Another feature of...
Ken Begg Reflects on B-Fest 2000
MEA CULPAS: I want to start this article by noting that, if I make any mistakes regarding who did what or gave me what or whatever, it’s more due to my general stupidity than any intended rudeness. So I apologize to anyone who attended this year and who I slight in this report. Second, I failed to keep an exact timetable of the film’s this year, so order and times should be taken to be approximations. Thank you for your forbearance in these matters.
This, truly, was the best B-Fest ever. Yet when I recall it, it will be the people I remember more than the films themselves. (Although it was a startlingly good line-up). Since last year, I have invited many of those I’ve corresponded with to attend this year’s event. To my amazement, a very large number of them replied yes.
A couple of those, in the long run, couldn’t attend. For instance, Crystal of the New Orleans Worst Film Fest at one point intended on coming in, along with some others who run that worthy event. Ultimately, finances made that impossible. Our own Jason MacIsaac couldn’t come either. For the second year in a row, the company he worked for was bought out and he couldn’t get vacation time. Hopefully, third time the charm. Finally, a staggering blow occurred when contributor extraordinaire Douglas Milroy’s plans were felled by a last minute family emergency. Not only were we denied his companionship, but he was forced to eat the cost of his plane ticket. We can only hope that things work out better next year.
In any case, I found the number of attendees flying in from around the country mounting. I became a bit nervous lest they would find the event lacking (no offense to Matt Bradford or any of the other fine B-Fest crew). Thus I was gladdened when the three people who flew in last year, Mark Hurst, Sue Wright and Douglas all replied that they intended to come back. It’s amazing to me how quickly you can become attached to people, but seeing Mark and Sue again quite seemed like a reunion with dear old friends. I can only imagine what next year will be like.
Since the people are what I’ll remember most, I’ll start with my impressions of them before moving on to B-Fest proper. (As a method as good as any, I’ll introduce them by B-Fest seniority.)
My old friend Jeff Witham flew in for yet another B-Fest (he’s probably nearing ten at this point). He served as my good right arm while I was running around, and, like Andy Borntreger, was willing to do anything that I was rude enough to ask of him. He even went out to help Andy finish shoveling snow off my Mom’s driveway (more on that later). This despite the fact that the only implement available to him was a wee pink plastic shovel that looked like an implement from Hasbro’s Snowbound Barbie™. Jeff was the first to arrive and the last to leave, which seems quite appropriate. Thanks again for everything, man.
Paul Smith, of course, is my partner in crime here at Jabootu. Typically, although he had the day ‘off,’ he ended up working at home into Friday night, thus being unavailable to drive as had been planned. He then took a ‘quick nap’ and woke up circa midnight, arriving at B-Fest, I would think, somewhere around 1:00 a.m. However, he and his wife Holly were nice enough to loan me a car Sunday when my brakes seemed to be acting in a suspect manner. This proved fortuitous, as I twice had to drop off four people at a time, which I couldn’t have fit in my car. As well, Paul’s brother-in-law Dave attended, as did, for a while, his sister-in-law Janet and her fiancée Craig. Even Holly, not exactly a huge B-Fest fan (to say the least) made a brief appearance, as well as joining us for the post-Fest party.
My oldest friend, Andrew Muchoney, with whom I’ve shared my Bad Movie hobby for two decades, also showed up. As usual, he appeared in suit and tie (he’s a lawyer), raising some comment. He had to leave to one point on Saturday to do some work, but returned in time to help drive everyone back. Unfortunately, his absence resulted in his missing The Slime People, a favorite flick of ours from way back. (Of course, I felt obligated to continually torment him about this.) Even handier, when certain liquid comestibles were requested for the post-Fest party, Andrew was able to bring his deep knowledge of acquiring same to the fore. Consulting his watch, he instantly calculated the best spot to obtain these products, and led an expedition to procure them.
Al Gallauresi and Rob Trevino from Oh, The Humanity! came in for their, I believe, third appearance this year. They are both just fabulous guys, and it was great to see them again. Rob, unfortunately, suffered more than his share of travails. He was first a victim of the massive snow storms in North Carolina and thus missed his flight, having to come in later. (Luckily, he had planned to come in early, on Thursday afternoon, and thus still arrived in plenty of time.)
Then he apparently got quite ill during B-Fest, something I somehow remained unaware of (Ken Begg: Super-Host.) He suffered a stomach ache last year, also, and I can only hope that these occurrences don’t diminish his desire to attend again next year. He would truly be missed, especially in the quips department, in which he and Al have proven themselves the masters time and again. As an example of their generosity, they also presented me with a video of the rather interesting Mexican cowboy/musical/comedy/horror/space-chick opus Ship of Monsters. Although this proved to be in the original language, sans subtitles, the story proved hilariously easy to follow.
