The RiffTrax gang of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett are back again, this time taking on Replica, an as-yet-unreleased film from the writer/director of Birdemic: Shock And Terror, James Nguyen. The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 jokesters and director Ngyuen talked exclusively with The A.V. Club about Replica, intentional camp, and why filmmakers let these guys put their films through the wringer.
“There’s probably been some release for everything we’ve done,” Nelson says on the unprecedented move of taking on a film that’s never been released to the public. “We had a strong suspicion that Replica would be good. We heard from Mr. Ngyuen that, unlike his other films, this one was more of an immature vision and that made us lick our chops. ‘Wait a minute, there’s a film that’s worse than Birdemic?’”
According to Nguyen, Replica is “a story about the potential good and evil of technology, in particular cloning. The good part is that you can replicate organs and replace ones that are cancer ridden. That’s the good part. The bad, is that the person doing the cloning can become a living god. I work in Silicon Valley; I’m surrounded by biotechnology. The movie that really inspired me to make Replica was Vertigo, but the catch is the technology aspect.”
“He’s a singular talent who is obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock,” adds Nelson. “In Replica, a guy’s girlfriend dies in a tragic accident [that] appears to happen at about seven miles an hour. She dies and then he finds a woman who looks very much like her, only she obviously used a store-bought Walgreens hair dye and turned herself into a different person. That’s actually her clone, and he becomes obsessed with the clone of his old girlfriend. Sounds sort of like Vertigo made by a madman.”
“I sold my car for $7000, which was the budget,” Nguyen says. “We shot everything on a green screen with virtual sets. To me that was cool, we wouldn’t have to build practical sets.” Murphy has a different view of the technique: “He used this digital background technology that was intrepid for a while, but then people realized how utterly shitty it looked so they stopped using it,” he says. “There are these wonderful moments where characters appear to be floating in midair above where [they’re] supposed to be sitting. It delighted me to no end.”
“One of the things that delights us from the James Ngyuen canon of films, is that all of his characters are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are dumb as rocks and deal with very round numbers,” explains Corbett. “The main actress in this one is a super-genius scientist who built a clone in a few months, but she seems more like a waitress at Chili’s.” Nelson adds, “She mentions to our hero that she started up the company several months before and they just finished their first clone. Good lord, that is rampant progress. They clone a human being two months after starting their cloning company. They got a little VC capital and went right to work.”
Nguyen calls Replica “a student film.” He says, “ Most filmmakers go to film school. I didn’t have that. My film school was my first two films. Birdemic was my third film school.”
“I think Ngyuen fancies himself a serious filmmaker,” says Nelson. “He goes to festivals and introduces Birdemic and people laugh out loud at it. When I first saw Birdemic, my reaction was “we can’t do this because there’s no way that this is real’ … When you’re making fun of a movie that’s intentionally campy, it’s just layering comedy on comedy in a way that I don’t think quite works.”
So why do filmmakers like Ngyuen and The Room’s Tommy Wiseau let the RiffTrax guys have their way with their art? People like getting their names out there,” explains Murphy, “especially if they’re not the best filmmakers in the world. There is no such thing as bad press.” “It’s all in good fun, and there’s an enlightened self-interest at work,” adds Corbett. “Not to be too crass, but the enlightened self-interest does sometimes come in the form of money.”
While Nguyen is currently in pre-production on Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle, the RiffTrax gang has some resolutions of their own for the New Year. “We’re just going to have to tuck into Rogue One,” says Murphy of the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. “They’re attacking another killer planet. It made me very happy. It’s the fourth Star Wars movie with a killer planet in it.”
“I’d love to get my hooks in a film by Neil Breen,” Nelson says. “He’s a strange-looking dude who made some coin on real estate in Vegas. It’s clear that every character is supposed to be viewing him as a twentysomething Mel Gibson. The universe he created around himself is amazing.” And what film does the former Crow T. Robot see in RiffTrax’s future?
“I’m going to propose we do Manchester By The Sea.”
Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett’s riff on Replica is still forthcoming, but the curious can download an “unriffed” version of the movie on the RiffTrax website.