T-Fest 2008 Diary Part 2: The Beginningining…

The Big Day

Rising early for the Big Day, Jeff, Sandy and Sandy’s brother Eric headed to Waffle House for breakfast. (Another fine eatery that sadly we don’t have up here.) After a fortifying breakfast, we arrived at Sandy’s workplace to get things set up. Some folks were already waiting outside, including such former attendees and Jabootu correspondents as the Rev. DD and Chad R. Lawyer Ku, another message board regular, made his second T-Fest appearance.

Others soon arrived, and along with further veterans we got such charming new attendees as Mary/Galaxy Jane and, uh, real Jane, among others. In the end we had a very nice crowd this year, I’m sure our largest and best ever. In any case, let me take the opportunity to invite anyone who attended to write up their thoughts, as I’d love to post them here at the site. Also, anyone interested in attending next year should send me their e-mail address at ken@jabootu.com. We should probably be starting a T-Fest page somewhere soon (after I find someone who gets Myspace or Facepage or whatever would actually be the place to do something like that).

Soon we were ready to start our fourth annual T-Fest. Our first presentation, as usual a lively one, was Eternal Evil of Asia (Sandy). Let’s put it this way—here are the IMDB plot words for the film: Female Nudity; Beautiful Woman; Stop Motion; Sex; Blood; Brothel; Death; Erotica; Evil Sorcerer; Ghost; Group Sex; Invisibility; Love Potion; Martial Arts; Nudity; Oral Sex; Penis; Rape; Revenge; Sex Magic; Taoist Priest; Thailand; Witchcraft. The highlight of the film was when one guy was turned into a literal dickhead, the kind of thing you’re rather more likely to see in Asian films than American ones. In any case, this seemed pretty popular and got things off to a great start.

I started with The Harrad Experiment. As indicated in my review, this follows a strangely naïve group of ’70s students who are basically attending a philosophically solemn Sex College. As I seemed to be the Bring the Pain guy this year, well…mission accomplished. (Although my finest moment in that regard occurred later.)

Being confronted with hippy shenanigans of the first water evoked exactly the responses you’d expect. While audience chatter—fully invited—meant most of the film’s trademark dialogue passages went, uhn, unappreciated, loud groans, wailing and nashing of teeth greeted such sights as a girl literally hugging a tree,* a big circle of naked people in yoga poses earnestly saying “Zoom!” to one another, and a bony Don Johnson’s fully displayed junk. This, naturally, on top of the typically wince-inducing ’70s fashions and hairstyles on display.

[*Bonus points to first time attendee Mary, who in her notes on the event has already caught on to the fact that, when watching a longish slate of films, certain inadvertent tropes usually manifest themselves. (See her thoughts in the previous blog entry.) I remember one year at B-Fest when nearly every movie seemed to offer a middle-aged fat man in some state of undress or other. Even Beneath the Planet of the Apes, hilariously, featured a flabby Dr. Zeus clad in but a towel as he reposed in a sauna.

As Mary has trenchantly observed, this year’s Spontaneous Themes were trees and, again, male nudity or near nudity. And she didn’t even see the first film, which featured some of the latter.]

Arguably leading the misery parade, however, was an extended appearance by the real life ‘comedy’ improv team the Ace Trucking Company. Watching how consistently and dreadfully unfunny this troupe was, one could only muse on the presumably vast amount of weed smoked by audiences back then. An all too representative example of the group’s wit is displayed by this zinger from then Ace team member Fred Willard: “My roommate was a shot-putter…and a street walker!” Yes, that’s somehow supposed to be a punch line. For the rest of the Fest I greeted any announcement of someone’s occupation with “and a streetwalker!”

Another running gag resulted from the scene where a sleazy, becaped (!!) fat guy attempts to buy the sexual favors of the film’s weirdly innocent heroine, agreeing to Johnson’s (spurious) price of his cape and half a C-note. Whenever anyone in a later film sported a cape—which was fairly often—some wag or other would inevitably note “that and fifty bucks will get him a girl.”

Note: Harrad appears to have fallen into the public domain and hence is available in many cheap editions. Many, however, are content edited. This one apparently isn’t, although the presentation isn’t all that great. It’s probably as good as you’re going to get, though, and hey, two other movies. There’s also a double feature disc by Televista featuring Harrad and it’s more comedic (and hence much less funny) sequel (!!), but I can’t tell if that features the full cut. I’d expect it would, but am not sure.

From Hell It Came – The second of my movies, early in the show and right next to the other one. Originally, that wasn’t so great, but in Chris’ absence I got another slot so that didn’t sting as much. Still, Harrad could be considered on the slow side, and we’ve learned that earlier is better for that sort of fare; plus we were short of black and white movies, and thus the placement of this one.

As reviewed on this site, FHIC is the ripped-from-the-headlines story of a pair of smug white scientists fighting superstition* on an irradiated island, and a falsely executed native prince who rises from the dead in the form of a rather lumbering (get it?) tree monster called the Tabanga. Although it should be noted that this name is pronounced in a variety of ways by the various actors, which apparently didn’t bother the director.

[*Of course, a guy does return from the dead as a legendary tree monster, although nobody points out this substantiates at least one ‘ignorant’ superstition.]

The acting ranges from competent to laughably bad, and none of the ‘natives’ are in any way convincing. This is especially true of the evil usurper, who looks like Phil Hartman wearing a lot of tanning cream and who sports a headband featuring a ring of long and patently plastic ‘teeth’ or ‘claws,’ of such a size that the audience remained mystified throughout as to exactly what sort of animal they were meant to derive from.