Speaking of good guys, on to Mark Hurst. Mark actually phoned me long-distance to inquire as to what he could bring as a present for my Mom, knowing that she had volunteered her abode for the post-Fest hoe down. Aside from being an astute dissector of the Bad Movie (and a more generous one than myself, I fear), Mark is a pleasure to be around. He also forgave me failing to find him at the airport on Thursday night. (Ken Begg: Super Host.) This despite his thus freezing his bum off, and finally being forced to take a cab to his motel. Yet never a word was said about my evident incompetence.
Also involved in this particular ‘abusing my guests’ fiasco was the returning Sue Wright, who with her second appearance confirmed her status as the Amazon Queen of B-Fest™. Whilst charming as all get out, Sue is also the only person in our group who could probably hold her own in a fight with Andy "Badmovies.org" Borntreger. She also had a different take on the featured presentation Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill! than that of many of the rest of us. But I’ll leave that for her article. Still, I at least got to make up for the infamous ‘Spray Cheese Incident of ’99,’ and made sure to save her some Chocolate Fudge Pop Tarts before they were consumed by others.
Finally, Lori Syzminski from the public library where I work came for a second year in a row. She mostly stayed away from our group (wisely, no doubt) with her friend Sean. Eventually, however, she came and sat between me and Andy Borntreger during It Came From Outer Space and Son of Blob. After this she made her retreat home, citing (cough) plans.
Well, that’s the list of those I’d met previously. Now on to those I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this year.
Joe Bannerman proved himself a personable, yet somewhat reserved young fellow. This latter, I learned, was partly due to his apparent awe at being amongst so many ‘stars’ of the Bad Movie site universe. (!!) I’m sure the rest of my fellows share my amusement at this, as anything who’s seen Joe’s work on his Opposable Thumbs Film site knows that he can hold his own with any of us. I mean, c’mon, this is the inventor of the David Hasselhoff scale, for Pete’s sake! (Not to mention that Lancelot Link gag, which cracks me up each time I drop by his site.) Proving as thoughtful as he was modest, he also brought multiple copies of an epic entitled Street Wars for all the various sitemasters. I know I look forward to perusing mine in the very near future.
If I had to sum up B-Fest 2000 in two words, it would be "Andy Borntreger." Good heavens, this guy is a regular whirling dervish! He expended more raw energy in the three days I spent in his company than I have in a year. And this after a solo twelve hour drive up from Atlanta to join us. Andy was everywhere, and managed to personally torment me throughout B-Fest with a prop kindly provided by Kurt and Diana vonRoeschlaub (more on this later). He even went out and shoveled out my Mom’s sidewalk and driveway on Sunday afternoon before beginning his return trip. (This, supposedly, represented a welcome change from the physical inactivity of the prior few days.) As well, his willingness to drive folks and supplies down to Evanston saved our collective asses when we faced a potential shortage of cars. Andy’s motto is "I’m with the government, and I’m here to help." He certainly lived up to it.
As a display of his physical prowess, he also liked to grab people around the waist and lift them in the air. He even accomplished this with me, although afterward he expressed some amazement at my sheer weight. (I’m rather portly, shall we say.) I just hope he didn’t ruin his back. Andy came in Thursday night, and went out for dinner with me, Jeff and Al. As he told tales of his various exploits and the damage he received from them, Al and I could only exchange pathetic looks acknowledging our own lack of manhood. It was like the scene in Jaws where Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss compare scars, while the unmarked Roy Scheider watches in embarrassed silence. Yet it should lastly be noted that Andy is also an inveterate hugger. Really, it’s a vast relief to know that people of this caliber are watching our backs as members of our Armed Forces.
Joel Mathis, well known to denizens of the Jabootu message board, was able to come despite his earlier fears that he wouldn’t be able to do so. Joel, unsurprisingly, proved quite adept with the quip, and made his presence felt throughout the program. He also provided me with a free DVD of his favorite movie of 1999, the Dennis Rodman potboiler Simon Sez, which I soon discovered to be Rodman’s Hudson Hawk. (I swear! Look at it!) I'll always remember Joel valiantly struggling to stay awake on my Mom’s couch during the Saturday night post-Fest bash, so as to savor every last drop of the proceedings.
Kurt and Diana vonRoeschlaub proved themselves to be the darndest nicest people I’ve met since I can’t remember when. Really, these two are absolutely adorable people! Kurt presented me with a trio of palm-sized silken Jabootu figures, which followed the amazing Plush Jabootu he sent me earlier in the year. I definitely think he should hawk these small figures at our site, so as to make himself several million dollars. As well, he and the Mrs. presented me with a horrid Jar Jar Binks candy dispenser.
