Right on the heels of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion held in Minneapolis last month, the RiffTrax gang is back with two new shows. First, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett will be taking on 1961’s kaiju klassic Mothra in a previously-announced live event on August 18. And then, just in time for Halloween, the RiffTrax team will be revisiting Herk Harvey’s Carnival Of Souls, a low-budget schlocker from 1962 that influenced the films of George Romero and David Lynch. The RiffTrax event will mark the first time the full-color restored version of Carnival Of Souls will be shown on the big screen.
The A.V. Club chatted exclusively with Nelson and Murphy about the upcoming shows, delving into the droll organ music of Carnival Of Souls as well as their favorite kaiju.
The A.V. Club: You’ve done popular and critically acclaimed films for RiffTrax before. How does it feel riffing on a Criterion Collection entry?
Kevin Murphy: I’d forgotten that it’s a Criterion Collection.
Mike Nelson: It’s one of the higher-class films that we’ve ever done. I think people have to see it again and realize, oh yeah, it’s pretty crappy. And then they’ll be fine.
AVC: Which cut are you guys riffing on?
KM: I think we’re doing the 80-minute one.
MN: Oh yeah, we don’t want [viewers] to miss a second of the droll organ music that plays endlessly. You do not go out of the theatre humming that organ music, like that old cliché about a good musical, where you go out tapping your foot going “Oh yeah, that organ tune.”
KM: Mike, I was doing a little bit of research and I found an e-mail from when we did this before, I’d like to quote just a little bit of it if you don’t mind. “I’m currently seething with great well springs of rage over Carnival Of Souls, a horrible, completely worthless piece of crap, incompetent in every conceivable way that garners an impressive 83 percent on the Tomato Meter.”
MN: I don’t think I’ve changed my opinion.
KM: That’s why it’s perfect for us.
AVC: You’ve done this one before?
KM: We did it way back, early in RiffTrax history, as a DVD. I don’t know if it ever got a streaming video release.
MN: It was lightly seen, let’s say that.
AVC: So are you guys going back for more because you enjoyed all that organ music so much?
MN: I think what happens in this business, at least for me, is that I forget everything that came before. I just forget everything; I wipe it from my memory as though my RAM is purged every time. Doing it again, I’ll only remember a few things about it. You just push it out of your mind after you’ve seen so many movies.
KM: The upside is that the pain and the anger that we have is fresh.
AVC: Are you guys a little more precious with something that’s so well regarded, like Carnival Of Souls, or Harry Potter, or Star Wars? Or do you go in with the same venom?
MN: You pretty much have to match it to the movie; it can’t seem false. We try and keep it that way. It’s not a joke if you’re ripping on Casablanca, because people go “Wait a minute, that’s a great movie, that doesn’t make any sense.” You sort of match to the quality to it. Occasionally you can dredge up things that people wouldn’t notice about why it’s not good, and those are good surprise laughs.
KM: In the instance of Carnival Of Souls, part of our fun is to show this movie to people who haven’t seen it in a while, and think that it’s actually a classic film worthy of respect and praise. We force them to watch it again, and see if they really have that same reaction with our feedback involved. I’ll say that they can’t. This thing will not hold up.
MN: I just saw Hitchcock/Truffaut—and not that this is a fair bar—but I doubt that Carnival Of Souls had mapped out every frame of the film with the action, and which way it was going to move to get to that place where she’s sitting in a greasy apartment and the slimy guy comes in and wants to make it with her so he’s trying to fix her a tea or whatever the hell that scene is. I don’t think that that was in the storyboards that [director Herk Harvey] made up before he shot Carnival Of Souls.
AVC: You guys are doing the colorized version of Carnival Of Souls. Does that make it worse?
KM: Oh no, it makes it less likely for people to kill themselves in the theater. The young kids, you see, they don’t really understand black and white, it’s like they’re looking at a blank screen. They just don’t actually see a movie there until they see some color. Black and white renders a film invisible to anyone under 30 years old.
MN: Legend Films colorized it long before RiffTrax even existed. It was just one of those titles that had a pretty clean print, which was one of the big considerations in the early days to make a colorized version.
AVC: Is that really a thing with younger people? A lot of those earlier Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes were black and white.
MN: It definitely is a thing. There are a certain number of people that, as a matter of principle, will not watch black and white movies. It’s bizarre but you can’t ignore it.
AVC: You guys are doing Mothra, soon, too. You’ve never done Mothra before either on Mystery Science Theater or RiffTrax, have you?
MN: No we did not. I don’t even think Mothra appeared in any of the Godzilla crossovers.
AVC: Who’s your favorite kaiju?
MN: I liked the one that sliced people up with his blade head into steaks, Guiron.
KM: I liked Zigra, who had kind of a flatiron head and spat fire. But I have a special place in my heart for Gamera, because he was friend of all children. I love this notion of the kaiju where the first time they appear in Japan they destroy a huge population center, and then everyone realizes that they’re just misunderstood. Then they become their friends and their allies and help them fight the real evil monster.
MN: In Mothra, the two tiny women who are psychically attached—or maybe married to—Mothra, they say, “No, we like you,” to the guys who capture them. But Mothra is still going to come and destroy everything. And the guys who capture them are like, “well, we’re glad he likes us.”
RiffTrax Live: Mothra is presented by RiffTrax and Fathom Events and will be broadcast live on Thursday, August 18, with an encore showing on Tuesday, August 23. RiffTrax Live: Carnival Of Souls, also presented by RiffTrax and Fathom Events, will be broadcast live to select movie theaters on Thursday, October 27 at 8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT and tape delayed to 7:00 p.m. MT / 8:00 p.m. PT, with an All Hallows’ Eve encore on Monday, October 31 at 7:30 p.m. local time.