Kansas City, Missouri. Heart of America. Paris of the Plains. Home to Arrowhead Stadium, Don Cheadle and… the Zombie Apocalypse.
In ”Incognito Cinema Warriors XP”, the dead have risen from their graves, and Commander Rick Wolf is deployed to downtown Kansas City to fight the undead horde. Within mere seconds, his elite squad of zombie-fighting commandos is torn limb from limb, leaving Rick outnumbered and low on ammo.
Commander Wolf seeks refuge in an abandoned movie house, the Cine-A-Sorrow Theater. Inside, he finds two sarcastic robots, Topsy Bot 5000 and Johnny Cylon. As the city bubbles over with the reanimated corpses of the dead, Rick strikes up a deal with mad scientist Dr. Blackwood, creator of his new-found robot pals.
In exchange for shelter from the ever-worsening zompocalypse, Rick must watch the theater’s entire catalog of terrible, forgotten cinema. Classic cinematic travesties like Lady Frankenstein, The Bloody Pit and Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory provide hours of hilarious commentary and riffing, courtesy of Rick and his robotic companions.
Created by Rikk Wolf, (not to be confused with his alter-ego, Rick Wolf) ”Incognito Cinema Warriors XP” is a passionate blood-splattered love letter to ”Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Rikk developed a taste for riffing films courtesy of a nasty addiction to director’s DVD commentaries – particularly the colorized version of George Romero’s ”Night of the Living Dead”. That particular 2004 re-release featured a commentary from Michael J. Nelson (”MST3K”, ”RiffTrax”).
With his ”MST3K” fandom reignited, Rikk went on a binge that lasted several months. He soon found himself with no unviewed episodes left to devour. After seeing a few fan-made incarnations of the show, Rikk got the idea to produce his own show with original characters and a fresh frame of reference.
”Incognito Cinema Warriors XP” is fucking awesome, that’s all there is to it. Being a fan of MST3K and RiffTrax, I can say in all confidence that ICWXP is the best of the bunch. Simply put, it’s the best time I’ve ever had sitting in front of a television. Well, except for the first time I ever watched ”Star Wars” – or ”Ghostbusters” – or ”RoboCop” – but you get the point.
The main attraction of ICWXP is that it’s fresh. The references and riffing throughout are relevant to the pop culture geek of today. With homages to video games like ”Mega Man” and ”Resident Evil” and movies like ”Ghostbusters” and ”Dawn of the Dead” – and tabloid fodder like Britney Spears’ vagina – you constantly feel in on the joke.
The production values are top-notch, with an impressive live-action intro that will have you hooked immediately – not to mention the wondrous visual effects in harmony with great props and sets.
So, with chainsaw and splatter-guard in hand, I mowed down a patch of zombies and made my way into the Cine-A-Sorrow Theater to sit down and chat with Rikk about ”Incognito Cinema Warriors XP”. We also talked about the’ ”Star Wars” Prequels, “Robocop” and yes – Zombies. Here’s a taste:
Adam: How do you decide which movies to riff? They have to be public domain, sure, but is there any criteria for selection other than being really bad?
Rikk: Unintentional zaniness is a big sell for me. A good example is how ridiculous Mickey Hargitay looks prancing around in his Crimson Executioner tights in Bloody Pit of Horror, yet how seriously he appears to be taking the role.
Adam: What’s your shooting and production schedule like? I was extremely impressed with the high level of production value, from the props to the sets to the visual effects – how hard is it to put together one of these episodes?
Rikk: Thanks, man! ICWXP is pretty much a 24/7 gig for me that pays absolutely nothing (laughing). Thusly, I can’t afford to pay the cast and crew more than gas money to our studios (sometimes not even that).
ICWXP is essentially charity work. Since we’re not backed by a big studio and we have a such a tiny cast and crew, putting out an episode of a show like this is astronomically difficult. Unfortunately, because of this, we fall into Production Hell from time to time.
Writing the live-action skits takes very little time – we usually knock filming them out in a day – but that’s where we rack up the bill. Lots of props. Also, I’m a real stickler on the riffing we do during the movie segments, so that eats up most of our production time. But to finally answer your question – it’s extremely difficult.
Adam: I understand you’re working on Season 2 right now. How is it different? What can we expect in the ongoing zompocalypse?
Rikk: Indeed. The episodes are looking, as of right now, like they will average out to about 40 minutes as opposed to the usual two-hour affair. We’ll be riffing short films for the first six episodes.
The live-action stuff is going to take on more of a life of its own, and while we’ll still be offering up jabs at the films we riff during them, they’ll be considerably more plot driven.
The show is still going to be extraordinarily silly, of course. I don’t ever want people to get the impression we’re taking ourselves too seriously. After all, it is a puppet show.
Adam: What are some of your favorite films? I would have to imagine they influence the commentary, as well as the overall look and feel of the show…
Rikk: T2: Judgment Day, Die Hard, The Crow, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and RoboCop – just to name a few.
I used to watch T2 on an almost daily basis when I was 15 or 16. What really hooked me was that it was just so epic and provided the ultimate escapism for a male teen. I mean, who wouldn’t love to be plucked from their tedious life and fight evil with a cyborg?
Adam: I remember being in 1st or 2nd grade when T2 came out, and of course I couldn’t go see it at the theater but I had the NES game and the toys. I saw it on VHS a year or so later and was blown away.
Rikk: I can’t recall my first viewing of it, but I know it struck a real chord with me. As a result, I never really grew out of thoroughly enjoying larger than life movies and to this day, I usually get zero enjoyment out of hard dramas and more “grown-up” reality based films.
I’m a big kid, I’ll admit it. But hey, at least it takes a great story and emotional weight to keep me invested while all the explosions and cyborgs and aliens are destroying things (laughing). If it’s just gratuitous out-of-this-worldness with nothing behind it, that doesn’t get me either.
Adam: I was a total monster kid. As a nine-year-old my favorite movies were Star Wars, Aliens, Predator and Robocop. If a movie had a really good monster or robot or space alien in it, I was totally down.
Rikk: Robocop was great because of that horrifying transformation. The whole idea of the man in the machine and what’s left of him, and unlike Anakin Skywalker, Murphy was a noble character you could care about (laughing).
Adam: Obviously you love zombie films. What is it about that specific subgenre of horror that gets you excited?
Rikk: I think how I originally discovered zombies was Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the original Resident Evil on PS1. What really got me was the survivalist aspect that wasn’t present in a lot of other horror niches.
I really get no enjoyment out of watching some maniac kill helpless, horny teenagers one by one (although I do like select incarnations of Halloween). Even the “heroes” (or usually “heroines”) in those films bore me to tears. Zombie scenarios, and especially Resident Evil’s, put you in the shoes of people that are capable of defending themselves and rising to the occasion and I latched onto that.
Adam: It’s a clever plot device as well – taking refuge in an abandoned theater and watching shitty movies during the zombie apocalypse. Was that always the idea for ICWXP or did you try another premise?
Rikk: I was first kicking around ideas for a movie riffing show a few years back at the height of my zombie obsession. I don’t think there was ever an incarnation of ICWXP in my head that didn’t feature zombies. Although, the first idea I had featured two humans and a half-zombified cyborg version of Topsy Bot 5000 (laughing).
I’m excited to get into some of these later episodes because I’m going to attempt to do some stuff that (I hope) hasn’t really been done with the nature of zombies before. ICWXP zombies don’t exactly work like traditional zombies, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun exploring that…