This was quite the hideous artifact, and grossed out everyone who beheld it. Much debate ensued as to how this product even got licensed. Basically, you push on a mechanism in the back of the Binks plastic head, and the jaws vertically split fully apart to reveal a candy tongue (!), which you must in effect French kiss to consume. Believe me, it’s even more nauseating than you imagine. Meanwhile, it provided the rambunctious Andy Borntreger with an implement of torture. For the next 24 hours, Andy would shove this thing into my face, all while crooning "Meesa looove Ken," in an all too accurate Binks impression. This only came to a halt when I ‘forgot’ where I packed it before we headed to my Mom’s house on Saturday night. Sadly, this became the bit of this year’s Fest, predictably leaving me the goat for years to come.
Diana, by the way, also fell victim to the puckish Borntreger, who felt compelled to remind her on an hourly basis that she is with child. (The only black spot I associate with this year’s event is the knowledge that said offspring - beautiful though it no doubt will prove to be - will keep Diana from attending again for the foreseeable future. Woe is me!) Diana, however, more than got her own back. Just as the end of B-Fest loomed, she informed Andy that her name was "Diana" and not "Diane," as he had been addressing her throughout the festivities.
It may be crude to do so, but I, like many others, tended to clump the Stomp Tokyo Guys (Chris Holland, Scott Hamilton, Jeff "Filmboy" Stanford, Christ "Tuber" Magyar and, of course, the fantabulous Freeman "Dr. Freex" Williams) into one gestalt entity. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time with these guys as I’d have liked (Ken Begg - Super Host.), but it was really great to meet them. Meanwhile, I could only stare with some bemusement as Scott broke open his laptop computer to begin his B-Fest review mere hours after it ended. I suspect that this diligence at least partly explains the boys’ long-running dominance of the B-Movie site universe. (Did I mention that they were the first site to link to us, back in the Ken’s World days? It was shortly after our Lonely Lady review went up.) Again, a great bunch of guys, with the urbane Freeman making a particular impression. Meanwhile, we’re hoping that Chris and Scott can join in on those round-robin reviews that some of us have been doing.
Finally, I’d like to note that, aside from Lori, my recently hired co-worker Sue Franke and her husband also attended. Again, I didn’t really have time to do more than stop by and say hello. Still, she maintains they had a great time and expect to attend again next year, perhaps with their own posse in tow. Glad to have you with us, folks!
After months of frantic planning, it was time to begin.
On Wednesday night, Jeff arrived circa midnight at O’Hare. I picked him up and took him for a quick run over to Chicago’s legendary hot dog palace Superdawg. Then back to my place to grab my last full night’s sleep for a while.
Thursday saw Al, Rob, Andy, Sue and Mark arrive. (It’s also when I got the bad news that Douglas couldn’t make it.) Rob, as noted earlier, missed his scheduled flight in with Al during the afternoon. Andy arrived via car (a twelve hour drive!) and had dinner with Jeff, Al and me at Mr. Beef & Pizza. Around 10 p.m., it was off to O’Hare to look for Mark & Sue (she arrived just earlier than he, and agreed to be picked up at the same time). Rob, who was renting a car, also arrived around this time. Al went with to the airport and took off to find him. From there they drove directly to a Motel 6 near my house, where they were staying that night (as were Sue and Andy; Mark and Jeff slept at my place).
This is where, infamously, I failed to locate Sue & Mark. They froze for an hour waiting for me, I spent a frustrating hour driving around the airport lest I be ticketed. Finally, I went home just in time to receive a phone call from them wondering where the heck I was. Ultimately, they took a cab to the motel, I picked them up. We then retreated to my trailer to watch The Giant Claw, per Sue’s earlier request. Sue eventually got Andy’s goat by asking him to switch positions on the couch. He thought it was for a ‘bit,’ but she only wanted the better angle on the TV set.
This provided an opportunity to introduce the hideous musical duet between Timothy Dalton and Mae West singing (sort of) "Love Will Keep Us Together," courtesy of the horrific film Sextette. This proved to be the bane of Andy, who regards with a primal fear my enthusiasm for ‘dramas,’ as he calls them. Apparently, this refers to any non-horror, sci-fi or martial arts film. However, Sexette also gave me a handy weapon with which to fight back against his incessant Jar Jar Binks bit. I also megalomaniacally forced everyone to admire the plastic wheeled cabinet in which I had deposited this year’s vast assemblage of snacks. It was quite a bit cooler than the gigantic tote bad I used last year, if I do say so myself.
Friday morning began the next round of pick-ups. First, the delightful Kurt and Diana arrived at Midway airport in the city. They took the El Train down to the nearby Rosemont station and I grabbed them. Then, it was trips to get Joe and then Joel. Joel, unfortunately, had some trouble getting through on the phone, but roughly an hour after of his arrival was heading back to my place.
In between - and during - pick-ups, bad videos were on display, including the second of the Italian Hercules movies featuring Lou Ferrigno, and a complete showing of Sextette, much to Andy’s distress. Everyone was suitably appalled by this latter movie, and I dream of the day it may appear to torment B-Fest audiences.
