right at the end.

Mike (as Grandpa):  Then the devil cat grabbed his throat, and pulled out bloody strips of sinew and flesh.
Tom Servo (crying, as Billy):  Grandpa Borgnine!

Crow (as Grandpa):  Then the cat's flesh was roasted.
Mike (crying, as Billy):  Grandpa, no!
Crow (as Grandpa):  Sit down, you're gonna listen. His flesh melted, in this horrible scream. Heh heh.
Mike (crying, as Billy):  No!

Tom Servo (as Billy):  No, Grandpa Borgnine! Leave light and hope for me, please!!
Crow (as grandpa):  Get out from behind that cushion, Billy, it gets worse.

:  Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders isn't actually a standalone movie, it's mostly just clips from an old 1984 horror film called The Devil's Gift.

For some reason the producers of this movie took The Devil's Gift (which is about a toy monkey that kills people), they paired it with a NEW story about a guy who accidentally turns into a devil, and then they gave it a wraparound story involving Merlin the Wizard selling magic items out of a warehouse. Oh, and then just to be fun, they gave it yet ANOTHER wraparound story, this one about Ernest Borgnine telling all this as a scary bedtime story to his grandson.

And if that sounds like an episode where the riffing would be especially fun... well, you'd be right.

"The kid's figuring out all the plot holes."

The reason the riffing in Merlin is especially fun is because, in this one, the source material isn't just coming from one place, it's actually coming from FOUR different places. Which means that, if you know your SNL, that officially makes Merlin the Taco Town of MST3k episodes. It's the MST3k episode that starts as a taco, then gets dipped in guacamolito sauce, then gets wrapped in a pizza, and then finally gets served in a tote bag (along with vegetarian chili.)

In other words, this movie is all over the place.

"Tonight on 'Old Lady Gets Killed.'"

Crow:  Borgnine's grandson is really bored by now.
Mike (as Grandpa, telling the story):  He puttered around the kitchen for a while. And got himself a cold drink.

Merlin is, without question, one of the funniest episodes of Mystery Science Theater that they ever made.

In fact, my friend Matt, who I just introduced to the show a couple of years ago, says this is his all-time favorite episode. Forget all the rest, he says he thinks Merlin is the funniest. And he makes a pretty good argument. There are few riffs in MST3k history that make me laugh harder than Borgnine repeatedly terrorizing his own grandkid, and all of the riffs about it.

I mean, if you like dark humor, this is your episode. I don't think the show ever got any darker than this. And yes, that's including the two Joe Don Baker films.

Tom Servo (as Billy):  So evil wins, Grandpa Borgnine?
Mike (as Grandpa):  That's right. Even your tiny soul is doomed, Billy.

"My point is, Billy, that a man dies with a whimper, looking into the face of ultimate darkness."

So I guess this then begs the question.

If I think that Grandpa's wraparound nightmare story is so funny, then why don't I rank this as my #1 episode?

I mean, is there another episode actually funnier than this?

Crow (as Billy):  Grandpa Borgnine! The tree feel right on him!
Mike (as Grandpa):  I know! But I wrote myself into a corner.

Well, the reason I don't put this at #1 is because I don't think the rest of the episode is as amazing as Grandpa's wraparound story. I mean, yeah it's funny, but the plot about Merlin can get kind of tedious at times. And a lot of the jokes during the monkey part of the movie aren't actually anything special.  

"That bastard!  He turned me into Benjamin Franklin!"

I still love this movie. And it's still one of my favorite MST3k episodes. But from start to finish I don't think it's as consistent as some of the other ones I still have yet to come up.

But god damn those Grandpa Borgnine riffs are incredible.

"So, Billy, the little boy who looks like you went through terrible, irredeemable grief."

"Does he have a sea turtle under his sweater vest?"

[the power goes out]
Grandpa:  Uh oh.
Crow (as Grandpa):  We better eat all the ice cream.

Other personal favorite things about this episode:  There's one scene in the middle of the movie where the main character meets a psychic on a bench in the park. And the actress who plays the psychic is SO over the top (and just incredibly angry at the main character, for no reason), that it makes Mike break character and start laughing.  

If you liked the time he broke character because of the angry grocer in The Brute Man, well, here's a little more of the same.

It's really funny.

The over-the-top angry psychic

Trivia:  Like I said earlier, this was the last episode of Mystery Science Theater to ever air on TV.

And what an episode to go out on.

"And now, time to die."

Bonus Trivia:  Have I got some bonus fun reading for you. Here's an AMA that the kid who played Borgnine's grandson did over on Reddit a couple of years ago. Some really funny trivia here about how Borgnine didn't like him, and how Borgnine read all his lines off cue cards. Sadly, nothing about "fuckin' old Martian", though.

Back to Mario's Top 50 MST3k Episodes