B-Fest ’98

The perennial B-Fest Midnight Madness tour-de-force, Plan 9.

Ah, B-Fest! Yes, after a year long wait, B-Fest had swung back around. It was again time to drive out to Northwestern University, and ascend the familiar walkway to the Norris University Center. As usual, my friend Jeff flew in from Arizona for the event. In fact, he was able to come in a few days early this time, which was great. Paul Smith, Techmaster of this website, attended, as did his brother-in-law Dave. An old co-worker of mine, John Dudlak, is now attending Northwestern. He made sporadic appearances, in between being called away for work purposes. Finally, as an added bonus, Al and Rob of the fantastic Bad Movie website Oh the Humanity! (see our links section) road tripped in from Maryland (!) to attend. Although unable to stay for the whole show, they were able to get their first look at Plan 9 from Outer Space. Rob and Al proved as funny as their website would indicate, and unfortunately I was often left eating their quipping dust. To this day, I remain a bitter and spiteful man. Admittedly, it’s been less than a week, but still…

Also, my best friend Andrew Muchoney had promised to show up. Instead, he blew us off. This after me hounding him about B-Fest for roughly the last six months. Not to mention visiting his apartment that very afternoon to secure his promise to attend. This will require much groveling on his part to both me and Jeff. Jeff and I arrived our normal, fanatical hour early, waiting on the steps outside the screening room with our usual complement of gear and goodies. Others eventually showed up a mere five or ten minutes early. These fellows were polite enough to discuss the itinerary out of our range of hearing, as Jeff and I were going the “Stud B-Fest” route (see below). Finally, we were allowed to buy our tickets ($15, plus a thrifty $10 for the event’s nifty commemorative T-shirt) and enter. Jeff and I ran quickly to procure our traditional spot; first row to the left, directly in front of the stage. There we laid out our sleeping bags, pillows, monstrously huge junk food bag (note for next year: $70 worth of junk food unnecessary; cut back some) and cooler for our pop and bottled water supply.

I was pleased to note that this year’s audience appeared to be quite a bit larger than the previous three or four. This included a surprisingly high female showing, perhaps in the 40% range. This is a far cry from the days when most ladies attending (all ten or fifteen of them) were obviously dragged-along girlfriends. Also, I’d like to make special note of a minor comedy genius: ‘Zamfir,’ the mystery (at least to me) slide-whistle guy. Adding hilarious musical emphasis to chosen scenes, he got me laughing each time he used his versatile instrument. Especially impressive is that in spite of highly favorable audience reaction, he paced himself, never overusing the bit. My biggest fear is that some year other guys will bring slide-whistles in order to join in on the fun and drive the joke into the ground, ruining it. Hopefully, this will never occur.

Before the report begins, it’s necessary for me to make a mea culpa: I was too lazy to write down the schedule as it occurred. Luckily, the pre-printed schedule this year was pretty accurate, at least as to the order of films. However, I didn’t write down the order of all the shorts, so I’ll insert them at random when I knew there was a break. Sorry, I’ll try to do better next time. It should also be noted that Jeff and I engage in the aforementioned “Stud B-Fest.” This variation, invented by the errant Andrew Muchoney, entails not reading the film itinerary. In this way, each and every movie comes as either a pleasurable or horrible surprise, with no physic protection to be had. And so it began. The clock closed on 6:00 PM, and after a brief welcoming speech from the A&O Film Board Rep, it began. Be afraid. Be very afraid…

6:00 p.m.: Devil Doll. The first in a series of actually fairly decent British Horror/Sci-fi flicks to be featured this year. Devil Doll is most notable for having just been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 a couple of months ago. For those who missed it, it’s your typical “Mad Ventriloquist” deal. The villain of the piece, the Great Vorelli, has an amazing (well, you know) dummy by the name of Hugo. Not too surprisingly, Hugo is possessed by the soul of a onetime underling which Vorelli has magically ensnared, compelling him to do his bidding. The Cad goes after a rich chick (who, in an innovative bit, is the girlfriend of the hero. Gee, how do they think of this stuff?), using his mesmeric powers on her. Needless to say, Vorelli, after a fairly tame reign of terror, reaps a horrible fate. Highlights: The pub sign promising “Midget Wrestling”; the “Jewish” wallpaper of the heroine’s bedroom (the pattern looked oddly like the Star of David); and the really bad “now you can dance” bit where the heroine, under hypnosis, dances really poorly while all the characters act like she’s dancing extremely well. Maybe they’d been hypnotized as well.