Eventually, we were all on hand and it was time to head down to Evanston. Here we had to deal with the fact that Paul, couldn’t, as planned, drive. Despite having the day ‘off,’ he ended up working at home all day on a huge project. Then, it turned out, I couldn’t switch my station wagon for his larger car as also planned, because Holly had accidentally taken his keys with her to work (!). Disaster might well have loomed. Well, OK, we might have had to scramble to rent another car for a few days.
Luckily, as it turned out, the Stomp Tokyo boys brought T-shirts to distribute to attendees. (These in addition to the promotional orange plastic tumblers they had earlier shipped to me to bring down. Yep, that’s also how they maintain their site eminence - through sheer bribery. Thanks for the shirt and tumbler, though.) The cartons of shirts required them to skip taking the El Train to our location and drive with us, as planned. Instead, they took a Limo, although they timed it wrong and failed to arrive at a time when the rest of us would have been gawping at their extravagant ride.
In any case, without those five to worry about, we were able to squeeze everyone and all the gear, barely, into the three cars we had available. Ultimately, this required removing the hundreds of Stomp Tokyo tumblers (see their B-Fest review for pictures) from their box and just stacking them in my trunk. Still, all’s well that ends well. Again, though, massive thanks to Andy and Rob for sharing the all important ‘get everyone and our gear down to Evanston’ chores.
We stopped for a late lunch at Superdawg, then headed down to Fest. Luckily, the chain cutting off the Norris University Center was down. Thus, I was able to drive my car up the incline and drop off the batch of coolers (we had six) and snack cabinet and stuff right in front of the door. (I also was able to ask Joe and Joel to start bringing the stuff in while I parked the car. Ken Begg - Crafty, Lazy Fat Guy.)
Eventually, we got our tickets ($20, a bit higher than I had heard, but still well worth it) and official B-Fest T-shirts (a $12 bargain). Unfortunately, those with ‘advance’ tickets got in first, and these felons indeed stole our traditional front row seats. However, all was not lost, and we were able to colonize the entire front left of the stage with our copious gear. Finally, B-Fest Maestro Matt Bradford came out to give his opening spiel and bask in our love (especially since he asked people to downplay the laser pointers, the bane of last year’s event). And then…
"IT HAS BEGUN!":
Daddy-O (1958): A terrific start, with drag-racing, bad Rock ‘n’ Roll tunes and a fat guy in a toga getting a massage. As others have noted, fat middle-aged guys in togas became a running theme of the playbill. The film also sported perhaps the clumsiest hero in movie history. This was highlighted when the multitalented dragstripper/crooner investigates the mysterious death of his barely indicated nerd friend. (I’ll talk about the clumsiest villain in film history later on.) Breaking into a sinister, if rather bare bones, gym whilst searching for the film’s MacGuffin, Our Hero manages to make more noise than two skeletons making love in a tin coffin. (I heard that in a movie once.) If you guessed that the gym setting resulted in a ‘locked in the steam room almost unto death’ scene, score yourself two points.
Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957): Terrific Roger Corman stuff which represents everything that ‘50s Cheese Sci-Fi was about. Two (ahem) teenagers learn of an invasion by archetypal Little Green Men (beautifully realized by cult icon Paul Blaisdell). Despite being as clean-cut as all get out, they are, naturally, ignored by their pigheaded elders. Therefore, it’s up to them and their peers to save the human race. It’s easy to laugh at this kind of thing, but the film really has many fairly sophisticated elements, the hallmark of Corman’s cheapjack productions. For instance, the aliens uniquely kill/incapacitate their victims by injecting them with massive doses of alcohol, secreted from their needlelike fingernails (these scenes are sure to traumatize those with a needle phobia). When Our Heroes run over one of the aliens and go to the cops, the invaders kill Frank Gorshan (!) and leave his body under their car, thus instituting one of cinema’s only extraterrestrial frame jobs. (The movie was based on a short story entitled The Cosmic Frame-Up.) Meanwhile, the satirical ‘doofus-military covering up the spacecraft landing’ was fairly radical for its time. Luckily for all involved, the aliens prove to be fatally allergic to light (!). Thus they perish in the glare from the concentrated headlight beams of the teens’ assembled cars.
