For folks who enjoy spewing snide comments and one-liners at crappy films, it's been a long, lonely eight years since production on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" finally came to a halt. Fortunately, however, recent years have found a plethora of "MST3K" alumni returning to do what they do best: making fun of bad movies. First, Mike Nelson teamed with Legend Films to offer commentary tracks for classics like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and the original "Little Shop of Horrors." Then, Nelson founded the website Rifftrax.com, where, for a paltry $2.99 a pop, he's begun providing downloadable commentary for more recent cinematic catastrophes like "Eragon," "Glitter," "The Wicker Man," and even a couple of "Star Trek" flicks.
Given that Nelson has been occasionally joined at Rifftrax by some of his former "MST" compatriots, it's perhaps not too surprising to find that he's once again teamed up with Kevin Murphy (the former Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (he who once voiced Crow T. Robot) for a new project: "The Film Crew." Bullz-Eye had a chance to talk to Nelson and Murphy – on the morning of our interview, Corbett was far too busy waiting for his wife to go into labor to speak with us (the nerve of some people!) – and we quizzed them about the new gig, why they didn't just revive "Mystery Science Theater 3000," what it's like to watch a film where Rue McClanahan plays a stripper, and if Mariah Carey's "Glitter" is really as bad as everyone says it is.
Yeah, we know: that last one's pretty much rhetorical. But we knew we'd get a good answer out of them…and we were right.
Kevin Murphy: Oh, hi!
Mike Nelson: Hey, Mike Nelson here.
KM: Kevin Murphy here.
BE: How's it going, guys?
MN: Pretty good.
KM: Good! How are you?
BE: Not bad at all.
BE: Actually, Mike, I talked to you about a year ago, for the release of the "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Little Shop of Horrors" DVDs.
MN: Oh, yeah, yeah! How are you?
BE: I'm good. I'm glad to be able to talk to the both of you together.
KM: Our pleasure.
BE: Well, I'm sure the first thing people are wondering about – provided they don't already know the answer – is, "Why 'The Film Crew'? Why not just do more 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'"?
MN: Well… (Takes a deep breath) …I think it's Kevin's growing fear of puppets, wasn't it, Kevin?
KM: It's the smell of the rubber, you know? The plastic…? It still outgases after ten years! It just makes me nauseous, sitting in that trench and smelling the puppet.
MN: And, plus, the level that Kevin would have to stand next to me was so disturbing.
KM: I always looked at Mike's thighs. I was at thigh-level for ten years with the poor guy. It was a little scary. (Laughs) But, y'know, I don't know. We just…"Mystery Science Theater" was kind of gone. Re-creating that would've been a pretty monstrous undertaking…yet we still have fun making fun of movies. There seemed to be sort of a demand for it, so, short of "Mystery Science Theater," this is what we have.
BE: So, Kevin, was it hard for you to step out from behind the comfort of Tom Servo and actually appear onscreen?
KM: Well, you know, for many years, I've dwelled in blissful anonymity because nobody could recognize me by the occasional glimpses of my wrist that you could see when I did my bad puppeteering. And, otherwise, I wore a monkey mask. So I was always fine with that. I'm not saying that "The Film Crew" will launch me into Will Smith's brand of fortune… (Laughs) …but I'm always a little self-conscious when I see my big, wrinkly kisser on the screen.
BE: But, of course, I guess you still spend most of your time off-screen, anyway.
KM: It's true. Which is good. There are only little glimpses of us, as freakish sort of "Three Stooges" simulacra.
BE: I guess it would've been too easy to appear in silhouette on this show as well.
KM: Yeah, actually, that would've been painful.
BE: Well, I've had a chance to watch the first volume, where you guys tackle "Hollywood After Dark."
KM: It's fun, huh?
BE: Rue McClanahan as a stripper: was that the only bit of information that you needed to know that this was a must-do film for you guys?
MN: It was kind of a…when we heard that, we asked, "Why has no-one brought this movie to the American viewing public?" I mean, we're doing a service there.
BE: And the fact that it was made in 1968 but it's still in black and white: I guess they were attempting to go noir…?
KM: Yeah, they really did try to go grim. They were a little late. But they had the nice string ties, which I liked, and they called each other "baby" a lot. I loved that.
