Some Rifftrax Recommendations

Everybody knows I’m a fan of MST3K, but, in these dire and dismal times, we all need to laugh. So I decided to go ahead and recommend some Rifftrax for those who might be new to it, and not sure where to start. (Also, they’re having a father’s day sale, so now is the time!)

Of course, humor is subjective, and your mileage may vary. But I tried to narrow it down to the most ridiculous. Because, as in all thing, a solid foundation is a great place to start.

R.O.T.O.R. – This has to be the quintessential Rifftrax, because the movie – even without the riffing – is extremely silly. An ’80’s mash up of both The Terminator and Robocop, this movie boils down to a mechanical cop going rogue. But it doesn’t encapsulate the insanity of this movie. First of all, our “hero”, the Rotor creating Captain Coldyron – yes, that’s his name – is clearly dubbed, for reasons unknown. There’s also a skunk haired bodybuilding woman, who helped him design and program Rotor, but doesn’t come into the film until two thirds of the way through, with no real explanation. Is she a cop? Is she just an engineer? We don’t know! There’s also wonderful ’80’s racism in the “comedic” figure of Shoeboogie – yes, that’s his name – who seems weirdly creepy while also being horribly offensive. Not only does the plot make no sense, but the dialogue seems to be written by aliens, and the tone of the “film” is all over the place. There is a big chunk of time given over to Coldyron and his “lady” having dinner, that has its own soft rock song. There’s also a hotel check in scene that’s completely unnecessary, and just seems to exist to stretch the running time. Also, there’s an innocent woman stalked by Rotor for the last third of the film, and she discovers Rotor’s one weakness, car horns, which Coldyron never seems to know about. The editing and acting are equally poor, and really, where do you even stop with this stupid, stupid movie? I do like the “twist” ending, although it sets up a sequel that never was, for good reason. So while this movie is deeply stupid, on so many levels, the riffing is very strong. Come for the comedic lab robot, but stay for bodybuilder lady. (And I didn’t even mention karate mom, or comedy robot!)

Death Promise – This is the rare Rifftrax film, in which there is a nugget of a genuinely good story in here. A violent revenge story about poor, multicultural tenants getting revenge on the greedy landlords who want to run them out of their home and gentrify their neighborhood? Hell yeah! There’s a good B or Z grade thriller in that. Sort of like The Raid, but without cops. (Excuse me, I have to write this idea down.) So therefore, it’s a shame this movie is so bad. It doesn’t help that most of the actors were cast for their martial arts abilities over their acting skills, which shows. Oh, and the writing is really terrible, although having the enemies be essentially a gaggle of Donad Trumps, but more vaguely ethnic, is kind of funny. But there’s one too many ludicrous deaths in this – death by punching through a window? A bag of rats? – to ever take it seriously. But the thing that makes this movie absolutely worth the price of admission is the penultimate fight scene, a/k/a the conference room battle. I would show you a clip of this, but it would ruin the wonderful, delirious surprise of it. Let’s just say the fighting style of several fussy toddlers is employed, and the first time I saw this I nearly laughed myself into hyperventilation. The last fight is not nearly as funny, although by the end it earns a few chuckles. It doesn’t help that the movie’s final twist makes absolutely zero sense, no matter which angle you view it from. But I swear there was a decent nugget of a story in here, and it’s mine all mine, damn it!

Birdemic – This is almost cheating, because Birdemic is a notoriously bad movie, right up there with The Room (and Rotor). But I couldn’t recommend a movie from Rifftrax without including one of James’ Nguyen’s disasterpieces. Where do you even start with this film? The fact that the opening credits are a meandering, pointless driving sequence with a repetitive musical score is simply the warning for what’s about to come. People who appear to be unsure how humans walk, little to zero sound recording equipment, no idea how humans make deals or get jobs or speak to each other, and absolutely no idea how to correctly pronounce solar panels. And that’s just the first ten minutes. This is an unrelenting portrait of an alien visiting our planet, and trying to hide themselves as a film director. They had a message for humanity, about the severity of global warming, and how we’re destroying our planet, but this alien honestly has no idea how to get this message to humans. They’ve dumbed it down as much as they can, but to no avail, perhaps because they’re using Google translate. And the budget for effects is minus twenty three dollars. I’m sure they intended to fix all of this in post. Shame they never found out what that was. And after all of this nonsense, the movie doesn’t end more than it gradually stops. To preference an MST3K line that has come in handy more than I thought possible, I want to hurt this movie as much as it hurt me, but I honestly don’t know how.

The Guy From Harlem – The only blacksploitation film yet tackled by Rifftrax, this is an amazing film. Everything about this is terrible. Made on a budget of two dollars, with actors ranging from okay to clearly the relatives of the filmmakers, you can hardly appreciate the ’70’s wardrobes or the honestly awful theme song. This isn’t Shaft – hell, it’s not even Death Promise, which had a bit of a catchier theme. There’s some bullshit plot that never makes much sense, and on top of everything, the movie is shot in Florida, which seems wrong somehow. But nothing in this movie seems exactly right, so why not? Ask yourself this question – which scenes are worse? The love scenes or the fight scenes? Because I can entertain arguments on both sides. And there’s many of both, so you can bask in what horrible decisions you have made in life that led you here, before we get to the anticlimactic final fight.

Fun In Balloonland – I almost feel bad about recommending this, so maybe I’ll call this an advanced level Rifftrax. Why? Because it is top to bottom insanity. If you thought Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny had too much plot, enjoy this meandering, overgrown offspring of family vacation slides, that somehow had a theatrical release. There really isn’t a plot. Supposedly there’s this place called Balloonland, and a child wanders around and plays in a desultory fashion, and there’s just enough time to shoehorn in some racist Native American balloons, before we cut to the dark heart of this thing, which is the filming of an annual parade – one which still happens, apparently – showcasing large balloons and marching bands. That’s it. Now before you say “That sounds boring,” let me introduce you to the ichor holding this all together – narrator lady. Who is she? No clue. It sounds like she’s been mainlining cocaine and bath salts all night, and is huffing glue between floats. She is positively giddy introducing this whole bunch of nothing. She must be stoned to the gills, which is probably the best way to approach this thing. By the time we get to the end of the “film”, where she’s telling you to “crunch your teeth” – this actually happens – you may think your grasp on sanity has come loose. This is normal.

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