7:25 p.m.: First Man into Space. Another low-key, fairly effective British Sci-fier, set here in the States. A hot dog military pilot jumps the gun and becomes, yes, the First Man into Space. There, he runs into a radioactive space cloud (this film thus matches the origin of the Fantastic Four the same way The Amazing Colossal Man matches the origin of the Incredible Hulk). Needless to say, there are dire consequences. The hot-shot becomes coated with impervious space-dust, as well as running low on the old hemoglobin. Soon he’s knocking off the odd blood bank as well as any handy human six-packs. This was actually an OK flick, and I don’t really recall any terrific funny bits that resulted from it.

8:45 p.m.: Caveman. My initial impulse was to distrust the choice of an out and out comedy, but it grew on me and proved to be very successful with the audience. Perhaps because it was a film that parodied a rich “Bad Movie” genre, the ‘caveman flick’. Ringo Starr is our title hero, facing various adversities as he schemes to make it with super hot cave chick (and Ringo wife) Barbara Bach. Of course, this buxom beauty is the girlfriend of the tribe’s gigantic ruler/bully, John Matuszak. Also on hand are comedy vets Jack Gilford and Avery Schreiber, as well as a pre-famous Dennis Quaid and Shelly Long, as the Girl Who Really Loves Our Hero. Highlights include the goofy yet charming stop motion dinosaurs, courtesy of Dave Allen, and ‘zug-zug,’ the ‘caveman’ word for sex, which became the official audience joke reference for the rest of this year’s B-Fest. Since this selection worked so well, other jokey genre spoofs like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Monster in the Closet or Bloodbath at the House of Blood might warrant investigation in the future.

10:20 p.m.: Sorority Girl. An OK but fairly useless repeat from last year, about a bitchy girl who causes a modicum of travail before her inevitable comeuppance. Frankly, this Roger Corman flick doesn’t stand up to a yearly showing. Once every three or four years would be more effective. Still, it wasn’t like they re-showed You Are What You Eat or Skidoo or anything. Highlights include the paddling scene, the hilarious and misleading title credits (making this look like a more marketable Black Magic opus), a largish role for genre vet Dick Miller, and a fairly tame cat-fight. Decent, but nothing special.

11:20 p.m.: Short: The Wizard of Speed & Time. As noted in last year’s piece, this musical short subject about a guy who runs really, really fast is the unofficial mascot of B-Fest. At its appearance, audience members run up onto the stage, lie down, and beat their feet into the floor in sync with the green-garbed Wizard. Made by loner jack-of-all-trades Mike Jittlov, this is an amazingly entertaining short. The special effects, both of the Wizard running and the later stop-animated musical number, are still pretty amazing. As a bonus, this appeared to be a new print, much less choppy than the one featured last year, which cut out in the middle of the song’s last line. As per tradition, the short would be repeated throughout the remaining program.

11:30 p.m.: Break.

11:40 p.m.: Short: Is It Love?. Once featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, this old (1950s?) short portrayed two college aged (one of the girls looks to be about forty, but maybe she has trouble passing her finals) couples, and their differing approaches to Love and Romance. The flighty chick has been going out with her Football Star beau for about three months, and has decided to marry him immediately. This in spite of the fact that this would leave her one year short of graduating. On top of which her guy plans to support them by playing pro ball, although he’s yet to be signed up. Meanwhile, her level-headed friend (the forty year old) and her man have been going out for over a year and a half. They plan to marry after each has graduated. As with most of these period things, this is pretty comically exaggerated, although ultimately its message is hard to argue with. Of course, today the silly couple would just sleep together until they broke up, and marriage probably wouldn’t enter into the discussion. On a personal note, I was in a fairly bad mood at this point. Norris University Center, home of B-Fest, locks its doors at midnight until the next morning. So at this point I finally had to admit that my old buddy Muchoney was blowing us off. Luckily, physic balm was just around the corner with…

12:00 a.m.: Plan Nine from Outer Space. Yes, Eddie Wood’s Little Movie that Couldn’t, Plan 9 represents the very heart and soul of B-Fest. As such, it has, by far, the greatest amount of yearly running bits. Where to start? For instance, any appearance by Bela (Lugosi), Tor (Johnson) or Vampira (I slept with James Dean) results in a mass shouting of their respective first names. Famously, Bela died with only seconds of film shot. He’s replaced by the much taller chiropractor of Ed Wood’s then wife, who ‘disguises’ this by holding his cloak over his face. He’s identified by mass cries of “Chiropractor!!”. The film’s pie plate ‘flying saucers’ are brought to eerie life by the fusillade of paper plates that results from their every appearance (in fact, I believe that this was the most paper plate intensive year yet). Laughter abounds during the scene where a cop keeps waving his gun around, nonchalantly scratching his forehead with it, or using it to poke others. There’s the way that it keeps switching from night to day in any given scene. Novices are helped by veteran audience members, who shout “Day!” or “Night!”, so that other can keep track. The wicker furniture in the hero’s backyard, which spawns the yearly “Wicker!”, “No, Rattan!!” debate. The super fabulous Ed Wood dialog, coupled with the marvelous narration of ’50s TV physic Criswell. And, well, each and every moment. Definitely what B-Fest is all about.

