Benjamin (serbanj) wrote,

B-FEST 2013: No sleep till Tokyo!

After waxing melodramatic after B-fest 2012 about what it’d be like as an out-of-towner rather than a Chicagoan, I definitely took time to prepare to make sure everything was perfect for everyone’s favorite annual 24-hour bad movie festival, including specifically asking for and getting off not only that week but the week leading up to it.  I was there, as I’ve been for the last ten years, and was there from beginning to end as I’ve been for the last eight.

Of course it’s not just a collection of films and/or a state of mind.  B-fest is a collaborative effort on the part of an auditorium full of 174 other nerds – sold out this year, too, for the first time in quite some time.  “The company” includes both the faceless sea of voices in the dark and my particular crowd – the people with whom the Fest can be meaningfully discussed and who are the only ones likely to ever read this - the folks from the B-Movie Message Board.  Joined the group at the Hala Kahiki the night before, too, to drink ridiculously heavy ice cream drinks and escape from the thoroughly stocked gift shop.  (Maybe I need to be more socially assertive, though; was very conscious this year of being both a relative newbie to the BMMB community, and to being one person amidst a group of mostly pairs and trios who know each other from the Outside.  Unfortunately my friend, David, was only realistically able to make it to the Friday night block, although he had a blast, making his first appearance since 2007.)   We were definitely noticing of the people who were missing in action this year, although since a few who hadn’t made it for a few years were back, the B-movie gods giveth back too.  [Thanks to B. for the ride from the bar, and the company.]

The sum total of the work of We The Audience as a group along with film selection and projection by A&O Films – a great Fest.  I didn’t sleep at all during the whole thing, and stayed as full of life as one can while staring at a screen showing bad movies.  This will go down as one of the really good ones, joining ’08 and ’10 in the upper pantheon of my ten years as a part of this festival.

The films:

Breaker!  Breaker! (1976)

We let out a general gasp of dismay when this action film about heroic truckers gave us our first look at its hero, a young Chuck Norris, and he was conspicuously devoid of facial hair.  Chuck Norris without the bears is a worse missing piece than... well, anything you can possibly think of that’s not Chuck Norris without the beard.  This film further fails to live up to the mythos by having Norris put cream in his coffee at one point – I don’t think anyone can say for sure whether Chuck drinks coffee at all (he may get the same effect from beer), but I think we all know that if he did, he’d take it black.

In most other respects, though, Breaker!  Breaker! is what you want from a B-fest opener: simple, loud, and violent, all enthusiastically greeted by the audience.  When the institutionalized-outlaw town (or maybe even villiage, by census definitions.  Sure as hell ain’t a city) of Texas City, CA finds a flimsy reason to lock up Norris’s brother (who appears to be about twelve), ass-kicking ensues, and Chuck is in normal form in that regard.   Oh, there are a few attempts to dress it up - some running away in a minivan with a eagle stenciled on the side, a perfunctory love interest, and some strange sub-plots involving a retarded guy and his plush lion and a horse getting a mid-movie freeze-frame - but mostly straight-up violence against both guys who can fight back and elderly corrupt judges alike.  When Chuck started breaking down walls I commented that for a climax I would settle for nothing less than him destroying Texas City entirely.  And wouldn’t you know it – some trucker buddies have to join in, but that’s exactly how the movie ends.

B-fest 2013 had a few unintentional running themes, and one of them was random appearances of cats, starting with the evil judge holding a cat in one scene of B!B!, and one scene only.  Until about 7 AM, nearly every movie had an unnecessary glimpse of a cat or reference to cats, usually in only one brief scene.  That finally started disappearing from the festival about midway through, unfortunately.

