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Another year over, and a new one just begun. You might use January 1 to demarcate one year from the next. I use B-Fest, Northwestern University’s annual 24-hour marathon of “B-movies.” This weekend marked my fifth consecutive year of staying up 39 consecutive hours with little more than Coca-Cola, Hostess products and lunchmeat sandwiches for sustenance. This year, Tolemite, Kevin and I introduced five new B-Festers to the event: Chicken, Stiner, Grady, Liz and Lara. All (except Lara, who had a Saturday appointment) survived to the end, as brutal as the journey may have been, and deserve much applause for their patience, stamina and sportsmanship.
Like last year, I arrived at B-Fest two hours early, which I highly recommend. It gives you an opportunity to stake out comfortable seating, survey the crowd for crazies to stay away from and hotties to scope, and relax a bit before diving right in. Change into some lounging clothes, arrange your munchies for easy, quiet access. There isn’t much time allotted between features to stretch with the lights on, so it’s good to get comfortable while you can.
If you don’t know, B-Fest is a communal experience where you don’t just watch movies, but shout at the screen MST3K-style. Some of these movies can only be endured in this manner, although the image and audio are good enough that you can follow the films if you’re not familiar with them. Screaming at something like SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 is very cathartic, believe me. The downside is that you’ll be surrounded by people who are not nearly as funny as you are, and sometimes their jokes are worse than the movie you’re all screaming at. Most of the movies are 16mm prints, although an occasional 35mm print is shown. B-Fest has traditionally been all-celluloid, but there is discussion of adding DVD projection next year. I see the pros and cons of this, and if it happens, I’ll approach it with an open mind.
At 6:00pm Friday, B-Fest 2006 got off to a strong start with SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR SPACE, a good B-Fest movie, since it has a lot of action, familiar actors, a stupid premise, and much to mock. Christopher Reeve returned to play Superman only on the condition that the producers use his anti-nuke story, so the clumsy slapstick humor held over from SUPERMAN III and the cheapo special effects and lack of attention to detail common to producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus mix awkwardly with a mawkish plot about Superman tossing all the world’s nuclear weapons into outer space and then fighting a nuclear-powered supervillain created by escaped con Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). Yes, this is a Cannon movie. There’s also Jon Cryer as Luthor’s annoying Valley dude nephew Lenny Luthor (!), Mariel Hemingway as a debutante who falls for Clark Kent, and John Williams’ music rearranged and conducted by Alexander Courage. It’s bad, but enjoyable schlock. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be better than the upcoming SUPERMAN RETURNS.
CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was a controversial choice, if only because it’s too good for B-Fest. In all, this year’s lineup was the weakest of my five B-Fests with many movies being too good and others being too bad (as in, not entertainingly bad, just boring). There’s also a continuing trend of adding too many selections from the ‘80s and ‘90s. At least CREATURE was shown in 3D. We even got free glasses. I don’t think the 3D really worked all that well (it was the red/blue kind), although Julie Adams in a swimsuit in 3D should be experienced by all. You should know the story by now: an expedition exploring the Amazon runs across a unique half-man/half-fish in an extraordinary costume designed by the Universal special effects department. Adams is in love with Richard Carlson, but hotheaded Richard Denning has the hots for her too. For that matter, so does the creature, who stalks her in a lovingly filmed underwater sequence. Great movie given not-so-great treatment.
GODZILLA, the horrid 1998 American version starring Matthew Broderick, is a good example of a movie that doesn’t work at B-Fest. It’s too long, too dull, not fun, and an insult to B-Fest’s audience, who are there precisely because they love movies like the Toho Godzilla series. This movie was like a kidney punch to monster fans when it came out. Nobody wants to see this version of GODZILLA anyway--do you know anyone who has it in their collection?--but B-Festers certainly don’t. Broderick is a Greek (?) biologist who is recruited by the army to stop a giant lizard from destroying New York City. The military fires him (?) after his old flame, a dizzy wannabe TV journalist played by the supremely untalented Maria Pitillo, steals some top-secret info from him (I swear, it was a VHS tape with TOP SECRET written in big letters on the label) and airs it. Broderick is then kidnapped by the French Secret Service (!), in the personage of Jean Reno, and invade Madison Square Garden, which is overrun with dozens of baby ‘Zillas hatched from eggs. Directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin, each of whom was the recipient of copious booing when their credits flashed on-screen.
THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME is a short made by a California-based visual effects whiz named Mike Jittlov. He also made a feature version, but this is the original short, a delightful FX-filled fantasy. In B-Fest tradition (I don’t know why), the short plays while much of the audience lies on the stage and stomps their collective feet in time to the music. Then the short is run backwards and upside down with more stomping. Doesn’t make sense to me. WOSAT is good enough to stand on its own.
Midnight always brings about PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which is a ROCKY HORROR-like experience filled with props and preprogrammed audience responses to the film. Even if you’ve seen it a zillion times, you should still experience it with a barrage of paper plates flying 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 and jokes. To Johnson‘s appearances are met with shouts of “Tor!” Scenes with Bela Lugosi and his body double are met with “Bela!” and “Not Bela!” The strangest battle is between audience members who argue whether Gregory Walcott‘s patio furniture is made from wicker or rattan. “Because people of Earth are idiots!”
The post PLAN 9 slot is usually blaxploitation. Unfortunately, they ran COFFY again, which ran here three years ago. I have no argument against COFFY, which is great for B-Fest: wild dialogue, action, nudity, crazy fashions, funky music and the sexy Pam Grier. Shouting was at a minimum, I think because the crowd was really into it. However, there’s enough blaxploitation out there that they could have gotten something else.
I must admit, I saw very little of GAS! OR IT BECAME NECESSARY TO DESTROY THE WORLD IN ORDER TO SAVE IT. This was in the HIERONYMOUS MERKIN/BEAUTY AND THE ROBOT/ALICE IN WONDERLAND slot, which is usually filled with something obscure, unusual and often unbearable. GAS!, one of Roger Corman’s last movies as a director, appears to be an aimless, pretentious youth allegory about an American Southwest devoid of human beings over the age of 25 (they were killed by a strange gas). It’s on DVD, so maybe I’ll give it another shot in a proper context someday, but it took the opportunity to wander around the facility and spend some time cooling off in the lobby while it ran.
The deep hurting continued with TROMEO AND JULIET, which is, IMO, too extreme and rough for B-Fest. Being a Troma production, you know immediately what you’re getting into: gore, profanity, sex, cannibalism, incest, bodily fluids, close-ups of nipples being pierced. I only watched it with one eye open, since I thought this would be a good time to grab a nap. It didn’t really work, as the audience’s groans whenever something gross occurred had me glancing at the screen out of curiosity. I was usually sorry.
I hate Prince. So you can imagine what I thought of GRAFFITI BRIDGE, an extremely self-indulgent musical that Prince wrote, directed and starred in. A good drinking game would be to drink whenever Prince the director awards Prince the actor with a closeup. It feels like a remake of PURPLE RAIN with Morris Day back talking shit to Prince and Prince’s girlfriend (Ingrid Chavez) getting killed. I hated PURPLE RAIN too.
