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B-Fest 2003

Ken's Diary

As always, B-Fest is about the People and the Love. Oh, and 24 hours of B-movies fueled by pop and snack foods. But primarily the People and the Love.

A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating

Per usual, the sites associated with the B-Master’s Cabal, both present and prior, were well represented. Chris Holland of Stomp Tokyo was there, though unfortunately his partner in that vast enterprise, Scott Hamilton, ‘twas not. (I like to razz Chris about the Microsoft-esque dominance of his site. This year I got a memorably exasperated eye-roll from him when I described the rest of our enterprises as lampreys attached to the mighty shark that is Stomp Tokyo.)

Also on hand -- and what would such events be without him? -- was the venerable Freeman Williams, aka Dr. Freex. Freeman has been described as the patriarch of our little circle, and indeed, he often seems to have sprung directly out of some Tennessee Williams plays. (Without the neurosises, of course.) Truly, though, wherever he sits is where the king is holding court.

Chris Magyar, author of many of Stomp Tokyo’s Tuber Diary pieces -- and the kind contributor of the superlative Die Die Die! review found on our own humble pages -- also attended. Chris M., of course, is legendary as the "Cute One" of the Stomp Tokyo band. In other words, he’s their Paul McCartney. (Although I and someone who my fuzzy brain now fails to identify agreed that he has more of a Ben Affleck thing going.) That makes Freeman their John Lennon, but after that I couldn’t really decide whether Chris or Scott would respectively be their George and Ringo, or vice versa, so I abandoned the comparison. Chris M. is still reliably Paul, though.

A more-than-pleasant bonus was the last minute announcement from B-Notes’ aptly appellated Enigmatic Apostic that he would be attending the event. Even more pleasing was the exciting news that, after a hiatus that brought much woe to us his fans, he was returning pen to paper – well, finger to keyboard – and reviving the site. In fact, a grateful public will be excited to note that even now a new review of the execrable Nukie can be found there.

My old chum Jeff Witham returned for the show; he’s attended more of these than any of the folks I’ve met via the website. As always, I simply could not have made this group outing thing work without him. Although he had every right to come in like everyone else and just be treated like a guest, Jeff shelled out his own money to rent an SUV so that we could transport everyone around. Whenever and wherever he was needed, he was on hand doing whatever was requested of him. Jeff was the unsung hero of this, and many previous, fests, and I wanted to tip my hat to him. And aside from all that, of course, there’s the fact that you couldn’t ask for a better companion to hang with. God bless ya, Jeff. You’re a good man.

Returning to the fold for her first year as a veteran attendee was Liz, aka Lianna Skywalker. What can I say about Liz? In two years, she’s become more of a recognized presence at B-Fest than I have after more than a decade of shows. Fueled by a full case of Diet Coke (and apparently an internal fusion reactor), Liz hardly sat down during the entire event. Indeed, she never did sit in the audience. Instead, she generally was seen squatting on the side of the stage, ready to jump up whenever the mood struck her – which was often -- and engage in some bit of comic business for us, her adoring public. Liz somehow makes us old farts somehow feel younger and older at the same time. Already I can’t imagine a Fest without her.

Also on hand were Tim and Julie Quandt. Julie is the younger sister of an old high school chum of mine (and Jeff’s), and she and her lesser half have attended numerous Fests now. To my vast pleasure, that old friend, Lisa, herself attended this year. I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I’ve have liked – although Tim and I had a great post-Fest discussion with Liz, perhaps my favorite memory from this year’s event – but I’d like to thank all of them for coming in. It’s always good to see you guys. And Lisa, I hope to see you there again someday.

And, Introducing…

Along with the Usual Suspects, we were blessed this year with a fine roster of new attendees.

First, I was extremely pleased and excited to finally meet Nathan Shumate, creator and proprietor of the Cold Fusion Video site, emeritus Cabal member, and all around fine fellow. Every year, given the way these things go, there’s some folks you wish you could have spent more time with. Nathan was, for me, definitely on this list. (Perhaps the greatest downside of driving a successive line of people to the airport or whatever is that you lose valuable personal hang out time.  On the other hand, it affords one-on-one face time with others, so there's that.)

Worse, on Sunday Nathan wasn’t feeling at all well. This raised fears that he would become our new Rob Trevino.  (Rob, of the dormant Oh, The Humanity site, became physically ill three years in a row while attending B-Fests.) Hopefully next year we’ll find this isn’t the case. 

Shamefully, perhaps my biggest interaction with Nathan was on Sunday. Rushing back to take the next person to their travel destination, I called Nathan ‘Tim,’ largely because after B-Fest my brain doesn’t work and because he was standing next to Tim’s wife Julie and because both Tim and Nathan have sandy-colored beards. In other words, Nathan primary remembrances of the event might be of feeling nauseous and of myself proving a complete jackass.

Another big thrill was the attendance of The Warden of Prison Flicks.com fame. From the first day I visited his site it was one of all-time very favorites. The Warden (I’ll allow him to remain anonymous until I hear from him otherwise) proved a terrific fellow, with exactly the high caliber of intelligence and wit that emanates from his articles. He also was someone I’d like to have spent more time with. Hopefully he’ll return for future shows and I’ll be able to do so.

Chris Magyar, meanwhile, had brought in a friend of his, Andrea. She proved a charming, gracious and intelligent young woman. Despite this, she seemed to like the event and her companions-by-circumstance. Perhaps she was reassured by comparison that Chris was not in fact nearly as gigantic a nerd as she had previously imagined.  One-eyed man in the valley of the blind, that sort of thing.

Finally, beating all the odds, we were delighted to welcome Jabootu's own Jessica Ritchey (aka Juniper, our Most Valuable Poster on the Jabootu message board) into town. What a delightful person she proved to be!  Why, if you looked up 'personable' in the dictionary, you'd find...a defination that would fit her pretty well.  What?  You thought what?  Uh, they don't use people's pictures in a dictionary, chum.  Hell-oo!

Jessica's diary piece is directly below this one, so you can read it yourselves. 

Her most exciting news was of plans to start running her own review site – and why shouldn’t she, she’s written for us, Dr. Freex, the Agony Booth and probably dozen of others I’m not aware of. (Stupid youthful energy.) I just hope she remembers our site kindly when hers pushes the rest of us off the Web.

