Monday, August 25, 2014

Rifftrax: Reefer Madness

Movie:  (1936) A campy diatribe against the evils of marihuana use, whose only audience today is ironically pothead stoners.  Bill, Jack and Mary are wholesome teenagers who get recruited by a gang of drug dealers, which leads to hit-and-run, attempted rape, gunplay, murder, suicide, and madness. 

First released:  Jan 20, 2009 (Three-riffer edition), Dec. 3, 2007 (Mike solo edition)

Availability: Watch on Hulu; Download VOD from Rifftrax or Amazon instant; DVD from Rifftrax, Amazon and Netflix.

Reminds me of:  I Accuse My Parents and The Sinister Urge.  Note that those were made, respectively, about ten and twenty years later.

Stray observations:
For such a famously bad movie there isn’t actually that much to work with here.  The current audience enjoys the campy, over the top performances and the exceedingly melodramatic twists.  Much like Sinister Urge, the film describes real social problems but assigns all the blame to one cause, which in both cases are considered relatively harmless now. 
I think the movie actually serves as a greater warning about capital punishment, strangely enough.  The trial of Bill is based on fairly ambiguous evidence, but stony-faced Jury Foreman and Judge essentially railroad any doubts and sentence the boy to death.  Then, stony-faced Judge just sets aside the jury verdict on one witness’ testimony, who immediately kills herself.  Now, how reliable was that testimony?
I do enjoy how much classier everyone dressed back then, teenagers and drug dealers alike wearing suits or at least sportcoats. 
Cast and crew roundup:  Not much to say.  Dorothy Short (Mary) and Dave O’Brien (Ralph) were married in real life, and sadly she passed early in real life too.  Carleton Young (Jack) later married groundbreaking Asian exotic dancer Noel Toy.  According to Google Image Search, he was one lucky guy.
Callback: none?  Maybe Bill’s “And…  scene.  Brilliant!”
Fave riff:  “The fifth Marx Brother—‘Dope-o’.” Honorable mention:  “Is there a water shortage?  Dump the pitcher!”

Next week:   Cinematic Titanic bowdlerizes “Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks”!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cinematic Titanic: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Movie: (1964) The beloved, ageless children’s tale of a world without Christmas and the crazy, mixed-up happenings when some wacky Martians take matters into their own hands.  But once they learn the true meaning of Christmas, will the Martians conquer Santa, or will Santa Claus conquer the Martians?  Hint: spoiler alert in title.

First released: 11/20/2008 (DVD, download)

Opening: One of the corporate drones discusses an upcoming holiday party with the Titans.  Trace tries to escape because “some of us have seen it before.”  (Joel, Trace and Frank were all there for MST3K episode 321, which aired 12/21/1991; Josh had left and Mary Jo had not joined yet.)  The names come up when a new Titan speaks, along with a headshot.

Skit: Joel gives out fabulous presents… or possibly just 2D silhouettes of fabulous presents.
(Just one skit? Really?)

End: Josh and Trace try to outlast the credits as everyone else wanders off.  Joel wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas” at the end.

Availability: on Hulu, Amazon (DVD) and Amazon Instant. 

Reminds me of:  Well, you know.  Also some refueling scenes from Starfighters.

Joel’s Take:  here.

Stray observations:
This was the first time I watched this and I must say, it’s pretty good.  I was not interested in rehashing an existing MST episode (this was the first but it won’t be the last!), but there are some improvements: first, more contemporary references; and second, the movie is unedited, so we get a better sense of some continuity than MST.
The original version was released on DVD as an “essential” and it’s pretty beloved.  I don’t want to get into it here, but if Cinematic Titanic or Rifftrax want to redo old shows, there are plenty of underwatched originals to choose from.  Most prominently, the episodes that were done in the KTMA days, World Without End (only riffed at a live show), or the never-aired pilot The Green Slime, would be awesome to redo. 
Again, the film feels more like a stage production, possibly a high-school one.  I wonder if anyone’s tried staging it as a Christmas pageant?
I can only guess that this movie really does mean “Christmas” to Joel.  Interesting.  I may put this into the Christmas rotation in the future.
Cast and crew roundup:  Okay, not much to say beyond this here; Pia Zadora is less remembered now than she was in 1991. 
Credits watch: There was a credit for the corporate drone talking to the Titans in the opening, but was not recorded on IMDB and I can’t go back and watch it. 
Callback:  To their credit I only noticed one:  “…especially that show Lost.”  (original: Twin Peaks)
Fave riff:  “No wonder Air America’s in trouble.”  Honorable mention: “Geez, they have the same babysitter I had growing up.”

