The idea behind MST3K is quite possibly the most perfect idea ever. Has there ever been another show that could have continued to run indefinitely and still been as funny as it ever was? I don’t think so.
The cancellation of MST3K was a tremendous blow for me. It was like losing a good friend and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m almost positive there are aspects of my sense of humor that have been heavily influenced by the dry wit of Tom Servo and the sarcasm of Mike Nelson. The whole show was living proof that it is possible to write smart jokes and people will get them. That’s a rarity when it comes to television (and if you have any doubt about that please see The TV Set as soon as possible).
Cinematic Titanic has brought all that back. But instead of just Joel/Mike and the ‘bots, you get Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, and Mary Jo Pehl all riffing a movie at the same time. And while I miss the ‘bots, Trace Beaulieu and J. Elvis Weinstein (the voices of Crow and Tom Servo) are able to alleviate that emptiness by saying things exactly like Crow or Servo would have every once in a while.
Now, let’s talk about The Oozing Skulll, the original name of which is Brain of Blood (title change was due to a concern by one of the film’s producers that people would be confused as to which was the riffed version and which was the original). The movie is spectacularly bad, with cheesy acting galore. To make the whole thing even more ridiculous, a postcard of what looks like the Taj Mahal (but really isn’t) is used as the outside shot of a fictional country’s royal palace:
Note to aspiring filmmakers: Don’t use a wonder of the world – or even a building that looks like one of the wonders – as anything but what it really is. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t use postcards as external shots. Wait, no, do do that stuff; that just means more riffing goodness in the future for me and all the other MSTies out there.
The movie itself is about a dying man and his people’s wish that he live on. Apparently he was like a living god to them. The solution to this problem is, in standard B-movie fashion, to do the completely nonsensical thing and transplant his brain into another body. Of course, that can only be accomplished in the USA in a hidden laboratory staffed with a guy who may have appeared in the movie Willow, a mad doctor, and a Forrest Gump-type sans the charisma and sporting severe acid burns to his face and head. While there are other medical types working there, they all come off as mere window dressing, serving no real purpose.
Gore, the hideously disfigured simpleton, manages to screw up the procuring of a new body for Amir, the dying – and later dead – man. This of course throws the whole process into a tailspin and the haplessly simple-minded Gore ends up biting the bullet, albeit unknowingly, and giving up his body for what I guess is the greater good. Then Amir wakes up, realizes what has happened, and refuses to calm down and listen to the doctor, who is trying to explain that if they hadn’t used what they had he’d be dead. He of course completely disregards the fact that the doctor can just move his brain into a new body once they get one, which wouldn’t take long, and goes on a murderous rampage. Basically, this movie was just begging to be riffed.
We aren’t disappointed. Right out of the gate the jokes are flying. Joel is as charming as ever and, as mentioned before, Trace and J. Elvis are able to drag out the ‘bot nostalgia a few times while still managing to be mostly funny during rest of the time. I was pleasantly surprised at Frank Conniff’s ability to riff because he’s always been TV’s Frank, one of the “mads”, to me. But the man is funny. He brings a lot of the Frank character we know and love to the riffing table and it’s pure genius. Which leaves us with a fairly quiet Mary Jo Pehl, and she is as delightful as ever (just not as evil as Pearl). Not all the jokes work and occasionally you get the sense that this is still a project in an early phase, but you can tell they’re quickly getting into the groove. Every show has growing pains, this is no exception.
Now, before I go any further can I just say that I have a girl crush on Mary Jo Pehl? You might remember her for her many roles on MST3K, including her turns as Pearl Forrester and one of my personal favorites, Jan in the Pan (pictured at right). She was a writer for the show from 1992-1999, during which time she also provided the voice for Magic Voice. But I don’t think I truly appreciated her genius until watching her riff The Oozing Skull. Without a doubt she’s my favorite member of the Cinematic Titanic team (forgive me, Joel) despite being a bit on the quiet side this time out. She’s got impeccable comedic timing and I can’t help but laugh at her open blog post to Obama giving him all the good reasons she should be the person he picks as his running mate. Not part of the movie, but comic gold, I tell you.
By the time the end of the movie rolled around I was completely sold on Cinematic Titanic. There are no host segments and everything takes place completely in the shadowrama format, but it’s like having a retooled, very new – but still good – MST3K back. And it’s completely topped off by Stephen Hawking rolling through the theater after everybody else has left. I just about busted a gut.
Verdict: B+. Some of the best writers to ever grace television are back doing what they do best: making fun of really bad movies. In addition, more people are riffing, which could have ruined it (more is not always better) but they’ve managed to bring it together and play off each other. Given more time they’ll have it honed to the point where you have to wonder if they couldn’t have filled those seats in the original MST3K theater and come away with the same hilarious results.
In order to keep these guys up and running, head on over to the Cinematic Titanic page and either download or order The Oozing Skull for the low, low price of $14.99. You will not be disappointed, I promise you.
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