I’ve said it before and it definitely held true this year: I have never met a better bunch of folks in my life as I have through those coming in for B-Fest. Seriously, each and other one of them is about the best grade of people you’re likely to come across in this weary world. So let me again thank all of them for coming in and making B-Fest what it is for me.

A Toast To Absent Friends…

Unfortunately, not everyone we’ve shared the trenches with in previous years managed to make it back this time. I already mentioned Scott Hamilton.  Others whose presence was sorely missed included veteran attendees Sue Wright, Joe Bannerman of Opposable Thumbs (currently in Europe attending school) and Diana and Kurt VonRoeschlaub.

Kurt, actually, was hoping to attend but proved unable to. That he is a simply all-around neat guy was proved yet again when I received in the mail a handmade ‘quillow’ (a quilt that folds up into an attached pouch to become a pillow) he manufactured with a huge Jabootu logo stitched on it. This delightful item was used at the airport to flag down Nathan, since neither he or I knew what the other looked like. So thanks Kurt, and rest assured your gift has already proved invaluable.

People who have long been AWOL, but who I continue to hope we’ll see again some day, include our own Douglas Milroy and Rob & Al of Oh, The Humanity. Let me give a shout out to the latter two: Drop a line, guys, I won’t inform the Mafia of your current location or of the names you’re now living under. Meanwhile, Liz Kingsley continues to hide behind the fact that she lives in Australia in order to explain why she wasn’t attending.

One name conspicuous by its absence so far is that of the stalwart Andrew Borntreger of Badmovies.org. What can I say of Andy that I haven’t said before? He’s simply a great guy to be around, even amongst this elevated assemblage, and an insane workhorse to boot. (Most of the slack of his not being here, it must be noted, was taken up by Jeff rather than myself. Credit where credit’s due.)

Andrew, of course, is a Staff Sergeant in the U. S. Marines, and as we all know, those are some busy folks right about now. It says sometime about his reputation that more than one person at the Fest came up to ask me if he were attending, and were obviously saddened to learn he wasn’t. Wherever you are in the days that lie before us, my friend, God keep you safe, and Katie as well. We all sincerely hope to see you again next year.

Prolog

Taking the week off of work, I did the normal stuff: Got my traditional short B-Fest haircut, bought more camp furniture to bring to the show, purchased additional pillows and towels and blankets and such for guests (I think at this point I’ve finally accumulated all I need in these departments, so next year my outlays should be more modest), etc. I also, needless to say, bought a plethora of materials for the Tower of Snacks and a bunch of beverages for the four coolers we would bring down.

On Tuesday Apostic dropped word that he was to attend. He offered to rent a car, but that wasn’t necessary, so I advised him not to. He proved the first arrival, coming in on Thursday afternoon at O’Hare. We spent the afternoon buying supplies and such, and around eight headed back out to the aiport to grab Jeff. His plane proved about an hour late, and we considered leaving and waiting for him to call me at home.  However, Apostic kindly offered to run into the terminal to check things out (we were parked somewhat illegally in the Arrivals concourse all that time), and he found Jeff right before we were to go.

A suggestion for O’Hare: Your pick-up and drop-off design is pretty good for such a busy airport, but you could make things a lot better by putting up boards outside in the pick-up area announcing flight info. That way drivers would know whether a plane was late without having to sit there or park the car in the lot and run into the terminal to find out.  (Of course, they charge money to park in the lot, so...)

It was about nine, and we were all hungry. We went to Jameson’s Charhouse, a place by my house where you can get a really decent steak for a really decent price. I had the Kansas City Strip and Jeff and Apostic had the T-Bone, or something. Anyway, it was a great meal with great guys. (By the way, I believe Apostic grabbed the check – that’s the kind of fellow he is.) This was the third time, I believe, that Apostic came in early and we ate there on Thursday night, so it’s now officially a tradition. Let those planning to come in next year take this into consideration.

We got to my place a little after ten, and I thought, cool, we’ll get a full night’s sleep. And so we would of, had we not stayed up yakking for another five and a half hours. Finally, Jeff called it quits (much to my and Apostic’s blurry relief) and we hit the sack. 

Up early the next morning, we hit another traditional spot, the awesome Greek breakfast emporium The L&L Snack Shop, and consumed some grossly huge meals. Jeff and Apostic were particularly impressed with their double side orders of Gyros meat. (Not to mention their platter-sized feta cheese omelets.) Meanwhile, I had the sort of bacon that reminds you that it is Nature’s perfect foodstuff.

A little last shopping at Wal-Mart and then on to the airport. After much confusion due to extremely poor signage, Apostic and Jeff were dropped off at the Alamo office outside O’Hare to pick up the latter’s rental SUV. I went on to the airport to grab Nathan, using the aforementioned quillow as a signal. 

We’d arranged to have The Warden meet up with Nathan, as their planes were due about the same time. We couldn’t find him, though. After hanging around a while, we drove off to look for a phone. We tried to use a pay phone, which provided many opportunities for frustration, and finally just headed to my house. There we called the Warden’s cell phone, confirmed where he was, and I headed back to pick him up.

Once I returned, and we were all assembled, we packed up the gear. (Between runs for ice for the coolers.  Meanwhile, Nature's cold chilled the beverages as we did our stuff.) The SUV comfortably held five people, but more importantly sported much luggage room. This was especially fortunate as I no longer have the station wagon I owned the last couple of years. Thus, although with nearly no room to spare, we got everything loaded up. And so our mighty two-vehicle caravan headed out.

Well, not exactly. I went to grab Jessica at O’Hare. (Again, see details before.) I advised Jeff to wait a bit and then drive directly to Superdawg. I found Jess with a minimum of fuss. We drove out to the Library where I work, as a coworker, Sue Franke, had kindly procured advance B-Fest tickets for me. Superdawg’s about a mile or two past that, so soon we arrived and waited until the guys showed up shortly thereafter. We were now a group.

Everyone, I trust, was much impressed with Superdawg, as Nathan (not of Nathan’s Hot Dogs, I stress), The Warden and Jessica had never joined us there before. 

