Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,

B-fest 2011! A recap.

Another gauntlet of pain; 24 hours of mostly awful movies, with a boisterous crowd watching along.  Here's my thoughts on this year's films, along with arbitrary ratings.

The Pumaman (1980) -  A fun opener at 6 PM Friday - okay, more like 6:20.  TPM was the first of 3 movies that have been on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Even without, it's deliriously goofy, telling the story of a hero chosen by the Aztec gods to use the kinds of superpowers pumas are known for, such as flight and walking through walls.  This one just is inept on every level, from acting that rarely gets past "a nice try" to downright embarrassing special effects (we were properly mocking of the floating baloon "gods," Pumaman's green-screen flying, and on and on).  Nice clap-alongs to the Pumaman theme song too.  The first film is always an issue because one can rarely hear much of anything, either from the screen or in the way of riffing; people are arriving, all yelling en masse, or, in my case, eating.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Good

Top Dog (1995) - Once again we get Chuck Norris (in this case, as written and directed by brother[?] Aaron)!  Unlike the usual case, though, we get him playing second fiddle to a dog sidekick.  "Reno" is treated as an established and respcted police officer who engages in wacky hijinx while Norris occasionally shows up (much to the crowd's relief) to attempt to play comedic straight-man and provide roundhouse kicks as needed.  TD has a strange relationship with violence.  The villains are Nazis (and occasional Nazi clowns for some reason:  I got some laughs with "whiteface power!"  And Norris himself got a movie a rare intentional laugh with "you're under arrest, bozo.") who murder cops and others both on and off screen, and try to kill the Pope and others at a unity summit of some sort.  Yet most of the violence is more "comic mischief," like Reno burying a Nazi in Styrofoam packing peanuts.  Norris never kills anyone, for instance.  A poorly conceived family-leaning "comedy" that went down smooth and easy.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Mama Dracula (1980) - We were told this had to be seen to be believed, and it was true.  After the false sense of security engendered by the first two movies, we get this completely batshit insane... thing.  I don't even know if it was meant as a comedy precisely, but it centers around the heavily accented Mama Dracula (DS9's Louise Fletcher) who's trying to collect blood from "wirgins" to stay alive whilst hiring a scientist to synthesize blood.  Entertainingly, she pronounces every letter in words like "gnarled" and "castle."  Meanwhile, her twin sons mug and vamp up a storm doing oddly timed and staged routines that must've taken a lot of time and practice to work out given that they're not even remotely funny or entertaining.  Add in the fact that 80% of the movie's characters are annoying single-jokes.  Also throw in some lunatic scenes that exist apropos of nothing (young potential wampire victim who flashes her cross/magen David underwear; tour bus passing up a pitchfork-and-torches mob, barely explicable orgy ending in a building exploding for absolutely no reason that anyone can tell).  Anyway, nothing that happens in MD follows logically from anything else.  The viewer just sits back and lets it memorably blow his or her mind, which it did for me.
Movie quality:  ABOMINATION
B-fest rating:  Good 

Raffle as usual.  I didn't win anything as usual, but got a sense of how few winners there were this year.  The Wizard Of Speed And Time followed.  That's the five minute short that prompts the audience to get hot and nerd-stinky by lying down and percussing our feet along with the Wizard's stop-motion.  This was repeated backwards and upside-down.  That was it for the Wizard; sometimes he's also made unexpected mid-Fest reappearances, but not since '07 or 08. 

