It’s Wednesday, January 27th, 1999. Or, as it’s known around the globe: B-Fest, Day -2. I’m off work, having taken today through next Tuesday off to both prepare and recover. I’ve just returned from snack shopping for our group of attendees. Now, rather than deal with all the stuff I’ve bought, I thought I’d start this year’s Diary.
I don’t know how many of these I’ve attended over the years. At least a dozen. Yet, I still look forward to each new B-Fest. Indeed, I honestly believe that the one before us may prove to be the most enjoyable ever, at least for yours truly.
To be totally candid, there is one way in which B-Fest is now at a disadvantage compared with the glory days of yesteryear. That is in the selection of films available. Unfortunately, the video revolution has largely decimated the repertory film market. Back when I was in high school, in the late ’70s and early ‘80s, Chicago still sported two revival theaters. These were the Parkway, downtown, and the Varsity, located in Evanston (not far from Northwestern, in fact). These venues offered new double bills of older movies every day of the week. Between them, you had almost thirty different flicks a week to choose from.
Unfortunately, even in Chicago, there was a fairly limited audience of those who preferred to see older movies where they belonged, on a big screen. Then video arrived, offering a much inferior film experience but one available to be conveniently enjoyed in the home. The repertory film audience dried up even further. Today, only New York (that I know of) has a thriving repertory cinema culture. Even Chicago’s Music Box theater, the beautiful descendant of the Parkway and Varsity, now largely plays new foreign and art films.
As revival theaters across the country died away, the companies that supplied them with films were also weakened. It costs thousands of dollars to strike a new print of a film, and more to negotiate rights to distribute that print. With the repertory market at such a low (mostly consisting now of college film programs), it took far longer for the investment of a new print to cross over into the black. This meant, in the long run, that less popular films were generally rented out until the prints were frayed and generally unwatchable. Then, when the quality of the print became untenable, it was simply removed from the market, rather than replaced.
Therefore, folks like the inestimable Matt Bradford and Christy Gilmore of Northwestern’s A&O Film Board, the current organizers of B-Fest, have a job that becomes more difficult each year. The first sign of doom was perhaps six or seven years ago. That was when we attendees learned that The Creeping Terror, a film second in B-Fest popularity only slightly to Plan Nine from Outer Space itself, was no longer available for rental. And so it goes, with fewer and fewer films available every year.
This puts organizers like Ms. Gilmore and Mr. Bradford in a tough spot. As weird as it sounds, once you’ve started attending B-Fests regularly, they cease to seem a year apart and begin to run together. Variety is crucial. Yet, because of the above factors, you end up having to run more and more of the same films from year to year, or every two years.
A perfect formula for the, say, sixteen film line-up would be (in my opinion), say, perhaps two perennials, three or four favorites that get rotated in once every two or three years, five or six others that pop up every four to six years, and four or five ‘new’ movies. Obviously, such a formula is increasingly difficult to achieve, no matter how passionate Matt and Christy are about creating a great line-up. (Actually, I underestimated them: More on that later – Future Ken, Five Days Later.) They are simply handicapped by the time in which they live. Who knows what glories they might have come up with even ten years ago? In this one way, and one way only, it is possible to have a better mini-B-Fest at one’s house, with all the thousands and thousands of rental tapes available to craft a near perfect schedule of movies.
This, obviously, should not be read as in any way a criticism of the A&O folks or the programs they put together. Indeed, I mean it as a compliment. Despite a handicap that’s far more severe than the one faced by their forbears, they soldier on. However, it seems only logical to assume that they would like to have two or three times the film titles to choose from when putting the schedule together.
Still and all, though, by dint of a massive amount of hard work and an obvious love for B-Movies, they put together an impressive line-up that more than satisfies their audience. They’re also willing to push the envelope. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t (Let My Puppet Come!!). Indeed, if it wasn’t for Matt, Christy and the others, there would be no B-Fest at all. And the world would be a sadder, lonelier place.
I know that that all sounds pretty grim, but it’s really not that bad. I just wanted to get the one thing that’s less than perfect about B-Fest (other than the McCormick Auditorium’s less than fabulous sound system, the only flaw in an otherwise peerless venue) out of the way.
So, why I am especially looking forward to this year’s event? Because B-Fest is ultimately about the people. Over the years, I’ve done everything from attend solo (not as fun) to badger maybe five other people into coming with. This year, I’m somewhere in the area of 15 (!) people who are more or less in our group:
- Me, a name I call myself.
- Paul Smith, co-founder and architect of Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension and its predecessor.
- Jeff Witham, an old friend and yearly attendee, who comes in from Arizona (!) every year.
- Douglas Milroy, esteemed contributor to Jabootu’s realm, coming in from California (!), a first timer.
- Sue, fan, coming in from Minnesota (!), a first timer.
- Mark, the fan known as Apostic, coming in from California (!), a first timer.
- Andrew Muchoney (supposedly, see last year’s diary), Old Chum and fellow Bad Movie Aficionado.
- John Dudlak, a former co-worker of mine and a fine fellow, now an attendee of Northwestern.
- Andrea, same status as John. (First Timer.)
- Lori S., a co-worker and cute as a button, and her friend Tom. (First Timers.)
- Karen Wallace, a former co-worker, and her lessor half, Mark (First Timers.)
- And last, but in no way least, Al and Rob, founders of the great Bad Movie site, Oh the Humanity.
Rob and Al last year (see my 1998 Diary as well as theirs, posted on their site) came for half the show and swore to return for the whole schmear. I became panicked when they fell out of communication last fall, fearing the absence of their enjoyable presence (and that they were dead). Then, like in a cheesy movie, just a week before B-Fest they e-mailed me and told me to stop harassing them with panicked e-mails. Oh, and that they were coming to B-Fest.
The one black cloud? A major one. Our other Jabootu associate, Jason MacIsaac, the first person to write articles for the site besides myself, had to cancel due to work problems. He’ll be missed.
Of the non-locals, Jeff will fly in with his wife on Thursday (amazingly, she’s opted not to attend B-Fest). He’ll come over to my place Friday morning. Douglas is due to arrive at O’Hare Airport, about twenty five minutes from my trailer, on Friday afternoon, circa 1:00. I’ll pick him up, bringing along a coat, hat and gloves for the poor guy. (California!)
