The cult series Mystery Science Theater 3000 built its massive fanbase by reaching back into history and pulling out some of cinema’s most offbeat B-movies. With RiffTrax, former MST3K stars Michael Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy need not look back any farther than last year for the source material behind one of their most inspired riff sessions to date: Syfy and The Asylum’s Sharknado. Cue the air raid sirens!
This was my first time partaking in a RiffTrax live simulcast, for which the comedic trio performed their commentary in front of a Minnesota audience while fans around the country watched in select theaters. For me, it served as a completely different experience from the average trip to the movies, and was more akin to watching an actual live performance in person. From the opening RiffTrax “trivia cards” through the end credits, the energy was palpable and the surrounding laughter saw rapid ebbs and flows, never falling out completely. Babysitting issues forced me to take the trip without my wife, but I still had a blast in the packed room, howling with everyone else.
Before getting to the main at-shark-tion, they skewered the black-and-white 1940 short film Case of Spring Fever, in which a beguiling little animated spring coil delivers a cautionary tale about never taking springs for granted, since they’re in almost everything we use in the world. (Or at least back then.) As if the absurdity of the man’s complete emotional reversal to springs wasn’t amusing enough, the guys were right on top of everything, from the Dark Lord Coily the Spring Sprite to the worst golf game ever put to screen. All hail springs!
Having sprung that short on us, Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy then pimped their upcoming live simulcast for Godzilla, Roland Emmerich’s 1998 disasterpiece. They performed a sneak peek of that show, waxing clever over the scene where Matthew Broderick and Godzilla almost make out, which included one of what will hopefully be dozens of Ferris Bueller references. It’s a can’t-miss, people! Check it out on Thursday, August 14, with a second screening on Tuesday, August 19.
One last surprise before getting onto the feature was a very special baseball-bat-filled sneak peak of Sharknado 2: The Second One, which the producers gave to RiffTrax exclusively. As you can imagine, it was completely senseless and featured way too much Mark “I Just Want to Fly” McGrath staring into nothingness for such a short clip. Ipso factamundo, social media is going to fall in love with it when Syfy premieres it on July 30.
Then, at long last, came the beast that is Sharknado, one of the most poorly edited films in existence, whose brainlessness is matched only by the “turn it up to 11” pacing. There is very little actual downtime in Sharknado, which means the RiffTrax guys seemingly had hours of material to get through, despite the fact that the film is only 86 minutes long. I’d optimistically wager that only about 3% of the jokes fell flat, if even that many. (I recall a Yahoo Serious reference failing to rouse many laughs around the room.) And the other 97%? I don’t think I’ve consistently laughed that hard, especially in public, in years.
Part of it was the nerdy gags, sure, but an ever-flowing waterfall of humor came from Ian Ziering’s 90210 days, and his relative absence from Earth in years since. Just as fruitful for endless career-based gags was Tara “I’ll do any movie” Reid, who had a biting comment thrown at her almost every time she appeared on screen. Both these two and the actors playing their children, Chuck Hittinger and Aubrey Peeples, deserve every verbal jab and uppercut. Especially John Heard, who plays a day-drinking, booze-loving alcoholic with a knack for using a bar stool as a dog-saving device.
If you haven’t seen Sharknado, it’s not any smarter or more complicated than it sounds, except for the fact that it starts out with a hurricane that rounds all the sharks together before the tornado stuff starts happening. The pic’s more over-the-top sequences, almost all involving awful CGI sharks and blood, worked almost as well as the commentary picking it all apart. What Ziering does with a chainsaw in this movie is positively frightening, and you can’t unsee that kind of thing on the big screen.
To me, it’s best not to rattle off the best jokes of the evening; one, because it might ruin your potential favorite joke whenever you inevitably rent or buy the commentary track from RiffTrax, and two, because I can barely remember them all. You guys know how it is watching these guys work. The funniest bits can be a turn of phrase or a particularly dark FEMA joke, and then they can be immediately outshadowed by something else entirely. Listening to RiffTrax is like bullshitting with your friends, assuming your friends are comedic geniuses and you don’t mind shutting the hell up for an hour and a half.
If you had the chance to catch this screening and for some reason opted out of it, don’t make the same mistake twice. Catch the second Sharknado screening on Tuesday, July 15, and don’t forget about Godzilla, who has never faced anything as menacing as RiffTrax. Audiences are the assured victor in all of these battles.