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The Film Crew Interview
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If you miss "Mystery Science Theater 3000", the daring cable program that followed Mike Nelson and his two robot compatriots (voiced by Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) as they cracked wise at bad movies, never fear. Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett have banded together for a new project with the same basic idea: making fun of the dredges of cinema. This new venture is called The Film Crew, a direct-to-DVD series featuring the trio as a bunch of bozos tasked with making sure every film has its own commentary track. The "plot," however, is just an excuse to get these three comic minds together for some more of the riffing they do so well. Shout! Factory has already released four Film Crew discs: Hollywood After Dark, Killers From Space, Wild Women of Wongo, and The Giant of Marathon. I had a chance to talk with Murphy and Corbett this past July at Comic-Con International about The Film Crew and bad movies in general.
Classic-Horror: Can I get you guys to just introduce yourselves first and explain about your project?
Kevin Murphy: My name is Kevin Murphy and I work with The Film Crew. They’re a fun thing that we do on DVDs. Buy them.
Bill Corbett: I’m Bill Corbett and I’m with the Church of Latter-Day Saints and The Film Crew.
C-H: What inspired the new project that you guys are doing? I think everyone’s mostly seen "Mystery Science Theater." This is something new, so…
Murphy: Well, I’d say two things. One is that we started The Film Crew as a sort of way for Bill and Mike and I to work and have fun together, and goof around and hopefully get paid a little bit of money for it. We’ve been doing various things under that banner. We had pitched a book idea; we had done a pilot for National Public Radio as a sort of humorous movie preview show. And then the opportunity came up to start doing film commentary again. It just seemed like a perfect thing for us to do. Not "Mystery Science Theater." About the only thing it has in common with "Mystery Science Theater" is that we talk back to movies, but we realized that we’re some of the few experts on doing this.
Corbett: It’s a narrow field, but where we’ve kind of…
Murphy: Decidedly narrow. And it’s just great fun to do it and just take old chestnuts like the ones we have for our first four. There’s an audience for it. People are happy to see new material coming from the folks who did "Mystery Science Theater", so it’s like a logical step for us.
C-H: Why are you guys… You’ve got the framing with the mogul-honcho guy instead of just doing commentary tracks?
Corbett: Well, you know, since we’re putting them on DVD, we thought maybe a little something to just let everybody know that we’re there and not just disembodied voices. But we have pulled it back considerably from the MST stuff. Just a little thin patina of fiction around the thing. But yeah, it’s a light touch, hopefully.
C-H: Right now you have what seems like mostly sci-fi, there was another one that was action… You guys used to do a lot of old horror movies like Manos: The Hands of Fate. Are you guys going to be going into B-horror again also?
Corbett: Well, you know what we have out right now, these four are all public domain films. So, we’re looking at the public domain initially, just because it’s obviously easy to get the rights! And you don’t have to keep renewing them and relicensing them. There is some… I mean, we looked at a couple of horror movies for this first round but they were just a little too gory for our tastes just yet. What was the one we looked at… the Italian… It was a Dario Argento, wasn’t it?
Murphy: Oh yeah, it was a Dario movie and I forget which one it was. These are the ones that stuck out as being such wonderful earnest failures. Certain glaring things that stick about each one that, it just makes you laugh and think, why in God’s name would anybody do this on screen and actually say, “That’s how I want it to look,” and put it out in the theaters. There’s something wonderful about that. Like in Killers from Space, these middle-aged men in leotards with half-ping-pong balls for eyes.Corbett: Who look like Buzz Lightyear.
Murphy: And this Hollywood After Dark, it’s sort of a failed film-noir around a robbery caper and a strip club. It’s hitting you over the head so hard with genre that it was hard to ignore.Corbett: They forgot to do a story.
Murphy: It’s just ludicrous. And Wild Women of Wongo just seems like it came from outer space. This caveman sex comedy, it’s absolutely absurd. And Steve Reeves [in Giant of Marathon] was a logical choice. Look at how successful 300 is. People still like to see buff men running around oiled up in their underpants.C-H: I can’t argue!
