Over this quarantine, there have been a select few things that have kept me from going absolutely insane. One has been cooking, another has been writing for the blog here on QuaranTEEN, and the last thing, and dare I say the most important thing, has been watching Red Letter Media on YouTube. The amount of joy that the members of this channel have given me is insurmountable, and honestly, it’s an absolute crime that they only managed to reach 1 million subscribers after nearly nine years on the platform, as the content that they create is absolutely brilliant. However, I’m very much aware that most people reading this, like me up until a few months ago, have never heard of Red Letter Media before in their lives. So, I’m here to give you an introduction to Red Letter Media: the best film review Youtube channel that you’ve never heard of.
What Is Red Letter Media?
Red Letter Media is a film production company run by two Wisconsin filmmakers: Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman. While the company originally started as simply a filmmaking enterprise, their rise to prominence first came when they began to upload their film reviews to their YouTube channel, stylized as Redlettermedia, in 2009. But Redlettermedia isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill film review channel. It’s so, so much more. To see just how much Redlettermedia stands out from the pretentious, dry film critics that seem to dominate movie reviews these days, look no further than the channel’s earliest videos: a seven-part 70-minute review of the infamous Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace. This review gained the channel a huge following, not only because of the quality of the review itself, but the hilarious way in which it was presented. Mike Stoklasa, believing his natural voice to be too boring, decided to review the film from the persona of “Harry S. Plinkett,” a character developed by Mike and his childhood best friend Rich Evans for a short film that the pair had worked on a few years previously. The bizarre character of Mr. Plinkett, combined with the intelligent commentary within the review, gained the “Plinkett Reviews” series millions upon millions of views.
Today, Redlettermedia has 1.1 million subscribers, and the channel’s team now consists of five main members: Mike, Jay, Rich Evans, Jack, and Josh, all of whom make regular appearances on the channel. While the channel now only occasionally makes Plinkett Reviews, they still have a numerous amount of other series, many of which have been running for over seven years. Don’t know which series to watch? Read on for an explanation of some of my favorites.
Half in the Bag
Half in the Bag, the channel’s flagship show and one of their longest-running series, is centered around reviews of recently released films and other films currently in theaters. It’s probably the most traditional of all their series, and yet much like the Plinkett Reviews, there’s a twist: Mike and Jay take on the characters of VCR repairmen, who have been hired by none other than Mr. Plinkett to fix his VCR. But instead of actually fixing anything, the two repairmen chat about movies that they’ve seen while coming up with increasingly insane and convoluted excuses to not repair Plinkett’s VCR. Half in the Bag is, at least in my opinion, the most straightforward of all their series, despite the weird premise. Mike and Jay give genuinely insightful and intelligent reviews of current movies, while also poking fun at the pretentious and entitled attitude of many modern film reviewers. All in all, Half in the Bag provides some actually helpful and entertaining film reviews in an age where film review channels such as CinemaSins and Nostalgia Critic tend to nitpick just for the sake of nitpicking. Find all Half in the Bag episodes here.
Best of the Worst
Ah, Best of the Worst. The series that was my introduction to Redlettermedia, and which to this day remains the most gut-bustingly hilarious and entertaining series on their channel (in my own opinion). On more than one occasion, I have legitimately cried laughing while watching Best of the Worst. Even if you aren’t a film lover, Best of the Worst is sure to make you burst out laughing, if only at the sheer ridiculousness of the films being reviewed. But what is Best of the Worst? Best of the Worst first started when Jay, a huge fan of B-movies and other low-budget flicks from the 1970s and 80s, began inviting the other four members of the Redlettermedia team to his house for “Bad Movie Nights,” where the group would get together, have a drink or two, and then watch (and make fun of) a selection of schlocky horror, sci-fi, or action B-movies from Jay’s collection. The group then got the idea to film these movie nights for their channel, which eventually evolved into Best of the Worst. However, since the series’ inauguration, BotW has produced many different subcategories of video within the series itself, all with their own special gimmick or focus. Here’s my explanation of each one:
Best of the Worst - The original incarnation of the series, BotW involves the group watching three pre-selected B-movies from the studio’s collection in their screening room, recording their reactions as they do so. Afterwards, a rotating panel of four sits at a table in their studio to review each film, usually making fun of their bizarre plotlines, horrible scripts, bad cinematography, melodramatic action, and unintentionally hilarious stunts. At the end of the video, the group decides which of the three films is the Best of the Worst, sometimes voting to destroy the film that they found the most awful to watch.
Wheel of the Worst - In Wheel of the Worst, potential film selections are placed onto a Wheel of Fortune-style roulette wheel, which is then spun three times. Whichever films the wheel lands on, the group has to watch. However, while the format for discussion and selection of which film is Best of the Worst is the same as that of a normal BotW episode, Wheel episodes are different in that the films being selected are not B-movies. Instead, Wheel selections are videos in the studio’s collection, normally VHS tapes and DVDS, which the group just doesn’t know what to do with, either due to their content or their genre. These include low-quality instructional videos, home movies, promotional films, films pertaining to dated topics (such as how to use AOL Instant Messenger), and videos that are just plain bizarre. Don’t believe me? Previous videos on the Wheel have included How to Seduce Women Through Hypnosis, Exploding Varmints, and Video Catnip: Entertainment for Cats. As one might expect from titles like that, Wheel episodes are thought of by many (including myself!) to be the funniest, most entertaining videos that Redlettermedia produces.
Plinketto - Yet another film-selection gimmick, Plinketto episodes of Best of the Worst select B-movies by placing them along the bottom of the Plinketto board (a pachinko board). A ball is then dropped into the board, and whichever film the ball lands on, the group must watch. Like in regular BotW episodes and Wheel episodes, three films are selected.
Black Spine Edition - Invented by Mike because he “wanted to make [his fellow crew members] suffer” according to Rich Evans, the Black Spine edition is another video-selection gimmick wherein VHS tapes lacking identification labels or other information on their spines are lined up so that only the spines are showing, and then selected at random. Much like Wheel of the Worst, Black Spine Tapes are often bizarre and nonsensical, as the majority of Black Spine tapes are sent in by fans through Redlettermedia’s P.O. box. In the most recent Black Spine episodes, tapes have been selected through a game of “Junka,” a form of Jenga played with Black Spine tapes instead of wooden blocks.
Best of the Worst is also famous for featuring the majority of Redlettermedia’s guest stars. Previous guests have included comic book artist Freddie Williams, Canadian VFX artists Jim and Colin, comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, and former Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin (yes, that Macaulay Culkin.) Find all Best of The Worst episodes here.