One character offers about the worst Cockney accent you ever heard, until her dialogue makes you realize that she is, in fact, actually providing an even worse Australian one. And I’ve seen Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, so I know of what I speak. Meanwhile, another woman in brought on board in the inevitable form of a scientist who’s a former flame of one of the male scientists. About the only interesting thing about that is that here it’s the guy who’s cautious about mucking around with the initially immobilized Tabanga, while the woman is all gung ho about it. Usually it would be the other way around.

Anyway, tree puns flew like something that flies a lot, and many seemed amused by the presence of several chickens meant to lend the ‘village’ an authentic feel. These latter allowed me to recycle my hilarious “Gregory Peck” joke, to my own vast amusement if no one else’s.

Sandy next offered up a peplum—what we used to call sword and sandal pictures here—although of course I should have suspected a bit more than that. Cinema nerds delight in one-upping one another, and Sandy still draws pleasure, I suspect, from my spontaneous, outraged exclamation of “That’s retarded!’ when he showed me Blackenstein. (And remember, this instance was retarded enough that I was shocked by it.)

Note: From Hell It Came is not commercially available at this time.

The Witch’s Curse didn’t quite hit that mark, but it came pretty close. We open in Jacobean England—Scotland, actually—as a witch is burned at the stake. Before going up, she accuses the local judge of condemning her because she refused his romantic advances. Then a hundred years later (I wasn’t paying attention that closely, but it’s always a hundred years later in these things) a spell of apparent witchcraft hits the village again, and an innocent woman is help to be the culprit and faces a predictable fate.

Luckily—and this was indeed a near “That’s retarded!” moment—up rides Maciste to save the day. Basically, Maciste is a Hercules-type figure (indeed, many of the peplums brought here back in the day featured Maciste but redubbed him to be the more commercial Hercules) whose been a feature of Italian cinema since the silent days. The interesting thing about Maciste, as shown here, is that he doesn’t always show up in the classic ‘peplum’ fantasy period, but in all different places and times. Indeed, in the seminal Maciste in Hell (1925—Fellini credited it as the film that made him become a director), Maciste is a contemporary figure in modern dress.

As you’d expect from the original title of The Witch’s Curse, Maciste all’inferno, this is a very loose remake of that film. In the original, Maciste is a heroic figure who in a moment of weakness damns himself to Hell, but uses his superhuman strength and indomitable spirit to win himself free.

Here, in the extremely wooden form of ‘actor’ Kirk Morris, Maciste is your standard peplum hero. In any case, the retarded factor doesn’t arise from Maciste popping up in Jacobean Scotland, but that he does so in his classic loincloth and sandal outfit! Moreover, nobody at any point ever comments on this.

So Maciste temporarily saves the girl, but in the end, must travel down to hell to find and defeat the real witch. This he does by tipping over a tree by the original witch’s execution site and exposing a big hole leading down to a cavern used to represent Hades, or whatever. It’s that easy. Anyhoo, Maciste has various rather lame adventures, including be caught in a cattle stampede (in Hell!!!!!!). My favorite part, though, is a bit where Maciste tumbles down a large hill just through his own clumsiness.

Although the film is only like 75 minutes long, we still pad things out with five or ten minutes of flashbacks to a previous Kirk Morris Maciste film, as a bewitched Maciste struggles at one point to remember his past. Meanwhile, in an attempt to play up how epic his feats our, Morris strains mightily whenever Machiste is performing some feat, no matter how actually difficult it looks. This guy would sweat and strain and groan whether he was upending a tree or opening a particularly balky pickle jar.

In the end, the witch (the one killed earlier, natch) falls in love with Maciste—because they always do, you see—and surrenders to his kiss, even though this kills her. That’s right, she’s in Hell, but she dies again anyway. The endangered girl up topside is saved, and Maciste rides off for his next loinclothed adventure, which probably entails freeing the prisoners from a WWI POW camp.

Note: This is the Image DVD, co-billed with Hercules vs. the Moon Men, and features a presumably vastly superior presentation to the Alpha DVD we used at the Fest.

At this point we were halfway through, and broke for our extended dinner break, all disembarking for a very nice BBQ place. Kirk Draut took the following picture of (most of) the attendees.

Me to the left, very fat guy in striped shirt. Lawyer Chris on my left, Jeff in cap next to him. Sandy at rear of other table, leaning back in white shirt, Mary leaning forward into shot next to him. Chad R. at head of Sandy’s table, Rev DD in black shirt to Chad’s right, Sandy’s brother Eric in white next to him.

Any other identifiers are welcome.

The evening’s features to follow…

  • John Nowak

    >[*Of course, a guy does return from the dead as a legendary tree monster, although nobody points out this substantiates at least one ‘ignorant’ superstition.]

    Just once, just once, I want to see a film where the white heroes in the jungle pause in the middle of a desperate fight with the Monkey Head Men or whatever, and say, “You know, those native bearers who ran out on us were right. I wish I had listened to them. These guys are tough.”

  • The Rev. D.D.

    The guy to Chad R’s left (black shirt and khakis) is Guy. I sadly cannot remember the name of the guy sitting between him and Mary, but he’s a friend of Sandy’s.
    The young lady hiding behind Chad R. (red shirt) is his charming companion Stephanie.
    And to Eric’s right is (I believe) Sandy’s son and his girlfriend (don’t remember names.) They were the adorable couple from last year who sat up on the couch during the latter half of the event.