Turner Classic Movies aired “Reefer Madness” the other day, and I’d never seen it, so I DVRed it. I went to watch it today, and I had gotten as far as the opening credits when, looking something up online, I discovered that the RiffTrax live version of it is available for free on Hulu. That sounded like much more fun than just watching the movie.
To backtrack: You may remember one of the funniest TV shows of all time, “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which aired for seven seasons on Comedy Central and then three on Sci-Fi (now SyFy). It made fun of really bad movies; three characters silhouetted in the lower-right corner of the screen would deliver a non-stop stream of jokes and commentary over the top of the movie.
MST3K, as the fans called it, was eventually cancelled, but two different groups of its alumni produce MST3K-like projects, online, for DVD and for live shows. Series creator and original host Joel Hodgson (his character name was Joel Robinson) and several MST3K creators who moved away from the show’s home base of Minneapolis have Cinematic Titanic, while second host Mike Nelson and his co-stars from the last few years of the show have RiffTrax.
Cinematic Titanic produces its mocked movies direct to DVD. RiffTrax also puts out some DVDs, but they primarily produce audio tracks of commentary which you can download from their web site and synch up with the target movie as you play it from your own DVD (or a rental, or Netflix). This means that Mike, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy don’t have to get the rights to the movies, since the movie itself isn’t part of what they’re selling. They can make fun of even recent, big-budget movies which wouldn’t have been accessible to MST3K (and which aren’t accessible to Cinematic Titanic). They even make fun of a few *good* movies, just for the heck of it.
Both groups do live shows, where a movie is screened for a theater audience while the cast members deliver their commentary live and in person. The live shows are simulcast to other theaters across the country and then turned into DVDs as well. RiffTrax actually does some of its live shows from the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, although I’ve not had the chance to go to one yet.
“Reefer Madness” was one of those RiffTrax live shows. It starts, as did some of the best episodes of MST3K, with short subjects before they get to the actual movie.
Now that I know some of the RiffTrax stuff is on free Hulu (as opposed to the paid Hulu Plus), I’ll be checking some more of it out. Meanwhile, if you want to check it out … here you go!