I had asked the Stomp Tokyo guys if they wanted me to bring them anything, and Chris put me in an awkward position by requesting two Superdawgs with ketchup only.  See, in Chicago there are a number of strictly enforced unwritten laws. For instance, if they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue. Etc. You might know that one. Another is, as world famous fast food aficionado Dirty Harry once noted with disgust, "Nobody, and I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog!"  (A wav file can be found here.)

As I live here and hope to eat at Superdawg again, I of course couldn’t place the order as he requested. So I got him two plain Superdawgs and collected ketchup packets from our fellows. (I do think the staff looked a little suspicious though.)

We drove off and finally got to Evanston. It was a bit after three, and the show started at six. Perfect. Jeff and I dropped off the voluminous gear and drove off to park the vehicles. By the time I got back, everything was inside and actually taken into the theater. To our horror, we saw our normal seats had already been colonized. This caused much confusion and consternation. 

Later, after wandering the building, I found Chris and Freeman holding court downstairs in the cafeteria area. After hanging out a while, I eventually learned that Chris had very thoughtfully thrown bags on some of the seats to hold them for us. (Thanks, dude!!) 

At some point this factoid penetrated my (lack of) sleep-addled brain and I went back upstairs. We ended up with six seats at our disposal, since we had failed to grab any of those nearby as we thought we regular seats were all taken. 

Luckily, the Stomp guys had settled in a couple of rows back, and with the camp chairs I brought – and since our group was fairly small this year – this sufficed. The Warden, for example, pretty much spent the entire show in a camp chair. Luckily they are quite comfortable, large and padded and with a convenient cup holder. So that worked out well.

More hang out time. I met various guys from the Net, some readers and other guys who run their own sites. One was Zach Handlen, aka Marlowe, a frequent visitor to the Jabootu Board and proprietor of the The Duck Speaks website. (Good site, by the way.) I also eventually met Jabootu correspondent Bobby G after the show was over. Anyone else I’ve forgotten, I apologize to.

And then…

"It Has Begun!!"

Kingdom of the Spiders

A B-Fest perennial, this was a terrific opener. A small town in Arizona is invaded by killer spiders, tarantulas who for some reason spin webs. This one is a crowd favorite. It stars William Shatner, in between the TV and cinema incarnations of Star Trek, as the manly Rack. Tiffany Bolling, former Playboy Playmate (from an age in which a woman with a modest bust could be so), plays the female lead. She’s a supposedly world class entomologist who keeps referring to spiders as insects. Woody Strode is also on hand. Being made in the ‘70s, things grow grim fast. Hundreds of people must die onscreen.

B-Fest’s opening movie always sets up a running gag that’s used throughout the show. The secondary one was "Look Out for Spiders!" The big one, though, proved to be, "…of the Spiders!!" For instance, a limo would drive onscreen fourteen hours later. "Luxury Limos…of the Spiders!!" Another ongoing theme that first appeared here was adults inappropriately touching little children. Here it was a little girl who Shatner kept patting on the butt.

By the way, Liz hates bad puns. When I identified one silk-wrapped victim as "Jack Webb!" she attempted (with some success) to blind me with her powerful flashlight. Of course, this just made me shout "Jack Webb!" every time a similarly adorned body appeared.

Cool as Ice

The second movie was the show’s highlight. That’s right, it was Vanilla Ice’s awesome screen debut. I kind of lost my mind after the obvious romatic interest reacted to VI’s ‘meet cute’ gambit of jumping his rice-burner bike in front of her, almost lopping her head off, as a "macho biker." A macho biker!! Vanilla Ice!!! I still can’t get my head around it. Then there’s a scene where Ice kicks the asses of four guys at once. And without singing, I might add.

This film is just insane, and I should probably just review it. However, Ice stalks the girl in extremely creepy fashion. Which, of course, she finds increasingly attractive. At one point she wakes up and he’s in her bed. Ha ha ha ha. I’ve got to try that one. Anyhoo, the girl’s dad (Michael Gross in the kind of role that thankless even for a, well, Michael Gross) is hiding from the mob (two guys) and they find him. The girl’s young brother, who exhibits a proto-homosexual fascination with Our Hero, is kidnapped by them. As this is one of those films in which there’s no evidence that cops even exist, the family calls in Ice rather than the cops. He, of course, saves the day and gets the girl. Un-frickin’-believable. It certainly makes you appreciate Eminem, anyway. Hey, how about a remake?

Flash Gordon

One of Dino De Laurentiis’ better movies (at least in the ‘70s and ‘80s) was this fairly successful update/spoof of the old sci-fi serials of the 1930s. I saw this in high school and haven’t seen it since, so it was a fun choice. However, as I mentioned to Chris Holland (who had sponsored the film, I learned), it also was something I didn’t really ever need to see at B-Fest again. It’s campy enough to pass muster once as an oddity, but as a regular item it would auger a re-shifting of what B-Fest was about. More on this later.

A star-studded flick, of sorts, the film revolves around football quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam Jones, who later costarred as the driver of a futuristic semi in a Knight Rider knock-off costarring Ozzie battery pitchman Jacko) and love interest Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) being shanghaied by Professor Zarkov (Topol). The Earth is being victimized by a series of horrific natural disasters, and Zarkov believes they are being caused by rays emanating from space. He takes our leads into his homemade rocketship and they set off for the source of the rays.

Landing on the planet Mongo, they learn the various peoples there are ruled by a malefic despot named Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow, in an absolutely perfect piece of casting). Flash faces many dangers, eventually forging an alliance with Prince Barin (Tim "Sextette" Dalton) and the leader of the winged hawkmen (Brian Blessed, as perfect for his role as Sydow).

The film is quite possibly best remembered for its suitably bombastic and goofy soundtrack by Queen. You could tell who the viewers of a certain age were when the film’s title was greeted by shouts of "Flash…Ah-Ah!!"

