Our local Hollywood Video is closing, and at the going-out-of-business sale yesterday I picked up three episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), and two episodes of The Film Crew; each of the pre-viewed DVDs was $3.99.
I think most of my regular readers are familiar with MST3K, but in case you aren’t, the quick explanation is that it was a comedy series which started on local Minneapolis TV before running for seven seasons on Comedy Central (beginning when it was The Comedy Channel) and then three seasons on SciFi (now SyFy). The meat and potatoes of the show is that each episode is built around a really, really bad movie. Three characters (a human being and two robots) are silhouetted against the bottom corner of the movie and make a constant stream of wisecracks about it, ranging from pop culture references to complaints about plot holes, slow pacing and what have you.
Since MST3K went off the air, two different groups of alumni have done MST3K-like projects. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot, during last three years at SciFi), have stayed in Minneapolis. They produced a few MST3K-like episodes as “The Film Crew” for the DVD label Shout! Factory. Now, they have a similar project called RiffTrax, which allows you to download their snarky commentary online and synch it up at home while watching the movie on a DVD which you have rented or purchased on your own. The genius of RiffTrax is that they no longer have to acquire the rights to the bad movies, which was always a problem for MST3K. They can make fun of recent, big-budget movies as well as older ones. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t actually watched a RiffTrax movie, however.
My North Carolina brother and sister-in-law are also fans and actually went to see a live simulcast of RiffTrax for their anniversary last year.
The other MST3K alumni project is the L.A.-based “Cinematic Titanic,” with MST3K’s creator and original host, Joel Hodgson, along with Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Clayton Forrester, and the voice of Crow during the Comedy Central years), “TV’s Frank” Conniff, Josh Elvis Weinstein (Dr. Larry Erhardt and the original voice of Tom Servo, before Murphy) and Mary Jo Pehl (Mrs. Forrester). They release direct-to-DVD movies given the MST3K treatment; all five of them are silhouetted against the screen in a multi-tiered arrangement meant to suggest the ballroom of the Titanic.
Neither group uses MST3K’s puppets or other characters. Technically, of course, Mike Nelson is using his MST3K character name, but that’s because it’s also his real name. (Joel Hodgson used the character name Joel Robinson when he was on MST3K.)
The two Film Crew episodes I purchased, neither of which I’d seen before, will therefore be the first new pseudo-MST3K I’ve seen in years. I watched one of them, based on the movie “Killers From Space” with Peter Graves, last night and tonight. My brother tells me that the other, “Hollywood After Dark,” is kind of depressing. (I assume he means that the source movie is kind of depressing; hopefully, the Film Crew treatment will leaven that, or what would be the point?)