Back in the 1990s, there was a TV show that many people knew and my generation grew up with. It was on the Sci Fi channel Saturday mornings and it was what I watched instead of Saturday morning cartoons. It involved a space station in the not-too-distant future, somewhere in time and space (sha la la). Mike Nelson was trapped on said space station and forced to watch terrible old movies over and over as some kind of experiment. To keep him company, he built his two robot friends Tom Servo and Crow. Together they watched these crazy movies and sat in the audience and made jokes about what was on screen to help the time pass. This show ran for 10 seasons on several networks before being cancelled.
Then, five years ago, from an office building in San Diego, they returned. Mike, Kevin Murphy (voice of Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (voice of Crow) started a new project called Rifftrax where they make fun of bad movies but instead of old movies from the 50s, they make fun of contemporary bad movies– “Twilight,” “The Room” and “Road House” just to name a few. Where once these movies were almost intolerable, they are now hilariously funny, in some cases more so than an actual comedy. The riff of “Twilight” makes it one of the funniest movie experiences ever made.
Michael J. Nelson spoke to CV Weekly recently and talked about the whole Rifftrax experience.
“Working with Kevin and Bill on Rifftrax has been from top to bottom a joy,” said Nelson. “Except the ‘Transformers’ movies [that we riffed]. Those have been like having my soul torn out of me by a dull, rusty claw hammer. Otherwise, sheer joy.”
From their website, rifftrax.com, the three offer audio commentary tracks to be played in tandem with the movies on DVD so that watchers can get the jokes timed with the film; then Rifftrax doesn’t have to buy rights to every film they riff because it is only their comments that you are getting. This allows them to do films from every studio, be they great films like “Iron Man” or “Casablanca,” or terrible films from the cult classic, “midnight screening” tradition of films, such as Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” or the new “worst movie ever made,” “Birdemic: Shock and Terror,” which has all the production value of a middle school video project.
“Birdemic” is one of their more recent riffs, and it may be the funniest one yet. With terrible digital birds that don’t fit into any part of the scenery and actors who make the kid in the tree costume at a church play look like Meryl Streep, this movie is the worst film ever made bar none. It is laughable on its own without a commentary track, but adding Mike, Kevin and Bill to the fray makes it absolutely hilarious. With commentary such as (while swinging wire hangers at digital birds and totally missing their mark), “You’re going to make this look good in post, right?” “What the hell is post? Keep flailing!” Rifftrax makes any bad movie enjoyable.
Check out their website at rifftrax.com and get the commentaries for “Birdemic” or “The Room,” two similarly bad movies, then get the DVD and watch the riffs begin.
Newest on their list of riffed films is last summer’s epic, “Captain America” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” for your comedy pleasure. And also check out their public domain shorts and PSAs riffed with the short directly onto the website. Click below to see some clips of their best riff moments.