A Mystery in a Theater

josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | july 2016

MST3K creator and Ashwaubenon High School grad Joel Hodgson (left), co-star Trace Beaulieu (center) and author Josh Hadley pose for a photograph. We all love MST3K but let's remember a time when we all didn't even understand what that meant.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was created by Joel Hodgson for local television in the Twin Cities and yet has its roots right here in Green Bay as its original cast are all from here and even the second cast hail from the area.

MST3K (as it is known) ran for a single season on KTMA out of Minneapolis before landing on the emerging Comedy Channel on cable. MST3K is essentially a show about making fun of bad movies, but in reality, it is a commentary on those forgotten movies that slipped through the cracks of pop culture. Sometimes a berating commentary but still ...

With host Joel (later Mike) and his two robot buddies silhouetted on the bottom of the screen, we watch them watch a less than stellar film all the while they make smartass remarks over the movie in a process now referred to as "riffing."

What set MST3K apart from everything else on TV was this aspect of you watching someone else endure a movie and them coping with it via snark. The best aspect of this snark was the genuine insights offered and the hilarious references, which flowed from the best brains (sic) on the screen. In fact, MST3K has brought to light many movies which were, and would most likely, now be completely lost to time if not for these three intrepid guys who can't stop talking during the movie.

MST3K has many, MANY, imitators, most of whom are not qualified to even call themselves imitators (riffing is an art damn it) and has reached so far into pop culture that the show is now arguably more popular than it ever was when it aired. Not to mention that the creators of MST3K have produced many series after it which are pretty much the same concept. Rifftrax, Cinematic Titanic, The Film Crew and others.

What many of you may not know though is where Joel got his original idea ... for that we have to go back to an obscure 1982 film called "It Came from Hollywood."

“It Came from Hollywood" is really the "film" that started this whole thing off. It was a wide theatrical release. Paramount (!) assembled a cast of recent SNL cast members, as well as Cheech and Chong, to pay tribute to the exploitation films of the past, while at the same time brutally lampooning them. Stalwart documentary filmmakers Malcolm Leo and Andrew Solt somehow convinced Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong and Gilda Radner to create a montage of their favorite sci-fi and horror films and then goof on them. Categorized into subgenres ("The Brain" or "Going Ape") the clips range from high budget fare like “War of the Worlds," “Creature from the Black Lagoon" and “The Day the Earth Stood Still" to rarities like “Black Belt Jones," “Mars Needs Women" and “Octaman." What really made “It Came from Hollywood" stand out was not only did you have the skits connecting the clips, you also had the stars making snarky comments OVER the clips — something Joel Hodgson admits was his inspiration for MST3K. “It Came from Hollywood" being a theatrical release is the most surprising thing here ... just imagine going to the theater to see clips of old films, what a concept in today's culture.

With “It Came from Hollywood" setting the baseline, it was in 1988 that Hodgson launched the juggernaut that became Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now such a cultural milestone that various riffs from the series are bandied about among fans and even casual viewers with such ease that a time before MST3K seems strange to imagine.

In Minneapolis the live Rifftrax crew is reuniting with the old MST3K posse for a special one-time event and even though it's in another state, we all still get to experience it. On July 12, The Bay Park Cinema is showing a replay of the live event for a single night only. This is the first time that these guys and gals have all been on the same stage together in many years and promises to be a grand experience.

A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.

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