Trivia fans will note that the film’s music was provide by John Williams (!), who presumably got together with Elmer "Robot Monster" Bernstein afterwards for a stiff one.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): The second of the five Planet of the Apes flicks. Already apparent are the decreasing budgets that were to plague the sequels. In this case, the producers couldn’t afford Charlton Heston, who memorably played Taylor in the first film, to again assay the lead. Therefore, they got James Franciscus to star, and regulated Heston to bits at the beginning and the end of the film. Franciscus is an astronaut who passes through the same space/time wormhole from the first film, and then spends the film searching for Taylor. Franciscus was quite obviously hired because he looks a lot like Heston (especially with his Taylor-esque beard; Heston eventually appears clean shaven so as to ‘disguise’ this ploy). He’s also, laughably, pretty evidently been told to act like Heston; so we get much teeth clenching on his part. Heston and Franciscus end up as prisoners of an underground tribe of telepathic Mutants, apparently due to a vibrating ladder (I think). Said Muties are apparently descended from a tribe of lawyers, since they won’t directly harm others but feel free to mentally force them to attack each other instead. In the memorable finish, the Doomsday Bomb that the mutants worship is detonated, destroying the Earth. This forced the next sequel to follow the adventures of the Roddy McDowell/Kim Hunter ape characters as they take the wormhole back in time to when we human still run the planet.
House on Haunted Hill (1959): Finally! My all-time favorite movie from either Vincent Price or William Castle makes its appearance at B-Fest. Semi-psychotic Price and his bitchy, greedy wife throw a ‘haunted house’ party for five strangers. Each has been promised $10,000 (serious cash at the time) if they live through the night. Meanwhile, it appears their hosts may have ulterior motives: Both wants the other dead. (Price’s wife attempted to poison him once, while his previous wives had a habit of dying under mysterious circumstances.) Like most Castle films, this one leaves plot threads lying all over the place; he’s much more concerned with tossing every single cornball ‘horror’ ploy at you to worry about junk like that. I know the film has its detractors (apparently Joe Bannerman doesn’t much care for it), but for Vincent Price fans this is the cat’s meow.
Trivia fans know that Castle was famous for his gimmicks for his films. The one for this was ‘Emergo,’ a skeleton-on-a-wire that sailed over the audience when a walking skeleton appears in the movie. Unfortunately, this was no more on display at B-Fest than Percepto was the year before, when they showed The Tingler.
A short slate of coming attraction features. These included ‘Rocket Ship,’ (apparently one of those ‘films’ compiled from an old Flash Gordon serial); a way-too-short promo for the Ray Milland/Rosey Grier yukfest The Thing With Two Heads; a creaky old ‘haunted house’ thriller from, apparently, the ‘30s entitled Horror Island, which featured Leo Carrillo (Pancho from the old Cisco Kid TV show) and a young John Carradine, here billed only as "The Phantom"; Tron (no intro required); Invisible Ray, an old Karloff/Lugosi flick; and, finally, The Black Hole, which I’ve never seen but which lived up to its rep by looking quite awful.
Short: The Wizard of Speed and Time:
The Magical Mascot of B-Fest makes his appearance. The Wizard is a fellow in a green robe who runs quite fast, slips on a banana peel, gives himself a low ‘Olympic’-style numerical score, and then sings a song accompanied by marching stop-animated film equipment. Run once in regular fashion; then, per tradition, upside-down and backwards. Mike Jittlov is a genius, I tells ya!
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959): Yep, the Big Enchilada makes its annual appearance. This one, of course, has the most running gags, from people yelling "Night," "Day," "Tor," Bela" or "Chiropractor" whenever appropriate, to furious, audience-endangering fusillades of paper plates when the alien’s (cough) spaceship makes an appearance. Threadbare aliens utilize the dreaded "Plan 9," which apparently involves taking about forty years to raise an Army of the Dead to menace mankind. Rocky Horror Picture Show my ass, this is the real deal.
Dracula AD 1972 (1972): We open in 1872. Dracula (Christopher Lee, natch, this is a Hammer film) and Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, playing the role for the first time since Brides of Dracula, back in 1960) are battling on a runaway stagecoach. It crashes and Dracula ends up impaled on a broken wagon wheel, which Van Helsing pushes home before expiring. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure appears and grabs up Dracula’s ring (sporting the obligatory ‘Dracula’ crest) and some of his ashen remains. Then, in a big mistake, we cut a hundred years into the future. Hammer didn’t know what to do with Dracula that this point, and mistakenly brought him into present times. (Of course, since the film was made in the early ‘70s, it also had to be ‘relevant.’) At least here they kept him in a broken-down desanctified old church, a suitably gothic set for The Count. In the next movie, Satanic Rites of Dracula, they had him running around on modern sets, playing a Howard Hughes-esque reclusive millionaire yet. Finally, Hammer ended the series (sans Lee, but with Cushing) in the kung-fu (!) flick Dracula and the Seven Golden Vampires. A descendant of the mystery man, Johnny Alucard (!), who looks *just* like his ancestor, is part of a group of hippie-ish, virulently anti-Establishment ‘youths.’ This includes the busty Jessica Van Helsing, who lives with her grandfather. This is the latest Dr. Van Helsing, who looks *just* like his grandfather, who bumped off Dracula in the opening sequence (man, strong genes in this universe). Needless to say, Dracula is soon on the loose and seeking revenge, via Jessica.