Sue is arriving, meanwhile, at Midway Airport around 1:30. For logistical purposes, she’ll take the Orange Line El train from the airport to Chicago’s Lake/Clark station, where she’ll transfer to the Blue Line. This will take her to the local Rosemont Kiss ‘n’ Ride station (hey, I didn’t name it). She’ll call and we’ll (Jeff, Douglas and I) pick her up. That should be, hopefully, somewhere around 3:00. We’ll then head out and I’ll treat everyone to authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, after which we’ll continue on. If all goes well, we’ll arrive at Norris University Center at around 5:00, an hour before the show starts.
After B-Fest (a bleak thought), I’ll take Douglas back to O’Hare for his Sunday return flight. He’ll stay at my place, along with Jeff, for the Post-B-Fest Coma. Susan, who will be leaving Monday from O’Hare for a trip to South Africa, has a room at a local Motel 6 for Saturday and Sunday. I’ll take her to O’Hare on Monday. Jeff and the Mrs. have their own plans.
As of this point, I don’t know if Paul can get off work early. (I’d think not.) If so, it’d be great. He could take one person with him, and the second car would be fabulous for carrying some of the gear.
Anyway, you can see why I’m excited. Keep an eye out, for I’d like to get everyone above to write their own B-Fest Diary piece for us (except Ral and Ob, who have their own site, those bastards.)
Anyway, as most, if not all, of these folks are attending because of my invitation, I always think the least I can do is get snacks. Of course, I always get too much, but B-Fest is that kind of event. This year, I bought the following:
64 16 oz bottles of water. (Luckily, local Jewel stores were doing a two for one thing.)
8 cans of Coke (had on hand)
3 cans of Diet Coke (had on hand)
6 cans of Jewel Root Beer
4 cans of Jewel Lemon Lime Soda
4 cans of Jewel Ginger Ale
3 cans of Jewel Creme Soda
3 cans of Jewel Black Cherry Soda
2 cans of Jewel Orange Soda
2 cans of Jewel Grape Soda
Jabootu reminds you not to neglect any of the four food groups:
(If you wonder why I listed all this, well, I want this Diary to be as detailed as possible. Also, I can inventory all the stuff that I return with, and thus better prepare for next year.)
5 boxes Little Debbie Nutty Bars (The Fan Favorite)
1 box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies
1 box of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls (ersatz Ho-Hos)
1 box of Little Debbie Star Crunch (requested by Lori S.)
1 9 oz bag of Cooler Ranch Doritos (requested by Lori S.)
1 can of Pringles – original flavor
1 12 oz bag of Cheese Popcorn
1 5 oz can of Planters Cheez Balls
1 6 oz box of Bugles Corn Snacks
2 8 oz bags of Corn Chips
1 10 oz bag of Pretzel logs
1 18 oz bag of Pretzel Sourdough Nuggets
1 8 oz bag of hard mint candies
3 7-packs of Tootsie Pops
1 14 oz package of Cherry Twizzlers
1 16 oz package of Starburst Fruit Twists
1 box of Frosted Chocolate Fudge Pop Tarts
1 box of Plain Strawberry Pop Tarts
1 box of Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon ‘Toaster Tarts’
1 24 oz bottle of Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts
1 lb box of Fudge Covered Graham Crackers
1 13 oz bag of Ruffles Potato Chips
1 13 oz bag of Ruffles Barbecue Potato Chips
2 packs of (eight packs of four) of Peanut Butter & Cheese Crackers
1 container of Easy Cheese Sharp Cheddar
1 box of ‘Sociables’ crackers (These last two are the province of Sue Wright)
1 six pack of Snickers Bars
1 six pack of Kit Kat bars
1 15 oz box of raisins (for any health freaks)
1 bag of rubber bands (to keep opened bags of salty treats tidy)
Sundry supplies and misc.:
1 pair of new sweat pants and shirt (a personal tradition)
1 Pre-B-Fest Haircut (another personal tradition)
6 ‘D’ cell batteries (to recharge my flashlights – essential B-Fest Props)
2 Rubbermaid 38 qt. Coolers (on closeout – $7.40 apiece!)
1 small perfect bound 200 page notebook
1 box of Breathe Right strips (I have a horrible snoring problem, but do what I can)
1 travel pack – mini mouthwash, toothpaste and travel toothbrush
1 travel size mini-shampoo bottle
1 bottle of extra strength Tylenol (already had Rolaids on hand)
2 new pillows (for guests, my spares getting kind of ratty)
2 new pillowcases (ditto)
Stuff to bring that I already own:
A large ‘body’ Pillow
An inflatable Mattress (Mom’s)
Two Maglight Flashlights
1 squirt bottle of eyeglass cleaner fluid
4 major league garbage bags & twists
A box of Kleenex
A roll of paper towels (can’t hurt)
1 bottle of Rolaids
Stuff to get on the way down:
Ice for the three or four coolers
Any beverages or snacks that Jeff, Susan and Douglas want that I didn’t get.
Thursday: B-Fest, Day – 1:
I dropped by Paul’s house last night (Wednesday). He was working late, as he does pretty much every night. So I took his wife Holly, an old high school pal, out to dinner. Holly loathes B-Fest (I know, I know…obviously some obscure mental condition), but her brother Dave is coming into town this weekend. He might decide to swing by B-Fest for a while, in which case Holly might also deign to appear. The body count heightens.
And how: Paul (when he got home at 9:30 – this should help to explain why we’re a little slow sometimes getting things posted) gave me a copy of an e-mail that came in from a Julie Quandt (I think that’s right). She indicated that we’d met, and she and her husband and a friend, Mark Petri, were going to come also, having learned of the event from our website.
I didn’t, in fact, know who she was (I’m the worst person in the universe for remembering names and people, a cause of much embarrassment over the years). Then Holly explained that she was Julie Quandt nÃˆe Sheets, the younger sister of one of the group of people I hung out with in high school. In point of fact, her older sister, Lisa, now in Seattle, is one person I would kill to get to B-Fest. She’d be hilarious. Anyway, Julie had some general questions which I e-mailed answers to. Then she decided to go anyway.
