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.
Wired has an article on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but the important part comes at the very end, when Joel Hodgson reveals plans for a new version of MST3K that will be online and feature a new host, but plenty of old school cameos. As this is just after Cinematic Titanic finished its touring for good at the end of 2013, it goes to show that things are always looking up.
But this year Mystery Science Theater may finally get a long-rumored, heavily anticipated reboot. This spring Hodgson is hoping to start a new online incarnation of the show, one that will feature a fresh (and as-yet-unannounced) host and cameos from many MST3K alumni.
Hodgson: I’ve talked to a bunch of fans about their lives and what MST3K means to them. I’m overwhelmed by how people took to that show. It really affected them. I thought, if enough people still love it, maybe we can bring it back.
Even avid viewers sometimes don’t realize that every major role in the show had been swapped out over time. So in my mind, the show is built to be refreshed with new people and new ideas. It’s like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as it applies to MST3K: If it doesn’t change, it’s not the same show. And fortunately for us, as long as there are movies, there are always going to be cheesy movies.
All I can say is: I’ll be there! I regularly go see each RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic live event, and a new version of MST3K will only be more gravy for my gravy train. Sure, there may be a new ignition of the Joel/Mike wars, but it will be like when Deep Space Nine uprooted the old Kirk/Picard battles and soon things became complicated.
Joel Hodgson seems to be embracing his role as MST3K creator a lot more readily in recent years, even hosting an online-only Turkey Day Marathon in 2013. His Twitter feed has been active, including a few cool designs of rejected and unused bots. The main question is if Crow and Tom Servo will return, or will there be a new generation of robots to battle bad cinema along with the new host? Perhaps one day soon we will get the answers to these and other questions, until then, we can only dream. And watch the hundreds of episodes of MST3K, RiffTrax, and Cinematic Titanic.
Like every good Mistie with cash to spare, I went to the Cinematic Titanic farewell tour, as the group gives their last hurrah due to their individual careers being busy enough to not allow the proper time for their show. The leg hit San Francisco in the historic Castro Theater, featuring a double header of The Doll Squad and The Astral Factor. Unfortunately, J. Elvis Weinstein was sick, so Cinematic Titanic featured host Dave “Gruber” Allen filled in for his spots. And also did a very spot on Josh impression for most of his lines.
I attended the show along with Sheldrake from Pre-Code.com and Hellburger (his writing can be found on Can’t Stop the Movies) and his wife (the latter two were also at the Monster Squad screening earlier in the day.) We had a grand time hanging in the Castro between shows, as San Francisco was having an uncharacteristically nice day (which soon turned to a windy fest as we waited in line!) Despite a small ticket snafu that seemed to affect everyone who ordered online, soon we were seated with killer seats.
Before the show there was the usual Castro organ playing, a signature event before every Castro screening. As we readied for The Doll Squad, the crew did their warmup acts. Gruber did a dance interpretation to a pop song. Frank did a monologue of jokes about where he was in life (he’s currently writing/performing for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on FXX) Trace and Mary Jo performed an old Dutch play while Gruber did “riffs” badly – which was the humor. Then the show was to begin and Joel the introductions.
If you have not seen The Doll Squad, know that it skews towards the better of Ted V. Mikels’ work. Which is to say that it is ridiculously awful. Someone is sabotaging rocket launches as blackmail against a Senator, so a gigantic 1970s computer spits out that “The Doll Squad” is the perfect group to find out what is going on. Some of the initial girls that their leader Sabrina (Francine York) recruits end up dead – graphically, as Mikels gained fame for gorey films. Eventually Sabrina recruits women faster than they can get killed off, and the team sets out to solve the mystery of who is blackmailing and why. This involves a lot of running around, sneaking around, and bumbling around. Things end up in a protracted gun battle for the finale that takes place in almost complete darkness. It’s not surprising at all to learn the entire sequence was filmed over one night. There is a lot of repetitive machine gun firing as scores of guards are mowed down. Sabrina manages to change her outfit in every scene, every single one is a crime against fashion, even for crazy 1970s fashion. Noted Star Trek villain Michael Ansara plays the heavy, a rogue CIA agent bent on unleashing a mutant strain of the bubonic plague upon the world because he’ll get rich or something.