GRAFFITI BRIDGE is too boring and superficial for B-Fest. EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY is just too uninteresting. In fact, it’s a pleasant little comedy that provides a bit of fun, but it isn’t remarkable or memorable in any sense, except for the many scenes with Geena Davis wearing a tiny bikini. It also stars Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans at a period in their careers when nobody knew who they were (IN LIVING COLOR was still a couple of years away). Carrey, Wayans and Jeff Goldblum are colorful, furry aliens who crash their spaceship in Geena’s swimming pool and become fish-out-of-water as she battles cheating boyfriend Charles Rocket and hangs with horny pal “Just Say” Julie Brown, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
Now RHINESTON seems like it was tailor-made for B-Fest. Two big stars, one absurd premise, plenty to mock. Country singer Dolly Parton bets her sleazebag manager (a typically OTT Ron Leibman) that she can transform a loutish taxi driver (Sylvester Stallone) into a country-western star in two weeks. Yep, Sly Stallone plays a country singer. Awesome! Apparently you all have to do to become an expert at it is spend two weeks on a farm, where romantic rival Tim Thomerson (yeah!) teaches him to walk like a country singer by pretending you have jock itch. The beauty of RHINESTONE is that it forces you to believe that, when Stallone sings at the climax to thunderous applause from an appreciative audience, he’s a much better singer that he was earlier before Dolly went all Henry Higgins on him. Of course, he still sucks as a singer, and you know damn well this movie only exists because Stallone, a huge star then, decided he wanted to sing in a movie, and no Hollywood sycophant had the balls to tell him what a terrible idea that was. RHINESTONE, directed by Bob Clark, is also notable for Sly’s bizarre T-shirt collection, which had us in stitches.
COBRA WOMAN was disappointing in that it was filmed in Technicolor, but we received a black-and-white TV print. It’s kinda talky for B-Fest purposes, but I’d like to check it out again something under optimal conditions. Jon Hall and sidekick Sabu journey to a South Seas island to retrieve Hall’s fiance Maria Montez. Turns out she was nabbed by Maria’s evil twin (!), who plans to sacrifice her to her people’s cobra god and then steal Hall for herself. A lot of swinging on ropes and rubber snakes in this one, plus Lon Chaney as a heavy.
Dear God. BABY GENIUSES may well be the worst Hollywood film to ever receive a sequel, and SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 might be the worst sequel. I don’t even know for what audience it was made. Jon Voight (!), of all people, plays an evil German (who talks like Werner Klemperer) who plans to brainwash the world’s babies with subliminal messages in a TV commercial. He’s opposed by an 8-year-old secret agent who recruits for diaper-clad babies to be his sidekicks and imbues them with superpowers and costumes. I understand why Scott Baio and Vanessa Angel would be hard-up enough to star in this, but I don’t know why Voight is here, except I see from the Internet Movie Database than the blond teen hottie who plays the babysitter is Voight’s goddaughter. Giving her a help up perhaps? Talking babies always suck, but talking babies that fly helicopters and know kung fu achieve new levels of suck.
Only one more movie to go, and it was a controversial choice. Much too good for B-Fest, it still worked out well, because it played in the traditional “monster movie” slot and served as a bit of a cleanser after 22 ? hours of crap. 1933’s KING KONG is a remarkable film. The 16mm print is terribly washed out; I was spoiled by watching Warner’s pristine, detail-filled DVD a few weeks ago. It was still fun to see with an appreciative audience.
B-Fest is also punctuated by a number of obscure short films that fill time between features. Most of these are disposable at best, but two of them were really interesting. One was Alan Arkin’s 1969 Oscar-nominated PEOPLE SOUP, which stars his sons Adam and Matthew as brothers who mix together incompatible kitchen items to create a soup that transforms them into animals. It’s a sweet, funny fantasy. Also of note was TOMB ITMAY CONCERN, a kitschy piece starring the very short Little Jack Little. It was unfortunately cut off well before the end, which was a shame. It was silly but watchable, an odd piece of Hollywood history, plus I understand there was an Egyptian princess in the tomb who does a striptease, but we never got to see it. Drat.
KING KONG finished around 5:45pm Saturday, and it was off to Leona’s on Sheridan for our customary post-fest bloating in the form of heavy Italian food. I always get more or less the same thing, which is a giant bowl of pasta covered in tomato sauce, sausage 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 rainy, but Chicken and I make it in good time, inside, unloaded and unpacked well before 11pm. Time to sleep and, more importantly, brush my teeth and shower.
Only 364 more days to B-Fest 2007.