Paul spent a good hour and a half restarting the message board on our site. Apparently, it crashed because we had too many messages on it. We’ll have to be more diligent in cleaning out the old stuff. So we lost almost all the messages (probably because of Joel Mathis), but now have a shiny new slate. Then Paul started laboring on work stuff. Even though I had today off, I abandoned him at 12:30 a.m., when he was still going strong. This should help to explain why we’re a little slow sometimes getting things posted.
Before I left, I asked Paul (who, obviously, is probably not going to get off of work early) to do me a favor. While I can fit Jeff, Sue and Douglas into my little Ford Escort wagon, I would not possibly be able to take all the gear. So I requested that he stop at my place on the way to B-Fest and pick up a pile of the above listed supplies (probably the bedding stuff) and haul them to Northwestern with him. If he does manage to get out early, and we can both drive down together, all the better.
I got home and a message was on my machine. It was from Karen Wallace. I’ve somehow succeeded in talking her and her husband Mark into attending, at least for a while. I’m going to try to bully them into staying for at least four movies (the minimum amount required to get even the merest taste of the B-Fest experience).
This is amazing. I think, once, I maybe got six people to go to B-Fest. Now, we’re talking almost twenty, and maybe even a couple more (if hanger-ons materialize). At an event like B-Fest, where the average attendance seems to range in the two to three hundred area, that’s a significant number of people.
Also on Thursday, after some last minute running around (including getting my traditional B-Fest haircut), I arrived home to learn that Jeff and his wife Randy had arrived in town. They left me their beeper, but due to a Luddite quirk, I keep one of those clunky black rotary phones. Jeff eventually called in, and we arranged to meet the next morning.
This is being written Post-B-Fest: Monday afternoon, to be precise, after I’ve finally caught up on lost sleep. This is the first chance I’ve had to write since Thursday night, as you might have guessed. Now, having finally caught up with my sleep, and with all our guests either at home or continuing on to other locations, it’s time to resume work on this record.
Jeff and Randy and their friend Robin came over Friday morning. We went to breakfast at the Carriage Inn, a local spot. Then we went across the street to a gaming shop, a hobby Jeff indulges in. We then returned to my trailer, and the women went off on their own.
Jeff and I took off for O’Hare about ten minutes before Douglas’ plane was due. I’m usually a worrier, and would have normally left earlier. However, we figured that that would be about right. By the time Douglas collected his gear, we would be right on time.
However, this area is notorious for the many train lines that intersect all the main streets. And indeed, not only did we get stopped by a train, but in the only time I could remember (Murphy’s Law), the train was literally stopped upon the tracks, with no sign that it was about to resume traveling. So we turned around and tried to go around the train.
However, it was cutting across the next three streets down. Even having gone miles out of our way, we never got around it. The most we achieved was ending up closer to its end. Luckily, in the ten or more minutes since we had first spotted the train, it had finally restarted moving. As we were near the end, we still probably saved at least five or ten minutes over had we stayed where we first found the train. Still, we must have lost a total of around twenty minutes.
Finally, we got to the Airport, and found Douglas pretty quickly. Also luckily, we were experiencing a minor heat wave, with temperatures up in the ‘40s. I’m not sure that Douglas, who lives in California, thought it was so warm, but it could have been much, much worse. We exchanged introductions, Douglas kindly gave me a gift (a tape upon which he had copied both cuts of Exorcist II), and we headed back to my trailer. We grabbed ice on the way for the coolers, and then went home to finish packing.
Sue called in a tad late (about 45 minutes), but hardly catastrophically so. Paul had called too, indicating that he had left work, but was still a while away (he travels an hour or more to get to work every day). My original plan was to take Jeff and Douglas with me, get Sue when she called from the Rosemont Kiss ‘n Ride, and then head straight down to Evanston, maybe getting some pizza on the way.
However, when she called, circa 4:00, Paul hadn’t arrived yet. Feeling we should give Paul a chance to catch up with us, I left Jeff and Douglas behind to wait for him. I would pick up Sue and come back home, where hopefully Paul would have arrived. Then we could also leave Sue’s luggage at my place instead of in the car.
I got Sue, and was freaking out a little about the time (as I said, I’m a worrier, mostly because I’m a poor planner, so I like a lot of leeway). To my disappointment, Paul had failed to arrive when Sue and I got back to my trailer. Still, I thought it imperative that we leave (it was maybe ten to five, a little more than an hour before B-Fest started. Getting there too late to grab all the necessary seats would have been disastrous).
Paul, in any case, was due to come by my place to grab all the gear (mostly bedding stuff) that I didn’t have room to haul. This is where I was dastardly enough to take advantage of a friend. I asked Jeff to stay behind, so that Paul would have someone to travel with, and to give him a hand with the gear. Being a kindly, good natured fellow, Jeff agreed rather than head-butting me.
Sue, Douglas and I headed out. Traffic was pretty good, and due to some ‘getting to know each other’ conversation, the trip went by quickly. We arrived at Norris a good twenty minutes before the show started. Luckily, a chain cutting off the path up to the door (which is reached by a semi-circle path that rises at a fairly steep angle) was down. This allowed us to drive up to the door and dump the coolers and stuff off, rather than hiking back and forth for half a block from where I parked the car.
However, when I reached the top of the path, another car was there, facing us. There was no room to go around, so I started back down backwards. Unfortunately, visibility was poor, as it was dark and my windows had fogged up. I ended up hitting some snow to the side of the path, and almost running down some students. One of these, coincidentally, proved to be John Dudlak, scholar and gentleman. We said hey, then I continued down the path. We made it and found the opposite entrance to the path, and finally was able to dispose of our gear. Douglas and Sue watched over it while I went to park the car.
I did so (and got a good spot, too) and returned. We started moving the stuff into the lobby. Inside, a number of people were waiting, including Rob and Al. We procured tickets and Douglas and I got T-shirts and we waited for them to open the doors. John (who’s a great guy) asked if we needed any help with the gear, and I told him he could help more by running down and grabbing us a bunch of first and second row seats. Which he did (thanks again, dude).
In the lobby, a very strange thing happened as I waited by the gear. A fellow came up (dammit, I can picture him, but his name [as usual] eludes me) and asked if I was Ken Begg. I said yes, and he responded that he was a “big fan.” Having never had a stranger come up and say anything like that, I was somewhat weirded out (I certainly don’t think of myself as someone who has ‘fans’).
