Now Playing: 15 Great Features
Sunday morning and another B-Fest has come and gone. For the fourth consecutive year, I managed to stave off hunger, restlessness, sleep deprivation and pangs of common sense to experience another 24-hour period of the worst Hollywood has to offer. I must be getting used to B-Fest, because I slept less than ever, just one hour. From 10am Friday to 12:30am Sunday--a period of 38 ? hours--I slept only one hour. I slept about nine hours this morning, waking up a bit woozy and stiff, but with the injection of a chicken sandwich, some Fig Newtons and a tasty Red Can, I'm finally getting into my day.
B-Fest got off to an earlier start than usual for us, since Tolemite and I arrived two hours early (and, by the way, Toler will more than likely be printing his B-Fest experiences on his blog, so go read it.). I had never even gotten to B-Fest on time before, much less early, and even though I'm sure my rush to get to Evanston was wearing on Toler's nerves, he bore it well and we arrived before 4pm. My friend Kevin was working Friday and would meet us there as close to 6pm as he could. B-Fest takes place at Northwestern University's Norris Center, the student union, in its auditorium, which is a surprisingly comfortable place to watch movies.
Getting to B-Fest early allowed Toler and me to pick a decent spot and spread out, encumbered as we were with pillows, backpacks, coolers, etc. We also got to examine the crowd, which is mostly made up of pasty, overweight white guys. There are more women than you might think at B-Fest--I'd say about 65-35 in favor of men--and many of them are quite attractive. A young man approaches us and wants to chat a bit; he's Matt Singer, who writes the Good, the Bad and the Ugly movie review column for Kevin Smith's Movie Poop Shoot Web site. He seems pleased that I've read his work before. His brother is an organizer of B-Fest this year, and he came in from New York to write about B-Fest for the site.
Toler and I also end up in front of the Gymkata Guys this year. Kevin and I sat near these guys at our first B-Fest in 2002, and dubbed them the Gymkata Guys because, for the rest of the festival after seeing GYMKATA, these loudmouths would shout "Gymkata!" during every action scene and then laugh their asses off like it's the first time they've ever heard it. B-Fest is very much an audience participation event; you don't watch the films so much as experience them and share your thoughts with the audience, MST3K-style. And that's fine, except these guys are so spectacularly unfunny and obnoxious you want to strangle them. One thing they do is repeat the same lines over and over again, assuming that a line that isn't funny once will be hilarious the 48th time. It isn't. Strangely, they laugh just as hard the 48th time as they do the first.
Finally it's 6pm, and B-Fest 2005 is underway with EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), a fun SF film pitting the U.S. military against alien spacecraft animated by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The fact that the invasion occurs as a result of the Americans' Shoot First and Ask Questions Later military strategy is not lost on the crowd, which shouts out rallying cries of "Dick Cheney's America!" and "U.S.A! U.S.A!" at regular intervals. Someone always brings a slide whistle to B-Fest, which makes a hilarious debut after star Hugh Marlowe's amorous advances are rebuffed by his no-nonsense wife, played by Joan Taylor. EARTH follows the basic structure of most `50s SF movies, as plenty of talk and stiff performances permeate the occasional rousing special effects sequences, but Marlowe (in the Richard Carlson/John Agar) role is pretty good, and Harryhausen's stop-motion saucers that slice through Washington, D.C. landmarks are very cool.
Early in the film, Toler returns from the Norris Center food court with two slices of pizza from Sbarro, which he claims is Italian for "shitty pizza". Considering our diets for the next day will consist of lunchmeat sandwiches, Lunchables, cookies, Frito's, Ding Dongs, crackers, water, Coca-Cola, etc., I bet that Sbarro was sounding pretty good 12 hours later.
Ever wonder what a homoerotic disco/glam rock musical made by Cannon would be like? THE APPLE (1980) answers that question and many more, like did Menahem Golan, one-half of Cannon's Golan/Globus masthead, ever have any taste? I saw THE APPLE last year on MGM's DVD after hearing about its notoriety as an awful musical for years, and it undoubtedly lives up (or, rather, down) to its reputation. It receives occasional theatrical distribution on Bad Movie marquees, and B-Fest received a beautiful 35mm print. I wasn't surprised to see the B-Fest crowd really get into it, because THE APPLE is visually vapid and ideologically simplistic. It's one of the ugliest films I've ever seen, awash with putrid costuming, garish makeup (face-painting being all the rage in THE APPLE's 1994 setting) and cheap sets. The dialogue penned by Golan is laughable, as are the performances. Most importantly, the songs--the be-all and end-all in every movie musical--are among the most insipid ever performed on the big screen, a mixture of pop, disco, rap and even reggae tossed into the mix. Kevin, who finally showed up during THE APPLE, Toler and I were still talking the next evening about the ending, which stretches Golan's hamfisted allegory to its breaking point. To give THE APPLE some due, its story of teenage performers being perverted by powerful media conglomerates and reshaped and presented as prefabricated stars far removed from their alleged art is as timely today as it ever was. You have only to look at Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and the Backstreet Boys to see that.