Wizard of Speed & Time

The short that is the beating heart of B-Fest. Long may Mike Jittlov’s creation reign. It’s undoubtedly a sign of my advanced age and increasingly unwieldy bulk that I no longer join my brethren in crowding the stage to beat feet when this appears.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Only one feature is played at B-Fest every year, and this is it. It’s a wonderful flick and a great thing to experience at the Fest. However, I was still riding on four hours of sleep and had a long way to go. Given that I’ve seen this at B-Fest alone perhaps a dozen or more times, and on numerous other occasions to boot, I tried out the fold-up cot I brought with. It was more than satisfactory. Given the thousands of paper plates that littered the auditorium when I woke up, I must have been hit by at least a couple, but not enough to wake me, I guess.

A Language All My Own

One of those black & white Fleischer Brother Betty Boop cartoons from the ‘30s – their Popeye shorts from the same period are perhaps the greatest series of ‘toons ever – follows Betty as she flies her typically (for the Fleischers) anthropomorphic airplane to Japan to do a cute musical number. Betty proves to be bilingual, actually singing verses in Japanese, and there’s a lot less racial humor than fans of much of the Fleischers’ work may have anticipated. Not great, but a nice little tidbit.

The Happy Hooker

Lynn Redgrave, the sister who – at least publicly -- isn’t a loony anti-Semite, becomes the first of three actresses to play America’s most famous real-life prostitute, Dutch emigree Xaviera Hollander. (Her successors were more rather obvious sexpot types, Joey "Bluebeard" Heatherton and Martine Beswicke. For what it’s worth, none of the three look even remotely alike.) Hollander wrote the book the film was based on and became, I think, a sex columnist for Penthouse. Man, am I old or what?

We watch Hollander arrive in the U.S. to meet her fiancée. Unfortunately, he proves a vain mama’s boy who’s mater is a shrew, and the independent Xaviera soon hits the road. As you may have gleaned, she ends up becoming a hooker, albeit one in an upscale brothel. Hollander becomes quite a success, although she doesn’t often seem all that happy.

The film is vintage ‘70s kitsch – the clothes were typically appalling -- mixing a surprising amount of depravity (including an almost-beastiality scene) with an odd lack of actual nudity. This latter aspect, by the way, did not sit well with many B-Festers. To make up, there were a lot of cameos by actors later to become recognizeable: Richard Lynch, Conrad Janis, George Dzundza and Vincent Schisavelli. I think we missed Tom Poston’s bit, though, because…

…there was one entire reel of the film missing. (!!) Therefore the film ran twenty or thirty minutes shorter than it should have. For instance, Lynch’s character is seen lurking a couple of times, then appears right at the end, but all the bits where he does stuff were missing. This was to plague the runner of the Fest throughout the rest of the show, as they were constantly ahead of schedule.

The Wizard of Speed & Time

..returns for a second run.

Flesh Gordon

Raunchy and surprisingly funny soft-core parody of the old Flash Gordon serials. As Earth is threatened by a Sex Ray from the Planet Porno, Flesh and Dale Ardor are abducted by Scientist Flexi Jerkoff and taken into space on his humorously phallic rocketship. There they encounter Wang the Merciless, the planet’s evil ruler, as well as many well-executed stop-motion beasties provided by Jim Danforth. Probably the best remembered is the Penisaurus.

Again, the amazing thing is that many of the jokes are actually funny. Seeing this on the same bill with Flash Gordon was also intriguing, as the spirit of each was surprisingly close and as each so closely followed the original Buster Crabbe serial.

Unfortunately, I dozed through the last part of this one. My bad.

A Language All My Own

Returns for a second run, shown backwards and upside down. This is a tradition with WoS&T, and that short also got the treatment during the Fest. The Boop cartoon may not have been scheduled to play again, but was perhaps brought back due to the missing reel of Happy Hooker.

Warlords of Atlantis

Actor Doug McClure (who gave his last name to a memorable Simpson’s character – dammit, I still miss Phil Hartman) stars in this bizarre dinosaur extravaganza from the folks who brought you The Land That Time Forgot. I was dying for sleep at this point, and the cot was unoccupied, so I grabbed it. I waited until the giant octopus I recalled was done attacking a ship and then nodded off.

Dementia 13

I roused to see what was next, noted it was a moody black and white piece heavy on the dialog, and resumed napping. I woke up about ten minutes before it was over and got off about my only decent joke of the entire show. I’m so, so old.

No Holds Barred

OK, now we’re cooking. It’s Hulk Hogan in his first starring role as Rip, the world’s greatest and most popular wrestler. An exaggeratedly EEEEE-vil TV executive, and yes, he’s exaggerated even for that breed, will do anything to get Rip on his network. His format is a show called Battle of the Tough Guys, in which there are no rules. His current champion is a monstrous hulk named Zeus, played by veteran ‘80s heavy "Tiny" Lister. (Because he’s not tiny, get it?)

The exec urges employee Joan Severance (!) to employ her wiles on Rip. I had thought the heroine of Cool As Ice would surely win the Most Embarrassed Love Interest Award, but Severance easily grabbed the crown after smootching in severe close-up with the liver-lipped Hogan. Who, in perhaps the Fest’s most appalling moment, appears in tiny pink underwear.

Various bad comedy scenes occur. Severance takes Hogan to a fancy French restaurant, apparently to put him off his stride. In a totally unexpected twist, she learns that not only can he order in impeccable French, but sees the Chef come out to greet his ‘old friend’ Rip. Then we get in the inevitable inverse of this scene: Hogan takes Severance to a funky little soul food place, where he is also close friends with the Sassy Black Woman™ who owns the joints. Armed robbers rush in, and Rip disables them by throwing food at them before using wrestling moves to toss them into various pieces of breakaway furniture. Sure, he does about a thousand bucks worth of damage, but the fifty dollars in the till if safe.

Then there’s a scene blatantly ripped-off from Frank Capra’s classic It Happened Last Night – all right, now I’m getting nauseous.

The weirdest thing is that, as you might have supposed from the above (and Hogan’s subsequent career), No Holds Barred begins as a buffoonish comedy, but ends with Rip’s beloved brother being paralyzed due to a horrible beating, Severance almost being raped (I think), kidnapped and threatened with death; and Rip pummeling Zeus to death before a studio audience, before the executive gets himself electrocuted. At the end of this (well, the two deaths, anyway), the audience of swanks all give Rip a standing, cheering ovation.

