Joel Hodgson will host as "Mystery Science Theater" comes to the Davidson Theatre.
As the creator of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the TV show that celebrated the best of bad movies, Joel Hodgson might be assumed to be on the lookout for the worst in cinema.
Yet Hodgson insists that he is seeking more than mere badness.
“I’m looking for movies that are good to dance with — like good dance-partner movies for ‘Mystery Science Theater,’” said Hodgson, who hosted the program on Comedy Central from 1988 to 1993. After being cancelled in 1996, the show was picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel, where it ran until 1999.
The original show presented movies of dubious merits accompanied by humorous one-liners by Hodgson and several opinionated puppets, including Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo.
Although the program has continued in different incarnations, including a 2017 reboot on Netflix with host Jonah Ray, Hodgson has returned to the front row for a national tour of “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live.”
The show — which combines a screening of the martial-arts thriller “No Retreat, No Surrender” with live comments by Hodgson and company — will be performed Sunday at the Riffe Center’s Davidson Theatre.
Hodgson promises a bad-movie extravaganza that surpasses the entertainment value of the original TV show.
“It’s amazing to me that it does work because what’s going on is we’re all watching a movie together,” he said, “but in the meantime, we’re delivering six or seven hundred riffs.”
Yet, he added, the audience is able to digest the program in real time.
“They’re assembling images, dialogue, riffs instantly and just reacting,” Hodgson said. “It’s very different than when you’re at home watching it on TV because you just absorb it at a different rate.”
During Hodgson’s tenure on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the host turned numerous movies into objects of satirical derision, ranging from “Godzilla vs. Megalon” to “Hercules Against the Moon Men.”
What, then, made him pick “No Retreat, No Surrender”? The plot provides a clue: The movie stars Kurt McKinney as a karate-obsessed adolescent given guidance by the ghost of Bruce Lee.
“You really get the feeling it was made in a reaction to the success of ‘The Karate Kid,’” Hodgson said. “It’s kind of in that world of suburban kids getting into karate.”
The similarities, however, stop there.
“Then it just goes off the rails,” Hodgson said. “The guy playing Bruce Lee looks nothing like Bruce Lee.”
Released in 1986, the film co-stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain hailing from the Soviet Union.
Although Hodgson works from a script, live performances can vary — sometimes according to how the audience is responding.
“If you’re slated to have the riff and they’re laughing, which happens a lot, you have to be editing in real time,” he said. “You want the audience laughing so hard that you can’t say the next joke.”
Today, YouTube and other sites are overflowing with wisecrack-worthy content, but Hodgson is proud that “Mystery Science Theater 3000” made bad movies enjoyable long before the internet age.
“There have been people that have said we anticipated social media and memes and a lot of stuff like that,” he said. “It was kind of like the new land. It was wide open and there were no rules — and we just were ready to fill it.”