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.”
Well, add even more cheesy movies to the pile. And a lot of fans of “MST3k” and Rifftrax might not even have known they were out there.
From about 2007 to 2013 or so, “MST3k” creator Joel Hodgson reassembled much of the original cast – Beaulieu, Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein and Mary Jo Pehl, – for a venture called “Cinematic Titanic.” The idea was the same – show bad movies and make fun of them. Although, in a bold stroke, the riffers were on risers to the side of the screen rather than silhouetted below.
This week, Shout! Factory has released all 12 episodes of “Titanic” in a new six-disc DVD set. At only about $28 for the full set on Amazon (they’re also viewable on Hulu) it’s quite a bargain, given that the company’s four-movie sets of old “MST3k” episodes go for about the same.
The set includes seven episodes recorded in studio, including a new version of the erstwhile “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and never-“MST3K”ed films like “The Wasp Woman” and “The Oozing Skull.”
But for me, what really makes the “Titanic” set stand out are the five episodes recorded in front of live audiences. As anyone has been to a Rifftrax simulcast knows, there’s something pretty special about seeing the show with an audience, surrounded by like-minded fans. I saw “Cinematic” with an audience at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theatre a few years ago, and it was just plain neat to be surrounded by so many people, young and old, all into the same weird thing I was, all laughing along.
There’s some backstage interviews with the five “Titanic” cast members, and they all seem to be having a great time being back together, and especially seeing that their fan base remained as affectionate as ever more than a decade after the show went off the air. So if you’ve already gone through the 14 Netflix episodes of “MST3k,” getting the “Cinematic Titanic” set is a no-brainer.