Movie rating:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

The Wasp Woman (1959)

I like the rhythm of having the second film be one of the standard cheapies that used to define B-fest back before my time.  In this case, Roger Corman and company create a world where showing slight signs of age is death for professional women, and where wasp royal jelly is not only a thing that actually exists, but retards aging.  See, the problem with a movie like this is that anyone who’s ever seen a movie pretty much knows where it’s going.  The lead will commission the reckless scientist to create a youthening drug, she’ll self-medicate Against Medical Advice, and it’ll turn her into a monster.  We all know this will happen, so when we’re an hour into the movie and it hasn’t happened yet... well, the reason for the pacing becomes abundantly clear once the movie finally, and briefly, shows us the monster, with its hilarious cheap looking mask.
Exactly like real wasps, the Wasp Woman kills her victims by grabbing their necks and drinking their blood, and can’t fly.

David and I adored the scientist’s “lab,” which is of course filled with bubbling beakers and all kinds of bizarre randomly shaped flasks with twists and turns in them, because, well, science.  Film was also livened up some by a hilarious bit of padding in which a search for a character who inexplicably got hit by a car leads to visits to various hospitals, depicted by showing a car slowly driving down various streets; the movie allows no detail about parking at each location unshown.  A bit of a running gag was born, as we took to making buzzing noises every time the main character had a headache or showed any signs of monster-ism; this was re-used in a few later films, too

Movie rating:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Good

Steel (1997)

Loosely based on a Superman spinoff, although the movie version doesn’t have any Superman content.  At times this approached being gloriously cheesy.  Shaquille O’Neal stars as the title character, John Henry Irons (yes, really), who’s built himself a big hammer and a bulletproof suit to go out fighting crime, and he delivers the kind of stilted performance you’d expect.  Sidekicks include a technology guru in a wheelchair named Sparks (yes, really) in the kind of role someone like Amy Acker could have killed, but instead played by a chick who makes everything sound nagging and disapproving.  Also his uncle, played by Richard Roundtree and prone to one-liners like “well, roll me in shit and cover me with bread crumbs!”  (Steel and Sparks often show their solidarity by touching fingers [convenient example near the very beginning of this clip], which I like even better than the thumb-kisses from Megaforce ) Shaq’s adventures are ineptly choreographed and filled with moments like his frustrated destruction of a perfectly good public pay phone.  Meanwhile, Judd Nelson plays a villain who wreaks all kinds of consequence-free violence on anyone who doesn’t play along with his ridiculously over-plotted scheme involving gangs and arms races and such.

As I hope the summarizing is conveying, Steel is a total mess of a film.  Yet I also found it likably goofy, and fast paced enough that I didn’t much care.  Ooh, pretty laser fights.  When people aren’t shooting at each other, the film also finds time for some painful “comic relief.”  It also winks at the camera quite a bit, making a running joke out of Shaq’s inability to make a basket and having Roundtree talk about his favorite part of Steel’s hammer being “the SHAFT!” making sure the reference is a loud and obvious as possible.

Biggest laugh of the entire festival came with a dumb joke timed perfectly – at one point Sparks, who’s still getting used to working whilst in a wheelchair, falls on the ground (her friends watch her pull herself back up from a distance without offering to help or anything, as a test of character or some such thing).  Someone a few rows back yelled “oh, get up, you dumb bitch!”  You probably had to be there, but trust me, it was all in the timing.  Some of us also took to yelling “BUUURKE!!” every time Burke (the villain) appeared.  This may have been pure fun or may have been some joke that I didn’t get, but either way, it was fun.

Movie rating:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Excellent

10:45 PM; interlude time!  We were running way early at this point.  With little explanation, some folks dressed for a wedding got on stage – were we about to see an actual B-fest wedding?  Turned out to be a full-costume re-enactment of a scene from Spaceballs: The Movie, a childhood favorite.  Then the raffle – of course I didn’t win anything.  Then some 16-mm shorts, including the legendary “Comics And Kids,” making its first appearance since 2009.  This is the one in which kids who summon each other to their treehouse with a clarinet and read war comics are driven to go crazy and attack other kids’ sand castles – the short thinks the comics are to blame, but for my money, if the narrator hadn’t felt the need to underscore the point by *constantly* whispering things like “kill kill destroy pow pow,” the whole things could have been averted.  The basic unintentional moral of the piece is that comics and violence are both awesome things.  Then, for some reason, we got a few scenes from Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, as a short.  Then, as usual, the beating heart of B-fest, The Wizard Of Speed & Time.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

I mostly skipped this one this year.  It appeared to be on DVD again, for those who care about such things,  I think every 3 years is about right for B-fest Plan 9.  Some hang-out time with the BMMB group, but honestly more lounging aimlessly than anything else, awaiting the next flick...

