We’re close to the 9th anniversary of Rifftrax! For those who don’t know, Rifftrax is one of several creative continuations of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that has a premise as insane as the belief that it would last the ten years that it did. Mad scientists shoot a man into space and force him to watch bad movies. To maintain his sanity, said man riffs the movies with the help of two robot companions. The set-up and even the characters changed over the course of those ten glorious years, but this isn’t a history of the show.
This about what the show, and Rifftrax, has done for my family.
I’ll be the first to admit that I entered the fandom well into the Nelson Era when MST3K moved to Sci-Fi before the channel lost its damn mind and became Syfy. I’d heard of the show before but had never caught an episode until I sat through Revenge of the Creature with Mike and the Bots on full power. Sadly, MST3K would only have three more seasons before Sci-Fi canceled it once more.
Of course, this wasn’t the end. I tracked down tapes, videos, DVDs, and soon also found the MST3K Digital Archive Project. I eventually got to know Joel, Doctor Forrester, and the rest of the first half of the show’s cast and crew.
But Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett were my first introduction to the show, and so they have a special place in my heart. Fast-forward to 2006 and Mike Nelson started Rifftrax, an ingenious idea wherein he would provide the riffed audio track for a movie while the customer provided the DVD. It was brilliant, and soon Kevin and Bill would join Mike for what is, at least in my heart, MST3K 2.0.
It’s hard to think that I started watching this show while I was still in middle school…
And yet the show, and these three men in particular, are very dear to me for many reasons.
When I first started watching MST3K, I was just entering my love of writing and seriously beginning to train myself to be an author, to be a writer, to join the greats. I was beginning to realize that stories were something I needed to tell, that science fiction, fantasy, and horror would be my bread and butter. I would learn from the best, the masters of the genre, and be the best I could be. The Holy Trinity of Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, though, showed me that there was much to learn from the not-so-great entries into the genre. Sure, I could learn a lot from watching Kubrick’s work, from studying the classic paranoia of the 1950s invasion movies, and certainly could benefit from analyzing Dario Argento’s classic Italian horror… but I also had something to learn from the likes of Mansquito, Space Truckers, and Friday the 13th Part 8, the one where Jason dies by becoming a baby. I learned that I could laugh at these movies, not in a mean-spirited way, but as a way to learn what doesn’t work.
This led to the second revelation. I could enjoy even the bad moments in life. MST3K and Rifftrax showed that it was possible to find humor even in something horrible. Future War could in fact be a treat. Even fraking Twilight became an amazing cinematic experience when filtered through the likes of these three men. Engaging with the film, despite the social convention against speaking while a movie is playing, became a more intellectually engaging process. Even something as horrible as Hellraiser Bloodlines suddenly became an opportunity for fun. This was the key word.
No longer would we just accept the work on the screen. No longer would we be slaves to what others gave us. If the movie itself was terrible, we would and could make it better by virtue of riffing. Drinking games help, too.
Finally, and this couldn’t have happened at a better time, it’s important to not take yourself too seriously. Part of the humor in many of these films comes from the fact that, for example, someone thought it was a good idea to give Michael Bay the reins to the Transformers movies. On the other hand, some of these movies, such as Future War and Soultaker, clearly didn’t think things through enough. There must exist a balance between taking the work seriously and being able to laugh at yourself. You have to realize, at some point, that some parts of your life are absurd. Take me, for instance. Five years ago, my wife and I would go to bars, game every week, and watch horror movies while laughing our heads off. Now, the most gruesome thing we encounter is the host of eldritch horrors our baby summons into her diaper on a daily basis, more if she has curry.
MST3K was also present for another important time in my life. When my wife and I first moved in together, we didn’t have cable, let alone internet. The only television or movies we could watch were whatever DVDs we had or anything we had saved on our computer. I’d saved several episodes of MST3K to my hard drive. Before I even had a desk, the monitor would sit on one of our packed boxes and we would have dinner on plastic plates, while sitting on the ground, and I introduced Mary to the Satellite of Love just as I was introduced to it, through the Season 8 episode Revenge of the Creature. She became a devotee ever since then.
That was how we spent our first few weeks in that apartment, before we even had a couch, and before we set the apartment up how we wanted. Now, five years later, we watch Rifftrax and continue the tradition. If I knew a place to get plushy Tom and Crow dolls, you bet my baby would be snuggling up with one. I mean, she already has a Cthulhu plushie.
I was lucky enough to meet Mike Nelson back in 2007 when he spoke at DePauw University. I was also lucky enough to walk him from the hotel and have him sit in on our Comedy class to give his own insight on the genre. We had a short Twitter conversation back in February 8, 2012, where Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett also chimed in on the idea of the Greatest Canadian Hero. If I could have their attention for just one minute again, I would tell them that what they do is, under nearly any standard, absurd. It’s the kind of thing people have been doing since movies were first invented, and even then I’m sure people in Victorian England would sit around the latest novel and mock it as it was read to them.
