RiffTrax is ten years old, and to celebrate they put together their latest RiffTrax Live event packed to the gills with most of the cast of MST3K, leading to an amazing entry of RiffTrax Live. Not only do we get Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, but they are joined by Mary Jo Pehl, Bridget Jones Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, and newcomer Jonah Ray, making this the largest collection of MST3K alums performing at the same time ever! Some of it even helped erase the bad taste that was left in the mouths after the MST3K revival Kickstarter that came as news for practically everyone in the original cast except Joel, but mostly it was just a hilarious time that was one of the best RiffTrax Live events ever!
From the start there were MST3K songs during the preshow slides (usually it’s a mix of funny songs from various artists), and the large volume of slides referenced a lot of RiffTrax episodes over the years including things like Setting Up A Room, Manos, and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. There were even references to a some of the RiffTrax VODs I haven’t even had time to watch, which shows not only how behind I am on RiffTrax watching but also how familiar I am with bad cinema that I recognized what they were from. That’s a weird thing to be happening, but it is.
To start, each group of riffers got their own short, followed by the megariffing session where everyone came out. Mike, Keven, and Bill started things off with a ridiculous mess of a car safety short – A Talking Car, about a careless child brought before a tribunal of talking cars, one of which seems to want to feel that kids blood ground beneath its tires. Luckily for the kid, the two cooler-headed cars prevailed and we aren’t witnesses to child murder. Not that I would have been sad had this annoying child been destroyed. The kid is accompanied in the dream car tribunal by his loyal dog (it is unclear if the dog is also dreaming this), and the dog will growl and bare its teeth practically every time the old cranky car that wants the kid dead talks. Later the trio also tackled Shake Hands With Danger, a ridiculously gorey safety short that I saw them do live years ago and it was just as hilarious this time out.
Bridget Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl paired up for a short about the kitchen of the future in a modern home, and how you women can conspire to teach your husband to buy you a new kitchen. Which in this case meant buy a new house with a new kitchen inside it! It featured Darren McGavin (best known to modern eyes as the dad from A Christmas Story) as the husband, and of course there were plenty of references to that as well as other good lines. Mary Jo and Bridget have become a regular team at RiffTrax with their own series of shorts that focus more on the types of films they’d make the girls watch in home ec back in the 1950s.
Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu were up with More Dates for Kay, which I think is supposed to be a followup to the MST3Ked short What To Do On a Date. A hapless young lady who mopes around at home complaining that she doesn’t have a boyfriend gets a talking too from her older (married!) sister, who talks about her friend Kay (why this married, older woman is friends with a high schooler is not addressed!) The advice switches from basically go out and have fun and meet people and be friendly to the bizarre like do favors and pretend to be interested in every random boy that comes along in the off chance one asks you out. Also, the sister is totally not approving of Kay’s calling of boys. Frank and Trace straddle the border of working dirty with some of their lines (the short makes it soooooooooooo easy to turn everything sexual it’s crazy!) and Mike, Kevin, and Bill even joke about how Frank is dying to go blue but can’t. Probably the best riff of the night.
Jonah Ray and Joel Hodgson come out for Americans At Work: Barbers, an AFL-CIO joint about how barbers and hairdressers are totally valuable workers, and also women take forever to look good. There was a hilarious running gag with a hairdresser who looked like Frankenstein that just got funnier and funnier. Jonah did well and showed he’ll do a good job as the new MST3K host, despite a line flub that got its own riff by Joel.
Then it was time, the Riff-a-palooza! Everyone came out for a special short with the 1950s Superman selling saving stamps to young children! Shockingly, though we finally got Joel and Mike riffing at the same time (and everyone else!), this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, because the short itself was pretty darn tepid. Far too talky and not enough cheesy. Luckily, they seemed to pick up on this while putting the show together because we got a second short that was also riffed by everyone, and it was a recurring favorite: At Your Fingertips: Grass! That short is so awesome it alone is worth the price of admission, even with a lot of repeated lines. And now we can finally find out if corn is grass or not!
Before I got I want to also mention there was a ten years of RiffTrax highlight video that was great and hopefully shows up online somewhere (and also reminded me there are a few of the mp3 riffs I haven’t watched yet, either!) Overall, this show ruled, the non-Superman shorts were largely amazing, and it was great seeing the old gang back together, even in a new together form. Hopefully this leads to more collaboration between the groups with more RiffTrax and more guest spots on the new MST3K. If you are someone how is more cautious with what you spend your money on but are a nominal fan of MST3K, it is well worth your dollars to go either see the rebroadcast or get the VOD when it is released.
Disclosure: I donated to the Kickstarter for this RiffTrax.