Jungle Hell (1956): Ah, my old friend, so we meet again. Sabu helps nice white scientists in the jungles of India fight superstition and discover some radioactive rocks, hidden there by aliens in a spaceship who control elephants and tigers. Or something. Those interested can see my review elsewhere on this site.
Short: Gavotte: Boy, first we’re tormented by elephants, now it’s Frogs. This is a bizarre French (forgive the redundancy) piece with no dialog, just musical accompaniment. (‘Gavotte’ is a French term for an uncouth person, as well as a 17th century dance like the minuet and music for the same). A Reformation-era midget in fancy period dress is pushed around by normal-sized people as he tries to sit in a chair. I guess it’s a political statement. He also eats an apple. He eventually ends up wrestling with another midget over possession of a cushion. Since I play ‘stud’ B-Fest, and don’t apprise myself of the line-up, I feared for a while that this was going to prove to be a full-length movie, as the grotesque You Are What You Eat did years ago. Coming as it did in the middle of the night (circa 4:00 a.m.), this bit of weirdness could only fill our battered brains with fear and dismay.
Short: Tomb Itmay Concern: An archeologist and his almost-a-midget-but-not-quite (and thus safe from being captured and owned by Jed Buell, I guess) smart-ass assistant enter the Egyptian tomb of Princess Itmay. (Get it?) This burlesque short features Little Jackie Little, a rather frightening homunculus, as the assistant, cracking a series of appallingly sexist jokes (and this is me talking). The archeologist takes off, leaving Jackie to sprinkle apparently magic water on first Itmay’s foxy assistant and then the less-than-fit Princess Itmay. To the general dismay of the audience, Itmay goes on to perform a belly-dance. (Although I salute Freeman Williams for his against-the-grain defense of women sporting a more Rubenesque physique). Apparently I was out of it somewhat at this point, because the other guy’s B-Fest reports indicate that Jackie spurned the hottie assistant because of her (mildly) dusky skin. Instead, the archeologist ends up with her because he’s…color-blind! Ha! It’s unfunny and racist! This is a perfect example of how racism hurts all people, for if not for Jackie’s bigotry we could have watched this rather-more-attractive woman perform a belly-dance rather than her misshapen mistress. A lesson for us all.
The Quest (1996): The oddest choice this year was this really none-too-bad Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick. It’s set in the ‘20s, and really more of an old-fashioned adventure movie melded with a martial arts film. It's sort of like a Mortal Combat (which would be a great B-Fest movie) set in a non-fantasy milieu. Van Damme sneaks into a tournament of The World’s Greatest Fighters and kicks ass. Duh. About the only real problem with the film is that Jean-Claude himself directed it, and couldn’t resist taking the over-arty approach. (Enough gliding helicopter shots, already!) Still, compared to fellow action-maven Steven Seagal’s ego-romp On Deadly Ground, this is a masterpiece. This was obviously meant to kick off an Indiana Jones-esque series featuring Chris Du Bois, the Van Damme character, but it came out just as the action cycle was dying. In any case, I had seen this when it was first released, and so quickly fell asleep during the proceedings.
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961): A Roger Corman flick. If I ever saw this whole thing, it was as a wee kid, and I don’t remember much of it. (Although I know it’s pretty much a remake of the previous year’s Beast from the Haunted Cave. Corman recycled years before it was fashionable.) Still, it was too little to ultimately rouse me from my slumber.
Short: I Want a Job. Coming awake now. This laughable short, much like the ones that they used to mock on Mystery Science Theater 3000, featured a beyond-square job interview/hiring dude for a faceless corporation reviewing various twentysomethings trying for a corporate position. (The women, of course, all seem to be going for secretarial jobs.) Of course, only the most earnest of them meet with his approval. Apparently made before the concept of ‘irony’ had been invented.
Short: What is Communism?: Sure, Communism left behind 85-100,000,000 corpses in less than eighty years. (Anyone wishing to dispute those figures should first consult the recently published Black Book of Communism.) Still, we Americans made comically hamfisted propaganda shorts ("Oh, yeah. Alger Hiss was a spy! I’m so sure!"), so who are we to judge? And yes, they had Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot in the bad old days, but we had Joe McCarthy, right? (Of course, those who think we no longer blacklist people in the entertainment industry for their personal beliefs should talk to John Rocker.) Still, after three years of running this short, can’t we move on and find a hilariously exaggerated propaganda short about, say, Auschwitz, or KKK lynchings? You know, just for freshness sake?
It Came From Outer Space (1953): Shown in the original 3-D, this suffered from the fact that the right, red lens on the provided cardboard glasses were way too dark. This made watching the film rather a chore. An intelligent, earnest plea for understanding those different from us, and thus a tad wordy for this crowd. We perhaps would have been better served by a cheesier 3-D presentation, such as Cat Women of the Moon. (Robot Monster, another obvious choice, gets too much play at B-Fest already.) Aliens crash land on Earth (in 3-D!) and take on human form, trying to get out of Dodge before suspicious humans find out and cause trouble. Sci-Fi perennial Richard Carlson is the one guy who trusts the aliens. Overall, a well-made ‘50s sci-fi meller.