BE: So which do you think was worse: that we didn't actually get to see Rue bare all, or simply that we saw as much as we did?
MN: Any more and, actually, it would've been the trigger for the end of the world. The seventh seal would've been opened. And I think they knew that even back then, even back in those carefree days of the '60s.
KM: They had the good sense to contain it.
BE: I know that "Killers from Space" is another title that you guys are doing, but are there any other titles that are on deck at the moment?
KM: Actually, there are two others that are up there, and they're both in glorious color, so the kids'll be excited about that…because, apparently, black and white movies are invisible to children under 17 years old.
BE: And, occasionally, my wife.
"One of the youngsters in the office said that their buddy was looking at a copy of Spin Magazine, and 'The Film Crew' was mentioned. That was one of the things they were excited about, in a list of top-ten things. And the one right below us was 'a blow-up doll for your dog to hump.' And I thought, 'That's perfect! That fits us exactly.'"KM: There's just a blank screen. They don't see anything. They say, "What are you watching? Why don't you turn on the television?" "But I'm watching 'The Killers'!" Or, "I'm watching a Sam Fuller movie!" "No, I don't see anything!" So we have to have a couple of color movies in there, and one of them is a delightful sort of prehistoric sex comedy called "The Wild Women of Wongo."
BE: Very nice.
KM: Yeah. And the other is…it's not a "Hercules" movie, but, doggone it, it sure feels like one. It's "Giant of Marathon." There's really no giant.
KM: But there is a marathon!
MN: It is a faithful retelling of the first marathon, only with a lot more male genitalia waved in your face.
BE: Uh, will those be pixilated for the screen?
MN: (Laughs) Well, it's behind a thin layer of level, so we can get away with it.
KM: It's very "300"-y.
MN: It is. It is a perfect time for it, because there were a whole bunch of "300"s before this "300."
KM: That's right. There were probably about three…hundred.
MN: (Laughs) And Steve Reeves was in 299 of them, just so you know.
BE: You guys have a pretty significant internet presence. Do you keep in touch with your fans via E-mail or discussion boards?
MN: Uh, I have a whole bunch of friends on MySpace…
KM: (Bursts into laughter)
MN: …and they are my dearest, dearest friends. So I keep in touch that way. And, also, the forum over at Rifftrax.com, people get to jaw at me, so I get it that way.
KM: And I have a KevinWMurphy.com website, and people sort of communicate to me through there...but I've been getting a lot of offers for housewives in my neighborhood who are available.
KM: Have you heard about this?
BE: I have not.
KM: Willing housewives, that's what these letters say. And I don't know who's sending them, but I really appreciate it. It's nice to know.
BE: It is very nice. Speaking of Rifftrax, Mike, I know you've had other "MST" alumni besides just Kevin. Do you anticipate similar guest spots on future "Film Crew" DVDs?
MN: Well, we hope there are future "Film Crew" DVDs. We have to see what happens with them. I mean, I think the world has been screaming for "Hollywood After Dark," but, apparently, y'know, it's not a foregone conclusion. So we'll see what happens.
BE: Kevin, you've been on several of the Rifftrax, but the only one I've had a chance to download has been "Star Trek V." Between the bunch of you, what have been your favorites?
KM: Uh, well, that "Star Trek V" one was really quite fun.
MN: Kevin and I just did "Generations," speaking of "Star Trek," which I was quite fond of. Once the pain of writing and performing is over and you can just kind of relax, I quite enjoyed it.
KM: You get Shatner and Data, and you get Chekov! You get the three biggest over-actors! DeForest Kelley was, unfortunately, dead. But they still could've dragged him out.
BE: How bad was "Glitter"? Because I'm just not sure I have the strength to watch it, even with your commentary.
MN: You know, "Glitter"…I would not wave you away from that one. It's got all the elements of a…it's so bad, and, yet, there's a little touch of the "Road House" bad about it, where there are moments that just make you laugh out loud just on their own. And I was shocked by that. People who said it was the worst movie ever made didn't tell me it was also one of the most delightful bad movies ever made. (Laughs)
BE: Kevin, have you seen that one? I know you're not on the commentary for that one, but…
KM: I have. And I very much enjoyed it. And I also enjoyed Mike's solo effort on "Over the Top"…
BE: Ah, yes.