The night's first short follows. MASCULINE OR FEMININE: YOUR ROLE IN SOCIETY is from Coronet and examines 1970's-era gender roles. Between the hilariously dated fashions and an older generation's "barefoot and pregnant" attitude towards women, there's a lot here to enjoy.
"It's on a completely different sonic level!" Irwin Allen's THE SWARM (1978) is next. One of the funniest movies I've ever seen, THE SWARM pits bee expert Michael Caine and the U.S. Air Force against a swarm of African killer bees that are ripping a deadly swath across the Southwest, even exploding a nuclear power plant and killing tens of thousands of people. THE SWARM also offers hallucinations of giant floating bees, Caine's turtlenecks and a ridiculous septuagenarian love story. There's no room to list all of THE SWARM's hilarious moments, but a few would be General Richard Widmark's ordering roadblocks to stop the bees (do bees drive?), a plan to kill millions of bees by having six guys in flamethrowers walk around Houston torching buildings (which might work if bees only flew seven feet off the ground), and the tendency of bee victims to have the same sweaty hallucination: a giant bee hovering and buzzing in front of them! I wish I could have been on the set the day Caine had to "talk down" a bee sighting the way he might an acid tripper with, "There's no bee there. I promise you. It's all right. There's no bee there."
Time for the annual prize giveaway, and for the second straight year, my number is called. Last year I got a ridiculous sleeveless INTOLERABLE CRUELTY T-shirt (which no one has ever seen me wear). This time, it's a used VHS copy of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, which I need like a hole in the head, since I already have the DVD.
Next is the annual screening of Mike Jittlov's wonderful short, THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME. I've never understood this B-Fest tradition, which I'm sure goes back a long way, but, during WIZARD, much of the audience lies on the stage in front of the screen and stomps their feet to Jittlov's score. Then, WIZARD is reshown, but backwards and upside-down. I think it's a great little film, and I'd just as soon watch it again the way it was intended to be.
Midnight always brings about PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), which is a ROCKY HORROR-like experience filled with props and preprogrammed audience responses to the film. I've seen PLAN 9 so many times that this is perhaps the best way to watch it. What everyone should experience is the barrage of paper plates that fly through the air whenever one of director Ed Wood's cheap pie-plate flying saucers whizzes across the screen. You haven't lived until you've seen hundreds of paper plates whipping past your head. After the film, the auditorium floor will be littered with thousands of paper plates, many inscribed with messages ranging from philosophical one-liners, bits of PLAN 9 dialogue, jokes and even the phone number of a female B-Fester (I should have kept that one). "Can you prove that it didn't happen?!"
1:30 am. Time for blaxploitation. It was THE MONKEY HUSTLE last year and COFFY the year before. We were supposed to see BLACK BELT JONES, but print availability forced a last-minute schedule change to BLACK CAESAR (1973) in a good-looking 35mm print. This Larry Cohen movie is probably too good for B-Fest; it's a thinly disguised remake of LITTLE CAESAR with a strong performance by Fred Williamson in the title role and an uncomfortable amount of racially charged dialogue. The kickass score is by James Brown. The Gymkata Guys hate this movie, forcing me to accept that they are dumber than I supposed.
Another short follows. Someone named Pedro de Cordoba presents FORBIDDEN DESIRE, a `30s syphilis short.
Not even Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld can save THE BEAUTY AND THE ROBOT, a bad 1960 comedy directed by the taste-challenged Albert Zugsmith (COLLEGE CONFIDENTIAL) and also known as SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE. Although I could honestly stare at Mamie and Tuesday for the film's (long) 94-minute running time, Zugsmith had to ruin it by occasionally replacing these stunning blondes in front of the camera with the likes of Mickey Shaughnessy, Jackie Coogan, Louis Nye, Martin Milner, John Carradine and Woo Woo Grabowski. I guess Mamie is the "beauty". The "robot" doesn't do very much. A monkey dances and plays drums. The gaunt Carradine jitterbugs.
