The RiffTrax Blog header image 1

Star of Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns to the scene without the puppets

July 16th, 2007 by · 1 Comment

(via RelishNow / Winston-Salem Journal)
Eight years after Mike Nelson left the Satellite of Love, he’s back making fun of movies.

“For better or worse, that’s my talent,” Nelson explained.

Nelson was the head writer and one of the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a popular TV series that made fun of cheesy movies.

MST3K, as fans call it, ran from 1988 to 1999 and it continues to be a hit on DVD.

Rhino Home Video recently released Mystery Science Theater Collection Volume 11 with such unforgivable – er, unforgettable – films as Indestructible Man and Horrors of Spider Island.

Now, Nelson and several of his MST cohorts are back at work with two new projects. The Film Crew, from Shout Factory, is a new series of DVDs in which Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Tom Corbett (the second Crow) mock films much as they did on MST3K, only without robot puppets.

“We didn’t really want to go back to that,” Nelson said. “For one thing, there comes a certain age, a time when you can no longer stand next to puppets and retain any shred of dignity. That might be part of it. I might have crossed that golden barrier.”

Their first release, in stores this week, is Hollywood After Dark, a 1968 B-movie with Rue McClanahan of Golden Girls fame as a stripper. The second, due out Aug. 7, is Killers From Space, a sci-fi film about aliens plotting to take over the Earth. More DVDs are planned.

As with MST3K, the focus of The Film Crew project is on low-budget movies. But Nelson and friends are also working on a separate project, RiffTrax, that lets them take on bigger targets including the works of George Lucas, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Jackson. And they can do it without buying the rights to air the expensive movies.

At, people can buy audio commentaries as MP3s – prices range from $1.99 to $3.99 – and upload them onto a digital player, then synch the audio up with a DVD of the movie and enjoy the mockery. Murphy and Corbett contribute to some tracks, while others include guest stars such as Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Internet celebrity Chad Vader.

“It does work well,” Nelson said. “We were worried, will people be willing to do this? Is it going to work?”

The answer was yes. Dozens of comical commentaries are now available on RiffTrax, and a new track is released nearly every week. The service has thousands of subscribers, Nelson said.

The idea for RiffTrax came before MP3s were popular.

“We kind of looked into whether you could put it out on CD,” Nelson said. “It was possible but fairly impractical. Technology marched forward, and once it became feasible, we said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’

“It’s been such a huge success that we’ve just been cranking them out ever since.”

Some of their targets are major films that Nelson says he likes, such as the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring and The Matrix. Others are campy movies that he has a fondness for, such as Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling opus Over the Top and Patrick Swayze’s bouncer drama Roadhouse.

“Roadhouse truly does make me smile when I see it,” Nelson said. “With Over the Top, there’s that sense of nostalgia watching Stallone and Robert Loggia. I’m kind of stuck on the ’80s movies.”

And then there are major films that are just as bad as anything Mike and the ’bots made fun of back in the MST days, including Daredevil, Cocktail, and Britney Spears’ Crossroads.

“We try to make (movies) that are fairly easy to get ahold of or that you may have on your shelf,” Nelson said. “Though in the case of Crossroads, that’s not that likely.” That’s where renting the DVD from an online service comes in handy.

“You’re not wasting a lot, compared to actually walking into a store and saying ‘I want to buy that Britney Spears movie.’ Renting through the mail, you can save yourself a lot of shame.”

One of the biggest movies RiffTrax has tackled so far is Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the eagerly anticipated – and, after its release, widely derided – 1999 film that started the second Star Wars trilogy.

“Kevin and I were writing our lines separately,” Nelson said. “I’d e-mail him late at night with my rage over this movie. It amused him how much I intensely disliked the experience.”

So what was so bad about Phantom Menace, anyhow? “The sheer amount of resources (George Lucas) had to pour into something with no storytelling skill whatsoever, and horrible acting. It doesn’t even look that good. Everything about it is bad when it should have been good.”

Nelson has grudgingly gone on to record a commentary for the second movie in the new trilogy, Attack of the Clones, as well.

There is at least one film he doesn’t plan to tackle, though.

“Everybody wants me to do Showgirls,” he said. “But it’s just so ugly, such a horrible movie. I don’t really want to bring that to people. It’s not redeeming enough. There’s not enough hot showers in the world to make up for that movie.”

Tags: Interviews · RiffTrax