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) - The third part of the trilogy of annual rituals.  This year the sound was off or near-muted for the first 20 minutes.  Audience members tried to re-enact key lines ("GRAVE ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE!") as best we could, while an alert Fester provided a bit of soundtrack on his harmonica, but I soon left to hang out with others in the lobby.  P9FOS is a classic and all, but it was time to take a year off.  This year's highlight in audience participation was from a couple of gents who rolled out huge (not accurate) captions to go along with Tor Johnson's few lines of incomprehensible dialogue.
Film quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Blackenstein (1973) -  AKA "The Black Frankenstein."  Bit of a misleading title given that, despite  the mostly-black cast, "Dr. Stein" himself is white.  Anyway, the post Plan 9 spot is usually blaxploitation.  Here, a doctor of some kind (who recently "won the Nobel Peace Prize for solving the DNA code."  Sort through that one) is helping fix a parapelegic, until the experiment is sabotaged by one lab assistant's frustration with the other's lack of romantic interest in him.  (This bit of betrayal is never noticed by the other characters.)  The creature rips off people's arms (me: "He's armed and dangerous!") and generally kills.  Film is slow and dishwater dull except for some gore after the (off-screen) killings.  Now, I know the Frankenstein name sells, and the creature's lumbering arms-out gait is clearly inspired by Frankenstein movies.  But, as I explained to anyone who'd put up with me talking about it, I feel that at its core, Blackenstein is more a generic monster movie than a Frankenstein movie, since it doesn't include any exploration/pathos re: the creator's relationship with his creation, or re: the creature's relationship with an uncaring world.  Suffice to say, the movie sucked.  As much as the idea of blaxploitation-horror sounds awesome, if the movies are all like this (or like Scream, Blacula, Scream from Fest 2009), maybe we should stick with standard blaxpo rather than these unsatisfying mixed-genre things.
Film quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Weak

Manos: The Hands Of Fate (1966) - Another favorite from MST3K and a canonical candidate for "worst movie ever," I stuck around for this one despite knowing it pretty well already.  It never got easier to re-watch at home the way most MST3Ks do, but here, my familiarity with the film definitely proved a blessing as far as surviving it without much effort.  Made on a shoestring budget by a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Manos (note the amusing redundancy in the full title) ineptly tells the simple story of a moronic family who get trapped when they wander across a house run by a robed "Master" in a ridiculous robe and his swollen-knee stammering caretaker Torgo.  Long scenes of absolutely nothing ensue, followed by more or them, and evil triumphs in the end, but Torgo himself is a memorable creation.  One gal close to the screen had the inspiration of leading us in a theater-wide game of "Marco, Torgo."  Another running joke involves a couple (El Paso locals; the woman was supposed to be one of the leads before an injury made that impossible) making out in a car and the police who are hot on their trail while ignoring the real dangers nearby.  Other than a few people who kept regurgitating MST3K lines, this was fun to see with a crowd of mixed veterans and newbies to the strange cult of this film.
Movie quality:  ABOMINATION
B-fest rating:  Good

After seeing "justice meted out by a burning hand!" (in Manos), the crowd was seeming unusually muted (presumably because of Manos).  The organizers surprised us by firing up the film projector again for a short film also involving fire.  I don't recall the title, but this was a strange little cartoon thing from the Canadian government.  The first part told a story about how the gods gave Man (and Iggy the snake) the gift of fire with appropriate warnings.  The second part of the story featured Modern Man proving that he could destroy himself, Solarmite style, by not treating fire with proper caution and respect.  I know this lesson encouraged us to joke a lot more about fire safety, also pertinent in...