And yet you turned it into an art form. Speaking to everyone who worked in MST3K, from the earliest days of public access, to the movie, and finally to its last hurrah on Sci-Fi, and to the various projects from Cinematic Titanic to Rifftrax, I want to say thank you. Thank you for more than twenty years of laughs.
Specifically, today, congrats to Rifftrax for continuing a tradition that has shaped lives and changed the course of pop culture. Movie makers are on notice. The audience knows it can laugh. I am who I am because of my family, friends, and teachers, but a part of this crazy mind is due in part to spending my youth, and now my adult life, with the Satellite of Love’s crew, wherever they may go.
And I’ve had a cherished part of my life now passed on to the love of my life. Trust me when I say that when the Little One is old enough, she’s going to laugh along with us too as we keep returning to the Satellite of Love. At least for a moment, know you’ve changed my life for the better.
Here’s to the next thirty years and beyond, gentlemen.
And now, a reminder that even if the premise is absurd, just acknowledging it and having fun with it are better than pretending you’re making Hamlet. Embrace the cheese.
October 30, 2012
While horror movies are all fine and good for this time of the year, nothing really tops a good book in a dark room while you’re wrapped in a blanket. To that end, I picked up a copy of Specter Spectacular and read through it to get my ghost story fix on.
The stories range from the witty to the macabre, so there’s something for everyone. Those stories that go for creeps certainly deliver on this promise. “Alabaster” has a suitably atmospheric cabin in the woods and a mysterious location, as does “The Little House at Bull Run Creek” with its abandoned Southern manor and mysterious noises. The beginning story, “My Rest a Stone,” has a suitably creepy child narrating the events on a life boat as everyone loses his or her mind.
The stories that really handled description well were my favorites. Horror is all about putting yourself in the characters’ situation, empathizing to the point where you actually
Perhaps my favorite story, however, was “Death and Taxes,” about a ghost desperate to be scary. The very British humor would not have been out of place in a Monty Python sketch, and while I may have been thinking Harry Potter, I could very much picture John Cleese as Jeck, the hapless ghost. On the other end of things, “Wendigo” was very subtle and had wonderful characters to latch on to, as well as a story that was equal parts unsettling and sad.
As far as ghost stories and scary tales go, few of the entries in the anthology actually gave me chills. Then again, I’ve been pretty desensitized to those sorts of things and it takes a lot to scare or creep me out. That’s not to say, though, that this is a terrible thing.
Some stories also felt forced. “The Haunts of Albert Einstein,” for example, felt like more of an overtly-long description instead of a story. There were other missed opportunities for great stories. For example, “The Secret of Echo Cottage” was all about a World War II site that was now a home to a pregnant couple. The final twist in the end was obvious, at least to me, but by playing with those expectations, each story could have easily been something different and much more subtle.
The Final Word
While it didn’t give me nightmares, it certainly was fun to read. I enjoyed the patchwork of stories and styles and many of the stories, especially the funny ones, were a good change of pace. If there’s a sequel, I’m defiantly buying it.
Overall, a good read. 8 out of 10.
You can pick up a copy here and see what others have said.
And speaking of ghost stories, let’s see if the remake of Evil Dead is any good. It has all the players behind the camera, but I still think it needs Ash. Tell me what you think in the comments below.
July 21, 2011
I know, I know. I spoil you guys.
- Do you like Batman? Well, there’s on easy way to get started.
- And speaking of things that are fun and bring us joy, every time a new harry Potter movie or book comes out, without fail, we get the psychos. Pat Robertson is already out in full force, but this gentleman takes the cake. Yeah, he’s a comedian, but the scary thing is that I’ve heard people who talk like him.
- Michelle Bachmann, for all her gay hate speech, actually has a gay sister-in-law. What does does sister-in-law think of her family’s views? Let’s just say there are some disagreements.
- I like my seafood fresh. Really fresh. I just don’t know if I want it to dance for me before I eat it.
- Rick Perry, possible GOP presidential candidate, started out as a Democrat. Hey, it IS Texas. He probably switched because they use liberals for target practice down here.
- In the world of remakes that probably don’t need to be remade, Diablo Cody is going to direct the new Evil Dead and David Goyer is writing Godzilla. I’m slightly curious about this, but there can be NO substitute for Bruce Campbell. NONE!
- The Amazing Spider-Man is coming out next year, and we’ve already been treated to a blurry teaser filmed in a movie studio. That doesn’t mean we can’t look back on the old cartoon and guess at the kinds of things we can expect from a darker take on our favorite web-slinger.
- The Young Turks found an old speech of Bachmann’s where she announces her hope that the end times are among here. Do we really want to give nuclear defense codes to this woman?!
- Speaking of airheads, here’s Palin TRYING to look sexy. The result is akin to a mildly retarded beagle thinking it’s a ballerina.
- Rebecca Black’s new song, “My Moment,” is… well, it’s better than her last venture, but that’s not saying much. It’s still completely synthetic music, and the lyrics actually say LESS than “Friday.“
- A full-length Mega Man movie? YES! Except it’s a little low on the action, but hey, it’s something.