The episode: “The Final Sacrifice,” ep. 910
The riff: Credited by Servo as the camera quickly cuts a demonic, fanged carving that is oddly colored and lumpy. It kind of looks like bad papier mache.
The explanation: Red Grooms is an American multimedia artist and painter who is known for his expansive, three-dimensional depictions of urban life and decay. The face in the film more closely resembles some of the paintings he did of celebrities and famous people. Additionally, the structure of the joke, calling it “Red Grooms’ Dracula” is probably a play on the 1992 adaptation of the classic Dracula story, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” starring Gary Oldman.
Novelty factor: I’m familiar with the Oldman movie but I had to look up who Red Grooms was.
The episode: “The Touch of Satan,” ep. 908 (Note: Two riffs in a row for this episode because I love how obscure this one is.)
The riff: Inserted by Tom at the end of the sweaty farmer’s sentence, after he exclaims “Oh, bosh!” in an incredulous way, as if saying “poppycock.”
The explanation: They’re referring to 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, a fabulist known for his depictions of religious imagery such as heaven and hell. His best known work, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” was a three-panel triptych depicting creation, life on Earth and the punishments awaiting sinners in Hell. Bosch was also an extremely talented sketch artist and portrait painter, although he is mostly remembered for his religious pieces today.
Novelty factor: Despite the fact that I am not a fine arts buff, I’ve still always understood this riff. Similar to the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer, I’ve always just liked Bosch’s romantic imagery.
The episode: “Star Force: Fugitive Alien 2,” ep. 318
The riff: Observed by Tom as we get a sudden and dramatic outer space shot of what looks like some sort of nebula or gas cloud, but is probably a “black hole,” given the movie’s context.
The explanation: Judy Chicago (real name “Judith Cohen”) is an American feminist artist who is known for her big, three-dimensional art installations that reflect feminist issues in art. She coined the term “feminist art” in the 1970s, which led to her massive masterwork, “The Dinner Party.” The installation consists of a huge triangular table with place-settings that reflect 39 influential women of myth and history, from fertility goddesses all the way to Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m not entirely sure what about this cloud reminded Tom of a Judy Chicago painting, unless it’s some vaguely yonic imagery that I’m not quite seeing.
Novelty factor: Never heard of the artist before. I am amused, though, by the coincidence of having two riffs about feminism in two days’ time. At least one of the MST3k writers was apparently pretty well-versed in this stuff, and I can’t help but wonder which. Was Mary Jo already with them this early?
The episode: “The Mole People,” ep. 803
The riff: Quipped by Crow as our heroes wander the exceedingly dark tunnels of the mole people and spot the tiniest bit of light up ahead.
The explanation: Robert Motherwell was an American artist and one of the initial founders of the abstract expressionism movement. In particular, he was known for a series called “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” which focused on the fallout of the Spanish Civil War. Somehow, he achieved this through the use of over 100 paintings of big, black ovals. Yes, that’s right. Nothing but huge, black ovals. Observe below. Don’t ask me to explain.
Novelty factor: Completely new to me, and equally inscrutable. And people wonder why the general public is unable to embrace fine art on some level. I’m blaming this entirely on Robert Motherwell, so there.
THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.
The episode: “The Amazing Transparent Man,” ep. 623
The riff: Delivered by Crow during a quick shot of police officers with dogs on the hunt.
The explanation: William Wegman is a photographer and artist particularly well known for his series of compositions featuring dogs in various costumes and poses. That explains the dogs in the shot, but I’m a little fuzzy about the reference to “Mein Kampf,” the manifesto composed by Adolph Hitler as he sat in prison before rising to power. It may be that the writers thought the police with dogs just recalled the Gestapo. Also a possibility: Wegman took many photos of his own dogs, the German-bred Weimaraner. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it’s an interesting coincidence either way.
Novelty factor: I knew what “Mein Kampf” was of course, which made me curious to research what the rest of the riff was about. I wasn’t expecting it to be “an artist known for his work with dogs,” but finding out that sort of random factoid is why I do this blog.
The episode: “Samson vs. The Vampire Women,” ep. 624
The riff: Realized out loud by Tom as a shirtless Mexican wrestler and bare-armed vampire size each other up and prepare to fight it out.
The explanation: Mapplethorpe was a famous American photographer who was known for his stylized black and white portraits of celebrities and nude men. Himself gay, Mapplethorpe’s provacatory work was controversial and raised questions about public funding of possibly objectionable art. He died at 42 from complications from AIDS, and the foundation created in his name continues to raise money for HIV research to this day.
Novelty factor: I didn’t know who Mapplethorpe was, but it was pretty clear from the context that he probably had something to do with the photography of muscly men. Another example of the MST3k writers’ versatility in riffing, drawing a reference from the fine arts world.