“Are you ready to watch a really s—ty movie?” So asked Joel Hodgson, creator and original host of Mystery Science Theater 3000, before a packed Saturday-night house at New York City’s Nokia Theatre. The occasion: a live performance of Cinematic Titanic, his MST3K follow-up project with fellow castaways from the Satellite of Love. Primed after a decade of MST deprivation, the 2,100-strong crowd roared its assent.
Before Hodgson came on stage to announce the celluloid craptacular du jour, the night’s proceedings kicked off with Mary Jo Pehl, f.k.a. Pearl Forrester, who introduced CT’s guest MC, David “Gruber” Allen. Allen, a deep-voiced vet of Freaks and Geeks and Gilmore Girls, performed a stand-up set with up-to-the-minute jabs at the Tea Partiers and Toyota, then brought out erstwhile Tom Servo puppeteer J. Elvis Weinstein. Weinstein strapped on a bass guitar to duet with Gruber on a musical salute to scary, tear-stained clowns (no apologies to Smokey Robinson). Perhaps most enthusiastically received was “TV’s Frank” Conniff, rechristened DVD’s Frank in honor of CT’s primary mode of distribution. Conniff wasted no time rousing the assemblage by ramming a stake into Twilight—Bella “likes the werewolf because he has hair on his junk”—and pitching his own kiddie takeoff, Teen Count Chocula. Finally, Hodgson arrived, along with Trace “Crow T. Robot” Beaulieu, to give shout-outs to his Titanic crewmates before they took their places left and right of the movie screen to commence the B-movie riffage.
Tonight’s B movie, Danger on Tiki Island (or, more suggestively, Brides of Blood), was a 1968 Filipino monster mash-up ripe for japery.
What plot could be gleaned through the crashing tsunami of spectator guffaws revolved around a lantern-jawed scientist, his oversexed platinum-blond wife, and a gung ho Peace Corps hunk arrived on an island inhabited by radioactive mutant crabs and natives bent on virgin sacrifice. Also on the island: midget houseboys, bare-back flogging, killer trees more animated than the cast, a murderous butterfly suspended on visible wires, heavy-breathing sound effects, and an ominous theremin score to rival the more overwrought musical accompaniment on Lost. The comedic piece de resistance: a virgin-craving rubber creature resembling “the Michelin Man after a fiery crash,” in the apt words of Mary Jo Pehl. Its climactic transformation provoked perhaps the evening’s most memorable zinger: “All this wouldn’t have happened if we had…the public option!”
From all appearances, the assembled fanboys and girls got their fix of schlock and snark, judging by the prolonged standing ovation following the end credits. But how about you, fellow MSTies? Has Cinematic Titanic whetted your pop-trash cravings after a 10-year drought? Do you miss the robots, the Invention Exchange, or that insanely zippy theme song? Should Joel Hodgson and Co. be given a new television berth, say, on Showtime or Coco’s TBS? Or are they better off unencumbered by network rules and restrictions? And much as I confess to being a diehard for Team Joel, what do you think of Mike Nelson’s post-MST3K movie-ribbing project, RiffTrax?
And as a final fillip, enjoy this clip of Hodgson, Beaulieu, and Weinstein’s recent sitdown with MSNBC MSTie Keith Olbermann.