Santa battles Satan in the spaces between a hailstorm of Riffs! Yes, that fantacular Mexican Santa Claus movie, Santa Claus, once again faces getting constantly mocked at the holidays. With good reason, because it is insanity. INSANITY! I also like it, because it’s so crazy. Santa Claus has all the holiday tropes: Santa having special powers, shirtless keymakers, racist depictions of confused children, wizards, and devils going all Home Alone. They even have a nice clean widescreen print, the original René Cardona Mexican version with the K. Gordon Murray dubbing.
The strange mythology of Santa Claus deserves deeper exploration. Santa lives in purgatory with a collection of children from across the globe. The children are dressed in “cultural” attire of their homelands, which leads to the kids from Africa wearing leopard print undies and bones in their hair. For some reason all the white kids have their faces painted a ghoulish light grey. The children live in a giant room where they are forced to sing for Santa at his whim, in between slaving away producing presents for the children of the world. Some of the kids have the freedom to be Santa’s personal assistants, meaning they follow him around and help him battle Satan’s demons, who spend their time on Earth convincing children to reject Santa Claus and be evil. This strange twist on Christianity is further stranged by the presence of nativity scenes, meaning that Jesus does exist in this universe, but seems to play no role in the affairs of Earth. Only Santa cares about the corruption of youth, but as he can only come to Earth once per year, he is forces to sit back and complain and spy on children with his giant freakish telescope (complete with giant eye) and a radar dish with a huge human ear in it. A machine with creepy giant lips announces what is happening on Earth.
Santa not only lives with the enslaved children, but with Merlin the wizard (who is getting up their in years) and with a shirtless blacksmith who makes him magic keys each year (in between building thousand of doors!) Santa has only four white robotic reindeer, the creepy animatronics used will fuel your nightmares for decades. And yet when Santa does get to Earth, almost all his time is spent having a prank duel with a demon named Pitch, before a barking (yet friendly-looking) dog traps Santa in a tree for a few minutes. The main moral dilemma of the film is if good girl Lupita will ever get a doll for Christmas, or if she’ll go bad and steal a doll. Spoiler alert in that she does get a doll.
As you can imagine, this means Santa Claus is a target rich environment as far as Riffing is concerned. Already a MST3K episode, we got new jokes from Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. Corbett himself came dressed up as a “North Pole Guy” (what the website he ordered the costume from called the elf costume) and the audience immediately sided with him on the curly shoe debate. Spoiler alert, curly shoes rule, and straight-shoer Mike Nelson received a chorus of boos.
Before the Christmas cheer, we got a new short, another of the At Your Fingertips series, the most ponderous children’s shorts ever made. This time, At Your Fingertips: Sugar and Spice taught everyone how to mold sugar into bizarre shapes that it later suggested eating, giving a glimpse to an alternate world where childhood diabetes isn’t a major epidemic. And let’s not even talk about how hyper those kids will be after all that sugar, they’ll be running on the ceiling for weeks!
Overall, the show was hilarious, the riffs were on point, Craig blessed the world and Santa celebrated his birth by giving away a doll and having some rich kid get to see his absentee parents. Might have been nice to give Lupita’s dad a job, but what are you gonna do? Santa has always given rich kids more stuff, because Santa is a lousy fink. That’s right, Santa, you suck! On the other hand, RiffTrax rules!
It’s the time of the year when SFSketchfest puts on a bazillion awesome shows that would break my budget for life if I went to all of them. So instead I just go to the ones I can afford, and it seems every year the main one is the latest RiffTrax live riffing. This year is no different, as RiffTrax Presents Night of the Shorts IV: Riffizens on Patrol became the show to go see live.
As usual for a Night of the Shorts spot, we got a collection of “educational” films, of which the educational value is suspect at best, and non-existent for most. Several of the shorts are available for purchase off the RiffTrax site, though at least two are not available in any form yet. Seeing the live riffs adds an extra sense of enjoyment, as you are in a crowded theater full of energy (the wonderful Castro Theater) and the energy feeds the performers, who give it their all. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett were joined by several guest riffers, though they did brave two of the shorts on their lonesome. So let’s dig in…
Welcome Home Norman – People will remember this short from the Manos RiffTrax Live (which was also replaying in theaters nationwide that day!), as Norman is a guy who can’t understand parking, parking lots, or putting suitcases in the trunk. What he can understand is giving a sigh that emotes the complete destroying of all happiness in the world.
Perc! Pop! Sprinkle! (w/ Guest Riffers Cole Stratton and Janet Varney) – A confusing short about teaching children body movement or something, by having them imitate random household appliances. And various different kinds of lawn sprinklers. The scenes of the children “moving” have a weird interpretive dance feel, and it’s obvious that most of this film’s budget when to whatever drugs the director was on.