Favorite riffs include swipes at almost every ridiculous outfit Sabrina shows up in, as well as Joel yelling “SLEEP!” every time the disco-ball scene transition device is used – and it is used a lot. The Doll Squad is an amazing bit of cheese, but those not familiar with that type of film quality run the danger of becoming bored or sleepy. But with an energetic Cinematic Titanic crew firing off jokes, things turned into a laugh riot. The only real complaint I have is the sound levels weren’t balanced well in the beginning, making it hard to hear the riffers over the sound of the movie. That seemed to be corrected as the film continued.
The second feature was the 1970s astral projection police mystery The Astral Factor, which is as exciting as that description indicates. If anything, The Astral Factor is a far inferior film to The Doll Squad, but those qualities also make it ripe for riffing, and it provided a huge target. I would rate The Astral Factor show as better, because the film is asking for it.
Before the show we got the preshow entertainment of a short film by Trace, which was a song and dance number where Frank is rebuilt into a Frankenstein monster. It featured cameos from the entire cast and even Bill Corbett (who is even selling brains in his first scene – making him a literal brain guy!) and was a fun little video. I have no idea if it is available anywhere. Gruber did another dance number (to Britney Spears’ Lucky), and Frank did some reviews of summer movie blockbusters – which he explained he had to think they all sucked because his job depends on everything sucking! Joel came out for introductions, at which point his mike was not working, so he did a mini Q&A while things got fixed. People kept asking obscure questions about specific MST3K jokes that Joel had no idea of the answer to, explaining how the fans watched the show way more than the performers because to them it was work, and you don’t relax from work by watching videos of work. It’s an explanation that is honest, but he also showed that he still has watched episodes recently as he picked episodes from both his and Mike’s tenure for favorites (episodes he picked for a recent screening.)
Things got working again and away we went. The Astral Factor is pure 1970s boring pacing, complete with new age stuff like mind powers. A criminal has supernatural powers, allowing him to become invisible and has telekinesis. He escapes, and goes on a killing spree against the women that helped convict him after he killed his mother and other women.
We follow Lt. Charles Barrett as he tries to solve the case, deal with his girlfriend Candy (who never seems to be wearing pants!) and his annoying partner Holt, who is constantly clicking a pen. Constantly. The entire movie. One scene, Barrett grabs his pen and replaces it with a pencil, and the crowd goes crazy. Elke Sommer is also present as a bitter drunken woman and one of the killer’s targets. Things plod along until the killer is electrocuted, which somehow causes him to be sucked away to another dimension. Which basically means no evidence to explain to anyone just what the crap was going on.
Favorite riffs include the captain who looks like Blackenstein – causing monster growls whenever he appeared onscreen. There was an amazing piece as the hero slowly drove on the freeway to one of the women in danger, as well as a boat chase where the hero just falls off of the boat while trying to disembark. The Astral Factor is one of those films that looks like it belongs on television, probably filmed on tape to save money.
Both films probably will never make it to dvd in Cinematic Titanic form, so unless someone gets a bright idea (like recording a commentary that can be downloaded from a website!) this might be the only time I’ll get to see these films riffed by Cinematic Titanic. So it was a special and bittersweet show.
After the show there was a free signing by the cast, but as it was around 1 am and everyone was tired, it wasn’t the most energetic atmosphere. Still, everyone was friendly and sincerely grateful at the support shown. I got more signatures for my Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and got to shake everyone’s hand. So all in all, a great night. So a final salute to Cinematic Titanic, long may she live on DVD and streaming video.
And occasional reunion shows, please????
Holy Torgo! It’s real! It’s called Project Popcorn.
Seriously, he looks dreadful now! And his former model wife also looks just awful. They look like they stretched like 1 square inch of skin to cover their entire bodies. You might remember that producer Sandy Frank was the American distributor of a lot of the MST3K films that were from Japan, including the Gamera films, Time of the Apes, the forklift one, and that one with some guy named Atari in it. But, because they were mean to poor Mr. Frank, Sandy Frank won’t release the rights of the American prints so the episodes can be released. So we just download them and watch them for free instead. Suck on that, Mr. Frank. Uh…I totally never did that, officer!
In any event, the 81 year old Sandy Frank was cheating on his 57 year old current wife Brenda Frank (that’s an image I did not want to picture) and the resulting fight meant the Franks were tossing drinking glasses at each other. It looks like Brenda Frank caught one upon her forehead. Domestic violence is never the answer, folks! In any event, it is now divorce city for the Franks, maybe that will be what is needed for Mr. Frank to finally give in and let us have the MST3K episodes we so desperately want. Here’s hoping the prenup gets tossed!