The Manitou (1978) -  A legendarily terrible premise here, as a woman has a fetus - containing the spirit of an ancient Amerindian shaman - growing as a tumerous mass in her neck.  Like many 70s movies, this one is half an hour longer than necessary, working in the likes of Burgess Meredith to basically not contribute.  The team of heroes slowly pieces together the mystery, then joins forces with a shaman type to engage in mystical warfare with the manitou.  This includes a ring of containment, a summoned lizard, throwing a typewriter, gratuitous toplessness, and a laser fight, in roughly that order.  If I'm making it sound like it makes sense... well, it's more one of those movies that makes up the rules on the fly more and more often as the conflict escalates.  An interesting one not only to watch and see what gradually more ridiculous place it'll go next, but also to sit with a group and talk about where the filmmakers went right and (more often) wrong.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Undefeatable (1993) - Now, I was worried about the fact that I hadn't slept at all yet, since I really wanted to stay awake for this one based on the description.  Well, it kept me wide awake.  Cynthia Rathrock stars in a revenge movie with lots of street fighting.  Undefeatable offers big, brutal fisticuffs in a very satisfying package for those of us craving late night violence.  Apparently it was voted as containing the most unconvincing fight scene of all time by, but I don't agree - the acting and dialogue are forgettable, but the fight scenes were just competent enough to provide exactly what I was in the mood for.  The villain is one of the most loathsome I've ever seen, which is why it's so much fun to see the violence get so over the top, but this is also the source of one of the biggest issues: this flick is very, well, rapey.  Sexual violence, mostly off-screen but always prevalent, is a major component of Undefeatable (part of where the "revenge" angle comes in).  The movie usually seems to be trying to treat the topic with the gravity it deserves (although you do have to question whether there needed to be so much of it, or why it needed to be facilely "explained" as a symptom of childhood neglect), but it's simultaneously cranking up the street fighting sequences to cartoonish levels.  So, potential viewers be warned.  But damn, those street fights always have a new wrinkle, be it one of Rathrock's gang randomly yelling "awesome!" at the most ridiculous of times, or the presence of a football-themed gang (whose fighter wears shoulder pads and begins the bout in a three-point stance), or guys tearing off their shirts while spasming and yelling for no apparent reason.  I'm actually going to go on record with this one - I liked Undefeatable and would recommend it to others, given the caveats above.  Perfect at 6:20 AM on a sleepless night.
Movie quality:  Good
B-fest rating:  Excellent

I Accuse My Parents
(1944) - My least favorite MST3K that I've seen, in part due to the robots' constantly screaming "liar!  Liar!"  So it actually played better without the commentary.  IAMP is a very slow story about a high school kid (played by an actor who looks about thirty-five) who gets slowly drawn into a life of moral complicity and increasing hat disrepair because his parents don't love him enough.  At least that's the stated moral, even though the parents disappear about 5 minutes in and the kid's stupidity is the main driving factor.  IAMP is a slow movie padded further by musical numbers, and it is a bad movie which tells a bad story, badly.  But I'll mention that A&O made a rather brilliant choice in programming it immediately after Undefeatable (in which the villain's childhood traumas do not pretend to excuse his actions), so as to best highlight how fundamentally flawed the premise of IAMP is.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest reating:  Decent

Night Of The Lepus
(1972) - I was looking forward to this one, but... well, let's just say that it is what it says.  It's a movie about giant killer rabbits, no more or less.  DeForrest Kelly is in it, as are Janet Leigh and a few others, but mostly big herds of giant killer rabbits.  That's pretty much it.  I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, but the film is tightly focused.  There are plenty of worthless minor characters, but there aren't any sidetracks as far as unrelated sub-plots; damn near every scene in the movie is about rabbits.  [BTW, at one point some characters hide in an underground bunker.  We had great fun with comments like "good thing rabbits can't burrow!"]
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent

With this reviewer fading fast, it was time for "lunch" (although it was early enough that the food court didn't open until halfway through the break.  The crepe place, which has earlier hours, was not really prepared in advance for an overload of Festies.  Ah, well).  Some food and some leisurely chatting before returning for...

American Ninja
(1985) - Michael Dudikoff stars in the premiere of this long-running franchise.  We saw AN2 back in 2009, but AN1 is a considerably better movie than its sequel (not that it's any good or anything).  Our hero is one of the few Westerners to know ninjitsu, and defends himself from enemy nijas while trying to earn the respect of his guys and flush out spies among his superiors.  Big beefy guys in big beefy 'ninja" fights that got the traditional "U-S-A!" chant cranked up to its highest.  And for the occassions that do require guns, they keep bringing in bigger and bigger ones until the thrilling climax...
Movie quality:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Good

