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The Screaming Skull

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912 - The Screaming Skull
Air Date August 29, 1998
MST3K Director Kevin Murphy
Movie Director Alex Nicol
Year 1958
Cast John Hudson
Peggy Webber
Russ Conway
Alex Nicol
Preceded by 911 - Devil Fish
Followed by 913 - Quest of the Delta Knights

Hey, I can throw things through dad! I'm gunna get an anvil...

"Well, that squares my breasts!"
  — Crow (as Gumby's mother)

The Short: Robot Rumpus



A cautionary tale of our over reliance on technology. Gumby uses toy robots to do his chores. Initially Mrs. Gumby is thrilled by her son's ingenuity. ("This way we don't have to hire illegal immigrants!"-Crow). But unfortunately for our plasticine hero, things go awry ("Gumby was nude!"-Mike) and the malfunctioning robots wreak havoc throughout the house and yard. ("Well, if you use those older Philips analog chips with your robots, you're going to get this kind of thing."-Tom) They spray-paint graffiti on the house ("Clay figures go home!"-Mike) and begin to tear down the Gumby's garage. ("Habitat against humanity."-Crow). Mrs. Gumby panics and calls her husband at the fire department, who races home in a fire truck ("I'll just take the company car."-Mike) and tries to stop the malignant mechanical men. However, he is quickly overwhelmed by the machines and dumped in the trash. Gumby manages to rescue his father but another robot breaks through the wall with a lawnmower ("I'd better mow the shag carpeting."-Mike) and frightens Mrs. Gumby ("That squares my breasts!"-Crow). Gumbo tries to stop a rogue robot who's digging up the flowerbed, but is thrown onto a nearby roof and takes the impact in the groin. ("Thank God for the internal genitalia!"-Mike). Gumby gets him down but not even a wrench can stop the robot! (Gumbo gets it thrown through him.) Gumby hijacks a crane ("Where did Gumby get a class-F license?"-Mike) and destroys the last robot. Gumby's parents force him to do all the chores by himself. The end credits feature a robot's head hung above Gumby's garage, which causes great disturbance to Servo and Crow.


  • Believe it or not, this was the first Gumby short ever aired. [1]
  • The MST3K version cuts out the first five minutes of the short, starting as Gumby and Pokey are heading to the kitchen.

The Movie



The Screaming Skull

The film opens with a warning that you, the viewer, may die from fright while watching it.

Eric (John Whitlock) and Jenni (Peggy Webber, the sand-phobic wife from Experiment 906 The Space Children) are newlyweds. He's a joyless widower sans vocation, but he does have a mansion on lavishly landscaped grounds from his last marriage, which ended in the sudden death of his wife. Jenni's an unstable heiress who has spent time in a sanitarium due to a traumatic incident in her past - the accidental drowning of her parents, which she witnessed. She blames herself for being unable to save them and also for (prior to the accident) hating her mother and wishing her dead.

Back from their honeymoon, they move into the house without phone, lights, or furniture. They encounter three locals - Reverend Snow (Russ Conway), his wife, and Mickey (director Alex Nicol), a shabby, semi-verbal groundskeeper who can barely make eye contact, and who, it is said, was extremely close to Eric's dead wife, Marion, having grown up with her.

Padre Snow and wife welcome them with fresh eggs and help them hang drapes inside the residence. Snow, who punches up every other line by beginning it with "why" or "well", divulges to Jenni the story of Marion's mysterious demise. "She slipped on a leaf in the rain and hit her head on a wall and the base of her skull was bashed in and she fell in a pool and drowned", he says.

The Screaming Skull

While Eric's away, Jenni tries to befriend Mickey. Meanwhile, Mickey talks to the painting of Marion in the lobby of the house. "Send them away!", he begs her/it.

While alone - the vast, vast, vast majority of the film - Jenni hears strange sounds - knocking, distant shrieking, doors banging - and contorts her face into grimaces. (She also heard sounds before she went into the sanituarium, so she's afraid she may be getting sick again). A cabinet door opens by itself; she discovers a lily pad from the pond where Marion drowned on the floor of the house; the audience sees the image of a skull floating before the portrait of Marion. Does Jenni see it? Is she imagining it or is it really there? It's not so clear. Eric ascribes the presence of the aquatic vegetation to Mickey, who, Eric placidly says, probably enters their house unannounced at night. He promises to "speak to him". Mickey and Jenni carry flowers to Marion's shrine on the estate grounds. Mickey tells Jenni that Marion "cries at night".