By the way, this film, like Cool As Ice, takes place in an entirely police-free universe. No matter what crimes get committed – and many, many vicious ones do – any cops remain uninvolved.

By the way, this gave us another running bit. All Lister’s character ever does is yell "RAAAHH!!" a lot. So throughout the rest of the show, folks in the audience would shout, "What would Zeus say?", getting a predictable mass response.

Odd Actor Sightings include Jesse Ventura and a no doubt mortified David Paymer.

Mac & Me

Yea gods! You occasionally get asked what’s the worst movie you ever saw. Such a question is meaningless, of course. Except that it’s Mac & Me, which I saw when it was briefly in theaters.

In this atrocious E.T. knock-off, the Elliot surrogate, Eric, is wheelchair-bound for extra dollops of pathos. (And, perhaps, in a vain attempt to head off angry audience reaction to this tripe.) A family of four goofy space aliens gets sucked into a NASA probe. The kid alien, i.e., Mac, who looks, oh, I don’t know, like an atrocious E.T. knock-off, ends up in Eric’s new Spielberg-esque California suburban house, which he and his brother and newly widowed mom have just moved into.

They came from Chicago, as we can tell from the two thousand Chicago sports teams articles they display. Two things for scriptwriters who have never been to Chicago: First, fans don’t wear Chicago Bears and Cubs items at the same time. Or any other such combinations. Second, when asked where they come from, such folks don’t answer, "Illinois." That would never happen. They’d say "Chicago." That’s true even if they lived in the Northwest suburbs, like I do.

Much horrible wackiness ensues. Mac saves Eric from a lake after the latter falls with his chair from maybe a fifty-foot cliff. Also, Mac rearranges the family’s new living room, moving in boulders and soil and plants and stuff. In a moment that made my head hurt, Mom blames this on Eric. Of course, even a non-handicapped lad of twelve could never have done any of this. That a kid in a wheelchair might have is stupid beyond belief.

This is run-of-the-mill stupidity, though. What rises the film below its many compatriots is the most appalling displays of product placement in history. Eric eats Skittles, the bad prominently displayed on his lap. Everyone drinks Coke, all the time. In fact, when the alien family is found, apparently dead, they are fed Coke and are brought back to life. I swear!

Meanwhile, a central character works at McDonald’s and wears her work uniform throughout much of the film. The characters go to McDonalds, where professional kiddie break dancers ply their craft in the parking lot. Going inside, they actually find Ronald McDonald on hand. (!!) He’s even listed in the credits as "Ronald McDonald as Himself". Another dancing sequence breaks out in the store, led by Mac, who’s ‘hidden’ in the skin of a teddy bear. Seriously, if you saw this on the wrong drugs, you’d go permanently insane.

At the end the Alien Family becomes naturalized American Citizens. They attend the normal ceremony for this, and barely rate a second look from anybody. No press is on hand – I guess in this universe, unlike others seen during the Fest, there are cops but no reporters.

Berry Gordon’s The Last Dragon

Jeff and I grabbed some lunch and missed some of this. Leroy is a black martial arts student who follows the path of Bruce Lee, even dressing in the Chinese fashion. This brings him into a confrontation with Sho-Nuff, the ghetto’s self-proclaimed martial arts master. Following the pacifist route, Leroy endurs much humiliation rather than fight. Until the end of the movie, of course, when he kicks Sho-Nuff’s ass while surrounded by cartoon beams of energy. It’s that kind of movie.

During all this, Leroy gets a crush on a local club D.J., played by Vanity. Mobsters are trying to make her show a lame music video featuring the boss’s girlfriend on her TV show. This allows for further indifferent martial arts action.

The Last Dragon doesn’t take itself very seriously, and has its moments. Even Leroy’s Jivin’ Kid Brother doesn’t get on your nerves too much. I’d give it about three stars.

Odd Actor Sightings include Mike Starr, Keisha Knight Pulliam (cute little Rudy from The Cosby Show), Chazz Palminteri and a young William H. Macy (!!), wearing a jacket he apparently borrowed from Vanilla Ice.

It Came From Beneath the Sea

Aside from Plan 9, which you don’t schedule for B-Fest, it’s already there on the blank sheet, this was the only film from the ‘50s. Again, more on this later. I must say, it’s nice to be in a crowd that cheers when Ray Harryhausen’s name appears on the screen.

ICFBTS is a pretty standard, and unfortunately generally lame, ‘50s sci-fier saved by spectacular Harryhausen effects sequences. Bascially, a giant octopus (actually, a quintipus – Harryhausen’s meager budget only allowed for five tentacles) threatens mankind. In the film’s main set piece, the quintipus pulls down San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. At the end it tussles with a Navy submarine. This is just terrific stuff.

The cast is sturdy, although not given much to do. Most irksome is the an even more than usually perfunctory love triangle between female scientist Faith Domergue (This Island Earth, Cult of the Cobra), who remains irritatingly passive between aggressive Submarine Captain Kenneth Tobey (The Thing From Another World, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms), who’s especially wasted, and an even more passive scientist. The latter just sits around watching Tobey make his play and doesn’t seem too concerned with the outcome. Perhaps he realizes a scientist can’t compete with a manly military officer in a ‘50s sci-fi film.

Again, not the greatest, but watching the quintipus stuff on a big screen was an absolute delight.

What is Communism?

Time for the annual trip to the lobby. Actually, Jeff and I went with Apostic to grab him some food.

Supergirl

Screwed-up spin-off of the Christopher Reeve Superman series, this is a film of myriad flaws. I’ve leave Jessica to go over most of them, since she’s our resident expert on the film. Still, it’s a goulash of elements tossed together that never quite jells. Helen Slater, it must be said, was a very fetching girl and a serviceable actress, and if the film hasn’t been such a mess, might well have been featured in many sequels. (Of course, so was Reeve, and look what happened there.)

Odd Actor Sightings include Mia Farrow in a truly useless role, and especially a then unknown Matt Frewer as a would be rapist. This is a hilarious scene. Supergirl is found by two rednecks wandering around in her pert little costume. They attempt to accost her. Supergirl picks Frewer up by his chin (!), causing his compatriot to note, "This one works out." (!!) Then she knocks Frewer about thirty feet through the air by breathing on him, then heats up the other guy’s knife with her heat vision. And the second guy still tries to assault her. (!!!) This is less than credible.

