When it comes to easy Christmas gifts, you can’t really go wrong with RiffTrax. Whether you’re buying a DVD, a gift certificate, or whatever, they’re usually going to be a good time.
When the Mystery Science Theater 3000 follow-up started back in 2006, the big selling point was that they could take on real movies. You want to see them make fun of Transformers or Aeon Flux? Great! Just pay a couple bucks and get an mp3 of their commentary, making it nice and legal.
While Twilight and The Happening are totally worth your time when Mike, Bill, and Kevin are riffing, the site has evolved over the years. It used to be that they could toss out the occasional public domain movie with the commentary added onto it, but those rarely stood up to the blockbuster releases. Eventually, they started doing video-on-demand releases for movies that were comparatively cheap to get the rights to and that’s when RiffTrax started to really hit its stride.
As it is now, the VOD movies are the company’s focus. Personally, I like them way more, mainly because you’re almost definitely going to get better fodder and it’s easier to take breaks and stuff. You don’t have to worry about matching up the audio and video (though they’re apparently coming out with an app that’ll make that easier to deal with).
Here are 25 VOD movies RiffTrax has done that you really need to check out. With a minor exception, I’m staying away from the shorts. I’m going with full-length movies here. Though if you’re interested in checking out some RiffTrax shorts, I did do a list of the 25 strangest ones they’ve watched.
Let’s get this list going. We’ll go in alphabetical order.
The Apple is a really, REALLY flamboyant and campy rock opera from 1980 about an optimistic young musician couple named Bibi and Alphie living in the futuristic world of 1994. They sing songs of love and positivity, which doesn’t sit right with record executive Mr. Boogaloo, who is basically Satan with a slightly better name. Boogaloo signs them and corrupts them into a flashy, biblical version of Behind the Music.
It’s a silly movie and the RiffTrax crew are helpful in making the constant musical numbers watchable. Soon you too will be telling your friends that BIM is, indeed, on the way.
This one isn’t so much a feature as it’s a collection of 15 shorts, but it’s worth a look. This is the second take on live-action Batman and it came out in 1949. It’s not as memorable as what Adam West would do a decade and a half later, but it’s still rather fascinating to watch if you’re a fan of the character.
It’s still ripe for riffing. In the story, Batman and Robin are up against a masked man named the Wizard, who has the ability to control cars and stuff from within his cave lair. The Dynamic Duo get in a bunch of brawls with Wizard’s goons and tend to get their asses handed to them more than they really should. Also, Vicki Vale is included as a knockoff of Lois Lane, giving us a ton of instances where Bruce Wayne mentions needing a nap so he can sneak off to be Batman. If I was Vicki, I’d be genuinely concerned for Bruce’s health.
One of the better parts is how Wizard barks orders over the radio to one of his henchmen named Gabe and the RiffTrax guys can’t stop talking up Gabe for the rest of the story, painting him as this truly wonderful guy.
As it is right now, you can’t get RiffTrax’s take on The Room on VOD, but this is the next best thing. Birdemic is considered to be the B-side to The Room due to having the same head-scratching directing and acting. This one simply goes in a vastly different direction as while The Room is a drama about a man’s close ones conspiring against him, Birdemic is a mundane romance story that randomly turns into a survival film about killer birds.
The birds are some of the most laughable effects in movie history, portrayed as CGI animated gifs that you would see on an old Geocities site and the actors are directed to frightfully swat at them with coat hangers. It’s beautiful.
You can get just the movie itself, but honestly, the RiffTrax Live version is much better. It improves on the original version and comes with the short film Norman Checks In, which is about a more depressing version of Mr. Bean.
While I’m at it, Birdemic’s director James Nguyen did another movie that’s available on the site called Julie and Jack. It’s also completely terrible, but is really hard to sit through because of how boring and awkward it is. It legit took me about 6 sittings, so I can’t give it its own entry here.
Buffalo Rider is mainly remembered for that series of songs on the internet by The Possum Posse called “Guy on a Buffalo.” It’s a good fit for RiffTrax, but may not be worth your time if animal mistreatment puts you too on edge.
It’s about Buffalo Jones, a frontiersman who has tamed a buffalo named Samson and treats it as a horse. The two go on a series of loosely-connected adventures while accompanied by a lot of narration. While there’s barely a main story, all the different adventures are linked in the sense that they are really dangerous and uncomfortable. Like, if people died on the set, I wouldn’t be surprised.