The film's only highlight is the B-Fest organizers' decision to interrupt BEAUTY in the middle with a pornographic animated short from the 1920's. Out of nowhere, we were inundated with black-and-white cartoon images of Crumbian men with enormous genitals pounding away at women who pull crabs out of their vagina. At one point, a crab bites down on the guy's crank, causing the penis to run away on its testicles. A Mexican in a sombrero fucks a donkey. A guy sticks his dick into a knothole in a fence and gets orally copulated by a horse. My eyes are burning out of my head, and my head is hurting as I find myself growing genuinely curious about who the warped minds were who made it and where would you go to see it in 1928?
Another B-Fest highlight is DEATH WISH 3 (1985) at 4:45am. This is a great bad film that shows police as either incompetent or corrupt as an aging Charles Bronson roams the streets of New York (actually a British backlot that looks about as "New York" as Omaha does) killing aging punkers. The body count is pretty high in this film that could almost be called GRAND THEFT AUTO: DEATH WISH; it looks like a video game when Bronson starts picking off bad guys with his enormous pistol that he named "Wildey". When Bronson says, "I think I'll go down and get some ice cream," we scream with the anticipation that comes with knowing that Bronson isn't just going to get ice cream. The crowd notes surprise at recognizing Marina Sirtis, Troi in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, during her topless rape scene (Cannon head Menahem Golan waxed poetic about the artiness of this completely exploitative rape scene in a book about the studio), and Bronson's many murders, presented by DW3 as a necessary deterrent to crime, receive appreciative cheers. Especially from me.
I finally dozed off a bit after 6am during PROJECT MOON BASE (1953). I hadn't seen this one, but I had to take a break sometime. It runs only 63 minutes, so considering that I saw the opening titles and some of the ending, I couldn't have slept more than an hour. The star, Donna Martell, is very attractive in the tight red T-shirt, white shorts, and bullet bra that represents her space-travel wardrobe.
That was all the sleep I needed as we rolled into a good 35mm print of 3 NINJAS: HIGH NOON AT MEGA MOUNTAIN (1998), which stars Hulk Hogan (!) as a TV superhero who finds himself making a personal appearance at an amusement park that is taken hostage by terrorists led by Loni Anderson (!!) and Jim Varney!!! This is the fourth 3 NINJAS movie and stars three brothers--Rocky, Colt and Tum-Tum--ranging in age from about 14 to 7, who are martial-arts experts and end up kicking the asses of all the terrorists. Loni, who looks incredible from the neck down in her high boots, skintight black leather dominatrix outfit and massive cleavage, is pretty frightening in her close-ups, due to whatever malpractice her plastic surgeon committed upon her. Varney and Hogan are entertaining and fun in this well-paced adventure that's actually pretty good, considering its budget and target audience. I bet children would probably get a kick out of this movie, which may be too violent for some parents, even though there's no blood or gunplay. There's also a radio control helicopter, which let Toler and me make some Horizon Hobby cracks.
9am is a half-hour breakfast break. I take the opportunity to change my socks, underwear and T-shirt, which helps me feel a little cleaner. At 9:30, B-Fest continues with ROBOT MONSTER (1953), an amazing story of a gorilla in a diving helmet who destroys with his "calcinator death ray" all of Earth's population, except for one family that happens to be camping a few yards away from his hideout in Bronson Caverns. The dialogue is priceless, particularly in the conversations Ro-Man has with his boss, The Great One, as the robot/monkey/alien begins feeling human "urges" towards the comely Earthwoman Claudia: "I cannot, yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do "must" and "cannot" meet? Yet I must, but I cannot."
YEA, VERILY! is an arty short by Christopher Quilters. I have no idea what it means. Google comes up empty on the film.
CLASS OF NUKE `EM HIGH (1986) is shown in 35mm and is pretty good for a Troma movie. It's pretty brainless, but offers some nudity, cheap gags, mild gore, loud music and a similar plot to THE TOXIC AVENGER. "I don't give a wet fart what you think," bellows a fat nuclear power plant exec who's unworried about contaminating the high school next door and turning the students into mutated sex machines. Troma isn't really my bag, although I do admire the way the studio has managed to strive on the outskirts of the filmmaking community, churning out its unique point of view in productions that look more professional than much of its Hollywood competition.