Movie rating:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Excellent

Black Belt Jones (1974)

1:30 AM; blaxpo time!  This one was sponsored in memory of a guy who I used to notice at every B-fest; apparently he died a few years ago.  His friends made a good choice.  This one is primarily about Jim Kelly using his mad martial arts skillz to destroy everyone in his path.  A few things make this movie unique, one of them being the karate school that’s loosely aligned with the good guys and whose initiates serve as frequent beat-up fodder for the villains.  Jones and others are constantly leading “hai!” intensive routines, including, memorably, during one minor character’s funeral.  Atypically for the genre, no breasts are on display, and in fact, the film’s most important female character is Jones’s equal in the field of kicking people.  In a classic scene, she responds to his request that she stay out of the way and “do the dishes or something” by shooting a stack of plates into smithereens (“they’re done.”).  Our heroes beat up and brutally murder a bunch of villains via trash compactor, and all is well.

Our biggest contribution that I can remember was our jocular “eeeey!”s and fake Italian voices every time the movie cut to a nothing-happening scene at the big spaghetti dinner.

Movie rating:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Good

Sorority House Massacre (1986)

A reminder that one shouldn’t schedule B-fest plans based on the movies because they could change at any time; this one got moved into the overnight block after originally being planned for Saturday morning.  Apparently it had a little nudity, so it ended up overnight.  Indeed, it had a tiny bit of inconsequential and not particularly interesting nudity.  Actually, the whole movie can pretty much be described as inconsequential and not particularly interesting – a bit of a shame given that we as a group had somewhat high hopes for what was apparently the first slasher film ever for B-fest, at least according to some of the vets.  Like The Wasp Woman, this one takes forever to get down to business, focusing on trippy flashbacks within flashbacks and about 5 million false scares, which led to much discussion in the seats about what exactly constitutes a “massacre” and how many deaths would be acceptable.  A killer finally emerges, and then I had fun flying into a mock-rage about figuring out where the fuck anyone was supposed to be in relation to anyone else – this is the kind of movie where two intended victims will be outside, running from the killer, and abruptly end up back inside the house talking about the need to get outside whilst running up the stairs away from the door.   Diverting enough, but a bit of a disappointment; it ended up being less slasher-y and more about the vague back-story with a slight supernatural tinge.

Movie rating:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Decent

The Mole People (1956)

I’ve seen this one MST3K’d, and even they couldn’t make it not one of the slowest things imaginable.  I had this one in mind as my designated time to take a nap, but somehow wasn’t tired, so I ended up watching the whole thing and then decided to try (successfully!) to do the whole festival sleep-free.  John Agar and a few other guys rappel down into a pit where there’s an underground civilization that practices human sacrifice, enslaves goofy looking mole creatures, and fears flashlights.  An early scene in which the scientists accept the Biblical flood as an established fact lead a brief series of riffs from the folks around me about the movie’s sense of geological time (“and then Jesus was born about twenty years ago, and he rode a dinosaur”).  As for my own riffing, got my personal loudest laugh of the night by repurposing an MST3K line (from a different episode) – “this [a very long series of rappelling scenes] works so well because we *care* about the characters!”  As someone else pointed out about this movie, it had a few interesting ideas in between all the cheap costumes and flashlight shining.  Like, for instance, the way Team Agar’s attempt to unilaterally change the entrenched superstition-and-slavery oriented culture of the underground society ends in complete failure and they end up basically just having to destroy everything in the name of escape.  And, uh, I can’t actually think of any other interesting ideas in TMP.

