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Former ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ stars keeps laughs coming with Rifftrax

3/7/2017

rifftraxFor most of the 1990s, Kevin Murphy provided the voice of wisecracking robot Tom Servo on the movie-mocking series “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” The series ended its original production in 1999, but Murphy and his MST3K co-stars Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett have continued to poke fun at movies for the last 11 years under their own names as Rifftrax.

For five years, Rifftrax has hosted an annual Kickstarter campaign with goals like raising funds to riff “Twilight” in theaters (they couldn’t get the rights and ended up making fun of “Starship Troopers”) and a reunion with past (and future) “Mystery Science Theater 3000” stars. Murphy and company are currently in the midst of their latest Kickstarter, seeking money to riff the horrid “Samurai Cop,” a collection of educational shorts and a TBA mystery movie. The live shows are broadcast around the country via Fathom Events.

“I think it almost started out of us wanting to give folks something special,” Murphy said during a call from his home in Minneapolis. “But we had to make it work financially for us to deliver it. These live events are very expensive to put on, and the costs have gone up over the years. We love doing them, but the upfront costs for us are prohibitive and getting good titles we can distribute takes an immense amount of planning. So it needs up being a good way to get our fans involved and to bankroll a thing we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”

One film in the Kickstarter won’t be announced until the campaign reaches its $250,000 goal, leaving “Samurai Cop” as the only announced film, with the live screening April 13 (with an encore April 18). It’s a 1991 stink burger starring Matt Hannon as a sword-wielding cop. The actor cut his long hair after filming, then had to come back for reshoot wearing a ridiculous wig.

“This is what that had never crossed my radar, but I had other folks in my crew bring it to my attention,” Murphy said. “Once we screened, it was like manna from heaven, and we were wondering if it would be possible to get permission to do it. It’s beautiful. In its own way.

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“We often don’t realize what kind of cult following a film has until we put it out to our fan base. This had been requested by a lot of people, and we take that very seriously when we look to do titles.”

Over the course of nearly 30 years, Murphy has riffed everything from “Manos: The Hands of Fate” to “Casablanca.” Murphy compared riffing a good movie like “Casablanca” to a roast, but he prefers films that failed at what they set out to accomplish.

“I think the ones that work best are the films that take themselves seriously and fail,” Murphy said. “If you look at something like ‘Birdemic,’ the filmmakers were looking to make a good film and were incapable of doing that. There’s something endearing about that for us and the audience. Even when you’re watching without the benefit of us making fun of them, these films stick out. Those are my favorites, the earnest flops.”

The day after “Samurai Cop,” Murphy will appear in another Kickstarter-funded project, the revival of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” which premieres on Netflix April 14. The show features a new cast, but Murphy will return for a cameo as his “Planet of the Apes”-esque villain Professor Bobo.

Rifftrax started out riffing big budget blockbusters but has focused on B-movies for the last few years, similar to “MST3K.” Despite tackling similar films, Murphy thinks there are enough bad movies to make fun of.

“We talk to those guys to make sure we’re not getting too much overlap, so it’s not a big thing. There’s plenty of funny to go around. I don’t think we have to worry about any shortage.”

JJoe Lawler bwoe Lawler covers local music for CITYVIEW, as well as other occasional topics.

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