Son of Blob (1972): The second biggest hit at this year’s B-Fest, this has been promised for years but never made it before. Very poorly and cheaply directed by Larry Hagman (and later re-released as "The film J.R. shot", ha, ha), Hagman and a collection of his buddies make cameos, including a pre-Laverne and Shirley Cindy Williams, Godfrey Cambridge, Burgess Meredith, Carol Lynley, Garrit Graham (currently on the excellent Now & Again TV show) and more, all of whom get eaten. In the one truly funny laser pointer gag this year, the opening footage of a frolicking kitten was overlaid to make it appear to be gamboling after a pointer-generated mouse. This is then followed by a rather nauseating bit in which said kitty gets et by the Blob. Our protoplasmic protagonist was apparently brought back as a mysterious sample from the Arctic, where it was deposited at the end of the first film. Here, however, it’s none-too-brightly removed from Cambridge’s freezer. (Given the danger of this thing, which could really more or less destroy all life on Earth, wouldn’t someone be guarding it?) For some reason, this sequel took fourteen years to appear. Still, it’s better than the 1988 remake. AKA: Beware! The Blob
Short: The Raven: A much-truncated version of the 1935 Karloff/Lugosi flick. A significantly younger yet still middle-aged looking Hume Cronyn makes an appearance here, fifty years before he appeared in Cocoon. Unfortunately, the hilarious ‘Raven’ ballet scene was snipped. I’m sure most people were just confused by this. "Poe, you are avenged!"
Short: Red Nightmare: Another ‘50s anti-Red propaganda short, narrated by the one and only Jack Webb. One time I got to see Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator at a revival theater. An anti-Hitler piece made before we went to war, what struck me most were the scenes depicting life in a concentration camp. Although Chaplin was a bold early critic of Hitler’s, his idea of what a concentration camp must be like proved to be wildly inaccurate. It included sizable rooms containing spiffy bunks for all the ‘inmates,’ an exercise yard, and regular mail call. Red Nightmare features a similar underestimation of how dismal life in a totalitarian regime is. The short portrays an archetypal American family man in an It’s a Wonderful Life knock-off. Jack Webb shows us what his life would be like were America suddenly under the Soviet Communist system. Again, though, it utterly ignores the sheer drudgery of life under Communism. Everyone here still lives in their spacious middle-class homes and continues to eat sumptuous American-style family dinners. No one has to stand in line all day hoping to get some toilet paper or potatoes. Meanwhile, when Our Hero goes on trial for sedition, he is afforded a surprising amount of leeway, including the right to question witnesses and make speeches, before being summarily shot. Anyway, given the fantasy nature of the piece, and since this hadn’t appeared at B-Fest before, nor featured the spectacle of my audience-mates laughing uproariously over photos of Soviet mass graves, I found this a lot more amusing than What is Communism?
Five Million Years to Earth (1967): AKA Quatermass and the Pit. This quite fabulous sci-fi classic was made the same year as Kubrick’s 2001, and featured many of the same general themes, particularly that Man is the product of alien genetic tampering. Andrew Keir is Quatermass here, and significantly better than the American Brian Donlevy, who played him in two earlier films. Oddly, though, it's actor James Donald who gets top billing and performs more of the ‘hero’ type of stuff. The intricate script by Nigel Kneale, mixing as usual science and the occult, is a masterpiece. Still, I think some found the piece a little too intellectual (i.e., you had to follow the plot, since it was one of the few films here that had one) for this venue.
Teenage Caveman (1958): Like most Corman classics, this is a ‘youth’ picture inserted into a genre pic. Future Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughan chafes against the rules of the un-hip old cave dudes. He thus strikes his way into the inevitably taboo Lands-Across-The-River (where he proves his elders right by immediately getting some of his pals killed, although this is glossed over). Can he bring his tribe into the future?
Short: The Wizard of Speed and Time: The Wizard drops back in for one final visit.
Slime People (1963): The opening shot of an underground platform rising to the surface instantly identified this to me. Slime People features a none-too-slimy race of vaguely reptilian underground dwellers (The Morlocks, basically) who plan to capture the surface world. To this end, they enshroud Los Angeles with a machine that both creates a force field over the city while lowering the temperature to temps comfortable to their kind. Meanwhile, a handful of survivors fight to save the Human Race. Or something.
