Copywritten Logos and Products in Rifftrax, Part 1

By David G. Firestone

I’ve done Benny Hill, Beavis and Butt-Head, Team Fortress 2, now I’m gonna take on my biggest project yet…Rifftrax Shorts! Anyone who watches Mystery Science Theater 3000 should watch Rifftrax. It’s Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), and Bill Corbitt (Crow T. Robot) riff movies from Hollywood blockbusters to B movies, to my favorite genre, educational shorts. This is going to be a long one, so we’ll do titles from A to D. There is a lot of trademarked logos and characters in these shorts, so let’s find the best.

The first short is called “Alcohol Trigger Films.” The full title is “Alcohol Trigger Films for Junior High School: The Party, the Mother, the Ride.” It was produced in 1979 by AAA. The point of this film is to encourage discussion among the classes it was shown to. The first scene, The Party, starts with kids buying beer in front of a delicatessen. alcohol trigger films-1The sign for the delicatessen has a large Coca Cola logo on the side. During the film the middle school aged kids move to under the sign to drink without getting caught for the cops.alcohol trigger films-2

A diversity film from the same period, Are All People The Same talks about how people are different and why that’s a good thing. During the film, about 2/3 of the way through, we see this dejected looking young kid, wearing an Oakland A’s hat, where the patch has been added on a square piece of fabric. are all people the same-1 are all people the same-2That same short features footage from a Phoenix Suns/Golden State Warriors game, with a beautiful uniform match-up.are all people the same-3

The At Your Fingertips series teaches kids how to make toys and other art projects using every day object. Rifftrax made fun of four of them so far, Boxes, Cylinders, Grasses, and Play Clay. The boxes short features a series of boxes with trademarked logos on them. at boxes-1At one point, a kid makes a face toy out of old toothpaste boxes, because who doesn’t have them lying around. They used a vintage Crest box, with a really good vintage boxes-2 Play Clay shows how to make your own clay using Gold Medal cylanders-1 Grasses  didn’t have any trademarked logos, nor did it answer the question “Is corn grass”

Basic Job Skills is a series devoted to various aspects of getting and keeping a job. One episode is about dealing with customers, and is aptly named “Dealing with Customers.” One of the people in the film works at a motorcycle dealership, and talks about the various types of motorcycles. To illustrate this, the various kinds of motorcycles are shown being used, including a trip to Burger King, with a logo clearly visible in the background. Man I love that logo.basic job skills-customers-1

Beginning Responsibility is a 1980’s series aimed at elementary school students about various ways to be responsible. Many of these involve creepy methods, including inanimate objects talking and moving around. Broken Bookshop features a man who fixes broken books for a living, and the books are sentient, and tell the stories about how they weren’t well taken care of. One of the books who is yet to be repaired tries to escape in an old Hires Root Beer crate, begin-bookshop-1with a logo still visible. In Taking Care of Your Own Things, the main character Reggie is so bad at taking care of his things, they gain sentience and revolt. Like most kids of that era, he had a series of Marvel Comics posters in his room.begin-things-1 begin-things-2

Billy’s Helicopter Ride is from the 1960’s and features a young boy named Billy who goes for a ride in his uncle’s helicopter. There were a couple of things that struck me. The film is obviously set in Dallas, and at one point they fly over Dealy Plaza and don’t acknowledge it, billys helecopter-1and then they land on the old Southland Life Building, now the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.billys helecopter-2

The Clean Club is from 1990. Where do I start with this? I think that of all the Rifftrax shorts, this one has the most copyright violations of all. The three germ characters in clay-mation style are introduced in the beginning. They live in the girl’s hair, because she doesn’t wash herself at all. In her first appearance, the girl is clearly wearing an AYSO shirt. clean club-1The second story features a young boy with a Disney poster in the background, clean club-2and who starts reading Highlights. clean club-3He is so dirty, his clothes and toys gain sentience and rebel. The boy eventually agrees to take better care of his things, and his toys, including Felix the Cat, Fivel, clean club-4The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, clean club-6and numerous examples of He-Man, California Raisins and other toys can be seen putting themselves away. clean club-5The girl then gets ready to go to bed, and her toiletries revolt. A Tom’s Toothpaste tube starts yelling at her,clean club-9 clean club-10 along with a Johnson’s Baby Shampoo bottle. clean club-8She is established as a huge baseball fan, evidenced by her Yankees jersey, clean club-7Dodgers poster, and Mets clock.clean club-11

Clean and Neat with Harv and Marv is in the same reasoning as The Clean Club, but the only visible logos are an LA Rams helmet and an LA Dodgers cap.clean harv marv-1 clean harv marv-2

Sylvester and Tweety Bird also make cameos, in a background poster.clean harv marv-3

Cooks and Chefs shows all the career opportunities in culinary jobs. They show a number of vintage restaurant signs, which all look really cool. cooks-chefs-2 cooks-chefs-8 cooks-chefs-7 cooks-chefs-6 cooks-chefs-5 cooks-chefs-4 cooks-chefs-3They also show a vintage cruise ship logo, though I’m not sure who it belongs to,cooks-chefs-1 I’m thinking it might be Cunard. Then they show Ken’s Steak House, and their vintage sign, again it looks really good.cooks-chefs-10 cooks-chefs-9

Cork, Crashes and Curiosities is an Irish auto racing short from 1945 that shows many forms of vintage racing. During the Irish Grand Prix, a series of advertisements for something called Irish Sweep, with apparently is a lottery, are shown throughout the short.cork-1

The Creeps Machine is a short devoted to fear, namely how fear can often be unfounded in many situations. One example focuses on the dark, and features two kids trying to sleep in a dark room with a windstorm blowing outside. For reasons not fully explained, a vintage stuffed Ronald McDonald can be seen over the boy’s bed. creepsmachine-1As the camera starts panning across the room, Mickey Mouse appears, having been painted on the wall! That’s playing with fire when it comes to copyright.creepsmachine-2

Damaged Goods is a late 1960’s short where four friends go cruising, go to a strip club, and then go to a brothel, where at least one of them gets syphilis. At one point, the happy go lucky member of the group starts messing with a sign outside the strip club, where there is a Miller High Life sign in the window behind him.damagedgoods-1

From the early 1970’s comes The Day I Died which is about a high school kid who drinks, drives, kills himself in a car accident, and get buried, but his spirit is still on earth, begging for a second chance. His friend sneaks the booze onto the beach in a 7Up bottle.dayidied-1

One of the most horribly written shorts in Rifftrax is Drugs Are Like That. Produced in 1969, it features two kids playing with Legos, and discussing various things drugs are like. Many of these comparisons are nonsensical at best, and some are just laughable. The only trademark is a Lego box that the kids pour empty to start the short.drugsarelikethat-1

Next time, we will continue this discussion, with E-M, until then, see you soon.


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