Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,
Benjamin
serbanj

B-fest 2012: The annual annual!

"I don't want to go..." - The Doctor (v. 10.0)

For the past nine years, I've been a Chicagoan.  I've been going to B-fest all that time (although only for the full 24 since 2006).  It was easy to make it out there, just an ‘L’ ride away.

Next year I likely won't be a Chicagoan.  I may be near-ish, or far away.  I'll be a physician in my intern year - that's not a year traditionally known for giving people much time off (although in today's age, programs allow more flexibility in scheduling than they used to).  Pretty much everything was coated this year with a layer of wistfulness, because, well, I'm conscious of the fact that this might be my last B-fest for awhile.  Maybe my last ever.

But I really hope not, and I'll do everything in my power to keep that from happening.  I don't want to not go.

I used to argue that B-fest,at least for me, wasn't about the people but about the marathon itself.  Maybe that's still the case.  I do have to say, though, the experience has been greatly enhanced in recent years by increasing association with the community at the BMBB.  This year I finally took the bus trek out to River Grove, IL (thanks again to Drip and Kelsey for the ride back) to fulfill the traditional night before experience of the Hala Kahiki Tiki Bar and South Seas Lounge.  There, the group - including me, at least this year - samples various huge drinks containing ice cream and/or five different kinds of rum whilst yelling about Star Wars and such.  It's even more fun than it sounds.  This will make it more painful to miss any future B-fests that may affect our lives in the future, and I hope that doesn't happen.

The other big memory of B-fest this year for me will be fatigue.  Psychological pain and fatigue.  It was a tough ride, and I wish I'd had the stamina to soak it up a little more thoroughly.  Just thinking about it exhausts me.

Well… we saw a bunch of films.  These are they:

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Best Of The Best (1989):  Wow.  The best opener I've ever seen at a B-fest,

it had the crowd on fire.  Incredibly dumb martial arts flick featuring a karate competition between the only two teams in the world who have any interest, the U.S. and Korea.  Various people, including Julia Roberts's brother and a slumming Kai Winn are in it, but the show is stolen by James Earl Jones as the hardass coach who demands that his fighters "eat, breathe, and shit this competition" and berates those who'd, say, take a day off to visit their comatose brothers.  Jones's repeated mentions of "the teeeam" prompted this festival's most obvious running joke: yelling "TEEEEEAM!" whenever it seemed even remotely appropriate, and at random other times over the next 24 hours.

Crowd-screen interaction was at an all time high, and we had great fun with, well, everything.  I have never seen such energy at a B-fest.  Other highlights included (partial list):

- Some sharp-eyed viewers notice that the team-selection letters offer "congradulations" to the chosen fighters.

- The movie shows the Korean team being selected.  We riff on our usual "U-S-A!" chant, instead chanting "Ko-re-a!"  We think we're being all clever and such.  The characters then begin to chant their country's name.  Great minds and all...

- A training montage features an inspirational song that desperately wishes it were "Eye Of The Tiger."  I'm one of a few people who start what turns into an massive group rendition of a full chorus of "Eye Of The Tiger."

- One character's traumatic memories feature a slow motion shot of an ice cream cone shattering on the ground.  We immediately start incorporating ice cream into our riffing, only to be amazed when the movie itself actually has the lack of self-awareness to include another deeply symbolic ice cream scene later.

- There’s a Robot Jox style ending in which our heroes lose, and everyone hugs and trades medals.  I got some laughs by doing the "if I can change..." bit from the end of Rocky IV.

Movie quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  SUPERLATIVE

-

Astro Zombies (1969):  We were warned that this one would hurt.  And it did.  How can a movie called "Astro Zombies" featuring John Carradine not be worth seeing, you may ask?  Well, how about if *nothing happens, ever*?  AZ features a minimum of zombie action (and no explanation of why the zombies are "asto") and instead devotes itself to things like an incomprehensible spy plot and long shots of things.  5 minutes of a driving montage.  Seemingly hours of John C. and his hunchback repeatedly opening panels, screwing and/or unscrewing things, and then closing those panels.  Minutes of people slowly reading things out loud.  And, the climax of the badness is a false "scare" in which we see a sequence of close ups of the following things: a movie character, a clock, a skeleton, and a closed door.  And then those four things again.  And again.  And again.  I have never been filled with more suspense about whether a movie would ever end.  I'm glad I saw this.  I never want to do so again.