But hey, it does have footage of a man punching a cougar right in the face, so it has that going for it.
Cool as Ice is a wonderful cinematic anomaly. It’s a vanity project starring Vanilla Ice that actually has a top-of-the-line cinematographer at the helm who would go on to do Schindler’s List a year or so later, so we’re at least getting a pretty movie. The movie is about a rapper and his posse getting stranded in a suburban town where Ice comes across a stuck up girl with a douchebag boyfriend. What follows is a “love story” similar to Twilight where a guy basically stalks a woman and is completely creepy while she falls for him just because.
The RiffTrax guys make a ton of great Vanilla Ice jokes, but my favorite is easily the reaction to the confusing line, “[I’m going] across the street to, uh, schling a schlong.”
“Yeah right, more like you’re going to go schling a schlong!”
“That’s what he said.”
“Wait, it is?!”
Lash LaRue was one of the greatest legends in Western filmmaking. His skill with a whip made him a big name in the early days of movies and puts him up there with the likes of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne when it comes to Wild West action stars. It made it all the more depressing to see him slumming it in the ’80s movie Dark Power where he’s pushing 70.
This horror movie has to do with a group of zombie Native Americans who rise from the grave to pick off some college students. LaRue plays the local ranger who is for some reason in a romantic relationship with a woman half his age. He shows up to start whipping relentlessly at guys in awful rubber masks and it’s the saddest and funniest thing ever.
LaRue also appears in the movie Alien Outlaw, put together by the same people, but that one’s not quite as fun. Still depressing to watch, though.
Ghosthouse is pretty much a poor man’s Poltergeist, right down to the use of creepy little girls and clown dolls. It features a ham radio enthusiast and his Euro girlfriend who get roped into investigating a haunted house and being stalked by a crazy groundskeeper. It’s basically a haunted house movie where all the victims are unnatural weirdos.
The best of which is Jim Dalen, a guy who randomly shows up and proceeds to give the most forced introductory exposition you’ve ever seen to the point that you appear to know him inside and out before the protagonists have a chance to respond.
I can never get enough of Mike yelling, “GHOSTHOOOOUUUUUSE!” like an angry movie dean.
If I had to cut down this list to one single movie to recommend – the one RiffTrax to buy if you have a couple bucks burning a hole in your pocket – it would easily be Guy From Harlem. Guy From Harlem can best be described as what would happen if a 10-year-old boy saw Shaft and then was given enough of a budget and go-ahead to make his own blaxploitation movie.
It’s magical in its awkward attempts at being cool. Our story actually has nothing to do with Harlem. It’s more that our main character came from Harlem, which for some reason means he’s a really good detective. He ends up going up against a criminal mastermind that nobody’s ever seen before, yet the guy telling him that goes on to give him a detailed description of what he looks like.
Said informant, Harry De Bauld, is perhaps the greatest character in RiffTrax history. He gives 200% in all of his delivery and is a complete delight whenever he’s on screen.
This is another one of those movies where a really great actor is put in an embarrassing project. This time it’s Jack Palance, playing the role of the evil warlord Voltan. Although Voltan causes darkness and death to spread across the world, he’s opposed by his brother Hawk and his gang of heroes. You have a giant, an elf archer, a completely worthless dwarf, a blind sorceress, and a one-handed schlub in an early-80s, low-budget romp.
One thing that sticks out about this movie is how shoehorned Palance is in the role of Hawk’s brother. Don’t get me wrong, Palance hams it up enough to make the movie watchable, but there’s a 30-year age difference between the two. Meanwhile, Palance is only three years younger than the actor who plays his father. Sheesh.
In this delightful adventure, a farmer-turned-hero named Jack takes on all sorts of monsters – both guys in costumes and stop-motion – to rescue a princess from a sinister sorcerer.
As a movie, Jack the Giant Killer is legitimately great and was probably mind-blowing back when it came out in 1962. Still, its effects and visuals are dated and make for good riff fodder. Plus it’s overflowing with all sorts of colorful fantasy concepts that are easy to make fun of, such as a tiny leprechaun in a bottle who speaks in rhyme and gives such advice as, “Seize a bone!”