Corbett: What they wear in this is more like a diaper.
Murphy: It’s more like a diaper!
Corbett: It’s a very particular taste.
Murphy: It’s a pull-up, I think.
C-H: Do you guys have any plans for any future ones other than Wild Women of Wongo, which is the one that’s coming up. Do you guys have you have anything farther ahead that you’re looking to?
Corbett: Well, The Giant of Marathon is after that. That’s sort of our prequel to 300.Murphy: That’s the first war.
Corbett: It’s the war before that with Xerxes’s dad. After that, we’re gonna see. We’re gonna see how they sell, how they do, and what the reaction is. And if so, there’s no genre off-limits, except maybe stuff that’s just a little too much gore and a little too much sex.Murphy: Snuff films! I don’t think we’ll do…
Corbett: Oh dear God! But yeah, horror is great. An earnest horror film is great. When it has like a modern irony to it, it’s a little harder for us, because we sort of provide the irony. If it already has a little too much hipness, then…
C-H: Manos had no irony.
Corbett: None! Not a drop.
Murphy: But give me a Hammer film and it’s like a smorgasbord. Sit down and feast.Corbett: Christopher Lee.
Murphy: Peter Cushing and that skull face of his! Absolutely.
C-H: How do you guys go about producing these films? How do you guys come up with what you’re going to say during the commentary track? I can’t imagine it’s entirely improv.
Corbett: Very little of it is, actually. We just… Well, we write them. We just sort of go through them, sort of frame-by-frame, and looked for where there’s opportunities. For these… I think we wrote some of these together in the same room. But as we’ve evolved, we actually split the movie into three and then write ‘em and then smash it all together. Do a session together where we see if there’s too much repetition of jokes and stuff like that. So, we have it down to a science for better or worse.
C-H: How have you guys evolved? You guys have been making fun of movies for over a decade.
Corbett: We’ve gotten older!
Murphy: I grew a claw. Oh that’s not what you mean.
Corbett: I have a second liver. It’s really weird.
C-H: Wow. You should get that checked out.
Corbett: I’m not doing anything with it, either!
Murphy: Well there is something to the fact that we’ve gotten older. Because I’m not going to try to hide from age. Try to keep up with everything that’s happened in the world for more than thirty years, it gets difficult after a while. The waves just sort of come over and hit you in the head. Actually I try not to try to be hip and cool and young, because that’s not what I am.Corbett: It smells so pathetic.
Murphy: They would sniff that out in a heartbeat, if I was trying to be younger than I am.
Corbett: Which is 87, right?
Murphy: Ha. Right.
Corbett: He’s really old.
Murphy: We have to stick with what we know and see what the culture’s teaching us as we go along. I’m not adverse to new things in the culture. Actually, there’s more funny s**t going on than there was when I younger.
C-H: How are you guys marketing? This was the first I’d heard about it, actually, here at Comic-Con.
Corbett: Well, it’s really up to the Shout! Factory, who are putting it out. I think we are aware of the fact that this is a small project, it has to find its niches. So, lot of it’s gonna be on the web, a lot of it is gonna be through people who knew MST. But they also are pushing it on their website and all that. It’s not my area of expertise. I usually just go along with they ask us to do and if it fails, I won’t know why.
Murphy: You guys probably know that the DVD marketing world is one of the most difficult things to crack. Getting shelf space… The only place that people really make a fortune on DVDs is if they can actually get shelf space at the Wal-Marts and K-Marts and things like that.Corbett: Targets.
Murphy: Targets. And it’s really hard to crack that market and also really hard to get people to know that the three of us from "Mystery Science Theater" are doing this again. I mean, "Mystery Science Theater" was successful largely because of the word-of-mouth. So actually things like Comic-Con are great, because people will see us, they’ll see what we’re doing, and they’ll tell their friends. Word-of-mouth is one of the best forms of advertising for this kind of thing there can be.