Godzilla 1985

Probably the weakest of the second, modern series of Godzilla films, but still a decent giant monster epic. The best idea the American producers had was to cut in scenes with Raymond Burr as "Mr. Martin," (His name was ‘Steve’ in the first movie, so that explains that), the character he played in scenes inserted into the Americanized version of the original film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Unfortunately, they also had many bad ideas, such as much lame comic relief, the removal of the film’s original score, and a few too many product placement spots for Dr. Pepper. (Who at the time had a TV ad featuring Godzilla.) Still, you should always end B-Fest with a Godzilla flick, so mission accomplished.

Final Thoughts

The line-up was great. The films were great consistency all fun. However, and it’s a big however, if things continue on this way it’ll mean the complete and utter reinvention of what B-Fest is about. And not, I believe, for the better.

Out of fourteen feature films, this year, all but three were from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Minus the entirely sacrosanct Plan 9, only two films were from the ‘50s or ‘60s. Indeed, out of fourteen movies a full half were from the ‘80s. (OK, Cool As Ice was released in 1991, but at its heart it’s an ‘80s movie.)

The problem is that all the films from the ‘80s, from a lesser to usually greater extent, were intentionally campy. They are meant to be laughed at. This is not what B-Fest, featuring b-movies both good and (mostly) bad, has traditionally been about. If this is the route future B-Fest take, with the majority of films featuring a consistent tone, I fear the repetition will kill it. Last year one of the real treats was the ur-‘80s epic Breakin’. There, though, it was a savvy change of pace. Here it would have been one of many such films.

And as Chris Holland (who generally agreed with me) noted, there wasn’t one film that was really painful to sit through. Such films are often horrible and even life threatening, like Zardoz or Jungle Hell or the atrocious Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? But such films separate the hardcore attendees from the posers, and if not accomplishing anything else, inspire horrified whispers for years to come. This was, both for good and for bad, a sort of B-Fest Light. Maybe us oldsters will be outvoted by those who don’t share our concerns, but I’m hoping this year’s slate, as fun as it was, proves to be an aberration.

The Aftermath

Following a swift and successful cleanup of the Norris Auditorium – many hands make work light, and plenty of our fellow B-Festers pitched in – we loaded up (much lighter due to the consumption of three quarters of our beverages and most of our snacks) our vehicles and headed out.

Except, that is, for The Warden and Andrea, who left to hang out with friends they had in the area. This was a missed opportunity for the rest of us, but hopefully it gave them more time to recover from the inevitable newbies’ cases of Dork Poisoning. (Nathan stayed with us, and showed the ill effects – nausea, a pounding headache -- throughout the following day.)

Our destination, as it was last year and presumably will be next year, is the home of Jabootu’s Techmaster Paul and his wife Holly. I just what to thank them for being so gracious as to allow us to colonize their abode. Various runs were made, and deep dish pizza ordered from Chicago’s fabulous Gino’s East, and we settled in for an evening of chatter and companionship.

At one end of the living room Freeman held court over a showing of The Wonderful Land of Oz. At the other end folks clustered to yak around the dining room table. This is where the aforementioned conversation with Liz and Tim took place. (Actually, this ended before I’d have wished, although I don’t really remember why. Stupid brain cell-killing B-Fest.)

Eventually the Stomp Tokyo guys and I headed back to my place to hit the hay for the night. They were all quite gracious, despite the fact I made them sleep in various corners on rat-infested piles of ashes. Plus I made them wash the salt off my car first, despite the fact it was after midnight and the temperatures were sub-zero. I think it made them better people, though.

The next day was the usual round of trips returning people to the airport or El or whatever. This had two bad results. First, I missed the big breakfast at Ritzy’s Restaurant that is our last group hang-out. Next year I’ll probably send anyone who leaves at that time off on a taxi. (It’s not the expense I mind, and I’d be glad to pay for it, but it just seems so impersonal. Still, I know most of these people now, so I guess I can start abusing their trust.)

The second thing that went awry, and this one was really none too hot, was that I returned to Paul’s late from dropping off Chris Magyar and ended up getting Liz to the El station late. Because of this, she had to sit around for another six hours until the next Amtrak train arrived. Sorry, Lyz. This will not happen again.  (By the way, Liz could barely talk after her vocal contributions to the Fest.  She's young, though, and should recover.)

After four or five trips in a row I was dead tired and was enough of a jerk to ask Paul to drive the yet ailing Nathan to O’Hare. (I heard from him today, so at least he didn’t die.) Paul, being a better man than I, agreed to take up my slack. After that task was done only Apostic was left, he being the only person this year to stay over to Monday morning. He and I hung out with Paul and Holly that night. And no, we didn’t watch the Super Bowl.

A little too little sleep was had, then it was five o’clock and Apostic and I got up to take him to the airport. With his departure – and boy, is O’Hare busy on Monday morning, even at six o’clock – B-Fest was officially over.

Until next year, that is…

 

 

Jessica Ritchey’s
B-Fest Diary, 2003

 

" Come and show me another city with head lifted singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning" Carl Sandburg, ‘Chicago’

Part the First, 
In which our Heroine 
finds Mother Nature to 
be a Thankless Trollop

I should have known better. The wind was screaming like a vengeful wraith, it was bitterly cold and if the roads weren’t decorated with fallen power lines they were frozen. We drove through the eerily abandoned looking town, the power had been out for hours, and parked in front of the bus station in a less than hospitable part of town. We waited and waited and when the "I’m just sure it’s just running a few lates" had stretched into an hour we decided to call it quits. The bus service, which may or may not rhyme with Slaypound had no hotline number to call for cancellations or delays. After trying all the numbers posted on my ticket it was confirmed all buses in my area would not be running. Being a sport about it I said we can’t win them all and prepared to make my apologies to Ken.

And then the cops showed up.