He was very kind, and it was, of course, immensely flattering. Still, it was also my first, miniscule taste of something celebrities talk about: How people will approach you who, in some way, have knowledge of you that you’d don’t share in return. After all, I had at least conversed with Douglas, Sue and Mark Hurst via the computer before I met them. This, however, was the first time I had someone I’d had zero one-on-one contact with come up and ‘know’ me. (And it will likely remain the only time. Except for next year, when, likely, the hot female groupies will start showing up.)
The doors finally opened. Sue went to help grab seats, while Douglas and I alternated carrying stuff down and standing guard in the lobby (I think this is when my fan came up.) I ended up with the biggest one at the end. Before my heart exploded in my obese torso (I’m really in quite the most pathetic shape), I managed to flag John, who came and gave me a hand. Downstairs, we lined up in our seats: Douglas, Sue, me, two saved seats for Jeff and Paul, and John and his party. Meanwhile, Mark Hurst (a.k.a. Apostic) came up and introduced himself. He sat behind Douglas, down from Rob and Al.
I didn’t really keep track of when the others arrived. Andrew indeed showed up, sitting next to Mark. Lori and Tom came, sitting back in the third row. Julie and Tim appeared, sitting in the fourth row. I must admit, looking back at it, that I should have made an effort to move around and hang out with the others more, especially as I invited them all. I apologize to everyone for my rudeness and hope they’ll forgive me. I’ll do better next year.
Paul and Jeff showed up in the middle of the first show. However, Andrea didn’t show, and neither did Karen and her husband Mark. Which, considering the amount of people we already had, probably wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened (in other words, three less people I’d have mostly ignored).
Matt Bradford came out to give his opening spiel, and to take a well deserved moment in the sun. He also brought down Christy Gilmore for a well deserved hand. (Hey, Christy, no ‘Adam Sandler’ jokes!) And let me give them the credit they deserve. After all I wrote earlier about how hard it was to find new (for B-Fest) movies, the great majority were flicks I’d either never seen at B-Fest or haven’t seen there in a long time. As well, it was a simply great line-up. Kudos! I’ll never doubt them again.
In fact, let me record, for posterity, all the folks who helped bring B-Fest alive this year: Matt Bradford, Christy Gilmore, Eric Miller, Justin Valdez, Mike Lietz, James Cormack, Sarosh Syed, Winnie Hui, Ajay Easo, Dana Schwartz, Lauren Burke, Mark Arszman, Mike Glenn, Sophia Hinshelwood and Mitch Wu. People, I’m all in your debt.
A final word: This year, I kept track of the line-up better, but didn’t strain to remember or record audience jokes, bits or stuff. Instead, I merely enjoyed the show and the company. As I hoped, I think this was the best B-Fest I’ve ever attended. And so we begin:
6:00 Fiend Without a Face. This was a great choice. FWaF is one of my favorite B-Movies. It’s not a Bad Movie, but rather an atmospheric cheapie with a simply knock-out ending. Up in Canada, people are mysteriously dying, all in proximity to an American Air Force base doing radar experiments. The Base starts taking the blame for these events from the increasingly hostile locals. Instead, a scientist performing telepathy experiments has created living thoughts. These invisible beasties, living on power from the base’s reactor, are literally sucking the brains out of their victims. We see them invisibly pushing things around, and their attacks are accompanied by terrifically gross sound effects. Ultimately, the cast ends up besieged in the Professor’s house. Having absorbed a huge amount of energy, the monsters turn visible. They prove to be absolutely marvelous stop-animated brains, propelled along by their spinal cords. Being brains, they are also surprisingly smart. They invade the house, leaping around and getting shot down while killing both unnecessary characters and their creator (wow, there’s a shocker). Unlike most ‘50s monsters, the fiends prove incredibly vulnerable to gunfire, spouting goopy gore and gross sputtering sound effects when shot. However, they’re quite a lot of them, and the reactor must be blown up to kill them (please ignore science here). The one running gag that came from the film involved the American hero, Major Cummings (wasn’t that the name of a porn star in the ‘70s?) walking in on the busty heroine right as she was coming out from the shower (wearing a towel, of course). A very strong start.
7:25 Short: Candy for your Health. An old time silent short showing how the ‘healthy’ (as we are informed by title cards) candy bar ‘Love Nest’ (5¢) is made. We are told how great these are for you, recommended by doctors and sech, while we watch tons of sugar and chocolate being added to the mix. As Paul noted, their product name came dangerously close to my old idea for the Orgasm candy bar. (I long ago had a commercial written out for this, around the theme that “Nothing satisfies like an Orgasm.” This revolved around two people caught in a traffic jam. The cranky passenger complains about the situation, leading the driver to explain that when he’s in a frustrating situation, “I find that nothing relaxes me like an Orgasm!” The passenger reacts with shock, until told that he means an Orgasm candy bar. I also thought the “Multiple Orgasm” fun size pack would be a hit.)
7:30 Short: Species II Preview. The theater’s new 35 millimeter projector makes its first B-Fest appearance, with the preview of last year’s monster flick.
7:32 Earth vs. the Giant Spider. This Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) flick is a ‘50s favorite. Teenaged sweethearts, searching for the girl’s father (who we saw get whacked), enter a cave and find the title menace. A tanker truck of DDT later appears to off the beastie. However, it’s moved to the auditorium of the local high school (!) and a practicing rock ‘n’ roll band revives it. After killing the janitor, played by Mr. Ziffel from the Green Acres TV show (apparently John Carradine, for once, wasn’t available), it goes on a rampage. After numerous other deaths, it hightails it back to the cave. After the locals seal it in, they learn that our young lovers are trapped with it. An electrical arc finishes the big bug off in the (*snicker*) ‘shocking’ conclusion. Amusing bits: The local movie house, where our hero works, just happens to be showing a double bill of, yes, Bert I. Gordon flicks, The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack of the Puppet People. There’s also the obligatory thirty year old high school students. And I liked that fact that the teens’ ‘hot rods’ seem to have borrowed from Archie and Jughead.
