By Sugar Ray Dodge, RiffWiki.net Editor-in-Chief
Well, another great year at RiffTrax has come and gone. Before we launch headlong into the future, let's take a look back at what can arguably be the best year in RiffTrax history, and hand out the awards for the Third Annual RiffWiki.net Riff of the Year, Live Show of the Year and RiffTrax Presents of the Year.
Icebreaker - Talk about a way to open the year, (or the equivalence of an 11th season,) than this gem from the makers of the MST3K icon Time Chasers and the RiffTrax classic Radical Jack, and I say that in the best way possible. This action flick stars some pretty decent names considering the production company that made it, although I must admit that I happen to know that Sean Astin will do pretty much anything he is asked... and do it very poorly, I might add. Who actually liked him in Rudy or Lord of the Rings? Be honest! ...that's what I thought. That aside, it has both Bruce Campbell, Stacy Keach and the utterly inept and corrupt deputy from Radical Jack (of “make some REE-PAWRTS” fame.) That's not a cast to look your nose down at. Despite it's flaws, it is competently filmed and edited, something you don't always get with RiffTrax movies. I can't really think of anything bad to say about it other than it's kinda silly, but even then it's silliness is quite entertaining. If you're a fan of Sean Astin trying to act well outside his ability, this is the movie for you.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - Talk about a longtime coming. This one really felt like the end of an era, as there is no other franchise that has been riffed more often in the entire RiffTrax or even MST3K library than Harry Potter. Die hard fans have been (and quite rudely at times, to be perfectly honest) caterwauling for this one since at least 2012. If you think about it, patience has to be required with RiffTrax to finish the series when you consider how much time they have devoted to it. It has to be a great riff in it's own right, but it also has to fit in and flow with the previous seven entries as well, and a two-year hiatus was exactly what was required to get that done. It doesn't disappoint and serves as a fitting and satisfying conclusion to a significant part of RiffTrax lore.
Wizards of the Lost Kingdom - This fifth rate Jack the Giant Killer ripoff fails to live up to The Sword and the Sorcerer, the Magic Sword, or Hawk the Slayer with special effects and dialogue that would make Menahem Golan roll his eyes, which makes it excellent riffing material. I kept imagining Pendragon, Lodac or Mr. B. Natural waiting just off screen at the first opportunity to show the main villain how it's REALLY done. But it is nice to see the gremlin from Nightmare at 20,000 Feet getting work.
RiffTrax Presents: Flight to Mars - Since they first began pairing with each other 3 years ago with King of Kong Island, Matthew J. Elliott and Ian Potter have delivered a string of outstanding performances in the RiffTrax Presents series. At the time it was released, I considered Warning from Space to be the single best RiffTrax Presents entry in the history of the brand. Then Flight to Mars came around and it blew everything else out of the water. The movie matched the chemistry of Matthew and Ian perfectly, and the blend of story, personality, aesthetics, pacing and humor is a flawless demonstration of how a riff can transcend its material and become brilliant work of art in it's own right. I am so very glad this was recognized and won the 2016 RiffTrax Presents of the Year Award, something only slightly less prestigious than the Stellachip Salesperson of the Quarter Award.
Samurai Cop - This was a very cool entry, as it had been on the cult circuit for a very long time. So many movies with the cult status like this can go for years without being selected by RiffTrax, if they ever even get a riff at all. This is one of the heavyweights, and it was released around the same time the long awaited sequel with Tommy Wiseau taking the place of the legendary Robert Z'Dar, so it's timing was absolutely perfect. Mike, Kevin and Bill bring a lot to the table and make the riff an experience a very unique one even for those who have seen the movie a thousand times. Bringing something fresh to the movie is so very important, and in this case RiffTrax knocks it out of the park. If not for a certain Christmas clown, it would have won Riff of the Year running, but finished second is every bit as significant.
Cyber Tracker - A very, very strange movie that I'm still not entirely sure where it came from or what it is. It has something of a Future Force/Mutant/ROTOR vibe about it, and the movie itself fails to live up to even those standards. It's muddled, it's ugly and it's downright incomprehensible. Mike, Kevin and Bill's constant declarations of “wait, WHAT” are genuine and earned, because most viewers would be saying the exact same thing and all the exact same times.
