Cary and I were at the Carolina Theater in Durham last night to watch Cinematic Titanic Live.
For fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), the cast of Cinematic Titanic is instantly recognizable. The show stars comedians Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Frank Conniff, who were all cast members/creators of MST3K.
MST3K fans will also be familiar with the premise of the show: making fun of bad movies. Hodgson and the rest are present on stage and supply joke after joke, live, in response to the very, very bad film playing on the screen in center stage.
All of CT’s bad films are B-grade or worse. With names like War of the Insects, Alien Factor, The Oozing Skull and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (a movie also featured on MST3K), the quality of these films is not surprising. Most of them have been rescued from obscurity by MST3K and Cinematic Titanic.
The film featured in last night’s performance was War of the Insects, a Japanese film from 1968 which was originally called Genocide (not hard to see why they changed the name for the western release) involving an H-Bomb, infidelity and, of course, insects. Truth be told, the plot of the film was really difficult to follow, but that would have been the case even without the hilarious jokes from the CT crew.
Cinematic Titanic began as a catalog of pre-filmed episodes, available as DVDs or as downloadable files. Each episode features one bad film, flanked on either side by the CT cast, in silhouette (not unlike MST3K), hurling joke after joke at the movie. Soon after making the DVDs available, the crew began taking their show on the road and selling recorded versions of their live shows.
So for the most part, I knew what to expect from the live performance, having purchased all of their live shows. But as it turns out, there was about 1/3 of the show I wasn’t expecting.
I should mention at this point that there was actually another member of the Cinematic Titanic cast that I didn’t mention above. Dave “Gruber” Allen — known to most as just “Gruber” and formerly of the comedy show The Higgins Boys and Gruber, was on stage 30 mintues before showtime, helping to warm up the crowd. Before the show starts, a series of slides are shown on the movie screen. The slides vary from trivia about the CT cast to early cinema pre-show slides (like the ones discouraging cell phone use and talking during the film). While the slides are showing, Gruber would dance out on stage and lead the audience in a brief sing-along, or just generally act pleasantly goofy to the delight of the crowd.
Before starting the film, each member of the Cinematic Titanic cast came out on stage to perform. Each performance was different:
Mary Jo Pehl awkwardly (and hilariously) read from written notes handed to her by Gruber at the last minute, introducing the show. Frank Conniff performed some blue comedy. Josh Weinstein and Gruber did a couple of songs, and Trace Beaulieu read a couple of poems from his book Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children (with accompanying illustrations). So I wasn’t expecting an additional 45 minutes of entertainment before the movie began, and was pleasantly surprised by the extra helping of laughs.
After the show, a large portion of the audience remained in the theater to meet the cast and get autographs. It was a real pleasure meeting the CT gang. They were all genuinely nice folks. They thanked each fan for coming and for waiting in line, and they were all just a lot of fun.
If you get a chance to see Cinematic Titanic Live, you won’t regret it.