8:45 The Fearless Vampire Killers. This was, by general consensus, probably the least successful selection at this year’s show (out of, mind you, fourteen films). The work of director Roman Polanski (who apparently realized that no one else could play the lead, and so cast himself), who stars as the bumbling assistant of a rather unsuccessful elderly vampire hunter. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but other than a Jewish vampire nonchalantly waving off a cross, it’s not particularly funny. Certainly, it’s no Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The movie also features a gay vampire (har har) and an appearance by future Polanski wife and Charles Manson victim Sharon Tate, who shares her talents (both of them) with the audience. Although not a favorite choice, it was strategically placed early in the show: A later timeslot, after everyone had started to get crabby, might have been fatal, turning a two star selection into a mind-numbing zero star affair. A noble try, but no cigar.
10:15 Return of the Ape Man. I probably liked this more than most. A Bela Lugosi skid-row cheapie, it also stars the extraordinarily emaciated John Carradine, looking like Calistra Flockhart after a diet. Minor Horror icon George Zucco supposedly pops up as the Ape Man, but I never recognized him: the part was instead played by a stunt man. We open with Bela and Carradine bringing a bum back from suspended animation via a secret injection. (Most of the film’s events are heralded in the local newspaper; here we learn “Notorious Tramp Whistling Willie Still Missing”, or something to that effect. This became a bit of a running gag. Still, it’s nice to see a town where missing bums warrant headlines. Must have been a slow news day.) Bela then takes advantage of some stock footage to head North. There, according to another headline, Cave Men are popping up in the melting ice in bunches. Bela indeed eventually gets one. (Watch the scene where the two ‘Eskimos’ dig in the ‘ice’, and are very, very careful not to sink their pickaxes into the stage floor hiding under the thin layer of ‘snow’.) He brings it home, whereupon his magic elixir brings it back to life. Using a convenient whip, he forces the guy into his equally convenient built-in jail cell. When Carradine objects to Bela’s plan to implant a modern man’s brain into the Ape Man’s skull, Bela eventually uses him as his subject. Ultimately, the beast destroys Bela (wow, there’s a shocker) only to die in a lab fire. The Cave Man proves immune to bullets (in one of the year’s funnier quips, provided, I think, by either Rob or Al, it was posited that the Ape Man’s invulnerability was the result of “guns not having been invented when he was living.”). However, he fears (of course) fire, leading to the film’s funniest scene. After he escapes from the Lab, we see Bela, wearing a tuxedo and wandering the nighttime streets with a lit blowtorch (!), which he eventually uses to herd the Ape Man home. A fun cheapie, running only an hour (the perfect B-Fest running time).
11:15 Short: What is Communism? I explained why I didn’t like this short last year, so I won’t go into it again. And even if I, and a few of my reactionary associates, find it annoying, it’s become a great audience favorite. Which annoys me all the more, but they don’t program B-Fest for me alone, and I can live with an annoying short. It’s not like they showed You Are What You Eat or the, uh, Marionette Tragedy again. This became this year’s most popular running gag, and who am I to argue with success? Look for this to become a regular B-Fest element.
11:30 Short: Mad-Made Monster. It took me a second to figure it out, but this was a sort of Reader’s Digest compilation of the old Lon Chaney/Lionel Atwill flick. Chaney gets zapped with electricity by Atwill, terrorizes the neighborhood, kills Atwill (wow, there’s a shocker) and gets caught on barb wire, fatally leaking out his power. All in five minutes.
12:15 Short: The Wizard of Speed and Time. The mascot of B-Fest appears. The newcomers among us were amazed at the sight of hordes of B-Fest vets running up on stage to herald our speedy hero, a guy who runs really, really fast and sings a neat-o little song amongst stop-animated film equipment. Live long and prosper, Wizard!
12:20 Plan 9 from Outer Space. The heart and soul of B-Fest. Bela, Tor, Vampira and the Chiropractor all make their annual visit to our venue. Unless you’ve seen this film at B-Fest, you haven’t seen it. I must make a confession, however: I nodded on and off during the film. Sorry, but I’ve seen this flick a thousand times before. And I was getting pooped. After this, though, I somewhat recharged.
1:40 Short: The Wizard of Speed and Time. The second, and oddly, last appearance of the Wizard. See you next year, dude.
1:45 Zardoz. If Fearless Vampire Killers was the envelope pusher that failed to work, Zardoz was the smashing success. Everyone (except Sue, apparently) seemed quite thrilled with this choice, particularly those in our little group. Filmed by the appropriately homonym-named John Boorman, this is a ‘70s sci-fi ‘mind-blower’/talkfest. Zardoz, to the delight of ‘trip’ fans everywhere, proves to be a giant floating granite head. It functions as a ‘god,’ dispensing firearms and ordering post-apocalyptic barbarian Sean Connery and his tribe to slay, rape and pillage peaceful folks in his name, while gathering grain for Zardoz’s use. A curious Connery, however, sneaks aboard the head. It takes him through the Vortex, into a land where he finds a bunch of granola eating telepathic immortals (who live off the foodstuffs harvested by ‘Zardoz’). ‘70s suckfest perennial Charlotte “Orca” Rampling is on hand to recommend his immediate death. She’s voted down, however. It eventually turns out that the immortals have become so thoroughly jaded that subliminally they’re hoping for Connery to provide them with a lasting death. Until then it’s yak, yak, yak, with a heavy sprinkling of pretentious ‘aren’t we fearlessly artistic?’ nudity to spice things up. For all it’s ponderous airs, Zardoz is quite a bit more like the utterly witless Logan’s Run than I’m sure it would like to admit. As critic Steven Scheuer (Movies on TV and Videocassette) astutely noted, “The film examines ideas as if they were to be looked at but not touched.” Douglas, meanwhile, was amused by Boorman’s expressed pride over this goofy, pretentious fiasco, which he learned of while researching another Boorman turkey, Exorcist II. Anyway, Bravo! This was a four-star smash of a choice.
3:30 Short: Blue Hawaii Cartoon. One of those ‘sing-along’ cartoons, from maybe the ’40s or ‘50s, featuring the arrhythmic tune “Blue Hawaii.” Follow the bouncing ball and try to figure out the constantly changing tempo, which had the audience constantly guessing at what speed they were supposed to be singing the lyrics. The inability to do so led to much amusement. Another item that inspired some gags throughout the rest of the show.