RiffTrax Presents: Cat-Women of the Moon - This was Bridget and Mary Jo's first stab at a feature length riff, and I think they proved they have what it takes to keep making more. The title itself, like Flight to Mars, is very well suited to the riffers taking it on. It plays magnifies their strengths as comedians and, like other titles before it, brings something new and fresh to a very familiar cult movie. Interesting bit of trivia, this movie shares a plot with an earlier RiffTrax entry called Missile to the Moon, and while they are both really bad and stupid, Cat-Women is clearly the superior movie.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - The biggest film of 2015, not to mention possibly one of the greatest films of all time (yeah, I said it!) got the ever-so-rare-anymore MP3 blockbuster commentary, and became an instant RiffTrax essential. The transition from the prequel trilogy to this brave new world created by JJ Abrams, its return to the imagery associated with the original trilogy, and it's mass market appeal provided a lot of material for Mike, Kevin and Bill to use. They are also able to point out the movie's flaws in a way that is funny, but is done in a fair and non-derogatory way. The moof-milkers who participated in the Riff of the Year competition decided it was good enough to award it the bronze medal for 2016.
RiffTrax Live: Time Chasers - This live show was such a great pick and an important milestone for RiffTrax. The first, of course, is that it is an MST3K icon, one of the films made famous by the television program RiffTrax sprang forth from. Now, they have done re-riffs of MST3K movies before, most notably Manos: The Hands of Fate and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, both live shows themselves. But this was the first movie from the Sci-Fi years, the years in which the RiffTrax lineup, Mike, Kevin and Bill, was front and center. Only Kevin was present on screen as Tom Servo for Manos and Martians, so the addition of Mike and Bill was to give the shows their own flavor. With Time Chasers, however, they would be revisiting material the lineup had already covered and with distinction. Time Chasers, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, is, in fact, the best episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Living up to that would be a very hard thing, but they did manage to pull it off. This opens the door for more Sci-Fi era selections to be revisited, including, dare I say it, The Final Sacrifice or even, dare I say again, Hobgoblins.
Arachnia - This entry, also from Edgewood Studios, is the closest you will ever get to knowing what it would be like if Time Chasers and Ghost House had an incest movie bastard. That's really the only way to describe this one. It defies any other description and must be seen to be believed.
Hillbillys in a Haunted House - The existence of this film angers me. I watched it for the first time and for some reason, the whole thing just rubbed me the wrong way. I can't explain it, but the fact that human beings got together and made this thing is offensive to my very soul. The riff is awesome, don't get me wrong. So awesome in fact that it was a serious contender in our Riff of the Year competition, and considering what it was competing against, is impressive. But this yarn about a bunch of hicks driving towards country music fame and fortune deciding to stop for the night at a haunted house just smacks of the absolute stupidest ideas ever put to film.
Game of Thrones/Daredevil/The Walking Dead - Riffs for the pilot episodes of some of the biggest shows on television. These were fun outings, hopefully this may lead to a revival in riffing more television episodes like they did during their first two years.
RiffTrax Presents: Gravity - What a great ride this one was. Bridget and Mary Jo again prove they have feature film riffing chops, and their selection, again, plays well to their strengths and personalities. It's also the first MP3 commentary for a RiffTrax Presents in a long time, so hopefully we'll see more of those in the future.
The Last Shark - Remember what I said about Arachnia being the incest movie bastard of Time Chasers and Ghost House? Replace Ghost House with Jaws and add windsurfing and you have the only thing I can use to describe The Last Shark.
RiffTrax Live: MST3K Reunion Show - It has been said that this was the biggest night in the history of RiffTrax. The State Theater in Minneapolis was sold out, making it the most attended RiffTrax Live event to date. It marked not only the reunion of (most) of the MST3K cast, but also the RiffTrax debuts of Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Jonah Ray and MST3K creator Joel Hodgson. It was a grand celebration of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but also of RiffTrax itself. It's no wonder at all that this one is the RiffWiki.net Live Show of the Year!
Attack from Space - Somebody make room for another member of the RiffTrax Justice League of weird, terrible super heroes! Starman joins the ranks of The Pumaman (if you include the last three seasons of MST3K as part of RiffTrax, which I do,) Supersonic Man, that one luchador guy, and... Well, I suppose that's all of them. Don't worry, though, there's an even better addition to this league of goofballs later on...
RiffTrax Live: Mothra - Originally in this space there was a long, rambling retelling of what is was like for me to attend RiffTrax Live in person at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville. But then I realized nobody wants to hear about my feelings, because feelings are dumb and boring. Suffice it to say that attending the show in person was the highlight of my entire year. If you ever have the chance to attend the show, take full advantage of it. As a RiffTrax fan, this would be like attending the SuperBowl or WrestleMania. The experience is so much fun, and to emphasize it, I have made this my Editor's Choice for 2016.
