In the not too distant future, Oct. 25, A.D., the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 will do what they do best live when they screen “Birdemic” at participating cinemas.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) was a hit comedy series about an average guy sent into space by an evil scientist bent on the idea of world domination through cheesy science fiction movies.
RiffTrax, created by former MST3K stars Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, adds “Birdemic” to the list of films getting picked apart one joke at a time.
Written by James Nguyen, “Birdemic” was written as a romantic thriller and an homage to legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, who directed “The Birds.”
“When you’re trying to make an homage to one of the greatest directors of all time, it probably helps to have one tiny splinter of talent, and he fell a little short there,” Nelson says. “It’s really weird because I just saw ‘The Birds’ on the big screen and there’s really nothing, besides it being set in Half Moon Bay where ‘Birds’ was set, you don’t recognize anything. Yeah, there are birds, but there is nothing that it looks like, it doesn’t have that sort of sparkling dialogue.
“An homage is not … it’s like your dog handing you a dead squirrel. ‘Well, thank you, I guess that’s an homage to me, but I really didn’t ask for it.’ That’s what it is, it’s the ‘dead squirrel’ of homages.”
Even though “Birdemic” has been called the worst movie ever made by some, Nelson says the film still holds a special place in his heart. No, seriously, he means it.
“It’s the worst in a really good way. He’s the director where every single choice that he made was the wrong one, but somehow it all adds up to something that delights and entertains me,” Nelson says. “Maybe that doesn’t speak well of me, but I think it’s one of the more fun bad movies.
“We did the ‘Manos’ show [“Manos: The Hands of Fate,” the movie considered by most as the worst ever made], and ‘Manos’ has its own charms but it’s a much darker version of a bad movie and a lot of people are like, ‘Uh, I just can’t get through that one.’ ‘Birdemic’ is a much more lighthearted romp of a bad movie.”
Even though Nelson is a fan of the film, the prospect of a sequel is a little hard to swallow. Nguyen has filmed a sequel “Birdemic 2: The Resurrection,” but hasn’t yet found a distributor.
“Of course I have high hopes [for the sequel], I do enjoy ‘Birdemic’ for all its many, many, many flaws, but this one, you know, can lightning strike twice? Especially after you’re aware of it,” Nelson says. “Ed Wood made some delightful wrecks of movies, but he was not aware, he made his whole body of work without really having a lot of outside influences on it. James Nguyen, he travels around with this film in front of audiences laughing at how sad it is, so he’s got to be aware of it. I just don’t know how you keep that out of the sequel. Maybe he was able to do it, I don’t know.”
Making fun of these movies is hard work. Nelson says the gang will sit in front of a movie for a long time trying to come up with just the right joke. Of course, after watching the same thing more than 50 times in a row, some things probably are going to turn out to not be as funny as you thought.
“You have to step back from it; you are really close to it. You’re peering at it with a microscope and you have to step back,” Nelson says. “For what it’s worth, most of the movies I don’t care if I ever see them again, but there’s a few that still retain a little bit of charm for me, and ‘Birdemic’ is one of those, oddly enough. We still talk about scenes or somebody will send us a clip from it and you watch it again and it still has some weird, innocent appeal to it that I like, whereas a lot of the movies that we’ve done I’m like, ‘Look, I lived with it for 200 hours … I’m done with it.’
“This one, though, for some reason, I can handle. I have a high tolerance.”
The guys at RiffTrax certainly are not ones to shy away from any film. Granted, money might be an issue if they want to do it live, but for the most part they’re able to put out MP3s as commentary without having the movie playing or in the background, which means they don’t have to pay for a license.
The normal RiffTrax experience usually has fans buying and downloading a commentary track that doesn’t use any of the audio from the movie. This way, the guys can riff on any movie they want, just so long as it’s available on DVD or On Demand. A fan puts the movie on, then plays the audio file in the background and, boom, instant hilarity.
“Because we don’t have to license the films for our MP3s, there’s nothing that we wouldn’t do. I would like to do in the theater, where we would need to buy a license, there a lot of movies, and I think it would be fun to revisit, say, some sort of ‘80s blockbuster,” Nelson says.
“Actually for next year, because hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do these Fathom shows, we’re sort of looking into that. Like, ‘What would it be like to just take a big title, even if it was just a little bit older or something, whether it’s ‘Roadhouse’ with Patrick Swayze, or a Stallone movie or something like that.’
“So nothing specifically but I would like to do sort of a cheesy ‘80s action or something like that in the live context.”
Overall, Nelson isn’t one to go back and watch himself on DVD during the MST3K days.
“Occasionally my wife or my kids ..., just out of curiosity will put on an episode and I’ll see it out of the corner of my eye,” Nelson says. “I think a lot of people who are performers share this, it’s like, ‘Uh, ah, I don’t want to hear my voice! Urgh, I don’t want to see myself! Who is that guy?! Shut him off!’ It’s a weird phenomenon and I try to avoid it.”