1:20 a.m.: Sex Madness. A campy example of that popular ’30s & 40s genre, the ‘Social Menace’ film. An innocent lass goes to the Big City, enters show business, has *gasp* sex (one time, of course), and gets syphilis. Despite the warnings of the film’s Authority Figure Doctor, when she returns to her small home town she ends up being treated by a quack (a regular element of these films). Convinced that she’s cured, she marries her childhood sweetheart. Sure enough, Hubby has soon gone blind, and the Heroine, realizing the awful truth, prepares to kill him and herself rather than having either of them living a life of shame (another recurring plot device). Luckily, they are saved at the last minute, and we’re assured that they’ll someday be cured, and ready to lead a normal life. Melodrama at its silliest, and a lot of fun.

2:15 a.m.: Jason and the Argonauts. A favorite of every red-blooded American Male between the ages of thirty and fifty, this Ray Harryhausen classic is his finest film (except maybe for The 7th Voyage of Sindbad). An ancient King, hoping to delay a MacBeth-type prophecy from the Gods (we frequently visit Mt. Olympus to watch Zeus and Hera mess around with the mortals), sends man-of-destiny Jason on a long voyage, seeking the mythic Golden Fleece. Jason has a ship built, the Argo, and collects the greatest crew in history (including demi-god Hercules) to man her. On the way they face menaces galore (once because of the bullheadedness of Hercules, here much closer to the traditional mythic figure than the recent Kevin Sorbo ‘Hercules’). Among the eye-popping stop animated dangers are a giant bronze colossus come to life, some nasty harpies, and, of course, the all time classic sword fight with the skeletons. Great stuff!! My only qualm would be that, since actually good movies require some attention by paid to them, I would have scheduled this flick for either earlier or later (during the day) in the program. These late night slots are best reserved for the really stupid stuff, which doesn’t require working brains to enjoy.

4:00 a.m.: Let My Puppets Come. Train Wreck!! This absolutely disgusting mini-flick (forty minutes) is basically an extremely sick hardcore porno film, only shot with (mostly) puppets. You know you’re in trouble when the first sex bit revolves around a dog puppet explicitly fornicating with a woman puppet. It didn’t get any better from there. Maybe this sounded entertaining in the catalog, and I’m the last one to decry a little sex and T&A at B-Fest, but…YUCK!! I wish I could say that I slept through this, but I’m afraid that I just couldn’t stop watching it. Still, once was more than enough (and that seemed to be the pretty much unanimous audience reaction). Not only should this never appear at B-Fest again, but most of the people I talked to about it replied: “Let us never speak of this again!” And I won’t.

4:45 a.m.: Short: What is Communism?. This coming next didn’t help. Look, this is meant to be my ‘diary’, a personal look at B-Fest. So I have to be honest, although I’m sure many will roll their eyes. This was a ’50s anti-Commie short, and about as subtle as you would imagine. Still, heavy-handed or not, the fact is that I’ve never understood why the evils of Communism are laughed at in this country in a way that those of Nazism never would be. After all, this short was produced during the time when the two greatest mass murderers in the history of our planet, Stalin and Mao, were inflicting their regimes on the world. Together, these two conservatively accounted for somewhere in the area of twenty times Hitler’s six million in terms of murdering their own people (and Stalin has to take his portion of blame for WWII). I freely admit that Joe McCarthy was an asshole. But the fact remains that having McCarthy as the greatest American Boogy Man of the 20th Century is quite a point in our favor, not to our detriment. McCarthy wouldn’t have made the top 10,000 Bastards List in either the Soviet Union or China of the time. And ultimately, he was an aberration to our system of Government, destroyed almost as soon as he gained any real power. Still, it’s now considered ‘sophisticated’ somehow to pooh-pooh the idea that Communism represented any kind of evil or tyranny, and that at worst it only shared the blame for the Cold War equally with the West. The fact that many in the B-Fest audience, caught up in the jollity, continued to laugh at stuff like pictures of Soviet mass graves kind of curdled my stomach (and Jeff’s, as well). Sorry, I don’t mean to preach, but I can’t help it. Some things just aren’t funny.