KM: …because it is a gem, and it does have these mild…and I don't want to exaggerate anything here…but mild "Road House"-ian qualities.
MN: One must always be careful not to expand it into genuine "Road House" territory.
KM: Well, we don't want to blaspheme or anything.
MN: No, exactly.
KM: But, you know, truly, my favorite so far, I think, is "The Wicker Man." Because it's Nicolas Cage, and it's Neil LaBute, and it's so ridiculous, and it's so aggressively…it's like David Mamet: not only do I hate women, I'm scared shitless of them, and I'm gonna make a movie about it.
MN: I find myself…if I'm encountering a stern woman who is unyielding, usually clerks or office workers, I want to just call them out and say, "Calm down, Sister Beech," but…
KM: (Starts laughing)
MN: …but only about three people in the world would know what the hell I was talking about.
KM: The rest might get confused and hit you.
MN: Yeah, exactly.
BE: You know, you were talking about "Road House," and a few months back, we did a feature called the Badass Bracket, where James Dalton was in our original match-up of the 32 biggest badasses.
KM: All right!
BE: Unfortunately, he didn't make it past the first round.
MN: Aw, damn!
BE: But, still, he made the cut. The problem was that he was up against Maximus, from "Gladiator." Not really a fair fight.
KM: Hard to beat.
BE: Mike, how did Neil Patrick Harris get into the mix for Rifftrax? (Writer's note: Harris teams up with Nelson to tackle "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.")
MN: Well, I was just thinking it would be fun. One of the elements of RiffTrax is that, because there's not a big production to mount – it's relatively small – it'd be fun to get other people involved and see who could do it. And his name came up. He'd been sort of a fan of "Mystery Science" back in his "Doogie Howser" days, so I just got in touch with him, and he knew what RiffTrax was, and he got it, and he said, "Yeah, that'd be fun." So we just drove up to L.A. one day, to a studio near him, and we'd sent him a script, and I was expecting the ranting and raving, "I would never say this! Neil Patrick Harris doesn't talk like this!" But he just did everything word for word. "Oh, this is funny!" "Are you sure you're okay with it?" "Yeah, no problem!" So it was really a delight to work with a Hollywood star who's a nice guy and very funny.
BE: Kevin, when I spoke to Mike before, I told him that I enjoyed his books, but I also really liked yours: "A Year at the Movies."
KM: Why, thank you!
BE: And I understand that it resulted in you being mentioned in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not!"
KM: It did! I've got this wonderful framed image of that. I'm in there with some poodle that was of some note, and then there's me. It says, "Kevin Murphy went to the theater for 365 days in a row," and it had a little cartoon of a seat reserved for me. The only thing that might've been better would've been if I'd appeared in the comic strip "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith." That would've been true fame.
MN: You know, along those lines, Kevin, one of the youngsters in the office said that their buddy was looking at a copy of Spin Magazine, and "The Film Crew" was mentioned. That was one of the things they were excited about, in a list of top-ten things. And the one right below us was "a blow-up doll for your dog to hump." And I thought, "That's perfect! That fits us exactly."
KM: (Laughs) That's great. That's nice to know, that we're right in there with the inflatable dog love doll.
BE: Sorry, but did you say you were above the doll or below it?
MN: I'm pretty sure we were above it, because that's what made me so proud.
BE: So, Kevin, how did that book come about? I mean, did you pitch it to the publisher, or did someone at the publishing house have the bright idea?
KM: I pitched it. I had an editor friend at Harper Collins – he edited "The Mystery Science Theater Amazing Colossal Episode Guide," which we wrote – and he said, "Whenever you've got an idea for a book, send it my way." And, truly, I'd stopped going to the theater while I was working on "Mystery Science Theater," because we were working too late, and it was just too painful to go watch a movie all day and then go out and watch a movie. So I started going regularly when "Mystery Science Theater" was over, and I hated it, and I wanted to figure out why. And I'd done a little bit of traveling, and I realized that just about everywhere else in the world, moviegoing was more fun. So I thought I'd do a survey of moviegoing at the turn of the century from the point of view of a moviegoer...but I needed a gimmick. So that's what the gimmick was: to go to a theater and see a movie every day for an entire year. And that was enough to sell the book!
