Happy 20th birthday, Mutant Reviewers From Hell!

mutant

Some of you (maybe just a few!) might know that my writing career got started a long time before Massively, Bio Break, and WAAAGH! I, along with several friends, used to write movie reviews daily about cult films that would tickle our odd fancy.

So the story goes that back in 1997 when I was in my junior year of college, an internet friend named Kym and I were talking about our mutual love of strange movies and decided to start up one of those fancy “world wide web sites” that were all the rage. I registered for a free Geocities account (yes, Geocities!) and started cobbling together the site that would eventually be called Mutant Reviewers From Hell (MRFH).

It was dorky only in the way that ’90s websites could be: distracting backgrounds, animated gifs, MIDI jukebox, web counters, guestbooks, and the like. Yet it was also the spark of something special. Kym and I would post short and (hopefully) entertaining counterpoint reviews about the same movie, giving readers multiple perspectives on various flicks. At the time I was working at video rental stores (look those up in your history books, kids) and had an unlimited access to all sorts of crazy films.

What started as a hobby between two friends became a passion project. Mutant Reviewers started accumulating a lot of content and readers, and while we lost Kym early on (she turned to other hobbies, she’s still alive!), the site gained a team of six or seven dedicated writers. Every day I’d wake up and format a handful of reviews in HTML, and every evening I’d watch a movie or three. Most of us were college-age students forming our own little internet community, and it was a blast. By mutual recommendations, we ended up sharing some of our favorite films with each other and growing as writers and budding movie critics.

We covered movies rather extensively but started to branch out into all sorts of side features. We did annual award shows, full-length written commentaries for special movies, TV reviews, comic strips, YouTube videos, and theme weeks. By the mid-2000s, the site was starting to buckle under the weight and clunkiness of the old HTML format, so we transitioned onto WordPress and made MRFH into a blog.

For me, it was a wonderful hobby that helped to keep me sane during some tough years as an early adult who lived alone and didn’t have a lot of friends nearby. I was already watching movies by the bucketload; writing about them with friends helped to give that time more purpose. It’s weird to think now, but back then I would often have so many reviews written in advance that it would take weeks if not months to get through them all while interspersing them with the other writers’ contributions.

Even better, we became friends. Looking back over 20 years of Mutant Reviewers, I’d have to say that the friendships outstripped what little popularity (we got mentioned in Premiere magazine once!) and following we had. I cared about our crew and we watched over each other. Some came to my wedding in 2005, and several times some of us — who were never geographically near each other — would make trips to hang out in person. We were all as different as could be, but watching and writing about cult films brought us together.

Time went on. Things changed. And us fresh-faced college kids grew up. We got married, got jobs, had kids, and saw our priorities change. One by one, the original Mutant crew resigned, most always due to a lack of time and interest in movies. We promised to stay in touch, and indeed, many of us still wave to each other on Facebook and Twitter. We would hire on new staff and the cycle would repeat.

Like many of them, I started drifting away from my days of watching a ton of movies in my off time. When my son came along, I had a lot more to do at home than ever before, and movies were an easy thing to cut down on. And when 2008 came around, my interest shifted hard toward MMORPGs as I began to blog about them. Oh, I continued on putting up a post every now and then with the crew that was left, but it was clear that MRFH was on the wane. By the beginning of 2015, I had fallen away for good, just as most of my friends had.

It didn’t mean that Mutant Reviewers was dead, of course. You can keep a wordpress blog up just about forever, or at least until the company changes its policy or shuts down forever. And we still have one writer — well, YouTuber now — who has been faithful in keeping the flame going. It makes me happy to know that the site is still there, that people can still read a lot of our reviews (which, at one point, neared 5,000 or so) and enjoy the effort we put into this multi-decade project.

Twenty years is such a long time to me now, but Mutant Reviewers is a weird bridge back to a much different era of my life and the stops along the way. I might not have become a blogger without it, and I certainly would not have met some wonderful people.

Do I miss it? A little, to tell the truth. I love my passion projects, and when we had a nice-sized community, we’d get a lot of discussion going on these films. I still have a fondness for ferreting out bizarre movies and sequels that no one has heard of to review, but honestly, that stuff takes time, and these days I’d rather be with my family and play MMOs than sit on a couch for two hours taking notes on a pad of paper. So I recognize that my time with the site is past, but I wanted to acknowledge this milestone.

Happy birthday, Mutant Reviewers. You were one heck of a ride and we loved every mutated part of you. And for those who have never read it, maybe take a few minutes today to peruse our categories and see if we can’t entertain you or point you toward some interesting flicks.

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2 Comments

  1. I wish I had something witty and profound to add to what Justin said; but I fear this comment (like so many of my reviews) will be short on both. So let me just say this: MRFH was a hugely important part of my life for the better part of a decade. I got the email from Justin inviting me to join the same day I found out I got a promotion at my actual job, and I was more excited about the MRFH gig. I loved this site. I still love it, years after becoming unable to give it the attention it deserves. I made great friendships and was exposed to movies I never would’ve seen or even heard about otherwise. And even the bad movies (and there were some *really* bad ones)… heck, there aren’t many people who can honestly say they’ve sat through all of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” AND “13 Going on 30.” I’m proud to count myself among that happy few.

    More than anything: thank you, Justin. Thanks to Sean and Clare and Kyle and Lissa and Sue and Heather and Mike and Kaleb and Al and everyone, of course; but the biggest thanks go out to you, big guy. You gave us a place to safely channel our weird, possibly hazardous creative energies, putting them to good (?) use entertaining our fellow cult lovers. Every scrap of freelance writing I’ve produced since owes a debt to my time here; and to the extent that any of it is even halfway decent, it came through rereading my insanely wordy, labored early reviews, cringing, and learning to do better.

    So thanks, Justin, for giving me and so many of us an outlet for so many years. And happy birthday, MRFH!

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