Cinematic Titanic is the banner name for comedy writers Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl and J. Elvis Weinstein, all formerly of the cult television series Mystery Science Theater 3000. The premise of the two entities is the same; their silhouettes frame the screen as they verbally assault notably bad flicks, with varying results.
The group had a lot of good luck with their earliest direct-to-DVD releases for Doomsday Machine, The Wasp Woman and an old MST3K favorite, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Less fortunate were Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks and Blood of the Vampires. It wasn’t like the gang wasn’t trying, or that the comedic well ran dry, but both movies were just so originally inept and awful that the jokes simply couldn’t stick, at least with me. I was too distracted by how terrible the film was.
The recent release of Cinematic Titanic’s latest, East Meets Watts, goes a long way toward rehabilitating the formula. The film is bad, but it’s a passably cheesy bit of blaxploitation vs. chop-sockey, taking some of the worst of both grindhouse genre staples and smashing them together. This release also marks the group’s first recorded live show (before an audience at L.A.’s famed Largo venue) and having that to play off helps greatly, especially with physical gags that often got lost on their ‘green-screen’ studio offerings. Part of what made movie riffing so attractive is what has caused movie audiences to perennially heckle the screen: the audience reaction. Ordinarily not something I appreciate, when the movie is particularly crappy and everyone knows it, a barb from the peanut gallery can be enjoyable. Because the heckling is the reason for Cinematic Titanic’s existence, that audience is a major contribution.
The film’s story, such as it is, finds Larry Chin arriving from China to search for his missing brother. Along the way he’ll find honkies, crackers, pimps, pigs, hos, and a friend in the implausibly named Stud Brown. Initially handcuffed to Stud, the film barely drags itself across the threshold of homage to The Defiant Ones, but Alan Tang and Timothy Brown are no match for Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, and that’s not the reason why you’re watching. Cinematic Titanic lovingly tears the movie apart and even when I wasn’t getting big laughs, there was much giggling to be had. Originally released in 1974 as Dynamite Brothers, and subsequently retitled for home video, East Meets Watts is a perfectly blank slate for the crew to wrestle with — filled with some of the most stereotypical elements of either the martial arts or blaxploitation formats, there’s a lot of material to work with. While it is undeniably bad, it’s not something so terrible that you’re caught up in visual ugliness or ineptitude, and you’re free to actually catch the jokes being tossed at you.
Because of all these elements, Cinematic Titanic has released a DVD that really shows what they’re capable of, and gets them out from under the long shadow of MST3K. If you’re a fan of either, this is the release you’ll want to check out.
All Cinematic Titanic titles are available from their website, Cinematictitanic.com.
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