Next week:  Rifftrax laughs uncontrollably at “Reefer Madness!”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Rifftrax: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Movie:  (1958) The “Citizen Kane of bad movies” as Mike puts it.   Aliens try to conquer earth by raising the dead to be an unstoppable killing force, to prevent humans from one day destroying the universe.  Unfortunately the aliens aren’t really any smarter than the humans are.

First released: First riffed by Mike solo (Jan 1 2006), then rereleased as a three-riffer version (Jan 22 2008 on VOD, Jan 29 on DVD) .  

Premise:  Not much!  Mike comes on and introduces himself, Kevin and Bill; then DisembAudio is introduced and explained, then they give a starting point and countdown.  When the movie starts the riffs are synced and start in right away.  There are no characters other than DisembAudio, and no pretense of a reason to riff other than that is what the audience is there for.

Availability: Watch on Hulu; Download VOD from Rifftrax or Amazon instant; DVD from Amazon and Netflix.

Reminds me of:  It’s the quintessential Ed Wood film, so most like Sinister Urge and Bride of the Monster; similar to other low-budget 50’s Sci-Fi like The Unearthly and maybe Teenagers from Outer Space.

Stray observations:
First off, admittedly this was not the first Rifftrax production.  Rifftrax started with Mike Nelson solo on mp3s, then Kevin and Bill joined in over the first few movies.  Some of the first ones were redone as three-riffer versions, then Streaming/VOD/DVD options came in, which allowed the ‘whole package’ to be delivered.   While the Audio Commentary tracks are often good, there are some difficulties with keeping the riff track in sync, and periodic adjustments after hearing DisembAudio repeat a line.  After a while you really notice how tightly they riff in sync with the movie.
Anyway, the whole movie is famously “bad”; albeit entertaining.  It looks a bit like a high school stage production, all shot on sound stages with dubious set dressing and rather wooden acting.
Cast and crew roundup:  Famous for Bela Lugosi’s death early in production, several of the actors are from Ed Wood’s regular players, particularly the policemen like Carl Anthony (Patrolman Larry/ Johnny Ride from Sinister Urge) and Duke Moore (Lt. Harper/Sgt. Randy Stone from same). Of them the most famous is probably Tor Johnson, in a truly iconic performance.
Callback: “Time for go to bed!”
Fave riff:  “Doctor Smith’s gayer brother.”

Next week:   Cinematic Titanic covers old ground in “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”!  After that I will try to go back and cover what I should have covered this week—Rifftrax’s first production, “Reefer Madness”!

Note: I will have to look at the release schedule for Rifftrax and post a schedule for upcoming posts.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Cinematic Titanic: Legacy of Blood

Movie: (1971) The rich patriarch of a strange family leaves $136 million in his will to his heirs—as long as they spend the week together in his country house.  As the children and servants begin to get killed off almost immediately, secrets about their hidden past come to light.

First released: 10/09/2008 (DVD, download)

Opening: A little more about the impending breakdown of recording media.  The cast is just introduced with names in alphabetical order, no pictures and not tied to the appearance of their voices.

Skit: Frank is still chewing gum; a squad of soldiers takes care of the situation.

Skit: Trace plays “What thing won’t kill you?” with Josh as contestant.

End: Everyone wanders off in disgust to the sounds of circus music.

Availability: on Hulu, Amazon (DVD) and Amazon Instant.  

Reminds me of:  Bloodlust crossed with Giant Spider Invasion.

Joel’s Take:  here.

Stray observations:
As Joel says, “probably the most depraved film we’ve riffed on.”  Aside from the Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None premise, the film throws in some nightmares and memories of child abuse and incest.  Johnny goes over the top as James Dean in Flowers in the Attic.   And in the end, when the killer runs into the room the reveal is spoiled by the lighting: “Excuse me Mr. Spoiler Alert!”
Gore count: Hit by axe (admittedly that happens twice), head in fishbowl eaten by piranha, body covered in bees.
Cast and crew roundup:
Most familiar (although both look pretty different) are Faith Domergue and Jeff Morrow, reunited from This Island Earth.  Unfortunately lovely Brooke Mills (Leslie) only made a few more films before retiring, while the great John Carradine kept going for another twenty years!  This was the end or close to it for Rudolpho Acosta (Sheriff), John Smith (Dr. Carl) and Merry Anders (Laura Dean), while most of the cast had surprisingly long careers.  Buck Kartalian (Igor) had the lead in the same director’s adult remake of Little Shop of Horrors a couple of years later, Please Don’t Eat My Mother.
Callback:  Actually many jokes from MST pop up, like “Stately Wayne Manor” and “last thing a chili dog sees.”
Fave riff:  “I’m devoid of ego, or my name isn’t Dr. Superpenis!”  Honorable mention: “Andy Warhol’s Sleep didn’t have this much sleep in it.”

Next week:  We begin with Rifftrax’s first major three-riffer release: Plan 9 From Outer Space!