Movie quality:  Bad

B-fest rating:  Good

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To Catch A Yeti (1995):  Spool up the VHS for B-fest's first TV movie ever!  And especially coming after Astro Zombies - oh, the agony.  This one is an allegedly family friendly "action"-"comedy" featuring Meat Loaf.  As was remarked upon multiple times, when Meat Loaf is the best actor in your movie, your movie is in trouble.  Also, your monster puppet is too limited if it's impossible to tell the difference between whether it's doing "happy" or "terrified."  The titular yeti is, in this case, envisioned as a Troll 2 goblin with really big feet, who forms an allegedly heart-warming bond with a little girl.  We get lots of revolting close-ups of the feet.  (Fetishist caliber shots of feet were a recurring theme of B-fest 2012, actually.)

Meanwhile, Meat Loaf plays a bumbling hunter hired by a rich family to kidnap the yeti for their kid, Wesley (whose name appears to be chosen so the script could throw around the phrase "shut up, Wesley!" as often as possible).  At one point, said obnoxious kid is shown murdering a woman.  The family-friendly movie then gets many of its laugh from having the kid get beaten up in various ways, usually by Meat Loaf.  His character quickly became the audience sympathy character, prompting "Meat Loaf!" chants after Wesley says one thing too many to him and Loaf responds accordingly. 

Movie quality:  Bad

B-fest rating:  Decent

-

Wow, those last couple hurt.  We recovered with the raffle (managed to offload some junk, didn't "win" any more) and the annual calorie-burning showing of The Wizard Of Speed And Time.  Move your feet with the Wizard!

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Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) – B-fest is partially a student-run thing given that Northwestern’s A&O Films is the organizer.  As a veteran, I occasionally wonder whether each new crop of kids will really “get” B-fest.  Which is silly given that, well, how could you not find people at a place like NU who would appreciate the joy of watching bad movies with a group for 24 hours?  Anyway, one of this year’s organizers got on stage to profusely apologize.  What was the tragedy?  Turns out they had a last-minute inability to get a 60-mm print of Plan 9, so we’d have to watch it on DVD instead.  Even though I’m indifferent to the format in which movies are shown, it was kinda heart-warming when she promised that “the top priority for B-fest 2013” would be showing Plan 9 on film again.

It's hard to find new things to say about P9FOS; we watch it every year, we make a lot of the same jokes every year.  But I soaked it up this time.  It's a classic, and if I'm not back next year, I'll miss the mass of flying plates.

Movie quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  Excellent

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Avenging Disco Godfather (1979):  Real blaxploitation again at last, in its proper post-Plan 9 spot.  This clusterfuck is heavy on fairly graphic violence, and has extended musical numbers, but no nudity.  This was my first exposure to Rudy Ray Moore and his bizarre enunciations, so spent most of my time trying to imitate his indescribable delivery of lines like “tell them what happened to Bucky, and WHAT he has HAD.”   The titular character (he’s the Disco Godfather, his name’s Tucker, and you’ll find out he’s one bad motherfucker) declares war on PCP, and raising a group of concerned citizens to “attack the wack.”  Strangely, his avenging only goes partway before he’s forcibly given some wack himself, and is driven insane.  No, really, that’s the ending.

Move quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  Good

-

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977) – Amazing.  I’d been warned that this one would be tough too, but it really wasn’t.  DB can’t decide if it wants to be an arty film or a sleazy slasher movie, but it is indeed about a killer bed.  That eats.  It lures people into its house, then “digests” them by sucking them into a pool of “acid.”  Numerous people get killed in increasingly graphic ways, whilst barely struggling.  Meanwhile, on the rare occasions that characters talk to each other, they behave in stilted, unnatural zombie-like ways.  A douchey spirit trapped in a portrait who serves as the film’s narrator will not shut up, ever.  I’d be as cranky as the Death Bed if I had to listen to that smug asshole all day. 

