Subterranean Cinema 4000

In what might be called “just over five years ago”, a group of former band mates from Hillsboro, Illinois released what might be called “experiment 1” of their own take on what might be called the genre “of” fan-made Mystery Science Theater 3000. On April 11, 2012, the YouTube became just over one hour and twenty minutes larger, with the debut of Subterranean Cinema 4000. It has custom sets, robots, a mad scientist, shadowrama, host segments, theme music, and an original door sequence (in the form of a decrepit elevator shaft) — everything a proper homage to MST3K deserves.

STC4K’s non-standard premise, instead of a mad scientist shooting someone into space, has a mad scientist trapping a guy under ground. In fact — and this isn’t explained in the instrumental theme song or in any on-screen exposition — the guy the evil Dr. Wehttam has trapped underground is his own clone! Dr. Wehttam’s favorite TV show is MST3K. So, after the show went off the air, he went to work trying to recreate the show himself — a mile beneath the surface of the Earth. He strands his clone in a subterranean bunker, with a couple of robots (Vic and Ray). Then, “phase 2” of his evil plan begins: force the clone to watch bad movies.

In a fit of unseemly obsession, Wehttam spent ten years constructing an underground, highly secure bunker to unleash his master plan–an experiment in media based torture, for his own entertainment. Wary of his claustrophobia, he decided to clone himself so he could function as both the observer and subject of the experiment. (STC4K/Facebook)

The first experiment was the 1993 feature film Robot Wars.  The milk shake that brings the boys to the Robot Wars yard is gigantic, robotic war-machines brought to life with stop-motion animation — and the main character’s sweet feathered hair. Some might call it a sequel to Robot Jox from 1989, but some might argue differently.

“It gives me great pleasure to introduce phase two of my master plan….”

The creator of SubTCin4000, Matt Reck (who played Matt), says that he started building Vic and Ray originally without any plans to use them in anything. Building them was just something to kill the time over a few weekends. The same goes for Dr. Wehttam’s robotic left arm; he made it a few years earlier for no good reason at all. It was Matt’s aimless creative output that finally lead to the four friends, who had met in high school, to get excited about doing an MST3K-style project:

I built a bunch of stuff and my friends got more and more excited at the idea every time I’d show them something else I’d built.

Things started to get going in earnest around July of 2010 and he says that it took about nine months to write and shoot the first episode; most of the shooting taking place in the cold, cold Illinois winter months from October to January. Soon after shooting ended, Matt moved out of town to seek his fortune in Florida — leaving his friend Dustin O’Dell to complete the editing.

Matt and the bots having a devil of a time in some footage from the ill-fated second episode of Subterranean Cinema 4000.

Work on the second episode of Subterranean Cinema 4000 began not too long after the first episode was released, giving Matt a whole year to decide to move back to town. The second experiment was originally going to be the feature film The Prisoners of the Lost Universe, starring Battlestar Gallactica‘s own Richard Hatch. But, the plan was derailed when they discovered that Rifftrax had already trod those boards and they decided to abandon the riffs they’d already written and take on a different movie: 1989’s Night Shadow.

Originally, the second episode was planned to be released in the summer of 2012. After two years, they had written and shot footage for some host segments, and had written riffs for something like 3/4 of the new experiment. Dustin, who also wrote the understated morceau of an overture at the beginning of the first episode, even wrote a whole new theme song. But, Subterranean Cinema 4000 succumbed to a common affliction of MST3K fanvid projects. As Dustin puts it:

…the whole thing unfortunately sort of fell apart for us as life happened–we all parted ways physically and so couldn’t do more episodes. There wasn’t a falling out or anything but physical distance made working on the show’s skit material inconvenient.

It wasn’t Randolph Cohlan’s genre picture that killed the project. It was just plain old life getting in the way. Eventually, the sets were dismantled. Official Twitter and Facebook postings teasing progress of the second experiment ceased in early 2014.

Dr. Wehttam’s henchman Internet Jeff eats a microwave samich as Matt, Vic, and Ray get the low down on the experiment and the effects of disobeying the “movie alarm”.

As far as the future of STC4K goes, Trevor Klump (who played Ray) posted on Facebook, not too long ago, his interest in getting the gang back together. Dustin is also game, noting that there’s hope in that they had never formally declared that the project was dead. But unless the problem of Hillsboro, Illinois not being able to keep its residents from moving away can be solved (even Matt’s twin brother Andrew Reck, who played Dr. Wehttam, skipped town for a while), it looks like the most that those encouragement posting YouTube commenters might be able to hope for will have to be cobbled together from what’s already in-the-can. Which, Matt thinks, needs to see the light of day:

Episode 2 has a ton of stuff filmed.  I’ve thought about uploading a short-film style of everything we have filmed because it’s really funny and deserves [to be uploaded] since we put so much work into it.

Another MST3K fanvid series that ended its run by putting out an unfinished episode is Nathanial Torres’s Moon Base Nine. The third episode of Moon Base Nine (The Transformation of Fanghorn) features the MB9 characters in the host segments; but the theater segments were never shot, so even though the characters mention having to go in there, they never actually do. The experiments are short cartoons Nathanial produced himself. They appear as they normally would have, only shadowrama (and riff) free. But, not all unfinished episodes escape the edit bay.

Subterranean Cinema 4000 has a few things in common with MST3K fanvid project Subterranean Cinema Realm (1999-2002) — besides their names (which turns out just to be a pretty neat coincidence). Neither of them has anything to do with Don Alex’s Subterranean Cinema nor Kyle Pittman‘s Subterraneabut, both of them do have an unreleased episode languishing unfinished, with no clear future. They both take place, eponymobviously, subterraneously. And, they both were produced in Illinois; a stone’s throw from St. Louis, Missouri.  (If you add the once a year performances over the last 20 years of Mysterious Theatre 337, Illinois seems to be a hot-bed of MST3K fan-made activity!)

Technically speaking, STC4K was edited with Sony Vegas; the sound was recorded with two shotgun microphones, and those goofy over-the-ear mics; and the camera they used was a Panasonic DVX100a. The garage where they shot everything (a friend’s garage dubbed Buckeye Trail Studio) had a noisy kerosene heater they couldn’t use while they were shooting; so it was always something like 40 degrees in there. The shadowrama was done with a green-screen chroma-key effect.

There’s a whole channel on the YouTube, if you want to check out the one episode of STC4K; you can also check out a blooper reel and a “trailer” for episode two. If you’d like to be surprised by future postings on disused or defunct social media accounts, keep an eye on the STC4K Twitter and Facebook pages. There are even Facebook pages for Ray the Robot and Internet Jeff (Dr. Wehttam’s dopey, tum-tum-exposed minion played by Jesse Elliot). To round out the cast, Vic the Robot (a fictional character who doesn’t seem to be on social media) was played by Jarrod Law.

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