ADVENTURES OF NEEKA (1969) is among the oddest B-Fest offerings. It's a compilation of three 1969 LASSIE episodes in which the collie appeared with a young Aleut boy named Neeka. It takes place in a California national forest, where Lassie lives with her master, Forest Ranger Scott (Jed Allan). And for a film that plays up the "adventure" aspect in its title, not a whole helluva lot happens. In the first "episode", Neeka and Scott spend the night in a ghost town where the lad becomes scared of the wind and by holes in the wall. Nothing happens to them and Lassie is superfluous to the story. Next, Neeka becomes bored while teasing Lassie and thinks he can drive his adopted father's truck. He ends up blowing it up, causing the horses to escape into the forest. Neeka, Lassie and his pissed-off dad chase them. Lassie is more or less superfluous. And, finally, while collecting leaves for a homework assignment, Neeka meets a crusty hermit (R.G. Armstrong) who invites him and Lassie in for freshly baked bread. Later, the old bastard falls into the lake and is halfassedly hauled out by Lassie, who goes for help (off screen). Giving this non-action a hallucinatory quality is the fact that some reels are out of order, making the "story" even more garbled.
In THE ICE PIRATES (1984), Robert Urich does a feature-length Burt Reynolds impression as a cocky, charming rogue whose band of merry men steal the universe's most valuable substance, water, for a price. Considering the tastelessness of director Stewart Raffill's MAC AND ME, it's no surprise this smirky SF comedy offers a space herpe, racist humor, gay jokes and a horribly arthritic John Carradine. Mary Crosby (who shot J.R.) is sexy in it, the special effects better than many of today's bigger-budgeted releases, and one clever conceit sets an action scene within a time warp where everyone is rapidly aging.
Only two more to go after a brief b&w short about a trick golfer. IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) has an impressive opening and an intriguing premise that may have influenced ALIEN. Marshall Thompson is the lone survivor of a Mars exploration who is being returned to Earth by a second spacecraft that plans try him for murdering his crewmates. Thompson claims the deaths were caused by a Martian creature, and it turns out he's telling the truth when the same monster stows away about the rocket and starts murdering this crew too. While the makers of ALIEN had surely seen IT! at some point, I'm not sure their monster movie was a direct ripoff. The idea of a rampaging killer on board a spaceship was not new, even in 1958. This, however, is not too bad, considering the low budget and the lowly skill of director Edward L. Cahn (INVISIBLE INVADERS). Some of the special effects are surprisingly ambitious (shots of two astronauts walking on the outside of the ship), and the monster suit, while possessing a silly scowl on its face, is menacing enough.
I always approach the end of B-Fest with mixed feelings of relief, sorrow...and hunger. I think BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), in a nice 35mm Tri-Star print, is a great finale. It's not as good as the original BREAKIN' (a B-Fest highlight from three years ago), but I think it's impossible to dislike. Yes, it's silly, but also highly energetic, likable and disposable at worst. The super-cute Lucinda Dickey, who was probably Cannon's biggest female star, returns as Special K, with Shabba-Doo and Bugaloo Shrimp back in the hizzie as Ozone and Turbo, respectively. Considering Cannon put it together in a major hurry to capitalize on what they knew would be a shortlived fad (in fact, Cannon hyped the sequel at the end of BREAKIN'), BREAKIN' 2 holds its flimsy story together quite well in a blast of energy that includes an audacious dance sequence in a hospital in which all the patients, four sexy nurses in short skirts and even the surgeons drop what they're doing, toss aside their crutches, and let the power of the music do the healing. Obviously, none of this is intended to be taken seriously, and by the time much of the B-Fest audience has left its seat to dance on the stage along with Lucinda and Shabba and Bugaloo and even Ice-T (!), you realize that, even in the context of a Bad Movie, BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO has managed to do its job effectively.
After B-Fest, Toler, Kevin and I head down Sheridan to Leona's for our ritualistic cleansing of junk from our intestines in the form of heavy Italian food. I always get the same thing, which is a giant bowl of fusilli covered in tomato sauce, pepperoni and meatballs. It's so big I can't even finish it, but that's okay, so long as it pushes the Ding Dongs and corn chips out of my system. The drive home on I-57 is foggy, but I make it in good time, inside, unloaded and unpacked well before 11pm. Time to sleep and, more importantly, brush my teeth and shower.
And count down to days until B-Fest 2006. 364 and counting.