Once upon a time, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans clung onto their tape-recorded copies of their favorite show like they were life preservers, watching them over and over and hoping they wouldn’t disintegrate in their hands.
Now it’s fair to say we have an embarrassment of riff riches at our fingertips. The “MST3k” offshoot Rifftrax constantly releases new commentaries and in-theater simulcasts. And, of course, there’s the new version of the show on Netflix, with 14 episodes and even a touring live show with two more new ones this summer. And, if you check your local comedy club listings, you might see former cast members Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff doing live riffs in your town as “The Mads Are Back.”
There are plenty of controversial movies. Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is notorious.
How notorious? The new Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Peckinpah’s 1971 film is the first Criterion disc I know of that includes an extensive interview with a film critic who is not a fan of the movie. Actually, Linda Williams, who calls the film “deeply misogynistic,” likens “Straw Dogs” to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as a film that shouldn’t be buried or dismissed, but studied and talked about.
Others are more complimentary, of course. But Peckinpah’s film stills hits like a punch to the gut, leaving us queasy and unsettled. The home invasion thriller has become a genre onto itself over the years, from “The Strangers” to “The Purge” — one could see Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” as a bald rebuke to Peckinpah’s vision. But none are as disquieting.