The RiffTrax Live performance also features a wonderful short called What is Nothing? which is an “educational” short about two kids discussing what nothing actually is in the most drugged out way possible.
I can’t think of a more incoherent slasher movie than this one. It’s a totally confusing treat to sit through. It has to do with a violent maniac who was lobotomized for being a violent maniac. Despite being lobotomized, he escapes the hospital in the guise of a surgeon and goes on a killing rampage out of revenge because, I don’t know, he’s that much of a violent maniac. This leads to him targeting a slumber party of high school girls who just finished the last day of school.
The bug-eyed surgeon killing everyone with a scalpel is so fantastic because he’s played by the director. Because of his limitations as a director, he mainly only appears in two kinds of shots. Sometimes he’ll slash someone’s throat by reaching from off-camera. Other times he’ll just appear directly in front of the camera, glaring like a madman. It’s like he’s trying too hard and not hard enough at the same time.
If anything, it’s a must-watch October movie.
Christopher Walken and Michael Ironside star in an early-90s action movie about some old war buddies who get together to help overthrow a Columbian dictator in an act of revenge. That just about sells itself, doesn’t it? Hell, even without RiffTrax that sounds like a cool movie to check out.
McBain is weird in how casual it is. The heroes just kind of stroll through the plot with limited confrontation. Bad guys barely make them show concern and obstacles are sidestepped without a single fuck being given.
The most infamous moment in the movie is when Walken is flying a jet and an enemy jet flies to the side of it to tell him to land. Walken takes care of him by pulling out a pistol and shooting him. From a plane. In motion. Flying. Not only does this succeed in killing the bad guy, but somehow neither window is broken.
This movie, made to promote taekwondo, is pure ’80s and the world is a better place for it existing.
A group of college students live together and perform in a rock band where they sing anti-ninja music. One of the band members gets in a couple altercations with his girlfriend’s dirtbag brother and this loosely pulls together a story where they get involved in taking on a gang of vengeful ninjas while one of the guys tries to track down his long-lost father.
There’s plenty to be made fun of, but what’s really nice about it is that you can tell that the RiffTrax guys genuinely enjoy it. There’s a scene where an angry musician gets in an argument with a club owner and they start fighting it out with martial arts and the riffers simply sit back and laugh along with us using minimal jokes.
The show also comes with the short Measuring Man, which stars one of the lamest superheroes ever conceived, who is also probably part of a government watch list.
Here we have another bad martial arts movie that’s swimming in ’80s excess. Start by taking the plot of Karate Kid. Then give the main character a smart alec black sidekick who loves dancing and goofing around. Now then, spend a good chunk of the movie having our hero trained by the ghost of Bruce Lee. And by “ghost of Bruce Lee” I mean that you need to get an Asian guy who can pull off Lee’s stilted acting movements but not look anything like him.
Throw in an obnoxious fat guy as a secondary antagonist, just for kicks.
Then, and this is important, alter the ending. Instead of having our hero go through the Cobra Kai team of martial artist jerkoffs, have Ivan Drago from Rocky IV show up instead and do the job for him. Even better, have Jean Claude Van Damme play the role.
Now you have a movie!
Of all the movies on the list, this one feels the most like something you’d see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In the distant future, a spaceship carrying a dozen astronauts crash lands on a planet that’s very much like Earth, only inhabited by dinosaurs. With dwindling futuristic resources at their disposal, the group is at the mercy of stop-motion dinos and get picked apart gradually.
It’s a movie where they spent the entire budget on a few minutes of stop-motion, so we’re left watching a bunch of hairy astronauts in silly jumpsuits wander around a desert mountain for a while. Just walking around aimlessly, constantly bickering, waiting for the cool special effects to show up and kill them. One of the astronauts chooses to never wear a shirt and jiggles his pecs on camera when possible because, honestly, wouldn’t you?
If there was ever a movie created specifically for RiffTrax, it’s Radical Jack. You know how people are sore about the current attempt to remake Roadhouse with Ronda Rousey? Imagine if they did Roadhouse with Billy Ray Cyrus instead. Hoooo boy.
And this isn’t even like Cool as Ice where it’s understandable why he would get his own movie. Cool as Ice was made during the height of Ice’s popularity. Radical Jack was released in 2000, a long, long time after “Achy Breaky Heart” happened.