BE: Mike, do you have any books in the works? I know you've written several.
MN: You know, I'm supposed to be writing books. People are owed books by me. But I have to admit, I'm making a public confession right here: I'm too busy to work on them. So I have nothing to report on those lines.
BE: Are you still doing stuff for Legend Films?
MN: Yes, right now, I'm ensconced within the belly of Legend Films as I talk to you. But 99.9% of my stuff involves RiffTrax. It's just that we're partnered up on RiffTrax.
BE: Kevin, on your website, you wrote an essay about actors who sing, posing the question, "Who will win the Nimoy prize?"
KM: Yes, the coveted Leonard Nimoy prize.
BE: Were you at all surprised that Nimoy's '60s single, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," wasn't reissued in the midst of all the "Lord of the Rings" hoopla a few years ago?
KM: You know, I figured it would be, but, then, all of the people who were in charge of the "Lord of the Rings" merchandise probably just simply listened to it. That's all you have to do. It's so flat, it seems like he's reading an essay rather than singing a song. It was just so flat and frightening. I know it's made it out there, and it's funny to see the video that went along with it, when he was on one of those ABC afternoon kids pop shows, like "Hullabaloo" or "Where the Action Is," and he's looking all rock, with his Beatle boots and his turtleneck, singing… (Begins a very credible impression of Leonard Nimoy singing) "Bilbo! Bilbo Baggins!" It's delightful. So it's too bad that it didn't get released in a special platinum edition.
BE: Two more quick ones. First off, any idea if "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie" is ever going to be reissued on DVD?
"I would not wave you away from ('Glitter'). It's so bad, and, yet, there's a little touch of the 'Road House' bad about it, where there are moments that just make you laugh out loud just on their own. And I was shocked by that. People who said it was the worst movie ever made didn't tell me it was also one of the most delightful bad movies ever made." – Mike NelsonMN: No! Somebody was asking me about this yesterday, and I recalled the moment when I knew we were no longer good buddies with the studio: they sent a couple of DVDs in a box to our place, and I thought, "Oh, good!" I figured they'd discovered that I was an early adopter of the DVD format and was into that. But there was a terse note in there that just said, "Please sign these and return at once." So, since then, they haven't called me or let me know what they're going to do with the movie or anything. It's just been sort of…it's the forgotten episode. It's like we've been wiped out of the Soviet pictures of what happened during the Universal days.
KM: Our relationship with Universal sort of bounced between neglect and outright hostility.
KM: I remember we went back for something, we were visiting a friend there, and Casey Silver, who was the president of the studio…this is after they sort of killed the release of the film because "Barb Wire" was coming out…and we're walking through the offices, and there's Casey Silver, and he says, "Hey, guys! We making a sequel? BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!"
MN: Just an open taunt, right in the halls of Universal.
KM: We got taunted by our supposed boss! It was quite a Hollywood moment.
BE: When the reissue of "This Island Earth" (the film skewered in "MST3K: The Movie") came out on DVD a little while ago, I couldn't believe they didn't just slip it on there as an Easter egg or something.
KM: It would've been smart. It's shorter than the actual "This Island Earth"! (Laughs)
BE: And last question: any idea why "MST3K" hasn't really been in reruns? It's certainly being reissued on DVD, but you never actually see it airing anywhere anymore.
MN: I think…I dunno, it's the rights, I guess. Since we started the show, from what I understand with my many copyright friends, is that things have changed so much. Things can get pulled back out of public domain, and the law has changed so much, that I guess nobody wants to risk it. It is a legal minefield now, with people buying back up properties that they had long presumed were in the public domain. I think that's part of it. Also, maybe…I don't know, but to the modern eye, will "MST3K" look like a bunch of strange weirdos in funny hair and suits and so forth? I don't know.
BE: We can only hope.
BE: Well, it's been great talking to you guys.
KM: Okay, Will, well, thank you very much!
MN: Good talking to you, too, Will.
BE: And fingers crossed that things take off for "The Film Crew," because I'm really digging it.
KM: Great, thanks!
MN: Thanks, we appreciate it.