4:55 a.m.: Terror of Tiny Town. Typical oater of the type turned out by the thousands in the ’30s and ’40s. It’s only distinction? The entire cast is made up of, wait for it…midgets! Ha ha ha!! Well, I’ve been there and done that, more than once, so I took the opportunity to catch some Zs.

5:55 a.m.: Short: La Folie Du Docteur Tube. French silent short, also shown last year. A scientist throws cocaine around, people begin to hallucinate. This is portrayed by filming distortions via carnival mirrors. At ten minutes, too long for so little. Slept through it.

6:15 a.m.: Break

6:25 a.m.: Reefer Madness. Classic over the top Social Menace movie. But again, seen it, including at last year’s B-Fest. Took advantage to grab some more ZZZZs. (I know this sounds like I slept through the whole thing, but add it up and we’re talking less than three hours of shuteye by the end of this flick. And consider the circumstances. Plus the fact that unlike these sprighty college kids [who are hopped up on goofballs, no doubt], I’m in my mid-thirties. So when confronted with stuff I’ve seen five or ten times before….ZZZZZ.

7:40 a.m.: Hercules Unchained. This is the kind of stuff I really appreciate! They’ve only shown a couple of these Italian Sword & Sandal pictures at B-Fest, so they’re many more to be exploited (assuming that they’re available in film form). And the combination of cheezy special effects, beefy woman and beefier men, the stilted dubbing, the overwrought thesping, the interminable ‘for goodness sake’s, just overthrow the Tyrant, would ya?!’ pacing, and the freshness of the genre for regular B-Festers makes this stuff a gas. People might remember this particular flick from (again) Mystery Science Theater 3000. Hercules goes on a diplomatic mission, drinks ‘water of forgetfulness’ (which I believe they must serve at B-Fest), and is kidnapped by a horny queen who normally slays her lovers and puts their preserved corpses in a gallery. Of course, she falls for the Big H and thus brings about her own doom. In addition, there’s a couple of bad tunes courtesy of Mrs. H; Herc wrestling that dude who gets strength from the Earth; the enjoyable over-the-top performance of the Insane Ruler guy; and much more. Except for Blaxploition, a woefully neglected genre at B-Fest, this is perhaps the richest type of flick left to be explored.

9:25 a.m.: Short: Ronald Reagan Comedy Clips. Yet another repeat from last year, featuring Ron and other golden age stars saying ‘g*dd*mmit!!’ when they blow a line. That’s really about 90% of the stuff here. Still, at least it isn’t hosted by Bob Saget.

9:40 a.m.: Robot Monster. Except for Plan 9, this might be the most famous sci-fi turkey ever. A small family is all that is left after the nefarious Ro-man (a guy in an ape suit wearing a ‘space helmet’) wipes out humanity. Ro-man, under orders via televiewer from head Ro-Man, The Great One (the same guy in the same ape suit, with a different helmet and a violin bow to gesture with), wanders around Bronson Canyon in California, snuffing out the dim witted survivors one by one. Frankly, if I start listing highlights for entry, I’ll never stop. Unless you’ve seen this flick, you’d never believe it. This one should be in the Bad Movieâ„¢ Basic Starter Kit. It’s the kind of thing that you can show every year or two and get away with it. This is who we are.

11:05 a.m.: Glen or Glenda. Ed Wood’s second most famous film is his most autobiographical. A cop comes across the suicide of a cross-dresser, and later consults a psychiatrist in order to understand the breed better. “A transvestite?”, the sauve shrink inquires. “If that’s the word you men of science use,” the cop replies. Then it’s off to examine the life of Glen (Wood himself), who’s getting married but is afraid to tell his fiance about his mad passion for her angora sweater. Everyone else’s favorite line in the Bela Lugosi “Pull the String!!” bit, but mine comes during the scene where we see men at home struggle to relax in their harsh clothing (this is part of what motivates cross-dressing). We learn that men’s hats (the fedora type) are too tight, cutting off blood to the scalp. “Seven out of ten men wear hats,” the narrator warns. “Seven out of ten men are bald!” It hard to argue with that kind of logic. Like Robot Monster, this kind of picture is meat and potatos to the Bad Movie fan.

12:15 p.m.: Short: Wizard of Speed & Time

12:25 p.m.: Break

1:10 p.m.: Attack of the Mushroom People. Along about this time I always get tired again. This is a great movie, but another repeat from just a year ago. So after enjoying the La-La Song, I grabbed forty winks. See my piece from last year for more details on this fine flick.