As slow and repetitious as Death Bed can be, I loved it as a late night B-fest film.  It was a blast to watch with those still awake.  Audience participation moments were fast and furious.  During the slow parts, we stayed amused by coming up with titles of other killer-furniture films (i.e. “Death Fridge: The Fridge That Maims”) or potential sequels (my suggestion was “Bride of Death Bed”).  When Douchey Portrait Guy introduced a flashback by asking “shall we go all the way back to the beginning, and tell how this all started?” we yelled “NO!” with one voice.   Most tasteless (ha?) joke that I laughed at came upon seeing that the latest group of victims included a black chick; someone called out “I guess the Bed has a taste for dark meat.”  Best line of the film, though, goes to Mud Puppy, though: in response to a dead character’s unsuspecting friends wondering if she’ll be hungry:  “No, she’s already ate.”

Did I mention that the sections of this film are titled “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner,” and “The Just Dessert?”  That is how amazing this movie is.  Afterwards I commented that I had a perfect B-fest buzz going, and hoped it would last, but sadly, it only carried me through one more movie.

Movie quality:  Bad

B-fest rating:  Excellent

-

Tarkan vs. the Vikings (1971) – Excitingly, Tarkan is the first foreign-language film in B-fest history, as far as I know (Turkish with English subtitles).  This was a wonderfully terrible swords-and-sea-monsters flick in which the titular Tarkan and his dog/wolf Kurt, vow revenge against Vikings in general because one of them killed Kurt’s father (also named Kurt).  Besides Vikings, there are also “Hun Turks” (?), a group of Chinese villains randomly fighting everyone else, and a band of wannabe-valkyries who eventually form an alliance with our heroes.  While Tarkan and his ally Ursula each gets captured multiple times, Kurt the dog/wolf emerges as the clear hero of the story, and was easily the audience’s favorite character.

A few particularly memorable features of Tarkan deserve a mention.  At one point, the Vikings hold an “orgy” with their unfortunate female captives, but the weird thing is that there’s no actual rape – mostly girls getting their clothes torn off and then stabbed or immolated, or, in the case of one bikini-clad woman, “tortured” by being bounced on a trampoline that the Vikings hold like a parachute.   No, I didn’t just dream that part, and other people have mentioned it too.  The other thing I want to note is the sea monster, the first of two giant octopi we’d see during the festival.  It has big googly eyes.  It’s not quite “adorable,” but it’s sort of cute, and is not even the tiniest bit menacing; I was sorry to see it die.  After Tarkan “struck” the final killing blow by diving off a tower and clearly missing an enemy, we moved on to the next film.

Movie quality:  Bad

B-fest rating:  Good

-

Mutant Hunt (1987):  Now, here’s where the problem with trying to have it all comes in.  I was excited to see this project given that apparently the director used to do gay porn and then made a few legendarily weird horror movies, or something.  But you have to sleep sometime.  This was the “5 AM Death Slot,” where the room goes eerily quiet if a movie is at all repetitious or unexciting.  Now, I refused to willingly go to sleep, but that just meant that I ended up napping, on and off, throughout the next four movies (the Norris Starbucks opens at 9 AM, but for some reason I decided to go until after lunch before caffeine).  Mutant Hunt suffered the biggest hits in terms of my missing huge chunks of movie, and then being frustrated and cranky during my wakeful periods.  I was angry at myself for napping, and angry at the movie for not holding my attention despite its incredibly fake fight scenes and near-nudity (for instance, for the main hero’s first five minutes of screen time, he’s wearing only a pair of white briefs.  The main female fighter has an outfit that’s constantly falling off.  It’s that kind of movie).  I cursed out the director for being a “sorry collection of worthless filaments” (actual line of dialogue from the movie), and sought reassurances from others that no, Mutant Hunt didn’t make any sense even if you stayed awake.

Something about Mutant Hunt kept calling to me, though, and I ended up watching it again a few days later.  It’s actually a charming, if repetitious, monument to total ineptitude.  It combines high concept and high ambitions with a budget of about $10, no one with an ability to tell a story or write a script, no one with discernable acting ability, the worst fight choreography in movie history, and perhaps the worst soundtrack I’ve ever heard (well, the most repetitious, anyway.  Every fight scene – and there are a lot of them – seems to get the same battle theme.  The whole movie is like the most tedious Super NES RPG ever.  I mean that in a good way.)

My point is that I was too tired to get the most out of Mutant Hunt, and it seems everyone else was too.  But it’s well worth watching at a time that’s not 5 AM, if you have just enough of a masochistic streak.