Ruby - The day after Mothra, RiffTrax unleashed onto the world it's single most bizarre title ever. Even weirder than To Catch a Yeti, and that's saying something. It's a weird blend of The Exorcist and... well, I'm not really sure what else, but you can tell the makers were trying to play Exorcist mashup with SOMETHING. And they FAILED! SPECTACULARLY! I've seen it five or six times since it came out and this is the best I can put together as far as the plot goes; gangster and his wife get gunned down, the gangster dies, she doesn't and immediately gives birth... because that's how babies are made. You get shot and then a baby is born. Seems like I've been doing it all wrong. Anyway, the baby grows up to be possessed by a demon while her mother, who now owns a drive-in theater, is taking out all the people involved in the shooting. ...oh, and also the ghost of her husband is out and about trying to kill her for reasons that are never really explained. Told you it was weird. I would label this one a classic and essential for the mere fact that it is such a unique entry. There really is nothing else in the library quite like it.
Road House: Three-Riffer Edition - To celebrate 10 years of RiffTrax, the first title released under the RiffTrax banner was re-riffed and released, and it's even better than the first. It felt very much like a homecoming and I hope that it's success will mean more re-visitations to early Mike-Solo riffs with Kevin and Bill along for the ride.
Astro-Zombies - Gotta love John Carradine! ...that is all.
Honor and Glory - I honestly have no idea where this one came from, but what an amazing piece of bad-movie this is! I don't understand why this doesn't have a wider presence amongst bad-movie lovers, because it is an absolute gem on par with Birdemic and Neil Breen flicks. The whole thing defies comprehension. Human beings got together to make this, and it even has a genuine movie star in it! You know, the guy who played Liu Kang in 1995's Mortal Kombat is a bit player! There are knife fights involving reporters and daughters of disgraced senators, FBI agents and their weird home lives, and, of course, ninjas. What's not to love? I certainly hope the exposure RiffTrax gave it generates interest for it to become more widely known. The fact that it was a contender for Riff of the Year proves that, on some level, this is exactly what is happening.
Jurassic World - Such a great choice for the aforementioned ever-so-rare-anymore MP3 riffs. We come back around to one of the franchises that helped establish RiffTrax early on. The original film was riffed by Mike Nelson and the ineffable Weird Al Yankovic and the third film was an early pick from Matthew J. Elliott, so this one was such an obvious and fun choice you wonder why they didn't do it in 2015. Watching it with RiffTrax, it was the first time I realized that the movie really wasn't that great, and not for the childish reasons Joss Whedon didn't like the movie. The movie is just dumb, but it's none of the things that overrated slob said it was. Moving on, though...
Deadly Prey - Rambo? ...awww, it's not Rambo! But it sure is trying hard to be! This movie will leaving you wanting many, many showers for both your body and your soul. One particular line will leave you feeling especially horrible about yourself for watching this, and when it comes you will have absolutely no doubt that it is the one I am speaking of.
Superargo and the Faceless Giants - Remember when I said there was an even better addition to the RiffTrax Justice League of weird, terrible super heroes? Yeah, it's this guy. And, yes, he's a foreigner and very badly dubbed, so he meets most of the requirements for entry.
Christmas Circus with Whizzo the Clown - Wow. What to say about THIS... Imagine, if you will, a clown-man from Kansas City with the most bizarre makeup you'll ever see on a clown, rambling incoherently for about twenty minutes, then bring several frightened children into his studio, get on a (COUGH) magic carpet and fly to the (COUGH COUGH) North Pole to meet Santa. Whizzo the Clown, I imagine, is like what a slightly saner clown version of the Ultimate Warrior would be like, because you cannot comprehend a damn thing he is saying other than his forced catchphrase “now I have that to worry about.” No, Whizzo. It's the parents who have YOU to worry about when their children are left in your custody for an hour. This entry is so strange, it makes Fun in Balloonland and To Catch a Yeti look like typical summer blockbusters. This entry dominated the Riff of the Year competition by getting nearly 90% of the vote. Congratulations, Whizzo! Now there is somebody associated with Christmas even more terrifying than the Ice Cream Bunny!
Thanks to everybody in the RiffTrax Wiki for another amazing year! Here's to 2017 and Season 12!