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RiffTrax's Kevin Murphy on Sharknado, Harry Potter, and Night of the Living Dead Live

Just in time for Halloween!
Just in time for Halloween!
Wikipedia

In August, Miami was a treated to a live event featuring Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums (now under the RiffTrax brand) riffing over Starship Troopers. This month, the RiffTraxers take on the classic Night of the Living Dead in another live event simulcast to theaters nationwide, including select theaters in Miami, this Thursday night at 8 p.m.

We had a chance to chat with RiffTrax's Kevin Murphy, known to many as MST3K's gumball machine robot Tom Servo, about this Thursday's event, the scourge of the deadly Sharknado, and what makes a good target.

See also: Starship Troopers' Casper Van Dien on Getting the RiffTrax Treatment: "The Federation Needs You!"

New Times:We had the chance to check out RiffTrax lampooning Starship Troopers in August. Now you're doing Night of the Living Dead!

Kevin Murphy: Yes. That's another movie people consider a classic. It was the first of its kind, and it preceded most zombie movies and certainly preceded horror verité movies (like Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity). It's so of the time, and it's low budget---and, you know, the acting isn't that great. I think we'll have some fun with it.

For those not familiar with the live version of RiffTrax, is it all scripted out, or are there some improv moments going on?

We do script out the entire show and rehearse it several times until we have it down where we're very confident of the jokes we're doing. And then of course, we get there, and we can't predict it. One joke is going to kill the audience, and when that happens, and there's a huge explosion of laughter in the theater, then that sort of--you have to let that next joke go. It is a live show, so, truly, anything can happen.

What makes a RiffTrax live event unique versus just syncing up to Night of the Living Dead at home?

Seeing it live in a crowd of people just amps up the fun of the whole thing for us, because we get to see the reaction. It's fun to hear the audience. Just getting a bunch of people together in a crowd to watch that goofy movie and tell jokes about it, I think it's sort of infectious, and I think people in the audience have that much more fun with it.

Looking at the list of RiffTrax movies, it's interesting to see that you not only take on movies that are...classically bad, but you also lampoon movies that are actually pretty good! How does that work?

It was sort of a challenge to us. We've taken on movies like the Lord of the Rings series, and even Casablanca, which was really fun! When we do a film like Casablanca, it ends up being more like a roast. We're sort of having fun with the movie instead of making fun of the film. It's one of those movies like Night of the Living Dead, where it's strictly of its time. It's fun to poke a little fun at things like that.

 

The man behind Tom Servo!
The man behind Tom Servo!
Rifftrax.com

The library is impressive. Any movie you'd like to do, but haven't been able to do for whatever reason?

When we do live commentaries that people download and sync it up with movies, that works great for movies where copies of them actually exist. We did Daredevil live one time, but there aren't enough Daredevil copies out there for us to make it worth our while to do a film commentary---but it's too expensive to get the rights to Daredevil, so we're stuck. There are all these films from the '80s and early '90s that we'd love to get our hands on, but it doesn't make financial sense. St. Elmo's Fire, Conan the Barbarian are just sitting out there, that sort of thing.

You probably get tons of requests. Is there one that stands out as a frequently requested movie?

Recently, a lot of people have been asking us to do Blade Runner. Blade Runner's too good, too long, and we can't really get it. Somebody today gave me a "Why haven't you done this yet?!" and they consider it an affront that we haven't riffed their particular favorite bad movie, which I find kind of funny.

Oh! I'll tell you one thing---it's to finish the Harry Potter movies. We've done all of them except the last two. We are actually working on Deathly Hallows Part 1. And what a grim bitch that is. If you want to know what it is to feel depressed, just go watch Deathly Hallows Part 1. It's hard, it's really hard. It's all grey and everybody's frowning, and there's no magic!

Speaking of depressing...What do you think of this sort of trend of SyFy original animal mash-up movies like Sharknado and the like? Would you ever take any of those on?

We would if we found the right one that wasn't...aggressively dumb? You know, intentionally dumb? I like them, because they're kind of a throwback to B-movies from the 50s--a lot of the movies like we did on Mystery Science Theater. They were campy by intent. The SyFy channel is sort of carrying on a tradition.

For an MST3K fan who hasn't gotten into RiffTrax yet, what would be a good place to start?

I would say three things...get one of our Video OnDemand titles. They're the kinds of films we used to do for MST3K, cheesy movies from the '80s. We recently had a Chuck Norris film on there. I'm looking through the list here...Guy from Harlem! That's a great one. It's sort of a low-budget Shaft. It's absolutely perfect. If you wanted to get one of our film commentaries? The first Twilight is just sweet candy. It's just so, so wonderful. And then one of our shorts! Any of our shorts. We do a lot of shorts like we used to do on MST3K, and they were our most popular offerings. They're just a little nugget--people sit down to watch one, and they end up watching five.

What would you tell anyone on the fence about going to catch Night of the Living Dead, RiffTrax style?

Let's put it this way. If you think the movie is sort of goofy, then you're going to love what we do to it. If you think the film is a pristine classic, then come anyway. Because we can't break the film. It'll still be out there in its pristine form after we finish with it, but we'll have a good night having a roast of this classic zombie film. How does that sound?

We're convinced! In Miami-Dade County, Night of the Living Dead, RiffTrax-style, is playing at Miami Lakes 17 Cinemas, South Beach Stadium 18, and Movies at The Falls 12 this Thursday. To find theaters, buy tickets, or find other commentaries for your movie collection, check out the RiffTrax site.

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