Jack is one of those badass movie characters who was in the military, but left due to a traumatic experience, so now government officials have to track him down and re-recruit him for a mission that only he can do. A random town is run by weapons dealers and Jack moves in and takes a job as a bartender to clean it up.
Being that it’s Billy Ray, he’s given very few lines and everyone has to basically act around him. This is especially bad when a corrupt cop gets involved because he’s way worse at acting than Billy Ray could ever hope to be.
A heavy metal group called Triton (led by C-list ’80s hair metal god Jon-Mikl Thor), their girlfriends, and their manager decide to spend a few days in a cabin to record some new music and practice. As it turns out, the cabin is haunted by some dark spirits, which terrorized and slaughtered the previous owners. Over time, the party is picked off one-by-one with the others being unaware of what’s going on.
Don’t get me wrong, the first hour and ten minutes are incredibly dry. The riffers do what they can, but the movie itself lacks momentum and isn’t the most exciting horror film you’ve ever seen. Then you get to the final ten minutes.
Holy shit, this movie.
I went into the movie knowing that the movie would take an odd turn towards the end, but I didn’t know the specifics. I read it again and again, but I had NO IDEA. After watching the movie, I spent the next day with my hands on my head, trying to comprehend what I had seen.
Believe me, me telling you that the movie goes in an unexpected direction is not me spoiling. If anything, it’s the carrot on the stick for you to put up with the rest. I won’t tell you what happens and if you haven’t watched the preview clip above, maybe leave it be and take my word to just watch the movie for yourself.
And while the RiffTrax guys are relentless, I kind of dig the band practice segments. “We Live to Rock” especially.
During the late-80s/early-90s, there were a ton of crappy attempts to do knockoffs of Terminator and to a lesser extent RoboCop. RiffTrax has taken on several of them, such as Cyborg Cop 2 and Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe (starring Jesse “The Body” Ventura!). ROTOR, meanwhile, is the king of low-budget man-who-is-supposed-to-be-a-robot-underneath-just-humor-us-okay movies.
While those other movies are just cheesy, this one is straight-up bizarre and comes off as a fevered dream. Our hero is a scientist/rancher/captain named Coldyron who leaves a project based on building a cyborg cop because his boss wants it faster than he’s comfortable with. After he’s gone, some dopey scientists accidentally turn on their dumpy robot killing machine, who goes around killing anyone it deems a criminal.
This is one of those movies that’s so incomprehensible that it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe with how the main actor is dubbed over by another actor throughout the movie or how the movie changes its mind on what “ROTOR” even stands for about halfway through. So much nuttiness.
Ah, the holiday classic. Santa Claus gets stranded in Florida, right outside of the theme park Pirates World, where he complains about the heat non-stop until deciding to telepathically summon some nearby children to help him. Their ideas to get his sleigh out of the sand, such as getting a guy in a gorilla suit to pull it out, all fail and Santa remains trapped.
To help the kids believe in the human spirit or whatever, Santa tells them the story of Thumbelina, which is not only a completely different movie with its own opening credits and framing device, but it’s longer than the rest of the movie. Finally, the kids run off to get help from an unintentionally horrifying man in a bunny costume who rides in on a fire truck and legitimately comes close to killing a lot of them.
This is one that needs to be seen to be believed. Then again, you might want to wait for the RiffTrax Live version to hit the site. Not only does it feature the more watchable Jack and the Beanstalk instead of Thumbelina, but it comes with three Christmas shorts that are completely bonkers. Really, the most coherent one is about Santa telling children about “Monkey Christmas.”
Santa Claus is a classic movie from Mystery Science Theater 3000 that gets brought back for a more modern thrashing.
Put together by people who only had a vague idea about what Santa’s all about, it portrays the jolly one as a guy who lives in space, hangs out with Merlin the Magician, and keeps a bunch of singing kids of different nationalities hanging out in his backyard. As he tries to deliver gifts and make dreams come true on Christmas Eve, he’s constantly antagonized by Pitch, the dorkiest devil you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Outside of the added short, one of the reasons to check this version of the movie out is that they’re able to show the whole thing. The MST3K episode had to cut out several minutes due to time restraints, so you missed out on Merlin’s annoying walking song and Santa’s personal blacksmith.