2:40 p.m.: The Crawling Eye. It’s always nice when others validate your tastes. With the schedule thrown off somewhere, and too many movies available, the A&O Rep came on stage to ask what’d we’d like to see next. The scheduled choice was Radio Ranch, a compilation of the Gene Autry serial The Phantom Empire. I hate Serial Compilations! So I was really glad when the audience roundly booed this choice. The other two choices were The Return of the Ape Man (an old poverty row Mad Scientist flick, I believe starring John Carradine) and the neat British Sci-Fi picture The Crawling Eye. We all pretty much chose the later, although now I wish we’d gone with Ape Man, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid. Hopefully, they’ll schedule it again next year. Anyway, The Crawling Eye is a quite nice little B-Movie, intelligent and understated, sort of knocking off the Nigel Kneale ‘Quatermass’ series. F-Troop star Forrest Tucker is on hand for Yankee interest, fighting invaders from space. This isn’t a Bad Movie, but is just the right kind of thing you want three or four of each year to offset the really junky stuff. Good show!

4:00 p.m.: Invasion of the Bee Girls. Another crowd favorite, but again shown (twice!) last year. It hasn’t worn out it’s welcome yet, but should be rested so it doesn’t do so in the future. Gorgeous ‘Bee Women’, prone to taking their blouses off, have sex with the local males, killing them via sexual exhaustion. Thus they attain the rank of Least Scariest Movie Monsters Ever. It’s up to studly G-man William “Big Bill” Smith to save the world. As my friend Jeff noted during the scene where the Bee Woman make another one of their own by slowing rubbing honey on her naked body, “This is the greatest movie ever made!”

5:30 p.m.: Unfortunately, we ran out of time, and couldn’t watch the scheduled Jap sci-fier War of the Gargantuas (a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, actually). This was quite tragic, as it’s a B-Fest tradition to end with a loud, colorful Toho studio flick (mostly Godzilla pictures). This one has never been shown at any of the B-Fests I’ve attended (like the last ten), and would have been a great choice. In fact, I’d like to nominate it for next year, although first priority should be given to the classic monsterthon Destroy All Monsters!, which is set in, yes, the year 1999. Since we did run out of time, shorts were rerun to fill out the clock. And with that, sadly, another glorious B-Fest ended.

Anyway, here are my thoughts, which I hope the A&O people will take in the spirit intended, as solely my impression of what could have improved another already strong B-Fest. First thing, only a handful of films hold up to back to back B-Fest viewing. Something like seven or eight flicks also ran last year, as did a number of shorts. Most films should be rotated only once every three years (or less), as there is a big return audience for B-Fest, and we tend to have a long memory. Obviously, films like Plan 9 from Outer Space and the short The Wizard of Speed and Time occupy special places here, and are therefore exempt. Personally, given a large enough selection of material to choose, I’d never repeat more than maybe three flicks from one year to the next. Variety is the spice of B-Fest.

Next, I thought the organizers made an effort to push the B-Fest envelope, including more strong B-Movies (which aren’t ‘Bad Movies’). Three or four such films, particularly on the established Saturday afternoon spot, before the traditional ending Godzilla movie, are great. And it was nice to see some obscure little movies. Still, I personally thought there were a few too many this year. Of the films shown that weren’t truly Bad Movies, I’d include Devil Doll, First Man into Space, Caveman, Sorority Girl (which right there means we didn’t get a really Bad Movie until the midnight showing of Plan 9), Jason and the Argonauts, Let My Puppets Come (which was unpleasant and disgusting, not ‘Bad’), Attack of the Mushroom People, The Crawling Eye and Invasion of the Bee Girls. A good rule of thumb here might be at least two really, really awful movies for every junky-but-good one. Admittedly, after spending roughly three decades watching this stuff (longer than some, perhaps most, of the B-Fest audience has been alive!) I may have very, uh, refined tastes. And I wouldn’t mind another fest (although maybe twelve hours or less) devoted to cool but non-bad Horror and Sci-Fi Flicks. But this is B-Fest, and Badness should reign supreme.

Still, so as not to sound like a jerk, let me say that I truly had another fabulous time here this year, and that I’d like to thank the good folks at A&O Productions for all their fine work. I’m well aware of the fact that you guys do this gigantic job so that I can plunk down a couple of bucks and experience rapture every year. My hat’s off to you, and I hope that next year will be the biggest and bestest B-Fest ever. As for my fellow audience members, see you in January 1999. Hazah!