One evening, Jenni hears vigorous knocking at the front door. Upon opening, there is a skull resting on the doorstep, and it appears to roll of its own accord into the house. Mickey observes from outside. Did he do it, or is the skull self-powered? Eric pretends to confront Mickey as though he suspects the latter is responsible.

As part of Eric's unconventional approach to promote mental health, he urges Jenni to ritually burn the portrait of Marion because it reminds Jenni of her mother. They do so, but the painting shrieks in the process. (The audience hears the shriek but not the actors). Jenni and Eric start to bury the ashes, but that unearths yet another skull. Jenni swoons while Eric pretends to see nothing. He abandons Jenni, supine on the lawn, and takes the skull, hiding it in the garden pond, secretly observed by Mickey.

Jenni, rattled, prepares to return to the rest home.
Reverend Snow becomes suspicious after hearing of the ashes and skull ceremony. He informs Jenni he is sending men to search the estate for the skull and she relays the information to Eric. He races to retrieve it from the pond, but it's gone. He violently confronts Mickey who tells him "Marion" took the skull.

Jenni prepares to return to the sanitarium. She takes a final walk to bid farewell to Mickey and espies a figure in the distance - someone in a wedding dress and veiled hat. It must be the dead Marion! Jenni screams and flees with "Marion" in hot pursuit, shrieking. Meanwhile, Eric readies a noose to kill Jenny and make it look like suicide. Jenny races into the house and Eric proceeds to throttle her into oblivion.

Suddenly, there is a loud knock at the door. An intruder has arrived. Who... or what... could it be?

Will Eric get away with murder yet again, or will his treachery be revealed? Will Marion have her vengeance? Will Mickey "Exit - stage left"?


  • Released as the top half of a double feature with Terror from the Year 5000 (1958).[1]
  • Director Alex Nicol must have had high hopes for this movie as it opens with a disclaimer offering free funerals to anyone who died of fright from watching this movie. If this gimmick sounds familiar, shockmeister William Castle offered the exact same gimmick for his movie, The Tingler in 1959. Unlike Castle, Nicol did not actually contact an insurance company.
  • The movie was filmed on the Hollywood estate of director Huntington Hartford in Griffith Park within six weeks. Each of the actors were only paid $1,000 for their performances.
  • Director Alex Nicol got Peggy Webber interested in starring in the movie by telling her it was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. During filming, when she revealed she was pregnant with a son, the ending which originally had her falling down the stairs to her death had to be re-written.
  • If the "oompa music" in the beginning sounds familiar, it's because a far more sinister version of the original piece -- the "Dies Irae" section of Berlioz' "Symphony Fantastique" -- was used in the opening of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

The Episode

Host Segments


Prologue: Tom reveals that he has become a beautiful butterfly.

Segment One: Although he doesn't look like it anymore, Tom is still a beautiful butterfly. Meanwhile, Pearl, Brain Guy, and Bobo pull a not-so-fast one on the crew, wasting lots of time and money in the progress.

Segment Two: Crow and Tom create their own little cartoon based on the Gumby short, only to breakdown from the pain caused by it.

Segment Three: The Bots try to scam their way into getting a free coffin.

Crow as a screaming skull

Segment Four: Crow disguises himself as a screaming skull to scare Mike. It works a little too well.

Closing (Segment Five): Tom's coffin arrives and he reveals that in order to pay for shipping, he has maxed-out Mike's credit card. Later, Bobo tries to pull the same trick on Mike and the Bots from before, resulting in him getting shrunk by Brain Guy.

Stinger: Eric flings a stool at the skeleton.


Obscure References

Robot Rumpus

  • "Hey don't! That's Wallace and Gromit's lawn!"

Wallace and Gromit are the main characters in a series of claymation films (shorts and a feature) by Nick Park that features the adventures of a bumbling inventor and his dog.

  • Habitat AGAINST Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit Christian organization that builds houses for families in need around the world.

  • Sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older...

These are the first two lines of the chorus of the song Sixteen Tons which is about the drudgery and poverty of coal mining. It was originally recorded in 1956, and later popularized by Tennesee Ernie Ford.

  • Hey, you use one of those older Philips analog chips in your robot, you're going to get this.

This refers to an attempt by Philips in 1992 to create the Digital Compact Cassette, a cassette recorder/player that was compatible with analog cassettes and that could compete with MiniDiscs and DATs. It never caught on, and was discontinued in 1996.

  • So he just goes to work starkers?

"Starkers" is British lingo used to describe someone going "completely naked."

