On the heels of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, the cast and crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 met in Minneapolis, Minnesota on June 28th for a special reunion show sponsored by RiffTrax Live that was in turn broadcast in satellite theaters around the country. The Interrobang was lucky to attend a Los Angeles screening. This show should all but prove to the long time and newcomer fans alike that they’ve donated to a fantastic cause.
The most hardcore fans might’ve complained that it was the longer tenured RiffTrax trio of Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy who ran the proceedings, but if so, nobody seemed to be vocal about it, and fans of original cast members like creator Joel Hodgson and writer Trace Beaulieu got more than their share of what they came for, as well. The show was split into seven segments with a rotating cast watching insane and bizarrely conceived short films, with a few moments of retrospection and the general reunion show fare scattered throughout. Mike, Bill and Kevin started the proceedings with a film about traffic safety called The Talking Car, which they more accurately described as “nightmare fuel.” It may have been nearly 17 years since the original MST3K went off the air, but the trio quickly proved they haven’t slowed down a bit, creating fully fleshed characters out of the indeed terrifying talking cars that came to life on film through their voices and riffs. The RiffTrax crew has been killing it for years with their podcast and live shows throughout the country and starting with them was a great way to introduce any fans of the show who may not have seen them live to the only slightly different experience.
Next, series regular and Mike’s wife Bridget Jones Nelson teamed up with Mary Jo Pehl, best known as Pearl Forrester, to tackle a surprisingly not that misogynistic, but still extremely weird 50’s short called A Word To the Wives starring Hollywood legends Marsha Hunt and Darren McGavin (“the angry Dad from A Christmas Story”). The film was almost too boring for them to riff at times, but luckily it built to a crescendo as it became clear that it was actually the men in this film who were absolutely incompetent at the most simple things, such as opening cabinet doors. The revelation that the “word to the wives” was to trick their husbands into buying a new house was an equally great laugh that proved the women could step out of the sidelines and into the spotlight with no problems at all.
People who had been watching the show from its humble beginnings got their first taste of fan service after that, when the original Crow T. Robot, Trace Beaulieu, and TV’s Frank took the stage to cover a dating advance film called More Dates For Kay, which Frank promised would “fill us with sadness.” This film had all of the misogyny promised by the title of Wives, plus quite a few ridiculous depictions of men as well, that had Frank updating his description of the film to say it was “creepier than Caligula.” Their riffs got pretty dark when all phone calls in the film were appended to finish with “aaaaand, gunshot noise,” but there’s no denying a string of suicides could have fit the film’s depressing and outrageous nature.
A different type of fan service followed, when the RiffTrax three returned to re-riff on the classic safety instructional film, Shake Hands With Danger [insert guitar riff here]. Corbett prefaced the film with a warning that kids and easily squeamish people should look away from the ridiculous and cartoonish violence that was about to follow, but the real warning should’ve been the realization everyone had at the end, that the guitar riff endlessly playing throughout the film would indeed end up stuck in everyone’s heads for at least the next few days. As for the violence itself, it was pretty gruesomely ridiculous and it earned a huge laugh when a character seemingly started bleeding in his chest for no reason, and Murphy riffed that the inattentive worker didn’t even see the sniper they hired to shoot him.
The first true test of the revived series was up next and it was cleverly shared with the biggest bit of fan service yet—new host Jonah Ray and MST3K creator Joel Hodgson gave their thoughts on a film called Barbers and Beauticians from the Americans At Work series. Prior to their segment, Hodgson thanked the fans for their years of support and told a fun story about their first years of existence. To see what kind of people were watching the show, they set up an answering machine at the local TV station in Minnesota the show originally aired on, and the entire tape was filled with kind people Hodgson brilliantly did an impression of, saying in a thick Minnesotan accent, “Oh, you people got a real nice thing going there.”
The film itself was another one that might’ve been a bit too boring for them to riff on, and might have cast some reservations on Ray at first, but they quickly saved it when the focus switched from the barbers to the beauticians and Ray noticed the young girl in the film had a terrible haircut that made her look like Lena Dunham. It doesn’t sound very controversial on paper, but it actually produced some gasps from the audience both live and in the satellite theater, as did Ray’s jokes about the men at the barbershop discussing “the upcoming race war.” The lines got big laughs too, but if anything, they may be a sign that the new MST3K may have a slightly more edgy bent than fans of the show were used to.
The entire cast came out for two more films, Stamp Day For Superman and the RiffTrax favorite At Your Fingertips: Grasses. The Superman film had remarkably little to do with stamps, and the grass film elicited huge, uproarious responses from the crowd without the riffers even commenting on it. If the show had any flaws, perhaps too many cooks were in the kitchen during these final segments. No one talked over each other, but especially during the grass segment, the insanity was kind of left to speak for itself and they didn’t have much to add. Not that it was needed though, as a kid wearing a shit eating grin while putting on a hat made out of grass doesn’t necessarily need a joke attached to it. They did get a good runner out of it too, plugging Corbett’s web site, iscorngrass.com.
Ultimately, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion was everything a fan would have hoped it could be. Although most of the people from this show have little or nothing to do with the new series, they clearly gave their blessing to the new crew, and the fans in attendance were all deeply appreciative for whatever they had to give. In the middle of the show, they aired a retrospective of some of the most famous RiffTrax moments throughout the years, and classics of the genre like The Room and Birdemic got the biggest responses from the crowd, meaning this community is still loud and vocal about what everyone else calls the worst films ever made.
Fans of RiffTrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Jonah Ray or just bad films in general should be more than excited for the new series and should do what they can to check out RiffTrax Live with the re-broadcast of the reunion show in select theaters on July 12, or their many other tours throughout the United States. Visit RiffTrax here.