Faster Pussycat…Kill! Kill! (1966): This year’s Russ Meyers movie, luckily, wasn’t Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. This is good camp, as it’s played insanely straight. Tura Satana, star of former B-Fest fodder Astro-Zombies, as well as Doll Squad, headlines as a crazy, karate chopping nutbag with huge cleavage. Haji is her infatuated, apparently lesbian-inclined follower who has huge cleavage (to her chagrin, Tura swings both ways). The third member of their party is the horny Lori Williams, an extremely hot blond with slightly more plausible breasts. She wore a tank-top, so her huge cleavage wasn’t, unfortunately, on display. Although her midriff is nothing to sneeze at. (This description might indicate why Sue Wright didn’t like the movie as much as the rest of us.) Anyway, Tura whips a guy’s ass in a drag-race, then beats the guy to death when he resents it. She grabs the guy’s girlfriend, a rather young looking lady who wears only a bikini and has huge cleavage, and goes on the lam. They end up with at the secluded ranch of a crippled old-timer with some issues about women, and covertly search for the coot’s supposed hidden treasure. Meanwhile, Lori gets the hots for the guy’s Lenny-esque (ala Of Mice and Men) huge-but-retarded son. Death and mayhem are sure to follow, although the film is actually quite reserved in the nudity-and-sex department (i.e., there isn’t any). To further get across what kind of film this is, it turned out that the aspect ratio of the print was such that the entire vertical image wouldn’t fit onto the screen. When the film started, this resulted in the characters’ heads being cut off during long and medium shots. However, such was the, uh, talents of the lead actresses that no one seemed to mind this slight flaw. (Although this might have become more obnoxious had they not, roughly ten minutes into the film, moved to cut the bottom of the picture off, instead of the top.)
We gingerly drive over to my Mom’s house, through the gently falling snow. This time we had plenty of cars. In addition to those that drove down to B-Fest, Paul, his brother-in-law Dave and Andrew were all now there with cars. Rob, as noted, was quite ill, and took himself, Al, Kurt and Diana to a local Ramada for the night. However, we were also joined for the evening by a couple of the guys from the Wayfarer Online site. My brakes seemed none-too-good, setting up my borrowing of one of the Smith-mobiles for the series of ‘return to the airport’ trips the next day. My Mom not only vacated the house, but left behind coffee and a big tray of sweet rolls and donuts. My mom - think I’ll keep her.
I failed to get reservations for our huge crowd at Gino’s East, as planned, so we just ordered in pizza and sandwiches from Little Villa, which worked just as well. Meanwhile, Andrew and Andy led an expedition to procure liquor. Not that much of it got drunk (since more than a beer or two would have knocked out most of us), but it nicely loosened up those inclined to imbibe. Andy also manfully worked the cheesy air-pump we used to inflate a couple of air mattresses we had. What a guy!
We mostly clumped in two main groups and yakked for the coming hours. (Meanwhile, the nefarious Scott worked on his B-Fest article.) Finally, around midnight, I took Jeff Witham and Mark back to my place, to reduce the crowding. I slept the sleep of the dead. Luckily, I got a couple of extra hours because Sue, who is sweeter than sugar, volunteered to take a cab from her motel to the airport for her early morning flight.
After a decent if inadequate amount of sleep, I headed back to Mom’s, beginning the long chain of airport trips. At some point, I went and collected Kurt and Diana so that they could hang out until they were dropped at the El station for their return trip to Midway airport. Rob and Al, with the former still recuperating, never made it by before they drove their rental car back to the airport. Still, Al called later and let me know everything went jake.
Back at Mom’s, Andy entertained the assembled with Star Crash (David Hasselhoff! Caroline Munro! Marjoe Gortner! Christopher Plummer! Light sabers! Cartoon ‘telepathy’ beams! A robot with a cowboy accent!), whilst I played one last round of the "Love Will Keep Us Together" number from Sextette, to make sure that the Stomp Tokyo guys didn’t miss it. (Andy hid under my Mom’s low-lying living room table at this point. If his wife ever gets a copy of this movie, the balance of power in that household will irrevocably shift.)
So the day went, pretty much a series of car trips to O’Hare. Still, it gave me a last chance to gab with folks, especially the Stomp Tokyo crew, who I never got much time with. Finally, only Jeff and Andy were left. Circa 5:30 p.m., I took Jeff to O’Hare, and Andy began his lonely drive back to Atlanta. Unfortunately, I still had Paul’s car, so I had to drive it back to his house before getting a ride home myself so that I could finally crash. Around 9:30, I did, and slept for a straight twelve hours or more. Sans car, I puttered around my trailer for three days, finally returning to work on Thursday. And that’s my story.
To the good folks at Northwestern’s A&O Film Board, the student body that runs B-Fest every year, for making the event happen. Especially to Matt Bradford, the mastermind behind the last three events. He graduates this year, and while we’ll miss his dedication and brilliant line-ups, we’ll be glad to welcome him into the audience with us next year. Thanks, as always, to Slide Whistle Man, perennially the funniest fellow at B-Fest. Class work, as always, my mysterious friend. And, finally, a big thanks to my Mom for providing her house and more for the post-Fest events.
See ya next year, folks.