Catching Up At The Video Store: RiffTrax Presents Low Blows in High-Def
Article first published as RiffTrax Presents Low Blows in High-Def on Blogcritics.
While truly memorable (or at least halfway entertaining) comedies are few and far in-between on big and small screens alike, it’s nice to know that the lads at RiffTrax are able to keep on-a-truckin’ by tearing into some of the strangest and sorriest works of “art” ever produced by man. Of course, the whole “made by man” thing is debatable, as master riffers Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett occasionally attribute some of the shockingly-bad movies and shorts they bear witness to as works of Satan.
And there are a lot of said “works of Satan” out there, too. From misguided educational shorts to fractured feature-length films, one of the main reasons Mike, Kevin and Bill (all proud graduates of Mystery Science Theater 3000) can afford to continuously heckle these monstrosities is the mere fact that they’re available in abundance. That, and these three are pros at issuing masterfully-timed cons.
Here’s a quick peek at four new titles from the RiffTrax catalogue (distributed by Legend Films), two of which mark their first ever venture into the waters of High-Definition!
It isn’t the first time the RiffTrax crew have set their sights on the horrendously erroneous “enlightening” anti-marijuana feature from 1936, but this special Live presentation — which was broadcast live in select US theaters on August 19, 2010 — does emerge as being the most memorable. The crew first take on three mind-bogglingly weird shorts: More Dangerous Than Dynamite, an “educational” short that tries to deter housewives from washing their clothes in gasoline(!); Aesop’s Sound Fables: Frozen Frolics, a terrible ‘30s cartoon where characters bop up and down continuously; and At Your Fingertips: Grass which — as Mike, Kevin and Bill point out — isn’t about marijuana, but surely must have been made by people that were high on it. Then, following the premiere of two magnificently-bizarre shorts from Something Awful’s Richard Kyanka (as told and conceived by his five-year-old daughter), we get down to boiling an outrageously colorized version of Reefer Madness — complete with old jokes and new gags galore (including a few which are rightfully aimed at the then-new M. Night Shyamalan flop, The Last Airbender). Those of you who have already heard some of the “older” jokes might not get as much of a kick out of the feature film, but the new riffs and extras make it worthwhile. Also available on DVD.
On October 28, 2010, the RiffTrax gang followed up their live Reefer Madness broadcast with a special (colorized) Hallowe’en showing of 1959’s House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price. Once again, Mike, Kevin and Bill import some of the jokes heard in earlier versions of this title (both this and Reefer Madness were issued by Fox with optional Mike Nelson commentary, as well as a non-live RiffTrax version) and introduce the movie with the “educational” shorts Magical Disappearing Money, which finds an entire supermarket full of shoppers terrorized by a witch who wants them to save money; and Paper and I, a tale of a kid who builds an unhealthy relationship with a paper bag — which features a guest appearance by funnyman Paul F. Tomkins. The disc also includes a couple of bonus materials: a behind-the-scenes slide show, a couple of promos and a “Fun Trivia Slide Show” which replays the often-hilarious (fictional) fun facts that were displayed on movie screens prior to the start of the show (an example: “Did You Know? Vampires don’t sparkle.”). For those of you who are curious about the HD presentations on these releases, I have to say that these Blu-rays look pretty damn nice — and are recommended over their SD-DVD counterparts. Also available on DVD.
It’s time once again to rekindle our romance with those horridly-humorous short flicks from yesteryear that so earnestly attempted to instruct boys and girls all across the nation on how to be morally and socially proficient. It stands to reason that these shorts didn’t quite succeed in their objective — often attributable to the fact that their intentions were either so contemptible by contemporary standards or the information they had at hand was completely erroneous. Not only do they make for fine entertainment today, but they come close to turning into gold once the RiffTrax crew give these mini-features the once-over. Included are Seat Belts: The Life-Saving Habits (which attempts to educate really stupid people that should be allowed to live anyway), Watch Out For My Plant (wherein an inner-city kid tries to grow a plant), Family Teamwork (sorry, what’s this “family” thing you speak of?), Whatever The Weather (which is told in rhyme — ugh), Are People All The Same? (a real weird one), Things Are Different Now (a piece on maturity), William’s Doll (a tale of a young lad who prefers dolls to trucks), and More Dangerous Than Dynamite (which is also on the Reefer Madness release).
And, finally, we come across the last of the recent RiffTrax collection of ill-advised consultation for children on behalf of some decidedly-irrational adults and educators: Olde Tyme Shorts Roundup. In Reading: Who Needs It?, a couple of high-school kids learn the hard way that, just because their local law-enforcement agents and politicians are uneducated, they need to learn how to read if they want to become athletes or mechanics. Values: The Right Thing To Do ask kids if they should save the life of a crazy old man, while Pearl of the Orient tells us how great the Philippines became once we bombed them. Individual Differences is a piece aimed at school teachers, advising them that some kids are different than others (imagine that); Building Better Paragraphs suggests school teachers were even more incompetent than we had originally envisioned.
Mealtime Manners and Health — another wonder from Coronet Films — instructs kids on proper eating etiquette; Decisions, Decisions forces poor Tommy to choose whether or not he want to hang out with a clingy dork; and, finally, we get the darling little tale of the Seven Little Ducks and their neo-Nazi human captor, Carol — whom Mike, Kevin and Bill compare to a Gamorrean Guard. Nice.
Good stuff all around, kids. Additionally, Mike and the gang’s former MST3K comrades — Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, Mary Jo Pehl and J. Elvis Weinstein — are touring the US in their own movie riffing collective, Cinematic Titanic, from now until April 2012 (visit cinematictitanic.com for more info).
Happy viewing, kids!