3:35 Short: Slaves in Bondage Preview: The theatrical trailer for the ‘30s era ‘social menace’ potboiler, about innocent (of course) girls who are kidnapped and forced into a life of prostitution. Composed largely of ‘risquÃˆ’ shots of girls lounging in their undies (Hubba hubba!) and the inevitable catfight. Don’t let this happen to you! You’ve been warned!!
3:40 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The early laughs at this Russ Meyer epic were mainly devoted to the fact that film critic Roger Ebert wrote the hideous screenplay for this ‘parody’ of soap opera mellers like, obviously, The Valley of the Dolls. While supposedly a comedy, the film shocked some still with the rather gross violence of the climax (with which we actually begin the film). This includes a dozing woman who has a pistol barrel inserted into her mouth. She begins to, uh, Lewinsky it in her sleep. Upon waking up and realizing what’s going on, the gun is fired, leading to a charming shot of a stream of blood gushing out of her nostrils. After we watch some of the massacre, we flashback to the story of a young chick and her rock ‘n’ roll band. They start making it up the charts, but basic soap opera-y travails keep them from enjoying their success. These include a smattering of drugs but mostly sex, sex, sex. This appeared some years ago at B-Fest, and I didn’t get much out of it then. Given the time at which it appeared this year, and that I hadn’t really slept yet, I almost decided to nap. However, one major problem with the film the first time it was shown was that the print is 35 mm, for which they didn’t have a projector. This led to the entire movie being shown in a visually squeezed and hard to follow fashion. However, the auditorium’s new projector allowed for a quite nice presentation, so I decided to stay up. The biggest laugh came when ‘with-it’ show business super-agent ‘Z-Man’ looked out at a trippy party he was throwing and declared “This is my happening, baby, and it freaks me out!” This line, of course, was borrowed by Mike Myers for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. I always thought the line was funny anyway; knowing where it comes from makes it all the more comical. The big audience reaction indicated that I wasn’t the only one who recognized the line. Anyway, I largely enjoyed the flick, although it’s not one I’d particularly like to see become a regular feature at B-Fest. My feeling: Been there, done that.
5:30 Reefer Madness. The granddaddy of all Social Menace films makes an appearance. Seen it, and I was exhausted, so I took the opportunity to grab some Zs. Hoping to keep from being killed for my grotesque snoring, I took my sleeping bag and hid behind a convenient curtain up on the stage. Hopefully, this spared my fellows from some of the noise.
6:30 Break. Turned down the opportunity to go downstairs and grab a hot breakfast, and instead continued napping.
7:00 Short: Mime Sex Short (Not the real title, obviously). Still in a daze, I peeked around the corner of the curtain and, from an angle, saw a distorted view of a short that apparently featured a mime (ugh!) who ‘wittily’ acted out being both the male and female participants of a sex act. I couldn’t see it very well, but was under the impression that I wasn’t missing anything. This I later confirmed with others who had a better look at it.
7:10 Terror from the Year 5000. A cheap ‘60s sci-fi deal I haven’t seen since I was a kid. I debated getting up, but ultimately decided it was better to grab a little more shuteye. So I lay back and grabbed another forty winks.
8:10 The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent. This was worth getting up for. Suspiciously hot Viking Women (who wear plenty of ‘ancient’ makeup and sport nicely cultivated hairdos), longing for their men who disappeared three years ago, set out in a boat to find them. They are surreptitiously joined by a guy who has a masculinity issue because he’s kind of runty. Ultimately, their boat is sunk by the title Sock Puppet, er, Sea Serpent (shades of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster). They land upon an island ruled by an evil tribe, who has enslaved their men, the victims of a similar incident. Their plans to escape are impeded by a conniving member of their own group, who is, of course, the only brunette among their otherwise uniformly blond (and therefore virtuous) number. When she realizes she will never have the man she loves, she repents and gives her life that the others may escape. The evil guys are ultimately destroyed by their own Sea Serpent (wow, what a shocker). Soon after, our heroes rather unbelievably manage to slay it with one of those little swords you use to hold sandwiches together. The rather effeminate son of the evil ruler (imagine ‘Pee Wee Herman: Barbarian Prince’) provided much fodder for the wags in the audience.
9:30 Robot Monster. As usual, by Saturday morning we start gearing up with the really good stuff. This Bad Movie classic might well be second to only Plan 9. It features the adventures of a robot who looks suspiciously like a guy in a shaggy gorilla suit wearing a nylon stocking on his face under a deep sea diving helmet. This is Ro-Man, sent to destroy all of humanity so as to clear the way for his kind to assume ownership of the Earth. However, six people, composed of a family and a hunky young man, have created an antidote for Ro-Man’s ‘calcinator ray.’ Therefore, he’ll have to kill them by hand. Luckily for him, these people, the only survivors in the world, just happen to be living about a quarter of a mile from the cave wherein Ro-Man dwells. At the mouth of this cave, on a rickety table, sits the Billion Bubble Machine, sort of a home Lawrence Welk kit. Tossing bubbles all about, this must have provided much amazement to audiences who saw the film in its original 3-D. All goes well (for the invaders) until Ro-Man inexplicably (but inevitably) gets the hots for older daughter Alice. (The film makes no illusions about his interest in her; he’s one lusty mechinoid). This causes Ro-man’s leader, the Great One, to become annoyed at his failure to off her. Ro-man ponders his actions: “I must…yet, I cannot. Where do these meet on the graph?” After a further bout of philosophizing (“To live like Hu-man…to be like Hu-man. Why are these not in the plan?”), the Great One unleashes stock footage of dinosaurs (of the ‘baby alligator and iguana with glued on fin’ variety, taken, I believe, from last year’s feature, One Million B.C.) to destroy the recalcitrant robot. In the end, it all proves to be a dream…or does it?!! One nice continuity error: Roy, the hero, at one point sports wax ‘blood’ dripping from his ear. The only problem is that this is supposed to be the result of a beating he takes from Ro-man, which doesn’t occur until ten or fifteen minutes later in the film! Much audience empathy was expressed for George Barrows, the fellow lumbering around in the hot sun while wearing that heavy looking ape suit.
