Comedians to roast film turkeys at local theater

MIDDLEBURY — Pierre Vachon loves bad movies. The body piercer, professional wrestler, voice-over artist and actor enjoys everything from their cringe-worthy acting to overdone special effects to lame story line. But most of all, he enjoys laughing at them.
“I love film train wrecks,” said Vachon, whose day job is at Frog Alley Tattoo and Leatherworks in Middlebury. “Because people actually went into it thinking they were making something good. It’s so bad I have to figure out where they went wrong.”
So it comes as no surprise that the stand-up comic has proposed a new kind of event at the Marquis Theater in downtown Middlebury. This Saturday, Jan. 16, he’s going to screen one of his favorite bad movies, “Masters of the Universe,” and invite others to come and enjoy it in all its awfulness. Admission is free. Vachon and two other professional comedians will provide the live running commentary.
“It’s going to be the only time it’s OK to talk during a movie,” he said.
While the “Movie Roast” is the first of its kind at the Marquis, picking apart or repurposing existing material in bad movies is a concept pioneered by shows like “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Mad Movies,” which took existing footage and edited it with added effects or new dialogue.
The idea for a live version of these shows came to Vachon during a recent comedy show in St. Albans, where one of these edits — a recut of the 1995 film “Showgirls” — was playing on the TV. His comedy set wasn’t going well, so in a moment of improvisation Vachon began heckling the show on the screen across the room.
“These people were half drunk and really weren’t paying attention,” he recalls. “Some of them were staring at Elizabeth Berkley on the screen, so I started riffing on the bad movie and people started to love it.”
While shows like “Mystery Science Theater 3000” are heavily produced, Vachon decided he wanted to introduce more spontaneity.
“I had the idea of three comics getting up with three mikes and not having the production and the editing,” he said. “I thought it would be a fun show because the audience is right there with you. If you bomb, they’re with you, but if you’re hitting and you’re working, they’re still there.”
To help, Vachon recruited fellow Vermont comedians Ryan Kenyon and GW Foley. The three will have no scripted jokes and will take turns providing their own humorous narration to the movie. They’ll also be accompanied by a sound effects board with 360 different options at their disposal, ranging from airhorns to the theme song from the TV show “Friends” (Courtney Cox, who stars in “Masters of the Universe,” later went on to perform in “Friends”; Vachon anticipates this particular effect might prove useful).
The 1987 film “Masters of the Universe” was a particularly tempting target for Vachon and his co-hosts.
“It’s one of the most awful childhood experiences you could have,” he said. “I loved it when I was a kid, but when I saw it again in my late 20s I realized what torture I had put my parents through to see it with me. Then I realized how much my childhood had been a lie by how bad the movie was. This movie deserves it.”
In his research on the Internet, Vachon has found plenty of material in the film to riff on, which he said indicates why the film ultimately failed. The movie exceeded its original budget in the first three weeks of shooting and had to make do with limited resources. Without a fight choreographer, the entire final fight scene was improvised. The costumes and special effects, when compared to what’s produced today, are tacky.
Ben Wells, co-owner of the Marquis, said picking the right movie is important.
“It’s a fine balance because it has to be a movie that people want to sit through,” he said. “Some movies are so bad nobody wants to sit for two hours. For some reason, “Masters of the Universe” seems to strike a chord with people. They’re lighting up when they hear about it.”
After the first show, Vachon will turn the decision of which movie to tear apart next month over to the audience. Several ideas for future movies include “Howard the Duck,” “Battlefield Earth” and “The Last Dragon.” Vachon said he’s open to suggestions.
“I don’t care if they want us to do ‘The Notebook’ (a sentimental 2004 film about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease). I’ll rip it apart,” he said. “If they want it, that’s what they’ll get.”

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