(1968) - Okay, so there are these aging Hollywood actors and their extended family and friends, and some of them are hippies.  There are LSD trips applenty, song-and-dance routines, a prison break, and Groucho Marx plays "God" communicating with the other characters by loudspeaker.  You never know when you'll hear a totally unexpected line that makes you sit up, such as "so, what is he, a faggot?"  I was drifting in and out a little bit early on, but was reassured that, no, the movie does not make any apparent fucking sense at all.  We couldn't make fun of it very much.  However, in sharp contrast to a similarly unriffable and mind-blowing comedy like Mama Dracula, Skidoo is highly watchable nonsense all throughout.  The ending was especially well received by this crowd, both with the last two songs (one of which is performed by garbage cans.  Really) being so catchy, and then the credits.  Which are sung.  You think it's going to just be the leads, but then they sing the names of co-stars, and then move on to line producers, etc... it just kept getting more and more amazing, one of the most awesome things I've ever seen at B-fest.
Movie quality:  Decent?  Good?  Unratable, really.
B-fest rating:  Good

Cool As Ice
(1991) - Starring Vanilla Ice in his heyday (well, this bombed, so I guess after)!  Wow, this was a fun movie to hate.  Keep in mind that Mr. Ice got to choose which persona he would put forth to the world.  He elects to come off as a giant entitled douchebag, riding a motorcycle, needing to be reminded that he's not black, and spouting lines like "words of wisdom: drop the zero, get wit' the hero."  In the world of Cool As Ice, Ice's attempts to woo a girl by ambushing her and knocking her off a horse, stealing her notebooks, and sneaking into her bed at night are seen as charming and romantic (rather than cause for a restraining order).  In the world of Cool As Ice, Ice's street cred is such that it seems normal for him to be single-handedly taking out four assailants and fighting the Mob.  CAI was compared several times to The Room in our part of the theater - a unique look inside the head of a totally delusional individual who doesn't quite understand normal human social interaction.  Plus, as I kept reminding my comrades, Ice does not come out the victor after his insufferable movie, for this reason: as we're watching him triumph over all the other douchebags, we're also watching him commit career suicide.  So the final victory belongs to us.
Movie quality:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Film projector came back out for an untitled... thing, apparently played flipped horizontally.  It was soundless - don't know if it was actually silent or just a projector issue - and seemed to involve young people on a lawn at the U of Chicago campus in Hyde Park.  Then we held up the festival by practically demanding to watch the rest of a trailer on the Peking Man DVD - for Switchblade Sisters, a '70s girl-gang movie.  Based on the preview, there is no part of it that does not look awesome.  Also saw the trailer for From Dusk 'Til Dawn III, which looked considerably less exciting.

Mighty Peking Man
(1978) - And we closed with a Hong Kong giant ape movie, a sleazy attempt to capitalize on the renewed interest in King Kong in the late '70s.  Our hero has recently broken up with his girlfriend (I mention this because they flash back to him catching her cheating - leading to me and 1-2 other people all simultaneously/spontaneously coming up with variations of "but Mark, you are my best friend!"  Meanwhile, according to said  friend, the affair "started as kind of a joke.")  This leads to him going an expedition through tigers and quicksand to eventually meet a peaceful giant gorilla and fall in love with the Jungle Woman who's tamed him.  Our "hero" has no qualms about taking advantage of PM's trust by having JW send the ape into town to be captured.  The "hero"'s boss has no qualms about immediately ordering him chained up and put on display.  Further morons throw stuff at Peking Man or poke him with sticks, while the boss further increases chances of an escape by relentlessly trying to rape the Jungle Woman, who refuses to wear anything other than a rapidly degenerating leather bikini.  I should take a moment to mention that by this point, I think a lot of people had had their fill of gratuitous attempted rape scenes (Blackenstein was also full of them).  This villain is particularly single minded and stupid about it, dragging his intended victim from hotel to hotel while failing to take into account the correlation between his actions and the path of the giant gorilla's rampage.  
The rubber suit and model city scenes that are the main point of this movie are pretty good, but I was distracted by holding out hope that they might be able to work out somehting with the British (yeah, I dunno) army commanders to help Peking Man escape.  But you know how these things usually go - PM climbs a tower, JW calms him down, Army Commander breaks his word, PM gets killed in the traditional manner.  I concluded the Fest the same way I'll conclude this recap - with a heartfelt "fuck you!" to the entire population of Hong Kong, natives and foreigners alike.  Burn in hell, Hong Kong.
Movie quality:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

It's now one day later and I'm already looking forward to last year.  An event like none other.  Can't instantly say how this one compared to previous years (2010 was pretty amazing), but this was one of the better Fests.