  • I'm going to set you on Don Knotts strength!

Don Knotts (1924-2006) was an American comedic actor. His most famous roles--deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, and landlord Ralph Furley on Three's Company--played up his thinness and lack of physical prowess for humorous effect.

  • I wonder why 'The Gumbys' never had any other children.

Actually, they did. Later in the series, Gumby had a sister named Minga

  • "Davey and Goliath are moving in next door. There goes the neighbourhood."

Davey and Goliath was a Christian television show by Art Clokey (also the creator of Gumby) that featured the adventures of a claymation boy and his talking dog who gave moral advice.

  • "Now I'm ready for years of powerful Adlerian therapy, Mike!"

A reference to types of psychotherapy based on the theories of Alfred Adler.

  • This is worse than Seven!

Seven (also called Se7en) was a 1995 thriller about two detectives' pursuit of a serial killer, who is killing people in ways that make them embody the deadly sins the killer feels they are guilty of. The deaths of the victims are graphically depicted and extremely gruesome.

  • Gotta move this body back upstate.

A reference to a scene in the movie Goodfellas, in which a group of mobsters must move the body of someone they murdered several months previous when they learn the area where they buried the body is about to be developed.

  • Thank you and good night.

Thank You and Good Night (1991) was a documentary on the elderly, aging and death.

  • Looks like a dead person won the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is an annual American race for three-year-old thoroughbred horses that, since 1875, has been held on the first Saturday of May. It is also called the "Run for the Roses," because the winning horse is draped in a blanket of red roses.

  • Al Lewis's one-man show!

Al Lewis (1923-2006) was best known for playing the vampire Grandpa in the sitcom The Munsters.

  • Brekekekex, ko-ax, ko-ax.

The frog chorus from Aristophanes' comedy, The Frogs, which was first performed in 405 B.C. Yale University uses the frog chorus as a cheer.

  • My Sharona...

My Sharona was the debut single by the Knack in 1979, and re-entered the charts in 1994. It's noted for having a hard, fast bassline.

  • Mazo-ola corn goo-oodness....

Refers to an ad shown from the late '70s to the early '80s. The three above words were chanted by Native American men in an attempt to connect Mazola corn oil with Native Americans, the natural world and quality. The 1982 version of the ad may be seen here, from 1:37 to 2:01.

This, coincidentally, is probably the oldest joke the gang ever used, going back all the way to the second episode of the series, The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy by the original Tom Servo. It is thus the only joke to be heard by every actor on the show (Joel, Mike, and both voice actors for Crow and Tom Servo).

  • I knew an Alex Kristy McNichol once. Thank you very much. Good night.

Kristy McNichol was an American actress who was best known for her roles as a teen and as a young woman in such TV shows as Family (1976-1980) and in such movies as Little Darlings (1980), Only When I Laugh (1981) and The Pirate Movie(1982). McNichol's last onscreen role was as Barbara Weston in the sitcom Empty Nest, which she left in 1992 after being diagnosed as bipolar. She returned in the series finale in 1995, which, to date, was her final appearance onscreen, though she has done some voice acting since.

  • Help us! NBC is after us! Hide us!

The pretended speakers are the peacocks in this scene--and NBC's logo is a peacock.

  • "Poor Mickey." He's so fine, he blows my mind, poor Mickey.

A re-phrasing of Toni Basil's song "Mickey". The lyrics are actually Oh Mickey, you're so fine/You're so fine you blow my mind/Hey Mickey, hey Mickey. Full lyrics are here. Toni Basil also played Red in Village of the Giants.

  • Are they skeet shooting in the lido deck?.

Skeet shooting is one of three sporting practices that involves shooting "clay pigeons" with a shotgun. Skeet shooting is often offered as a recreational activity on high-end cruise ships (as it removes the necessity to clean up the debris from shot pigeons).

  • "Hey! Do me a favor! Open the door! Let him in!"

Referencing lyrics from the Paul McCartney & Wings song 'Let Em In'.

  • "Fruma Sarah!"

This refers to "The Dream" from Fiddler On The Roof. In this notable sequence, the "ghost" of Fruma Sarah is part of a story that Tevye weaves to explain a change in an arranged marriage.

  • "...and Ida Know"

Not Me and Ida Know are two recurring characters in the newspaper comic Family Circus. Appearing as ghosts, they are allegories for the kid's excuses.

  • "He's doing Juan Epstein."