Listen, as I write this, it’s the holiday season and a new Star Wars movie is about to come out. If you haven’t seen this yet, now’s the time to do so!
After the success of the first movie back in the ’70s, they decided to put together an utterly unwatchable two-hour TV special that featured Chewbacca’s unlikable family, Art Carney (ruining any holiday goodwill he had from that one Twilight Zone episode), Bea Arthur, and an awkward animated short that debuted Boba Fett. It’s all over the place, but all of it is bad.
The riffers do what they can to make it bearable, which they just barely pull off. Not only do they make cracks at all the madness so terrible that even George Lucas refused to monetize it (George goddamn Lucas!), but we’re given the gift of all the ridiculous ’70s commercials that thankfully never repeat. It’s the ultimate palate cleanser.
You’re reading this on a geek-based site. I imagine at this point you’re very familiar with the Bob Hoskins travesty that portrayed the Mushroom Kingdom as a post-apocalyptic neighborhood run by Dennis Hopper. For this entry, I might as well quote Mike Nelson about his experience with having to watch this flick multiple times.
The writing and production of our riff for Super Mario Bros. nearly broke me. I love what I do, feel entirely blessed, happy, fulfilled, work with wonderful, talented people who I respect, and I will continue in it as long as I am fortunate enough to do so: but God in heaven I hated every second of my life I spent looking at that film. Noisy, shrill, filled to bursting with John Lequizamo’s loathsome, spittle-y presence.
Occasionally, RiffTrax will do specials in conjunction with National Geographic. Some of them are a little too rough to sit through, like the one that featured a segment on how utterly gross koala bears are. On the other hand, episodes of Man v. Monster are completely where it’s at.
Man v. Monster is a series about Richard Terry going to different locations to investigate horrifying monsters that are blatantly just normal things happening. The documentary tries to play up what he’s searching for as a larger-than-life creature when it’s really just him overplaying minor occurances. The best one is Demon Bat where he goes on a journey to find a “gigantic bat” that’s been “terrorizing a nearby village.”
Terry’s documentary is completely full of shit and the RiffTrax guys are relentless in pointing it all out.
But for real, Koala bears are so gross.
On the surface, The Wizard is an odd movie. Released in 1989, it acted as a 100-minute commercial for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Universal Studios. It’s remembered for trying to treat the Power Glove as a badass controller (and not the piece of crap that it was) and for using the climax to promote Super Mario Bros. 3. Plus it’s remembered for that whole child molestation joke that would be far more uncomfortable if done these days outside of an episode of South Park.
Below the surface, it’s even odder than you may remember. This is a world where gambling via video games is a rewarding experience. Where tween girls get jobs in Reno casinos/arcades by dressing up as cigarette girls and wearing fishnets. Where a 70-year-old extra prominently hangs out in the background of a lengthy shot while wearing only a powder blue speedo. Where Christian Slater is still a major star, yet gets a role that’s borderline meaningless.
Then there’s the first movie appearance by a young Tobey Maguire as one of Lucas’ buddies. He gets no lines whatsoever, but the way the RiffTrax guys keep bringing up his presence is gut-bustingly funny.
No, this has nothing to do with the DC superheroine. It’s a silly exploitation movie about a group of sexy martial artist women who kidnap top athletes so their organs can be harvested. A handsome insurance detective is brought in to investigate alongside his inexplicably loyal cab driver friend.
It’s all very goofy, but it’s must-watch for a fight scene between our hero and one of the wonder women in a hotel room. Not only is it one of the most hilarious fights you will ever see, but it leads to a lengthy chase sequence where they legitimately run a man over. I’m not joking. A random passerby actually got hit by a car and they decided to keep it in the movie since the guy survived.
Also of note is a scene where some kind of creature walks across the sidewalk unrelated to whatever’s happening in the movie. It’s some kind of bug/eel/demon thing and it utterly scares the crap out of the riffers, who speculate on what that thing even is.
So there you have it. Some of the prime cuts of the RiffTrax VOD library. Keep in mind, I haven’t watched every single thing they have to offer (still haven’t brought myself to watch Zindy, the Swamp Boy), so I’m sure the list is missing a couple great gems.
If you have any recommendations, please sound off in the comments!
Gavin Jasper is off to go schling a schlong. Follow him on Twitter!