Movie quality:  Bad

B-fest rating:  Decent

-

Guru the Mad Monk (1970):  This on is a period piece with intrusions by visible power lines, light switches, etc.   But it’s mostly about Father Guru (if he’s only a monk, why is his title “Father?”) roping people into his web of crime and talking.  As a few people started yelling every time he opened his mouth, “WORDS!”  I had some fun screaming in terror every time a scene seemed like it was about to end, and then Guru started talking again.  Even when he’s alone with his reflection in the mirror, he’s prattling on at it.  Slept through big parts of this one too, but didn’t mind doing so as much.

Movie quality:  [unable to rate, but probably Bad]

B-fest rating:  Weak

-

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957):  To rehash a boring story I’ve told a few times, this was the first movie shown at my first ever B-fest (2004), but I wasn’t there for the whole Fest that year and didn’t show up for the beginning.  So now I finally got to see this one, and it was kind of nice to watch a cheesy B&W movie that was dumb in exactly the familiar way one would expect from a John Agar movie about a silly looking floating brain possessing people’s bodies.  (From Dripdry: “So, I guess this is the ‘Occupy John Agar’ movement.”) The best thing about this is that the movie found the perfect way to channel Agar’s usual smug douchecanoe persona – since he spends most of the movie under the evil brain’s spell, he’s *supposed* to come off as a smug douchecanoe.  I approve of this bit of casting.

The main crowd interaction, though, came from the fact that a rival non-evil floating brain takes on the family dog as its vessel.  The dog looked enough like Kurt from the Tarkan movie that we decided it was him, or at least a descendent of a long line of dogs all named Kurt.  “Kurt!  Kurt!” chants were frequent whenever a movie had canine content, but it was most pronounced during this film.

Movie quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  Decent

-

Stunt Rock (1980):  Talk about living up to its title.  Stunt Rock has a bunch of stunts, and a bunch of performances by a cheese-metal band called Sorcery.  (By the way, if you’re pushing 40 and have a physique like the singer for Sorcery, wearing a vest without a shirt is ill-advised.  Also, if a poodle sleeps on your soundboard throughout the show, you probably don’t rock.)  There’s a halfhearted attempt at a storyline involving the lead romancing a skeptical reporter into discovering the joys of stuntwork, but mostly, there are stunts, and there’s rock.  The crowd loved this one, and we broke into many call-and-response chants of “stunt!”  “Rock!”  I was firmly on the ”rock” side of things; I frequently dozed off during the stunts (except for the historical clips, which were way more badass than any of the present-day bits), but didn’t miss a note of Sorcery rocking the stage.  Their music is a mix of pretentiousness and mindless bombast and *awesome* if you like that kind of thing, which I do.  Sorcery further endeared itself to me by featuring a stage show during its performances featuring “The Great Wizard” and “The Prince Of Darkness.”  I’m glad someone made the requisite Spin̈al Tap joke, but I think the guys from Tap would’ve found the whole thing a bit excessive.  I had my favorite line of the festival, though, once they started shooting off indoor pyro: “these guys should be called ‘Great Really White.’”  Well, I still think it’s funny.

So, this got repetitious, but hey, stunts and rock, coming together at the end with man-on-fire stunts during a Sorcery show.  The film ends with a character predicting that this mix will catch on, that this is something with which people will really connect.  Indeed, as we know, Sorcery went on to be the #1 band in the world well into the ‘90s, and retain a massive following to this very day.

Movie quality:  Decent

B-fest rating:  Good

-

Then came lunch.  For some stupid reason, the food court isn’t open on Saturdays anymore, so we have to make do with the overcrowded crepe stand.  Lunch break is a good time to decompress, though.  At the BMMB tables, discussion topics included, among other things, an involved analysis of Meat Loaf’s performance in the yeti movie, which it was called everything from “extended mugging” to “understated,” a dissection of the scoring system used by the Best Of The Best competition, and everyone attempting to envision how Rudy Ray Moore would have delivered Tommy Wiseau’s lines from The Room.