It seems we had parked in front of the station an inordinately long time and when we drove off forgot to turn our headlights on. The officer who pulled us over, called Officer Jerk to protect his privacy thusly assumed that a family off three bundled up against the cold was the latest wave in the continuing disintegration of society. Trying, and failing, to keep it together while Officer Jerk, who of course was the dreaded green but cocksure rookie, debated if body cavity searches would be the perfect topper to the evening. I wondered why inclement weather never came the night before a test but apparently was making up for lost time tonight. After running our licenses through his computer Officer Jerk let my Crime Lord father go.

Part the Second:  
Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Rickshaws, Gondolas..
My God, is anything 
leaving the vicinity?

Frantic calls to the airport and herding a cranky sibling off the computer to Goggle like mad our options were slim. I had accepted that if I was going to make it all it wasn’t going to be on time. Finding out a plane ticket at this late hour would cost the GNP of a small country a bus/plane combo was suggested. Various routes were tested and by taking a hot air balloon to Taiwan and busing in from Branson I could just make it. 

Swinging by my Dad’s house the next morning to pick up the generously offered extra funds my spirits lifted. Back at the station we got there before the manager did. She opened up shop and we waited, and waited and finally went in to ask about the buses. She gave a friendly smile and said they’re having a meeting an hour after my bus was supposed to arrive on whether our not the buses would run at all. I understood that walking the five feet to our car to tell us this thirty minutes earlier was well beyond the call of duty so I said thank you and left. I feebly suggested the airport and off we went. It’s a regional outfit so two price checks later I returned to the car. I offered to pay out of cash but Mom possessing a kindness beyond human understanding placed the ticket on her card and kissed me good bye. I was going.

And then the plane was delayed.

At this point I figured I was in some twilight zone episode and it would end with me running out to the tarmac, screaming into the sky "What does it all mean?" The camera would pull back until you saw I was in some giant cage and my captors congratulating each other on preventing their subject’s escape.

The plane that was the size, and comfort level, of a small duffel bag eventually took off. I love to fly and was so happy to be gone I took in the view. A frozen chessboard of landscape, broken by snaking rivers and highways. The flight was short and I had to switch panes in Cincinnati. I hadn’t much time so I decided to book it, visions of being tackled by six disgruntled security guards dancing in my head. I made it just as they were boarding and staked my seat in this hatbox with wings. Looking out the window I was alarmed to see we had strayed over The Atlantic then realized they don’t call them "Great Lakes" for nothing. 

Landing at O’Hare I made my way to the first floor where I had some vague promise Ken would be there. Now I’m sure when I return I’ll navigate this area with ease but faced with three lanes of buses, cars, taxis, limos, under an imposing concrete shelter and having no clue what the car looked like I placed a call to the dependable Jeff. Telling me to look for a greenish blue Ford Explorer which in my car expertise is a forest green SUV he soothingly guided me to the third lane were moments later a muddy, teal sedan pulled up. 

Recognizing our Mr. Begg I hopped in. We started talking and I was relived to know that if this stranger I’d traveled several hundred miles to meet was a sexual predator* he was a verbose and funny one. Stopping at his work to pick up the tickets I placed a call to my sister telling her to spread the news I was alright.

*Editror's Note:  I'm assuming Jessica meant to add that I did not, in fact, end up being a sexual predator.  And even if I were, I'd be so inept at it that it wouldn't really matter.

Part the Third…

of The Spiders!

Going to Superdawg I got to meet the rest of The Men in Black. The aforementioned Jeff, the learned Apostic, and Nathan. As for the food, I’m no great fan of hot dogs but I could have eaten ten of those beauties. When the discussion turned to "if Joe Estevez is the best thing in a movie, does the universe end?" I knew I was home. 

Trekking out to the impressively huge Northwestern campus we parked at the side of the auditorium and unloaded our stuff. It was large, well lit, with plenty of room for the coolers and camping chairs. I met Lianna she of the rapier wit and Diet Coke fetish. I wandered to the cafeteria. The gang had set up court. I was in the presence of the inimitable Dr. Freex a patrician figure with marble-headed cane and Area 51 T-shirt. 

At his side sat the Stomp Tokyo crew. I said hello to Chris and Marlowe. I got a humus plate and listened in on the conversation. We returned to the auditorium where I got my hand stamped and picked up my complementary novelty glow in the dark drinking cup. Thanks Stomp Tokyo. As I went to my seat the feared Telstar Man handed me my bfest CD. I settled in grabbed my first of many bottles of water and the festival introduction was made.

And then the films began.

I realized I had fought life and limb for the right to see Mac and Me and wished The Tower of Snacks ™ offered something a little more stronger.

The Films

Kingdom of the Spiders

I learned very quickly that in bfest you can forget hearing the dialogue and sitting in front your comments become lost in the cloud of noise. The film itself concerns William Shatner defending a Playmate from a swarm of murderous web spinning tarantulas. Strangely enough they cut out the ending were Bill’s rug rises on all eight legs and reveals itself to be the mastermind behind the invasion. The film also contained the high-water mark for quips starting the "___ of the spiders!" running joke and the best single line of the night. When the token African American cast member is bumped off the sheriff goes to tell his wife causing Telstar to yell, "She’s a black widow!" A standing ovation erupted over that and for good reason. The creepier sub theme of bfest appeared as well. A little girl badly in need of some pants was handled at various times by Shatner in the first of many Danger Zone violations of the night. Being made in the seventies it had the nihilistic ending in which our heroes face a world turned into a cheesy matte painting. Bad but not excruciating it was a good start.

Cool as Ice

The second theme of bfest emerged, girls falling for guys several rungs below on the evolutionary ladder. International Superstar Vanilla Ice plays Johnny (just Johnny) Macho Biker and lover of primary colored leggings. He and his "biker gang" of Yamaha riding hooligans shake up Squaresville and teach the rubes how to feel the funk. Ice takes time to woo a girl first by nearly decapitating her with his bike then various burglaries and break ins. She naturally falls for his many attempted sexual assaults and takes time to be chased through a construction site and sprayed with a hose. The mob is some how involved with her family and her creepy dad (Michael Gross) has a confusing and very creepy heart to heart with her about them and why she can never see Ice again. Well Vanilla isn’t going to let injustice go unpunished on his watch. He saves her smitten little bother, various Hoods allow themselves to beaten up by King Muffin Hair, and it all wraps up in time for a MTV ready club scene. Terrible to the max I loved watching it with the crowd but would have gouged my eyes out had I been alone.

