Look, I don’t care how much you may debate it: Mystery Science Theater 3000 changed how we looked — or rather, talked — at movies. Growing up, I was something of a B-Movie Puritan. While I preferred to revel in vintage z-grade science fiction and horror films, I more than occasionally lambasted the few friends I actually had who insisted on making fun of them. There was something about the naïve and hokey onscreen antics that I found soothing. As I matured ever-so-slightly (I’m still not done; not according to my many exes, at least), however, I finally “mellowed” out enough to the point where humor had at long last found its place in my ritualistic form of therapeutic cinemasochism.
And then came Mystery Science Theater 3000. My first encounter was on the Comedy Channel (as it was then called) in late 1989. It was the premiere of Episode #103: The Mad Monster. At first, I was afraid; I was petrified. But then, I acquired a need for it — much like my already-established addiction to silly movies itself. The Mad Monster was only the third episode of a series that would go on to have a complete cast change, cross over to an entirely different network, and even make a theatrical feature before finally calling it quits some ten years later. But that doesn’t mean the Best Brains behind MST3K stopped quipping. Far from it, actually.
In 2006, after a couple of varied attempts at keeping his fans happy one way or another (books, solo riffing gigs, animal husbandry, etc.), the show’s second and final host, Michael J. Nelson, found his post-MST niche in RiffTrax: an online site that specialized in downloadable comical commentaries that one could view whilst watching their favorite (or perhaps least favorite, as the case usually is) film. The following year, the show’s original host, Joel Hodgson developed Cinematic Titanic: a similar-though-completely-different concept which was more along the vein of the long-running Cable TV series he cultivated back in 1989.
During the last couple of years, both variants have released a number of DVDs that we longtime MiSTies just can’t seem to get enough of. And, so, for this special chapter of Catching Up At The Video Store, I have decided to explore a few recent home video releases “From the Best Brains Mystery Science Theater Had to Offer.”
· Cinematic Titanic Live: Danger On Tiki Island (2010) (EZTakes/Cinema Titan, LLC)
The Short Version: Eddie Romero finally gets riffed.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: There were several DVD releases of Cinematic Titanic fare before they started issuing live performances such as East Meets Watts (a favorite) and The Alien Factor. Here, Joel Hodgson teams up once more with his regular riffers Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and J. Elvis Weinstein to treat a live audience to a well-deserved skewering of Eddie Romero’s laughably-bad Brides Of Blood from 1968 (titled Danger On Tiki Island for this release). The truly bizarre Filipino horror oddity features a man-eating tree-critter type of thing as one of its main antagonists, and a mad scientist as the other. Two embarrassed American leads — Kent Taylor and John Ashley (who would go on to make several more films with Romero) star alongside an actress billed as “Beverly Hills.” There are also a bunch of vertically-challenged people on-hand to open up the floodgates for midget jokes (because, honestly, we can never get enough of those). The experienced crew of jokesters certainly dish out the goods here; delivering a memorable performance to their live crew as well as their viewers back at home. Unlike previous Cinematic Titanic releases, this one includes an 18-minute long behind-the-scenes featurette with the crew.
· RiffTrax: Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny (2011) (Legend Films)
The Short Version: NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: A god-awful ode to incompetence, 1972’s Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny finds Santa Claus stranded on a beach in Florida. Instead of trying to help himself, the singing, soiled-suited Kringle enlists the local kids to help him while he sits in his rinky-dink sleigh. In lieu of any actual token of gratitude for their assistance, Santa tells the kids a tale (which is actually a short movie by Barry Mahon that was spliced in) before the Ice Cream Bunny (!) shows up to save the day (too bad he couldn’t save the souls of those who watch this movie as well). Throughout the excursion through extreme anguish, Mike Nelson and his fellow RiffTrax buddies Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy unleash their humorous vehemence at the movie, tearing it enough new assholes to start up a large government. How bad is the movie? Well, not only does poor Kevin scream at the movie for a good solid minute at one point, but my PlayStation 3 died shortly after I watched it because it just couldn’t take it anymore, either (seriously, it did). The DVD also contains the original un-riffed version of the movie — just in case you decide life is no longer worth living (or your relatives show up unannounced), as well as a disturbing bonus short: Santa Claus’s Punch And Judy from 1948, also with an anjoyable RiffTrax commentary.