-

Road House (1989) – Full of coffee and renewed energy, I re-entered the auditorium about 15 minutes into perhaps the highlight of the festival.  Patrick Swayze plays a legend in his small town where cops apparently don’t exist, who returns to “clean up” a bar that’s been overrun by creeps and organized crime.  No, I’d never seen it before.  Well, no time like the present to watch the weird alchemy by which Patrick Swayze can be both a ridiculous choice for an action hero and kinda cool.  Suffice to say, it’s a thoroughly stupid movie, and I think I legitimately love it.  

Much has already been written about the cult appeal of Road House, so instead of summarizing the movie, I’ll focus on the B-fest specific moments: in addition to the expected “Swayze!” and “U-S-A!” chants, we also reacted as a group when the festival’s computer got a software update notification popping up over the movie.  As one, the arena of nerds broke into a deafening chant of “up-date!  Up-date!” and booed when an organizer instead just closed the window.  What can I say, lack of sleep makes people do strange things.  Perhaps the heigh of riffing and tastelessness came a little later, when a minor villain threatened Swayze by saying “you’re a dead man,” and someone in the crowd yelled “too soon!”  That’s the only time I’ve ever heard Slide-Whistle Guy salute an audience riff.

Movie quality:  Dare I say Good?

B-fest rating:  Excellent

-

Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1961) – Now the theater empties out except for the true die-hards.  But that’s most of us.  Despite the awesome title, this was a slog.  Set in the German part of California, it features a girls’ school that’s apparently some kind of School Of Continuing Studies, based on the actors’ ages.  This movie, oddly, tries to do too much.  It features a werewolf (who never enters the dormitory), a regular human killer, and a blackmailer, who may be three different people.  We’re expected to care about all three mysteries.  We don’t.

Movie quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  Weak

-

The Galaxy Invader (1985) – Perhaps best known as “the source of those clips from that play over the opening credits of Pod People.”  This one is about stereotypical rednecks capturing an alien.  Only one of the rednecks is actually truly loathsome, but he’s what you’d expect – booze, smacking women around, and wearing the same torn white shirt throughout the length of the movie (we had a running discussion going about whether he’d maybe put on a flannel over it when hunting at night.  He did.  Then he took it back off).  After numerous tracking shots of the woods and repeated captures and escapes, the other characters gradually become just sympathetic enough to realize that they should try to avert any more needless violence.  They fail, and the alien dies.  The movie then completely won over the crowd in fifteen glorious seconds of film: an old woman hits the evil redneck in the head with a shovel, her wind-up and swing being replayed about ten times, and then he morphs into a blatant dummy and falls off a cliff.  It was a moment of pure B-fest ambrosia to liven up the slog to the finish.

Movie quality:  Weak

B-fest rating:  Decent

-

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) – As always, the finale was a giant monster movie.  I’ve seen some people marvel at “the casual sexism” on display, but ICFBTS is borderline feminist by the standards of 1955 monster movies.  As long as she knows her role as a romantic conquest for one of the military types, the female scientist can spout bland expository dialogue on an equal footing with everyone else.  Anyway, the thing about this movie is that it takes itself seriously.  That means lots of shots of people sitting around in a serious manner and making serious strategic plans.  I started complaining about the lack of screen time for the actual monster, especially in the first hour.  The monster in question is a giant octopus/squid seeking edible food such as, uh, metal ships and bridges.  Its locomotion is described like that of squid, but it looks like an octopus… only with five tentacles because that’s all the film can afford.  The stop-motion attacks on San Francisco are nice, but too short, doing exactly as much damage as the film can afford to show.  The monster stuff was worth waiting for, but just barely.

As usual, I was unable to rope my wife into Festing with us, but when the list of film titles was first announced, she pointed out that “beneath the sea” is a bit redundant and inaccurate when describing a sea monster.  Sometimes it takes a non-SF/F geek to notice things that are in plain sight.

Movie quality:  Decent

B-fest rating:  Decent

-

And that’s all.  A final slide with a picture of that fucking yeti bore the caption “see you at B-fest 2013… if you dare!” 

This recap has gone on and on like Guru, but I think I’m finally out of things to reminisce about.  I wish I’d had more fun, especially during the exhausted late-overnight/early morning period.  I’m grateful for all the fun I did have.  I don’t want to stop going to B-fest.  I hope to Cthulhu I don’t have to.

Heartfelt congradulations to the TEEEEEEEEEEAM for surviving - nay, *thriving* - in the face of this ordeal.

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