RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Last night, former Mystery Science Theater 3000 cast members and current RiffTrax masterminds Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) gathered in Nashville, Tennessee to riff, live, the classic bad movie Plan 9 from Outer Space—”The Citizen Kane of bad movies,” one of the guys dubbed it as it started.  The whole production—including a brand new short and musical interludes—was simulcast to over 400 movie theaters across the US, including New York’s Union Square Regal Cinemas, where your humble narrator caught the sold-out show. (See Genevieve’s post from last month for a bit more background.)

Let’s talk set-up for a minute: the riffers sat on a stage in front of the Nashville screen. Cameras were stationed throughout their audience, so we saw not just the movies and those on-stage, but audience reactions as well. Video of the three hosts was periodically projected to the left of the movies, so we could watch them react and gesture. It was bizarre to hear the robots’ voices coming out of thoroughly human mouths.

The opening short was “Flying Stewardess,” a ’50s informational video about training to be a stewardess during the golden age of flying—”which lasted for two weeks,” host Veronica Belmont deadpanned as she introduced the video. Among their duties was cooking chicken dinners in the cabin for the three out of four passengers who, the film told us, wanted to eat on their flight. “Those three have never had airline meals,” joked one of the guys. (Sorry, I don’t know which one. I had a hard enough time scribbling notes in the dark of the theater without keeping track of who said what.)

The musical guest, geek idol Jonathan Coulton, performed “The Future Soon” and “Re: Your Brains.” “You know how they talk about further ado?” Coulton said when he got to the mike. “That’s me.” But we weren’t so anxious to get to the main feature that we couldn’t enjoy his show. For the latter song the audience was encouraged to participate by singing the zombie chorus: “All we want to do is eat your brains.” Coulton reassured those who weren’t inclined to sing, “There’s no need to be embarrassed, everyone will look foolish at the same time.” The camerapeople seemed to be as entertained as the rest of us were (or, at least, I was) by the enthusiastic fans who knew every word of Coulton’s songs, and gave us plenty of footage of them singing along. Kevin Murphy assisted by pretending to eat Coulton’s brains.

Then Nelson, Murphy, Corbett, and Coulton sang about the eight plans that came before Plan 9, and then it was time for “Plan 9 from Outer Space and us saying stuff!” Let’s hope a DVD version is released at some point, because this movie belongs on your shelf right next to other MST3k classics like (not that I play favorites or anything) “Space Mutiny,” “Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell,” “Puma Man,” and, of course, “Manos: The Hands of Fate.” The riffs were definitely up to snuff. When we see four people climbing out of the tomb in which Bela Lugosi’s character has just been buried: “It’s a clown crypt!” When flying saucers cruise by giant mountains and smaller buildings, remaining mysteriously the same apparent size: “The aliens have repealed the laws of perspective.” When several characters stand stock-still as their friend is attacked: “Neither running nor defending yourself had been invented yet.”

Then there are, of course, the little details that make Plan 9 the movie it is: people walking randomly off-screen. The scenes that mysteriously take place both at night and during the day. The (in)famous replacement of Bela Lugosi, who died during filming, with a much taller actor who simply covers his face with his cape for all his scenes.

All in all, it was a fabulous geekfest of an evening. Let’s hope the sold-out shows indicate that the venture was a financial success, and this won’t be the last time we’ll get to see Rifftrax on the big screen.

Since I’ve been given a forum in which to satisfy my curiosity, I’d love to hear from fans in other cities: what was the crowd in your theater like? How was the zombie singing? Was anyone actually in Nashville? (If so, and if I can perfect my time-travel-slash-body-swapping machine… what’s your address?) Other New York viewers are, of course, encouraged to chime in as well.

Ellen B. Wright lives in New York, where she works in publishing and takes an excessive number of pictures. She loves bad movies and good books.


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