An August movie theater event showing Ed Wood's nonclassic Plan 9 from Outer Space — featuring the reunited stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 making fun of it — was such a hit, there's going to be a repeat Thursday.
The MST3K guys are still making fun of bad and even good movies, only now it's part of an online project called Rifftrax, which allows fans to download an MP3 of Mike Nelson and guests talking over popular films in the classic MST3K style. For example, you can download the guys making cracks during Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ("I summon the power of all-fabric bleach!") for $3.99. Twilight is also a bestseller on the site, which offers technical support to synchronize the sound with the movies.
For Plan 9 — often "lauded" as the worst movie ever made — Nelson was joined by fellow Rifftraxers and MST3K vets Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) as they riffed live via satellite on the movie that is so bad it's golden. The snark was filmed in Nashville, and there are extras including live music and a special short produced by the trio.
We spoke with Nelson to find out how he earns a living by making fun of movies.
I missed the first showing of Plan 9, so you'll have to clue me in, but what led movie theater crowds to join in singing about eating brains?
Jonathan Coulton (an independent musician with the heart of a geek) is a friend of Rifftrax. A lot of people who don't hang out in the back alley of the Internet like we do haven't heard of him, but he has a huge following. One of his songs about a zombie eating brains had people singing out loud in the theaters.
Plan 9 is an awesome movie to make fun of, and my favorite from the MST3K days was Teenagers from Outer Space. What are the chance of featuring some modern clunkers on the big screen, like a Katherine Heigl movie?
We are planning future shows, and people are interested in modern stuff we do, like Twilight or something from the '80s. The problem is the owners of these films probably don't want to cooperate.
You don't need permission to do the MP3 downloads?
No, because we don't meld them together ourselves. We have gotten permission in individual theaters, sometimes. We did Daredevil, the Ben Affleck superhero movie, and Over the Top, the Stallone arm-wrestling movie, but those were in limited release. But so far our Rifftrax model is going great. We coasted past our third year doing an Internet biz.
Pretend you're a wine steward. Which Rifftrax movie downloads do you recommend?
I've always stated my love for cheesy '80s movies. Red Dawn and Road House, I just love. I did Cocktail, but it is one of the lowest-selling Rifftrax downloads. I think the problem is, are people willing to go to a video store and say, "I'm renting Cocktail?" It takes some courage.
You seem to be using multiple formats, like blogs and Twitter, to keep your fans coming back. Are you the face of new media?
It's so hard to take quirky projects to Hollywood. It's clearly a business thing. … But we have our little corner now. We will never sell out Wembley Stadium, but we can get a reaction to something through Twitter or on our blogs almost immediately, and that's really satisfying.