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Mystery Somerville Theatre 3000

Hey, Up in Front!
By MIKE MILIARD  |  February 19, 2009

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One film you probably won't see honored retrospectively at Sunday night's Oscars is Blood of the Vampires, Gerardo de Leon's schlocky 1966 Filipino horror flick, in which a family of revenants engage in badly dubbed mayhem. (But, hey, who knows? If The Reader can get a Best Picture nod, anything can happen.) 

You can, however, see that Z-movie Friday and Saturday at the Somerville Theatre — just as long as you don't mind a few people up front lobbing snark at the screen like so much popcorn.

Yes, the members of the Cinematic Titanic project — Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl — are all alums of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), the cult Comedy Central (and, later, Sci-Fi Channel) program that, over the course of nearly 200 episodes from 1988 to 1999, showed how fun it can be to talk smack about terrible movies.

In late 2007, to celebrate MST3K's 20th anniversary, Hodgson and Weinstein decided to get the band back together for a one-off gig in San Francisco. It was "so much fun," says Hodgson, that they decided to take Cinematic Titanic on the road.

The MST3K conceit, of course, is that Hodgson plays a janitor who's launched into space by two scientists (Beaulieu and Weinstein) and subjected to an endless procession of Z-movies as they take notes from Earth. Trapped aboard the Satellite of Love, Joel builds four robots to keep him company — and help him make fun of the fare on the screen.

There's no Tom Servo or Crow T. Robot this time around, but Cinematic Titanic's five human principals — who live in four different cities — have honed their well-timed witticisms. "Our writing process starts as an individual exercise for each of us, then we meet to combine all our jokes as a sort of master script for each movie," Weinstein explains. "We all sort of bring more of our individual personalities to the table, since we're all playing ourselves, as opposed to characters."

"We write 'em really tight," says Hodgson. That said, performing live "changes the product in interesting ways," he says. "The audience is the third element. We do a lot of editing while we're performing, because the audience could be laughing over the set-up of a joke. You're constantly dropping out [jokes] or trying to pick up in a hurry. You're always sort of in motion as a performer."

While there have been the predictable crowds of now-thirtysomething MST3K fans flocking to Cinematic Titanic shows, Weinstein says he's "quite surprised" at how many young people have been showing up.

But Hodgson isn't, really. The fact that MST3K's 90-minute episodes are now "all chopped into bits and on YouTube" has "definitely helped the show and kept it alive for a new audience," says Hodgson. Indeed, the Web has helped engender a veritable renaissance of all things geeky in recent years. It's probably safe to say, for instance, that in 1989 Hodgson didn't envision attending (as he did last month) a symposium at MIT titled "The Design and Speculative Technology of MST3K."

Cinematic Titanic gets cheeky at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, on Friday and Saturday, February 20 and 21, at 8 pm. Tickets available in advance at somervilletheatreonline.com or by calling 617.625.5700.

Related: St. Vincent's Actor gets a run-through, Griot act, Slideshow: The Slutcracker, More more >
  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Movies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  More more >
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