A reference to the 70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, which featured a character who would occasionally respond to a question with a series of "what?-where?-when?-who?" responses.  (The character who did this, however, wasn't Juan Epstein, it was Vinnie Barbarino.)

  • "I should have married that nice Mr. Von Bulow."

Claus Von Bülow was accused of attempting to murder his wife, Sunny, by intentionally injecting her with an overdose of insulin, leaving her in a vegetative state.  His conviction of those charges, and the later overturning of the verdict on appeal, became the basis of the book and movie Reversal of Fortune.  

Memorable Quotes

Robot Rumpus (A Gumby Adventure) (short)

Crow [as Gumby]: One of my classmates died in the kiln today, mother.
Tom Servo: The nice thing about Gumby is that you can also use him as window caulk.
[One of the robots doing Gumby's yardwork drives its lawnmower through the fence into the next yard.]
Crow: Hey, don't! That's Wallace and Gromit's yard!
[Another robot chops down a tree.]
Mike: Hey! That's old-growth clay!
. . .
[Another robot is ripping slats from the garage.]
Crow: Habitat Against Humanity.
[Gumby's dad Gumbo arrives at the house, where we see a cloud — actually, a piece of white fluff — stuck on the construction-paper sky.]
Crow [as Weatherman]: It's a fair to partly-cottony day…
Gumby's Mother: Such clever boys certainly deserve crackers with their milk!
Servo: Crackers? Wow! Maybe they can have white rice later!
[A robot is digging up the flower garden.]
Crow [as mobster]: Gotta move this body back upstate.
[A robot throws a wrench at Gumbo, which goes through him and leaves a wrench-shaped hole in his torso.]
Servo: Liquid metal!
[The camera cuts to Gumby's reaction.]
Mike [as Gumby]: Hey, you can throw things through Dad! I'm gonna get an anvil!
[Gumbo flies through the air and lands, legs spread, on the roof of the neighboring house.]
Mike [as Gumbo]: Thank goodness for the internal genitalia!
[Gumby's stacked mother gives a stern look at a robot who's invaded the house.]
Crow [as Gumby's Mother]: That squares my breasts!
[Gumbo slides down the fire truck ladder from the roof in a sitting position.]
Mike [as Gumbo]: Son, I'm gunna need a can of Play-Doh to replace my butt.
[A robot head hangs over a garage door with the words, "THE END".]
Servo: Aah! They hung his head! Oh…
Crow: Now I'm ready for years of powerful Adlerian therapy, Mike.
Servo: They hung his head... oh... oh this is worse than Se7en!
Mike: Hey! His bump is on the other side!

The Screaming Skull (movie)

Narrator: "The Screaming Skull" is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror.
Mike: But we cut that.
Narrator: Its impact is so terrifying it may have an unforeseen effect: it may kill you.
Servo: If you watch it in front of a moving bus.
Eric: Jenni, this is Mickey.
Mike [as Eric]: Mickey's a wide-awake nightmare!
[Jenni goes to Marian's room, grabs a skull she found in the chifforobe, and flings it out the window.]
Servo: Alas, poor Yorick! She threw him well!
[Jenni pours her heart out to Reverend Snow, who looks grim.]
Mike [as Rev. Snow]: Have you tried talking to your minister about this?
[The face on Marian's tombstone briefly appears to morph into a skull as Eric looks at it.]
Servo [as Eric]: Don't you make that skull face at me, missy!
[Over a long shot of Jenni sitting on her bed, not moving...]
Crow: [impatient] Can we help you, movie lady? Do you need a push or something?
[In the greenhouse, Mickey struggles with an armful of flowerpots, dropping them as he tries to pick more up.]
Crow: GET A BOX!
[As Jenni runs from Marian's ghost, the soundtrack has a soprano singing an erratic sequence of creepy notes.]
Servo: Kiri Te Kanawa is drunk again!
[Jenni, back in the house, is shrieking uncontrollably.]
Crow: Oh, great! She's playing her Yoko Ono albums.
Mike: I think the title was supposed to be "Screaming, semicolon, Skull".
[There is a long scene of continuous knocking at the door]
Mike: Martin Luther is nailing each thesis individually.
[Eric flees to the stairs, where a skull tumbles down toward him.]
Crow: Everyone knows it's Slink-skull!
Crow: So, this movie's kind of a combination of "The Tell-Tale Heart", Blithe Spirit, and...well, a piece of lint, I guess.
[The skull is throw out the window and hits the ground rolling, landing right side up.]
Crow: Settled in a divot.
[The skull twitches.]
Servo: Woof!

Video Release

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