Back in October, I had the pleasure of attending a live riff of the movie Birdemic by the Rifftrax crew. I will also be attending tonight’s Manos: Hands of Fate and January 31st’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. So this seemed like a good time to promote their site. Rifftrax, for those unfamiliar with the web site, continues where Mystery Science Theater 3000 left off (actually, it’s one of two continuations. Rifftrax features the most recent cast from the show, with Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy. There’s also Cinematic Titanic with Joel Hodgson and some of the other original MST3Kers, but I’m not really familiar with them). And if you don’t know MST3K, well, I don’t know what to say. You know how you and your friends get together and heckle movies while you watch? Picture that, but well written and thought out by three guys with eclectic senses of humor.
Rifftrax differs from MST in a couple of ways. First, there are no silhouettes on the screen because Rifftrax are audio only. Which brings us to a second important distinction: Rifftrax can riff on more recent movies because they don’t have to license them. They are basically separate unofficial audio commentaries that sync with the movie. And, since Rifftrax is not an actual TV show, there are, of course, no skits in between or any kind of storyline that ties it together (however loosely).
So, now that you know what Rifftrax is, let’s look at the different types and some recommendations. There are four main types of Rifftrax: MP3s (the type I described above), Video on Demand (movie that come pre-riffed, complete with movie; these are usually older movies, kind of like MST3K), shorts (with or without video), and iRiffs (riffs created by people other than the main Rifftrax crew). My favorites are probably the shorts. Most of them are public domain educational films, the kind we used to watch in school. Some of my favorites include “Safety: Harm Hides at Home” (apparently everything in your home can kill you, but fortunately there’s a crossing guard who can help), “Coffee House Rendezvous” (wow, there’s some bad folk music out there), “Reading: Who Needs It?” (no one, of course!), and “The Parts of Speech” (who knew balls could be so gay!). One of the best, however, has to be “Lunchroom Manners.” If you’ve never met Mr. Bungle (and, yes, that’s where the band got their name), you really owe it to yourself to do so. It’s hard to believe that we actually thought videos like this would have an impact on kids’ behavior. But man is it funny!
On the MP3 side, there are tons of titles to choose from, mostly genre movies. I haven’t actually watched as many of these, mainly because of time. I have checked out The Matrix, Star Wars: A New Hope, The Fifth Element, and Beowulf (which I’ve shown to students since we actually read it). They’re all quite good. Apparently the riffs from Transformers and the Twilight movies make them watchable. Speaking of watchable, there’s even one for the Star Wars Holiday Special, including some of the original commercials from its one and only showing. I’m probably one of the few people who can watch it without the riff, but with the riff it’s downright hilarious.
Speaking of making movies watchable, the worst movie with the best riff has to be the aforementioned Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Ostensibly an homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds, this mess of a movie has more to do with cars parking and pulling into traffic than any actual birdemic. There is also a weird global warming message shoehorned in. And the special effects… I’ve seen better YouTube videos made by kids in middle school. Amazingly, James Nguyen, the director, seems to think the movie is a masterpiece (there’s even going to be a sequel and a video game). With the Rifftrax commentary, perhaps Nguyen could be correct, but it’s otherwise unwatchable (even my friends who love bad movies couldn’t watch without fast forwarding).
I have only watched one of the VODs, the blaxploitation movie, The Guy from Harlem. The movie is, as you’d expect, absolutely terrible. It has some of the worst choreographed fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie (“choreographed by a six-year-old messing around in his aunt’s basement,” as Mike says). The cinematography is equally atrocious; no one seems to understand how to place a camera. And if need any other reason, I’ll give you TWO reasons why you should watch it. Number one, the acting is awful. And for the other reason, you’ll just have to watch the movie.
On the iRiff side, the only one I’ve seen is Star Wars with Chad Vader and the crew of Blame Society Productions. I never knew that R2 was searching for whores and places to gamble, but that’s what happens in this riff. It’s also amusing to hear Darth Vader’s “brother” comment on the events. Like any person seeing the movie for the first time, for example, he assumes the droids will be the main characters. It may not be quite as funny as the actual Rifftrax crew, but it’s still worth watching.
If you enjoyed Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’re very likely going to love Rifftrax. If you love bad movies, you’ll love Rifftrax. Heck, even if you love making fun of good movies, you’ll love Rifftrax. So go check them out now!