Other notes...

Was drifting in and out some during the middle of Skidoo, but no significant sleeping at any time!  I'm kinda proud of that; prior to this year, I'd never made it thorough the overnight (defined as "before 9 AM when Starbucks opens") portion without at very minimum a 30-minute nap somewhere.

B-fest is all about the social event for some.  In the past I've leaned more towards seeing "the crowd" as an entity being important, rather than any particular individuals.  But that being said, this year I had the distinct privilege of again sitting near the trio of Ross, Rachel, and the shorter guy whose name I can never remember (I don't do names very well).  Although I didn't make myself a de facto member of their group to the same extent as last year, they're among my favorite people to sit near for riffing and discussion once the lights are down and the film is playing.  This year such pursuits were enhanced by proximity to another trio of B-fest vets, Megan and her two friends (see what I mean about  names)?   My riffing circle also intermittently included Tristian (MegaLemur's friend) and certain guys beside and in front of me whose names I never got in the first place.  Gentlemen and ladies, should you ever read this, it was a pleasure to join you in this endeavor.

But I also joined the Bad Movie Message Board community properly; been posting for a little, but actually tracked down and said hello to people this year, and basically was instantly inducted into a cool group available for quality chill time during between-movie or Plan 9 downtime.  Special thanks to bbanzai, who went out of his way to be sure that I knew where to find everyone and felt welcome - noted and appreciated, man.  It was also a pleasure briefly or slightly less briefly making the acquaintance of most of those who made it, and am hoping to be part of the extracurricular weekend gatherings next year, too.

Unintentional theme running through multiple films:  Pittsburgh sports!  I'd hoped there'd be a chance to give a shout out to the Stillers in advance of next week's game, and lo and behold, Undefeatable's football themed gang actually includes a guy in the background wearing a knockoff Steelers jersey (guess they didn't want to pay for the rights to the real thing, but it's got the right colors, the team name, and a big #32).  American Ninja eventually followed with black and gold ninjas training together, while Skidoo gave us a chance to scout out the opposition way too closely in one of its many hallucination sequences - "it's the Green Bay Packers!  And they're all naked!"  Finally, one of Ice's posse wears a Pirates jacket, sending out some love to a franchise whose success since 1991 has been at least on the level as that of the career of Mr. Vanilla Ice.

Finally, a word about the state of the festival.  In the last few years, we've gone increasingly modern and away from the Fest's roots highlighting dubious "classic" monster movies.  Now there's all different kinds of badness on display.  Even more strikingly, other than P9FOS, I Accuse My Parents was the only movie that wasn't in color.  I think some people will be upset about that, and the Fest maybe is missing a little something without the B&Ws.  But I do not expect that this lineup will produce the same kind of dissatisfaction of something like B-fest 2006 (my first 24-hour run!) provoked for being "too modern."  See, I'm convinced that the perceived problems with the 2006 lineup had less to do with newer movies per se and more with the particular movies chosen, plus the fact that it was arguably "too mainstream" rather than favoring as much smaller, niche fare.  This year, none of the films were less than 15 years old, and only 1 or 2 movies were particularly well known.  So maybe this is just the direction the festival will evolve without driving many away.

We've also pretty much completed the transition to DVD.  There are those who feel that the medium of film - with all the scratches, technical glitches, flipped/missing reels, and ability to throw on bizarre shorts that this entails - is the essence of B-fest.  I respect that POV, but do not agree with it.  Those are nice side benefits, but I'm of a generation that's always seen B-fests as about getting a crowd together to watch movies first and foremost.  And if we can get films on DVD that couldn't be obtained through other means, go for it.  Variety in movie selection is the lifeblood of B-fest.  In the 8 years that I've been attending, I've never seen the same movie twice (outside of the annual rituals, obviously), and that's been a big part of what makes this event keep on giving year after year.

So that's it for 2011.  I post with a heart at peace, feeling cool as ice.
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