10:30 The Tingler. This year’s William Castle entry (when are they going to get House on Haunted Hill?). It’s the schlock director’s tale of a doctor (Vincent Price, yeah!) who discovers that fear feeds a parasite in the body, which he dubs the Tingler. The Tingler constricts the spine during times of intense terror, and will cause death unless paralyzed by a scream. (As you can see, this is all rigorously scientific.) An associate, who runs a small revival theater, proves to have a mute wife who has a wide suspiciously wide array of intense phobias (this is, after all, a William Castle movie). Learning of Price’s theory, he murders her by scaring her to death with cornball hijinks like posting her ‘death certificate’ on the wall. Since she can’t scream, she falls prey to the Tingler. Price harvests this buggie (looking rather like a foot and a half long earwig), which eventually escapes into the revival theater. This sets up the zany gimmick of the screen going black, while Price’s voice exhorts us that “The Tingler is loose in the theater! Scream, scream for your lives!” Needless to say, we all proceeded to do so. Castle, known for his gimmicks, created the “Percepto” process for this flick. This (I swear!) wired selected theater seats to vibrate (or ‘tingle’) during this exact scene, to help get folks to yelling. The A&O people, unfortunately, couldn’t provide us with this (needless to say), just as a couple of years ago when they couldn’t provide us with the non-existent second ending to Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus. In that film, the gimmick was that the audience was allowed to ‘choose’ from two endings, to be voted upon just before the climax. In one, the villain gets his, in the other, mercy is shown him. Castle, however, figured that no audience would ever vote for the kinder solution, and actually only filmed the just desserts ending. Knowing this, I goaded that year’s audience to grant Sardonicus mercy, just to embarrass our hosts, who were playing out the whole ‘vote’ thing. I’m sure this scored me big points with the A&O people. The Tingler was a superior choice, although I sleepily nodded through parts of it. Still, though, House on Haunted Hill. Please!
12:00 Break. I, to my amazement, saw that Lori was still there, although she was finally leaving at this point (her friend had left earlier to go to work). I apologized for not ‘hanging’ with her, and I apologize here again. Then I went downstairs, and for the first time since breakfast the previous day, had some hot food. Mmm, a double cheeseburger and fries! It saved my life. Jeff went down with me, and we joined Rob and Al at their table. I asked them if they meant to restart work on Oh, the Humanity, and they said they wanted to, but it was a time issue (gee, we don’t know anything about that problem). Mark then joined us, and luckily I took the opportunity to ask him if he had a place to stay. He had the phone number of a friend, but hadn’t been able to reach him. Obviously, I invited him to stay at my place, although all I could over him was my recliner (Super Host, huh?). We yakked a bit, but then it was time to head back upstairs.
12:30 Short: Dr. Coke Everyday (or something). I’m not sure about the title of this, having missed some of it. It was a silent short about something like a guy trying to smash a Chinatown cocaine ring. It was from 1916 (!). I couldn’t make much sense of it, but neither could anyone else I guess.
1:00 The Creeping Flesh. A later Hammer flick starring the inestimable horror duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This means that the only major Horror Stars we didn’t see this year were Lon Chaney, Sr. and Boris Karloff. In Victorian England, an elderly Cushing returns home from a long expedition. He brings along a giant skeleton, which sports a skull that looks rather like James Carville’s. This begins to make sense when we learn that it’s the remains of a being of Pure Evil. Cushing has various domestic problems, too. His daughter is fretting because the household is going broke. Cushing’s brother, the head of a sanitarium (Lee), meanwhile, means to hijack a much needed science grant from him. Cushing also remains fixated on his newly dead wife, who went incurably mad and spent the last three decades of her life in Lee’s none-too-gentle care. When Cushing learns that water causes the skeleton to regenerate flesh (luckily, this is contained to a single digit), he posits that its blood can be used to formulate a sort of Evil Anti-Toxin, freeing mankind from its less noble impulses. (He might have wanted to confer with Dr. Jekyll on this.) When his daughter starts acting like Mom, he gives her a shot, only to learn that it instead speeds up her incipient insanity. She goes on a violent spree, meeting up with an escaped homicidal maniac from Lee’s asylum. Lee eventually steals the skeleton, unfortunately on a rainy evening, with predictable results. Cushing, in the end, learns a new meaning for the phrase ‘giving someone the finger.’ If this all sounds somewhat disjointed, well, so’s the movie. Those who are interested, however, can read a very insightful review of the film on the And You Call Yourself a Scientist! website, found on our link page.
2:30 Girls Town. Running a bit behind, Matt Bradford came out and (as happened last year) told us to pick a movie from the remaining choices. The selection was either War of the Colossal Beast (sequel to The Amazing Colossal Man) or Girl’s Town. Genetically predisposed to Monster Movies, I voted for Colossal Beast. I was outvoted. Annoyed at first, I soon had to admit that I’d been wrong. This was, after all, the only JD (Juvenile Delinquent) flick we had this year. And we already had a Bert I. Gordon flick. Wild girl Mamie (Navy vs. The Night Monsters) Van Doren ends up in Girls Town, a reform hall run by nuns, after she’s accused of pushing some dude over a cliff. Eventually, we learn that the deed was done by Doren’s goodie two shoes sister, after he tried to rape her. In the end, Sis must be saved from the dead guy’s roughneck brother, hilariously played by the young, tubby and chinless Mel TormÃˆ (!). I suppose that the more menacing Don Knotts wasn’t available. Also on hand is a young Paul ‘You’re Having My Baby’ Anka, who apparently has lots and lots of time to spend helping out the inhabitants of Girls Town. He sings ‘Lonely Boy’ and, in a classic camp moment, reforms Mamie by warbling ‘Ave Maria’ (!). Later the willowy Anka manages to punch out TormÃˆ. The busty Van Doren (who you got when Jayne Mansfield wasn’t available, like you got Mansfield when Marilyn Monroe wasn’t available) gives her normal non-performance, while displaying her, uh, assets. Her best outfit is a kind of overalls-type deal that she wears over a white turtleneck sweater, but with the straps noticeably on the outsides of her breasts. As if her chest needed help grabbing attention.
