By Sugar Ray Dodge, RiffWiki.net Editor-in-Chief
I often run into many posts on Facebook and Twitter from people who are MST3K fans who want to give RiffTrax a shot but don't know where to start. I find it alarming when I see responses that are so all over the place that it must seem absolutely overwhelming for a newcomer to sort through or make any sense of. This is why I have decided to put together this Starter Kit. It very clearly lays out which riffs to start with and why. This feature will be split into four parts: "Essentials," "Next Steps," "Deep Cuts," and "And the Rest." Each section will contain 10 riffs selected by me. Some may take exception to the solitary nature of the feature, arguing that it reflects my taste alone. And while that is true to an extent, I have tried to balance my taste with popular opinion among known RiffTrax fans that may or may not fit in with my own opinions. So, with all that being said, let's dive right into it!
Part One: Essentials
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2011) – It was just the luck of alphabetization that this riff appears first like this, but when you think about it, it's an appropriate first entry and a great way to introduce you to what RiffTrax is all about. James Nguyen, a former software salesman (get used to that concept,) decided one day to help spread awareness of his opinions regarding climate change by making a cautionary tale involving exploding birds, Victoria Secret models and solar panels. Now, as awesome as that sounds on paper, it didn't turn out quite the way he planned. The problem is, though, is that he doesn't know that. Birdemic is a masterpiece of incompetent filmmaking, bad acting and, quite literally, the worst special effects you will see this side of Star Trek V.
Fun in Balloonland (2014) - 2014's Riff of the Year is something that must be seen to be believed. At first glance, it's looks to be a glorified home movie of the local Thanksgiving parade, but it very quickly takes a very sinister and confusing turn into utter madness that will leave you reaching for the phone to call child protective services.
The Guy From Harlem (2012) – In the words of Kevin Murphy, The Guy From Harlem "is the doofiest Blaxploitation film" ever. Not even taking place in Harlem, the Guy From runs a private detective agency in Miami, where he wrecks every case he gets and yet still manages to, um, "get the girl," (I guess.) And there's a huge cast of colorful, unforgettable characters. The loud, plaid suited gangster, small-boobed Jessica Simpson, David McCloud, Paul Benson, and the rest who are all absolutely essential to the plot. And, above all, know that "that cat's a bad dude."
House on Haunted Hill (2009) – I've droned on and on about how much I love this riff in the past, and I just decided that this will be no exception. It's my favorite for a reason. If you haven't seen the movie (and if you were born after 1975, there's a good chance you haven't,) it is a compelling and scary mystery starring Vincent Price and a skeleton marionette. I was as involved with the story and who was doing all the murdering as I was with Mike, Kevin and Bill and all the jokes they were telling. Do yourself a big favor and check this one out.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (2012) – Torgo Lives! In 2012, RiffTrax stunned their fanbase by announcing they were taking on the feature from what many consider the best episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. And you know what, it worked. It is by far the best live show they have done to date, and it is actually much better than the MST3K original. To any MSTies who take exception to this statement, please leave your indignant protests in the comments section of this heresy and I'll be sure to not read them. See also: Deal with it.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (2008) – Considered the Worst Movie Ever for very good reasons, the riff of Plan 9 is one of the cornerstones of the RiffTrax empire, even if it has been overshadowed by Birdemic, Twilight and The Room in recent years. It was one of Mike Nelson's first riffs and helped launch the RiffTrax brand, later converted into a three riffer riff with Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, and was featured in the first RiffTrax Live show. Such an important riff should be a part of every true RiffTrax fan's collection. Also, it's hilarious.
The Room (2009) – If you don't feel like starting your RiffTrax experience with Birdemic, then The Room is probably the only other riff that measures up to it. The classic cult film directed by Tommy Wiseau is legendary in and of itself, but RiffTrax commentary has a legacy all it's own. It's so highly regarded and represents what RiffTrax is so much that the 2015 RiffTrax Live season kicks off with it, despite the riff being six years old. It is also Disembaudio (portrayed by writer Conor Lastowka ) at his best, as he has a great deal more to do in the actual riff (other than being a syncing aid) than he ever has before. Caution, though, it contains baffling and creepy love scenes. If you value your eyeballs, you'll wear sunglasses for this one.
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (2010) – Ever hear of Pirates World? …yeah, neither did I before this one. The defunct Florida amusement park produced this "Christmas" flick featuring a stranded Santa on its beaches, a fire truck driving, mentally diminished bunny monster, and the story of Thumbelina. Why? Look, it's best not to ask questions that will never have any answers. And, not to nitpick, but this movie should REALLY be titled "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and Thumbelina," due to the movie-within-a-movie taking up more screen time than both of the titular characters combined. It has also been chosen as the featured film for the 2015 Christmas show.
The Star Wars Holiday Special (2007) – How do you riff something like The Star Wars Holiday Special? It's not a movie. Hell it's barely an existing television show. They had to dig up a 30-year-old cassette recording from Baltimore somewhere on Google Video just to be able to do it up right. Riffing this thing was a bit of a gamble in 2007, but it's one that paid off. This is by far one of the most strange (and therefore one of the most essential) entries in the entire RiffTrax library.
Twilight (2009) – Leave it to RiffTrax to take what many considered to be the worst thing to happen to vampire fiction since… well, ever, and turn it into a net gain for humanity. I was like many people in 2008 when Twilight-o-Mania was sweeping the world, when girls were getting Team Edward and Team Jacob tramp stamps. I was whining and whining that "OMG! THEY'RE RUINING VAMPIRES AND WURWULFS! BLEH BLEH BLEH!" But then came the riffs for all the movies, and by God, I learned to love Twilight because it brought out the absolute best in Mike, Kevin and Bill. They took something that a lot of us didn't like and turned it into something awesome.