Tuesday, June 16, 2009 03:56 PM
On the Stage - Cinematic Titanic (The Alien Factor)
 by Fëanor

I've enjoyed the many episodes of Cinematic Titanic I've downloaded, but whenever the guys took their show on tour, they never came anywhere near Philly - until now! When I saw they were hitting town in June, I made sure to get tickets as soon as they went on sale. The guys were at the Troc this past Friday and Saturday night, doing a different movie each night. Poppy and I saw them Friday night when they were doing a cheesy sci-fi film called The Alien Factor. We really weren't sure what kind of crowd would show up, or how early we'd need to get there. We decided to arrive about when the doors were supposed to open, but as we walked up we were surprised to find that there was already a line that ran all the way down the block and then curled back on itself! We jumped on the end and soon met a brother and sister who, like ourselves, were MST3K fans from way back. We had fun talking to them, and checking out the other people in line. It was a real mix of people - young folks probably in their late teens and early twenties, and plenty of other folks 20 or 30 or maybe even 40 years older. I was wearing my vintage MST3K shirt for the occasion (featuring a picture of Trace Beaulieu as Dr. Forester and the text "I'M EVIL!"), and a number of other people were wearing similar shirts. At one point someone carried a Tom Servo model through the crowd - that got applause and cheers. I was especially pleased that one woman had come dressed in an old school Gizmonic Institute jumpsuit. Poppy and our linemate even thought they saw local weatherman Dave Roberts in the back of the line, but we never confirmed that.

The Trocadero staff were surprisingly disorganized about getting everybody searched and getting their tickets scanned and getting them inside, but after some confusion we did finally enter the theater and grab some seats in the balcony. While we were waiting for the show to begin, an amusing pre-show slideshow was projected on the screen on stage, containing entertainingly odd vintage pre-show slides from old movie theaters mixed in with random trivia about Cinematic Titanic. Particularly interesting to me was the guide to pronouncing the names of the cast members. Turns out Mary Jo Pehl's last name is pronounced "peel," and Trace Beaulieu's last name is pronounced "bowl-you." Once the slides were done, a comedian and bit actor named David "Gruber" Allen (an old friend of the cast, and the man who coined the abbreviation "MST3K") got on stage and did some stand-up, as well as some musical bits, accompanied by J. Elvis Weinstein on guitar. TV's Frank also came up and did a song and some other stand-up bits. I was pleasantly surprised by all this (mostly quite funny) opening comedy material; I hadn't expected anything of the sort. After the opening stuff was over, Joel came out (to much applause and many cheers) and introduced everybody. Then they all took their places at either side of the screen and the movie started.

The Alien Factor is pleasantly awful in classic MST3K fashion. It's set in a small American town and opens with a stereotypical sci-fi/horror movie scene: a young couple are drinking and making out in a parked car in the middle of nowhere and are suddenly attacked by a monster which kills one of them and leaves the other in shock. Turns out an alien spacecraft has crashed nearby, freeing the three ferocious zoological specimens that were on board. Now said beasts are roaming the countryside, killing random rubes. The local police (all two of them) are stumped until a mysterious expert arrives in town to investigate a supposed meteor crash, and ends up helping hunt down and dispose of the alien monsters.

The acting is universally awful, natch. It looks like the production had three cars available for use and just had to dress them up as best they could to be whatever they needed them to be. At least that would explain why a two-door sedan with a flashing light on top is used as a cop car, and why a hatchback is used as an ambulance. Part way through the movie there's a pointless and sad musical interlude in a bar featuring a bunch of guys wearing ruffled shirts and playing generic classic rock (a local band who demanded to be put in the movie, perhaps?) while two girls dance listlessly in the corner, and another man sits eating nuts and drinking beer with single-minded speed and fierce determination. The nut-eater later goes home and stumbles around his house for long, painful minutes until finally clambering down into the basement, where, in a scene meant to be scary that's actually just hilarious, he turns on the light and reveals one of the alien monsters, which promptly tears him to bits. Later a woman reporter wanders the woods endlessly while nothing happens. The dramatic conclusion, which is meant to be sad and thought-provoking, features the hero and savior of the story (the mysterious expert who, it turns out, is really an alien, as well) being tragically killed. (Spoiler!)

The basic story - of an alien who disguises himself as a human and comes to Earth to track down a fellow alien who's a killer - has been done more successfully in a number of other movies, but the one that I remember most fondly is The Hidden, starring Kyle MacLachlan as the alien cop. Joel and the gang didn't mention The Hidden, but did a great job tearing The Alien Factor to bits. They all had scripts they were following, but I sense at least some of their gags may have been ad libbed. Anyway, they were all clearly having fun, often laughing along with us at their own and each other's jokes. The humor was classic MST3K stuff, with a fun added twist: now that they're not on TV, they're free to curse! Also, unlike in their Cinematic Titanic DVDs, they didn't include any frame story about the Time Tube or the nanotated disc or any of that, and they didn't stop the film in the middle to do a comedy bit. It was just movie riffing straight through. Overall, it was a different experience seeing them live than it is seeing them recorded. There's something special about enjoying comedy with a live audience. There's a subtle interaction between performer and crowd that really adds to the experience. Plus, just being there with a bunch of other fans, and hearing them laugh along with me, was great.

Even though the tickets were crazy expensive (with Ticketmaster "convenience" charges added in, I ended up paying $99!!) I'm really glad we went. It was a very fun night.
Tagged (?): Cinematic Titanic (Not), Comedy (Not), Movies (Not), On the Stage (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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