4:00 Destroy All Monsters. B-Fest usually ends things with a Godzilla movie. After all, they’re loud and colorful, just the kind of thing to wake up dozing audience members. And the grandest Godzilla movie of all is Destroy All Monsters, Toho Studios’ all star extravaganza. It’s the futuristic year of 1999 (that’s right, 1999), and the UN has managed to corral all the Earth’s monsters onto the Ogasawara Islands, a.k.a. Monsterland. Things go awry, however, when alien beings, the Kilaaks, come to Earth and kidnap the various monsters. The beasts soon show up around the world, attacking various major cities: Mothra in Peking, Rodan in Moscow, Gorosaurus in Paris. (Actually, the script has Baragon attacking Paris, but the Baragon suit was too messed up to film the scene. This is why Gorosaurus is seen tunneling up near the Arch de Triumph, when he’s not a tunneling monster. Baragon is. Given the original script for translation purposes, the American version of the film even identifies Gorosaurus as Baragon during the attack, annoying us nerds no end.) Meanwhile, the Big Guy, Godzilla himself, torches the UN Building in New York. Ultimately, humans manage to destroy the Kilaak’s moon base, and then scramble the radio transmissions that they’re using to control the monsters. Godzilla then leads the assembled brood on a mass attack on the Kilaak’s Earth base. This is only slightly impeded when the Kilaaks call in their trump card, the mighty Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster. This is simply a great film, probably the most enjoyable of all the Toho flicks. Paul talked to Christy (I think) and learned that this film alone (and it was a simply marvelous print, to boot!) cost $400 to get. It was worth it!! Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra (in caterpillar form), Ghidrah, Minya (a.k.a. Son of Godzilla), Spiga (the giant spider from Son of Godzilla), Manda (the serpent god from Atragon), Gorosaurus (King Kong Escapes) and Anguirus (Godzilla Raids Again) all show up, while Baragon (Frankenstein Conquers the World) and Varan the Unbelievable have cameos. Frankly, this movie alone was worth the price of admission.
5:30 Short: What is Communism? One last chance to chuckle at mass graves before B-Fest ends. (Although, admittedly, that’s a minority take on its appeal.)
And that was that. Unlike the past few years, not many of the attendees acted like pigs, and cleanup went quickly. To my chagrin, I ended up taking almost all of the food I bought back home with me. Somebody remind to look at that list of food I bought this year, most of which didn’t get eaten, prior to next year’s event. Stop me before I shop again.
Julie and Tim made plans to meet us for dinner at Gino’s East (so our guests got some Chicago Deep Dish Pizza after all). Douglas and Sue went with me, Jeff and Mark with Paul. John Dudlak, meanwhile, gave us a hand with our stuff (the guy’s a sweetheart). We made plans to set up a small-scale, video mini-B-Fest this summer. Take it easy, man.
We stopped by my house and grabbed Sue’s gear. As her motel was on the way to the restaurant, we stopped and she got set up. After a minor misadventure with her keycard, we were on our way. At Gino’s we met up with others and had ourselves some pizza (except for Douglas, who had lasagna – there’s a ‘Burger King’ in every crowd.)
Julie and Tim took off. It was only later that I was told that they had come in from out of town (I never got that ‘moving away’ thing). Guys, I am so sorry we didn’t make more room for you. If for some insane reason you choose to come again, maybe with Lisa, please be assured that we’ll do better by you.
I ascertained that Sue had something to do the next day, and made tentative plans to drive her to the airport on Monday. Then I asked Paul and Holly to drive her to the motel, as my car would be full with the guys staying over at my place. So Jeff, Douglas, Mark and I loaded into the Escort and headed home. There we had a long, gratifyingly enjoyable chat session, lasting until 2:30 in the morning (although Jeff dropped off somewhat earlier).
When I thought I’d have two guests, I’d planned to put Douglas in a side room, on the air mattress I borrowed from my Mom. (Note to self: Purchase futon and upgrade the guest accommodations.) However, Jeff, who I intended to give the fold-out couch in the living room, is almost as horrendous a snorer as I am. I therefore figured that if two guys had to sleep in the living room, he shouldn’t be one of them. So Douglas took the couch (not even folding out the bed – it’s like he’s some kind of Mountain Man). Mark took the recliner – only the finest for my guests.
Mark had to be at O’Hare for a 9:30 flight (groan), so I got up at 8:00 and we got him there at 8:30. It’s amazing how long it takes to plan these things, and how quickly they’re over with. Anyway, a quick farewell and Mark was off. Nice meeting you, man. I got back home to find that Jeff and Douglas had started my copy of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (those jerks). We spent the rest of the movie complimenting Michelle Bauer and Linnea Quigley on their, uh, acting abilities and laughing at what is actually a surprisingly witty script. This would actually make a terrific B-Fest movie, only I’m pretty sure that it’s DTV, or direct to video. It’s really a shame.
When the movie’s over, we head over to the L&L Snackshop, a legendary local breakfast spot. Then we take Douglas, next in line, to the airport. Another too-quick good-bye and then he’s gone too. Jeff and I stop by the Yoawan Shopping Center, a little oasis of Japanese goods in the suburbs of Chicago. Jeff collects Japanese tea stuff, although he didn’t find much this time. Then we stop at Barnaby’s, a local sandwich place, to meet Jeff’s wife. After lunch, they take off, so as to catch their flight out. Alone for the first time since, Friday morning, I go home and nap.
The last thread is tied up when I wake up that night. Sue’s left a message on my machine. She’s gotten a ride set up with friends, so I’m off the hook. She tries to reach me the next morning from the airport to say good-bye, but catches me in the shower (shades of Major Cummings). Anyway, she’s now in South Africa enjoying a nice, long vacation. To my delight, however, she indicated on her message that she intends to return for next year’s show. To my utter amazement, both Mark and Douglas later do the same.
Well, that’s about it, I suppose. I just want to thank, again, Matt and Christy for a nearly perfect B-Fest, and Mark, Douglas and Sue, and all the others, for helping to make it the most personally enjoyable one yet. Here’s hoping that they can all make it back next year, where we can get to know Jason to boot. Anyway, that’s it, except for the anticipation of reading the other guys’ reports.
Hope you can all join us next year.