Corbett: Especially for us, since we don’t have to sell 7 million units. We realize it’s a modest project in it’s own way.
Murphy: And Shout! Factory has been really smart about some things. It’s on Netflix and it’s not only available as a rent, but it’s available as a download. So if you’re a member of Netflix, you don’t have to wait for the disc to come, you can actually download it and watch it right away, which is pretty forward-looking to have it like that. And Netflix, actually, they were happy to have these films on there, on their download queue and they’ve been doing really well that way.
C-H: If rights weren’t an issue, what would you guys like to do?
Murphy: (evil laugh) Well, we’ve been talking about... Bill and I have both worked with Mike Nelson on his new venture, Rifftrax.
Corbett: Have you heard of that?
C-H: I’ve heard a little bit about it.
Corbett: It’s a separate venture, but it’s an opportunity to do newer movies. You download an MP3 podcast of the commentary, which has been worked out. Then you kind of, as Mike puts it, “roll your own,” with a rented or bought DVD of the movie. So we can do anything. We’ve done 300, actually... There’s really no restrictions there. I have a taste for the old chestnuts and I’ll always want to do them, and do one that you don’t actually have to put it together yourself.
Murphy: I do think it would be fun to take on more of the “crown pictures.” American-International, Hammer, things like that…
Corbett: Biker films from the 60s…
Murphy: Things like the Girl in Gold Boots.
Corbett: Some of my favorites…
Murphy: The chickie movies, the hippie-chickie movies. Something about the films of the Billy Jack era just make me chuckle so much. That would all be a matter of whether we could afford the license fee or not, so in the meantime, we comb the backwaters of public domain and come up with these things.Corbett: Scraping out the sludge!
Murphy: (announcer voice) It’s the muck on the bottom of the river… of cinema.
C-H: One last question – what’s the worst movie you guys have ever seen? I’m sure you get it a lot, but… best last question.
Corbett: Titanic, for me.
C-H: I hate that movie. I laughed when [Leonardo DiCaprio] died, though.
Corbett: I’m with you there. I’m just kind of like, “All right, good.”C-H: “I’ll never let go!” (shoving motion)
Corbett: It was just so corny and overblown and, in it’s own way, kind of creepy and disrespectful of the actual tragedy. And you know, it’s relative to what they were trying to do and the hype it got. I found it just excruciating. Like, the longest thing I ever sat through. So, I would love a crack at that someday.
Murphy: I’ve been doing some research into this, trying to expand my horizon of the worst film I’ve ever seen, which is sort of a stupid thing to do. But I’ve been researching a book that I’m working on, and one of the films I saw recently was a 1925 version, silent version, of The Wizard of Oz.Corbett: Oliver Hardy?
Murphy: Uh, no. I think… Actually, Oliver Hardy might have actually been in it. It’s the 1925 version, but it’s not a big part if he was. I’m trying to remember if he was… It was not the standout part of it. It was just horrible, I mean it’s truly horrible. It’s available to rent. And the guy who did it was sort of the – you know, you had Chaplin and you had Laurel and Hardy doing the silents, Buster Keaton.—and this was the guy who was the failed version of the silent film comedian. It was really a bad, or really crappy silent film. All he had was mugging, all he could do was mug. That’s his entire thing, was mugging. He couldn’t do good physical schtick. So he produced this incredibly long and frighteningly racist version of The Wizard of Oz.Corbett: Wow, how’d they manage that?
Murphy: Well, they’ve got sort of a Sambo character in there, and he’s actually eating watermelon at one point, sitting in a field…
Corbett: Dear God. Where did you find that?
Murphy: Again, you look under the right rocks…
Corbett: Well, you know the right rocks!
We'd like to thank Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett for taking the time out of their schedules to meet with us. We sincerely hope that they continue to know all the right rocks under which to find the worst films ever made and that they share those films with us as humorously as possible.