Following the cancellation of Mystery Science Theater 3000, its three primary riffers, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett moved to the internet.
Their main business is producing downloadable audio commentaries that you listen to on an ipod while watching a DVD. Rifftrax tended to focus on bigger, mainstream movies (of course, if you want to sell a commentary, it’s nice if a lot of people have the DVD). They certainly captured the comedy of MST3K, but one of the things I loved most about Mystery Science was seeing movie that I would otherwise never get a chance to.
Eventually, Rifftrax branched out a little, and started doing complete products with video and audio together, with classic educational shorts, and some terrible classic movies, which are then sold on DVD.
This brings us to 1934’s Maniac. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a horror movie, or cautionary tale (like Reefer Madness). It’s a story of a mentally ill man who gave up his dream to be a vaudeville impressionist to take a job as a lab assistant to a mad scientist who was working to resurrect the dead. Periodically through out the film, there are text rolls that describe a particular mental illness, then movie then proceeds to show the effects of said illness on our vaudevillian protagonist.
There is murder, rape, and animal mutilation, but the movie never seems dark, or foreboding. There’s even nudity, which as the commentary points out, is odd for a 1934 film. It is a genuinely bad movie; more a disparate collection of scene than a focused narrative. The acting is overly enthusiastic (even one of the characters describes another’s speech as hammy). And despite the horrific elements and inner turmoil of the protagonist, it never really illicits emotions from the audience.
The riffing is good, about in line with what MST3K was doing by the end of its run. You can see a sample here.
The DVD from Legend Films is utilitarian. The menu is simple, but functional. The video on the movie (which is only 51 minutes, by the way) is old and scratchy, but suitable for its purpose. Extras include the movie without the rifftrax, and a 47 minute video of the Rifftax panal from Comic-Con 2010. The Rifftrax DVDs are also cheap, under $10. Anyone wanting to see new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 will find a lot to like about these.