Last week, RiffTrax Live: MST3K Reunion was an unmitigated success amongst fans and critics alike. It was heralded as a very welcome celebration of how the show not only impacted its cast but the millions of its fans around the world. Since Mystery Science Theater 3000 went off the air in 1999, there have been TENS, perhaps even DOZENS of tributes and knockoffs to the silhouetted movie-riffing robot puppet show, among them SEVERAL that are good. But the best, most successful and impactful has to be none other that Kansas City’s own Incognito Cinema Warriors XP!
What exactly is ICWXP? I’m glad you asked, why not! In 2008, series creator Rikk Wolf was so inspired after discovering MST3K episodes on the internet, he built his own robots, recruited some of the most talented creative people in the Kansas City area, and put together a riff of the Raymond Burr classic, Bride of the Gorilla. It was originally only intended to be a one-off project, but after receiving such a positive reception among MSTies, fans of RiffTrax, and an official thumbs up from Michael J. Nelson himself, it was decided it would be an ongoing DVD series.
It’s important to note that, yes, while ICWXP is largely a loving tribute to Mystery Science Theater, there are some very important differences in style and influence that separates it from its inspiration. While there’s the obvious MST3K parallel of “a dude being forced to watch bad movies with two robots in silhouette mode,” this is largely where the similarities end. The most prominent divergence from adventures taking place on the Satellite of Love is the location itself and the circumstances surrounding it. Commander Rick Wolf of CORPS is taking refuge in Cine-A-Sorrow Theater, owned by the nefarious Dr. Blackwood, from the surrounding zombie apocalypse (zompocalypse for short) in Kansas City… in the not-too-distant future, of course.
I would argue that the two biggest influences on the show other than MST3K are the Capcom video game series Mega Man and Resident Evil. Let’s start with Mega Man. To the layman, Topsy Bot 5000 can be viewed merely as a counterpart for Tom Servo, Johnny Cylon as Crow T. Robot’s counterpart, and Flux Namtari taking on the role of Gypsy. But if you look closer, you’ll see several telltale influences of Mega Man in these guys. Topsy’s design draws heavy influence from Mega Man 3’s Top Man, Cylon shares many physical traits with Mega Man 1’s Cut Man, and Flux has very strong resemblances to that game’s iconic robot master, Guts Man.
It should also be noted that within the show’s lore, these robots were built with entirely different and useful functions prior to the narrative, and it’s only after the story has begun that these functions are altered to match the story’s needs, just like Mega Man. The key difference being that the robots in Cine-A-Sorrow Theater aren’t reprogrammed to be mass murderers. The bots were built to carry out their jobs in a functioning movie theater. Topsy, as evidenced by his popcorn bucket head, was built to work the concession stand, Cylon’s function was to be an usher, and Flux’s was to oversee an arcade that was never finished.
Resident Evil’s influence is also widely apparent, mainly in the show’s premise and in the main character himself. Rick Wolf (who Rikk Wolf modeled after himself in the tradition of Joel Hodgson/Robinson, Micheal J./Mike Nelson, and soon-to-be Jonah Ray/Heston,) is a soldier in a special forces outfit known as CORPS when he first becomes trapped in the theater. CORPS is obviously inspired by the very similar organization in the Resident Evil series, STARS, and it even states that the former used the original game as a training simulator.
The influence of RE is so pronounced that the series itself has become a major part of the show’s history. Their hour long review of Resident Evil: Retribution was the most viewed video on the ICWXP YouTube channel for well over a year, and Rick and Topsy went onto to play the entire first game in SIX HOUR LONG “Let’s Riff” series.
Now that you’re somewhat familiar with the premise of the show, let’s take a look at some of their most memorable entries.
Lady Frankenstein – In their second episode and probably most important as far as the series as a whole goes, ICWXP takes what they learned from their original episode, Bride of the Gorilla, and hit the ground running. In their sophomore effort, Rick and the droids are in top riffing form and the quality of the production begins to shine through, setting the standard for everything that followed.
The Bloody Pit of Horror – Years before RiffTrax took on the Crimson Executioner and company, the ICWXP crew had a field day with Italy’s answer to Manos: The Hands of Fate, making it by far their most iconic feature length film to date.
Soapy the Germ Fighter – In this episode, you’re introduced to the single most creepy educational film ghost that haunts innocent kids who JUST CAN’T LEARN DAMMIT, Soapy. It’s literally a giant bar of soap with human legs and no pants who is way too enthusiastic about little kids taking baths. He meets a well-deserved fate in the conclusion of the episode.
Rock Me Hot Potatoes! – In 2013, the single most absurd music video in the history of the world was produced by the cast and crew of ICWXP. I’ll let it speak for itself.
MST3K Turkey Day Promo – During the hugely successful #BringBackMST3K Kickstarter campaign, the cast of ICWXP was invited to make a promotional video for the franchise’s annual Turkey Day marathon. If this doesn’t validate a show like this in the eyes of the fandom, I don’t know what could.
Dr. Pepper Knock-off Taste Test – What started as a throwaway joke in the Resident Evil riff turned into one epic taste test that couldn’t possibly exist anywhere else.
They are currently in full production of Episode 205, their ninth DVD release, and to fund it they have launched a series of Let’s Plays (or “Let’s Riffs,” which began with the aforementioned Resident Evil series,) in conjunction with their Patreon campaign. The more money they can raise by doing these, the faster new episodes can come out but I’ll let Rick and the droids fill you in on that part.
…except for now you have.
You’re quite welcome.