Choking: To Save a Life (w/ Guest Riffer Kevin McDonald) – A very overly-explaining film about choking, complete with long demonstrations of man on man Heimlich and back-slapping. And then man on boy. Very, very long. Almost as if there was a different, hidden message for this short. Highlight was the Orson Welles character who stopped eating due to the narrator continually talking about how dangerous choking is.
More Dangerous Than Dynamite (w/ Guest Riffer Adam Savage) – When I first saw this short at the Reefer Madness Live Show, I couldn’t believe that people once used gasoline to clean clothes at home. But it happened enough the dry cleaning industry teamed up with the government of California to make propaganda films to scare people into knocking it off. It’s even more surreal seeing it again on the big screen, with Mythbusters and explosives expert Adam Savage also incredibly confused that gas was used in such a way.
Cooking Terms – Women, don’t know nothing about words, even words from fancy books like recipe books. Cooking Terms will teach those women the important words like “boil” and “brown” so they can get back to what they do best, making cake for lunch.
A clown makeup short that I can’t remember the name of (w/ Guest Riffer Kristen Schaal) – Who wants to watch a short where a talking mirror convinces a sad mime and some ICP acolytes that being a clown isn’t what’s down in modern America? Well, too bad, because that’s what this is! If you enjoy children in freaking clown makeup acting like hooligans, then you will love whatever the name of this short was. As it doesn’t seem to be for sale, perhaps we are all saved from the clown invasion.
At Your Fingertips: Cylinders (w/ Guest Riffer Paul F. Tompkins) – At Your Fingertips is the greatest series of films that were ever made, so it’s fitting that we watch as children construct garbage from old oatmeal canisters and toilet paper tubes. Worth watching for the ridiculous zebra and the robot torture.
Another fun year with some fun shorts, in a packed house. Mike’s return after a two year absence was also welcome. I am looking forward to next year already.
And now my report on seeing RiffTrax Live
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, now known as the Film Crew, were set for two appearances in the SF Sketchfest, performing riffing live of an actual movie. I eagerly bought my ticket and prepared for a two hour drive up to San Rafael to catch the first performance on january 16th. The movie was TBA, and could be anything, from the black and white B-movies the Film Crew are preparing to release with commentary on DVD, to the movies trashed by Mike and the gang at rifftrax.com, to an entirely new movie. Arriving in time to get a good seat (and catch a glimpse of the trio before the show started, I was all set for hilarity.
And Hilarity came! After a brief skit in the beginning (where Kevin and Bill pretended to not know they were watching a film and had prepared other performances) the movie was revealed: Daredevil!!! Ben Affleck’s disasterpiece about the blind superhero. Unfortunately, the first attempt at starting the DVD resulted in it beginning in the middle of the film, but the boys recovered as the DVD guy restarted. Much hilarity ensued as Affleck became a favorite target of the riffers’ jokes. The movie, if you have seen it (and I unfortunately had) is a complete mess; with editing problems, terrible dialog, worse overacting, and total disregard for the laws of physics. Some of the best lines involved mentioning “little Ben” and speaking in a deep voice whenever the Kingpin was on screen. Also, there was a mention of Bettendorf, Iowa, and as a former Quad Citian (Rock Island) I enjoyed it very much. The best part was during a fight near some laundry lines outside, and Mike started doing a whole commercial in an announcer voice for Daredevil Brand Laundry Detergent, that kept going and going, putting the audience and the other two riffers in stitches.
After the show, there was a question and answer portion, which was informative. The audience was surprisingly more normal than one would expect for an event like this, with only two notable exceptions. They revealed that the DVD the fans have voted for the most at filmcrewonline.com was Hollywood After Dark, with Rue McClanahan stripping. Also, Kevin said one of the upcoming Rifftrax films almost killed him with how bad it was, and I can’t wait. The group said Battlefield Earth was overexposed, and wouldn’t get riffed on anytime soon, something I agree with, as it is hit as a target far too often to make it interesting at the moment. In addition, they will not be riffing Blood Hook, despite an annoying fan not being quiet about it (MST3Kers Kevin Murphy and Jim Mallon worked on it.)
After the show, the group signed autographs, so I got to meet the trio, albeit briefly, and got all their autographs (Mike and Kevin in the MST3K book, and Bill on the Volume 7 DVD set) which I will treasure always. In all, the experience was very enjoyable, and well worth the $25 ticket price, plus gas and driving time. A stop off in San Francisco to see my girlfriend was also an added bonus. The group performed again the next day in San Francisco proper, and as Mike has expressed that he is working on a tour of Rifftrax, they may soon be coming to an area near you, maybe with another movie or Daredevil itself.
Pictures will be added if I can get the cable for my cell phone to connect to the computer.