Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rifftrax Live presents Night of the Living Dead

Rifftrax Live presents Night of the Living Dead
seen @ Regal Cinemas Union Square, New York NY

Heckling, like comedy in general, is a kind of art. I'm convinced of this. There's a certain level of arrogance involved, sure - there kinda has to be; after all, the heckler is placing himself above the heckled - but to be good at it, and not just some douchebag with too much to drink - you've gotta know how to make it funny. Who can forget that scene in Roxanne where Steve Martin holds a symposium on how to heckle somebody with a big nose?

In the film world, mocking films, good or bad, is almost always more entertaining than praising films, especially since negativity tends to have a longer shelf life. Last week, Ryan talked about how social media has dramatically shortened the period of backlash on a given film. Some people, it seems, are eager to put down a popular movie in a bid for attention. To a certain extent, I can relate to that mentality, but that can get old after awhile because it tends to be mean-spirited.

Light-hearted mockery is different. Not being any kind of comedy expert, I can't express the difference accurately, but I think it may have something to do with having an intimate knowledge of the subject, flaws and all, and still appreciating it. Perhaps this is where the art comes in.

Which brings us to Rifftrax. It's an outgrowth of the long-running TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which the stars - Michael J. Nelson and the two guys who voiced the robots, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett - sell audio files of their trademark heckling stylings to be played with specific movies. They also sell DVDs of films that come with their audio commentary. In essence, it's like watching MST3K without the silhouetted robots in the corner, or the original material in-between movie segments.

Every once in awhile, Rifftrax stages live events, in which they do their schtick before a live audience and the event is simulcast around the country in select movie theaters. My pals John and Sue are big Rifftrax fans, and that's how I wound up getting to see Rifftrax' take on the horror classic Night of the Living Dead last Thursday.

The screening was preceded by a bunch of horror-flavored parodies of movie slide-show word games and trivia, accompanied by silly songs. At the appointed hour, Nelson, Murphy and Corbett appeared on a Halloween-decorated stage at a theater in Nashville. Before the main attraction, there was what is a Rifftrax Live regular feature: a short that they also heckle, featuring an unlucky Mr. Bean-type character that's part of a series.

Night played while the Rifftrax guys sat off to the side and did their thing. I'm told by John that they used to ad lib, but at this performance they wrote their lines in advance. I couldn't help but be a tiny bit disappointed, but it didn't matter. For one thing, they never have to worry about stepping on each other's lines. It looked like they all took turns, and for the most part, they knew when to come in with the jibes and when to allow for the dialogue. 

At regular intervals, the simulcast goes from the film to a split-screen of the film on one side and the Rifftrax crew on the side, Brady Bunch style, as they heckle. It's a little off-putting at first, but you get used to it eventually.

An example of how the Rifftrax crew looks onstage. This is taken
from their Manos: The Hands of Fate performance.

Anyone who has seen MST3K knows how funny these guys can get, and they were hilarious. I was a bit skeptical about them riffing on a good movie, but it's not the first: they've done all three Lord of the Rings movies, Star Trek II, and even Casablanca! That, of course, is in addition to all the horrible films and shorts they've riffed as well. The crowd was a surprising mix of young and old people, and it was very nearly a full house. The whole thing was a lot of fun.

MST3K presents Manos: The Hands of Fate
MST3K presents Santa Claus Conquers the Martians


  1. Just to clarify Rich, the boys at Rifftrax have always scripted their riffs. It was in the early days of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where its founders - Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein would ad lib their riffs as they watched the film. After two seasons, they realized their riffs were too sporadic and finally decided to script the riffs. It was around that time Mike Nelson came aboard and was "elected" to be the Head Writer on MST3K as he was the only one of the riffers who KNEW HOW TO OPERATE A WORD PROCESSING PROGRAM. :D
    - John Baker, Riffer Extraordinaire

  2. I went, too, and loved it! I also went to Manos, Planet 9, and Star Troopers. Can't wait for Santa. :)

  3. Looks like this thing's more popular than I thought.


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