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Cinematic Titanic

February 25th, 2009

I saw a truly amazing performance last weekend at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA.  Before I tell you about it, let me share a bit of history:

If any of the topics that I have written about on this site appeal to you, then I probably don’t have to tell you about Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  Created by Joel Hodgson, the TV series ran from 1988 through 1999 on a variety of stations.  The plot is irrelevant, and is quickly dispensed with during the catchy opening theme for every episode.  In short, a man is trapped in space and forced to watch terrible movies.  To maintain his sanity, he constructs a bunch of robot buddies, and the three of them wisecrack their way through each film as it unfolds.  In each hour-and-a-half episode, the gang would take on a different, awful old film.  It was a riot.  Like many fans, I was deeply disappointed when the show took its final bow (making fun with the truly abysmal Danger: Diabolik on August 8, 1999).

But that was not the end!  Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett (the lead players of MST3K during its later years) reunited a few years back to form Rifftrax!   The project involved the three recording feature-length “riffs,” making fun of movies exactly as they did back with MST3K.  Except, this time, the films they’re making fun of are modern, well-known movies (everything from Star Wars to Star Trek to The Lord of the Rings to Indiana Jones, etc etc etc.).  The way the site works is that for a few bucks you can download one of their podcasts, for a movie whose DVD you either already own, or go out and rent.  Pop the DVD into your player, start the podcast, and you’re off!  I’ve downloaded a bunch of their Rifftrax over the past two years, and their over-all quality is stellar.  It’s the same joke-a-second format of MST3K, and it’s a lot of fun to listen the gang take on some of the big films from the past decade.  (If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d suggest downloading their Rifftrax for Batman and Robin.  Sure, making fun of that movie is like hitting the broad side of a barn, but still — the track is genius.)

Entirely separate from the Rifftrax project, five members of the ORIGINAL MST3K team have re-formed to create their own MST3K-type project: Cinematic Titanic.  Creator Joel Hodgson has teamed up with Trace Beaulieu (the original voice for Crow; he also played Dr. Forrester), Josh Elvis Weinstein (the original voice for Tom Servo), TV’s Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester).  Unlike Rifftrax, the Cinematic Titanic project continues the MST3K tradition of riffing on really old, really terrible movies that you’ve probably never heard of.  (Also unlike Rifftrax, these are available in DVDs with the original movie included.  That is convenient, but also makes each new installment a lot more expensive.)

At the Somerville Theatre this past weekend, my brother and I were lucky enough to see a live performance by the Cinematic Titanic team.  It was phenomenal.

The evening began with some warm-up entertainment by Dave “Gruber” Allen (who has a lengthy list of TV credits but who I recognized from his role as Guidance Counselor Jeff Rosso on Freaks and Geaks).  (As he came out to check the microphones, I kept thinking to myself “boy, that fellow sure looks a lot like the guy from Freaks and Geeks” — only to realize that he was, in fact, the guy from Freaks and Geeks!!)  One by one the Cinematic Titanic gang joined the stage, each one launching into a comedy routine of his/her own (working with whoever was on-stage already).  This was a blast and a great way to jazz up the audience.  Once Joel Hodgson came out, he and the gang took up positions to the left and right of the theatre’s large movie screen.  Each performer had a microphone and a lectern for their script.  (The riffs aren’t improvised.)  As the movie played out on the big screen, the gang barraged the audience with non-stop jokes and commentary.  

They chose a magnificent subject for their humor.  The film being mocked was called Blood of the Vampire.  It’s a Mexican Vampire story set in the 1920’s… that was made in the Philippines in the 1960’s.  It’s a film that is almost audacious in its bad taste (there are a bunch of characters who are supposed to be black, played by Philippinos covered with what looks like shoe polish), and the scary vampires are overwhelming in their silliness.  In short, the film is a perfect, ripe target, and the Cinematic Titanic gang did not drop the ball.

To say the performance was hysterical would be an understatement.  This was one of the funniest movie riffs I have ever seen.  The jokes came fast, and they came furious, and the hit-to-miss ratio was excellent.  Beyond that, it was a tremendous thrill to see in person all five of these talented performers, all of whom I have been watching on my TV screen for so many years.  

It was an amazing experience — and you can bet that when the Cinematic Titanic version of Blood of the Vampires becomes available (on-line information indicates that it is coming soon) I’ll be snapping up a copy.

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