Flash [Aaahhhhhhh!] Gordon

The best movie ever made. It concerns the adventures of one Flash and his true love Dale. They travel to Mongo to defeat Emperor Ming and unite the warring races. A treat from start to finish it’s worth noting that in a campy spoof of 1930’s serials Dale (Melody Anderson) had considerably more backbone and pluck than many of her more modern sisters. Gorgeous sets and Brian Blessed in tap pants makes for a film I want on DVD, now.

A Language All My Own

Betty Boop travels to Japan for a concert in this vintage short. Remarkably inoffensive Betty dons a Kimono and sings in actual Japanese. Her personal language? "Boop boop be boop" of course.

Wizard of Speed and Time

The patron saint of bfest. I’m not as keen on this short as others but I still went on stage to play along. Next year it’ll be my internet break.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

When a film is built up this much you’d have to expect it to disappoint. Not so. Truly one of the worst films ever made you have to admire its audacity. Scenes switch from day to night with wanton abandonment. It’s really the small things that make this film a treasure note the cop who waves his gun around (with his finger on the trigger) and uses it to causally scratch his temple. Fatigue got the best of me and I missed the later half. This is definitely one to watch again.

The Happy Hooker

Finally, a movie about prostitution for the whole family. Outside of a questionable moment with a German Shepherd our story concerns a woman whose biggest crime seems to be inviting over dressed women to lounge around her house. Hilariously matter of fact about its subject matter it reduces the Ladies of the Night to the dry tone of a Learning Channel documentary. Wholesome depravity is the best way of describing it.

At this point the hours of non sleep took their toll and the next few hours were a blur of Swan Ships, Hulk Hogan and submarines. Breakfast break came and I enjoyed a slice of mushroom pizza while taking in the view of Lake Michigan. It was good that I filled my heart with beauty because I don’t think I’ll ever know happiness after witnessing…

Mac and Me

A soul corroding punishment masquerading as the world’s longest McDonalds commercial. It features the most shameless product placement outside of an episode of American Idol. Coke is the Magic Elixir of Life reviving some horrifically ugly aliens. I remember being nine and sitting through this at a slumber party. I didn’t like it then and this from a child who loved Hook. Major props to Hecubus who saved our sanity with a very funny walk on, or I should say roll on, appearance.

The Last Dragon

The eightiest movie to ever eighty its’ way onto a screen. I couldn’t tell if it was an unspeakably brilliant parody of kung fu flicks and eighties action tropes in general or insanely bad. It was probably the latter but that didn’t stop it from being one of the most enjoyable flicks of the evening. As an eighties action flick it fulfils the Vanity Clause ® by giving her the role of poplar music video show host. Leroy, the cutest guy of the festival, falls for her and defends her from thugs who want to give her show to Sharon Osbourne. Featuring a villain who keeps a posse of Cats extras as goons and an appearance by the musical demigod DeBarge. Watch for William H. Macy in a Vanilla Ice jacket, you won’t be sorry.

It Came From Beneath the Sea

Typical 1950’s sci-fi. It seems a giant octopus is threatening San Francisco. Ruth from This Island Earth plays the trampiest scientist this side of a microscope. She seems to have majored in being a tease and modeling lace swimsuits. When it’s Octopus Time it’s delightful when it’s back to the talking meatsticks it’s dull.

What is Communism?

In this level headed short we learn the shortcomings of placing power in a monolithic State and stagnating the economy by denying free enterprise. It also seems that Commies are large bat like creatures with an eight-foot wingspan. They eat kittens and don’t celebrate Christmas. You would hope this was a joke, albeit one in particularly bad taste since they use footage of Soviet mass graves, but it’s just ridiculous enough to be real.

Supergirl

A bad film dear to my heart. My first Jabootu piece it was nice to see its flaws on the big screen. Less a story than six scripts stitched together and tossed into a Cusinart it concerns the adventures of Superman’s cousin. The ever appealing Helen Slater is lost in the mess of poor dialogue, even poorer pacing, and Faye Dunaway still not haven shaken her Mommie Dearest role. A completely bombed Peter O’Toole looks on to give advice and collect his paycheck. Add some awful special effects and you have one of the more embarrassing DC properties outside of the Batman Franchise. I’m still fond of it and thanks to viewing it at the fest I now know Gary is the new Newark

Godzilla 1985

All good things must come to an end so we closed with the traditional Godzilla film. Two scientists and woman who is allotted one line every thirty minutes are stranded in Tokyo when the Big G comes a callin’. They reenact The Towering Inferno and Godzilla makes his goodbye by way of a volcano. Lianna showed off her thespian skills by cradling the inflatable Godzilla in her arms, weeping and screaming "KHAAAAAAAAN!" truly a star making performance.

Part the fourth, in whichzzzzzzz, huh? I mean(snore) Oh man I can’t (nod) keep my eyezzz

We retired to the stupendous Paul and Holly’s house where soda was plentiful and dozens of pizzas were ordered. I got to taste real Chicago deep dish and enjoyed a hunk of Hawaiian bread. Doctor Freex put on The Wonderful World of Oz and everything said about it is true. The hour grew long and soon we were making our good-byes. We watched the MST3K’d Santa Claus and sure that Pitch would be visiting my dreams it was time for bed. In the morning Ken came by to take me to the station where (and you’re probably way ahead of me on this).

The bus never showed.

Deciding to cut our losses Ken kindly chipped in for my plane ticket. At the counter I was told I would help my country by being randomly screened. I none too happily made my way to the security area were it was discovered my underwire bra and the brads on my jeans were the latest threat to national security. As my bags were searched the guard commented on the Pokemon video I had won in the raffle. Amazed that I would ever being thankful for Pikachu I smiled while keeping my eyes on the ground and making no sudden moves. Set free I made my way to the gate. The winds that had howled that first fateful night returned to pimpslap the plane several times. Thankfully we landed without incident and I met my mother in the lobby. It was my first bfest and it was a great bfest. Here’s to ’04.

And I swear to God if Mac and Me returns there will be blood, and not mine.

-by Ken Begg & Jessica RItchey