Movie rating:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent

Galaxina (1980)

I’ve since heard that this one is maybe unjustly legendary for the weird story surrounding its star, a Playboy model who’d never acted before (and who stays dressed and gets no lines for the first half), who was murdered soon afterward.  Anyway, I’d heard this was a campy sex-n-space-opera comedy, which is true inasmuch as it’s set in a Star Wars inspired setting.  Captain Cornelius Butt and a team of slimy losers which include the title character, some sort of sex robot, get sent on a vaguely defined mission to far away.  Nothing happens for awhile, and then they land on a planet and more nothing happens, and it’s jarring because half the time the movie doesn’t even seem to be trying to make any jokes – the few existing jokes are nearly uniformly terrible, but so much of the movie is as jokeless as it is plotless.  On the rare occasion that something is mildly amusing, it gets run into the ground until it’s not.  (Example:  In a failed attempt to do the Young Frankenstein thing, the film’s McGuffin is the Blue Star, which gets a choral fanfare every time its name is mentioned.  This is worth a smile exactly once, for a villain’s reaction [“what is this shit?!”].  The gag is repeated over and over and over and over, and somehow never commences to be entertaining.)

The degree of nothing is such an assault on the viewer that I really can’t understand why this movie was made.  We discussed it in the seats, but came to no conclusion.  It’s not softcore porn, because there’s only like two total (jarringly out of place) bits of unappealing porn.  It’s not a full-on satire of Star Wars et al because it doesn’t have a coherent message or commentary on anything.  I tried to view it as a series of loosely tied sketch comedy bits, but gave up on that due to the above lack of jokes, even bad ones.  And M’ris mused out loud that certain parts could be maybe a satire of third-wave feminism, but probably weren’t.  Suffice to say, Galaxina is a terrible, terrible film in every respect.  I can’t quite call it the worst movie I’ve ever seen, because, you know, it’s B-fest.  It wouldn’t be B-fest if it didn’t include a few doses of pure, unadulterated pain along with all the “fun” bad movies.  But ye gods, this one hurt.

Movie rating:  ABOMINATION
B-fest rating:  Decent (for its role as the designated abomination, but did I mention how much it hurt?

Rhinestone (1984)

In my years at the Fest, this was my first repeat film (other than Plan 9, obviously), also shown way back at B-fest 2006, when it broke some minds but helped save the festival for me.  This was the scariest looking part of the schedule; two bad comedies in a row.  But you know what?  The crowd was surprisingly lively for 7 AM, and the film was as benign as I remember it.  It’s about Dolly Parton teaching Sylvester Stallone to be a country star, and about 20-25% of the laughs it induced were intentional – not a bad average at all for a B-fest comedy.  Plus, as Jon Stewart once pointed out, it’s impossible to be an American – irrespective of race, creed, politics, etc. – and not at least kinda enjoy Dolly Parton.

This is not to suggest that Rhinestone is a good movie or anything.  In fact, it’s quite bad, between its excessive length, its ridiculous plot, the mostly cringeworthy jokes, and the even more cringeworthy singing from our friend Sly.  But it’s relatively benign in its badness, really; it’s no Galaxina.

I broke form here and actually got on stage here to do a minor “bit,” dancing along to Stallone’s horrific rendition of “Tutti Frutti.”  People seemed to like it okay.  FYI, with the obvious exception of the mock seizure, all funky dance moves came directly from Don’t Knock The Rock.

Movie rating:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Decent

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Did skip the very endless end of Rhinestone in the Starbucks line so I could catch the beginning of this.  Like some movies of its era, it’s about morally depraved folks getting killed; it stars a douchebag trying to get his wife institutionalized so he can steal her money.  He’s remarkably focused on carrying out his extramarital affairs, slipping out to dance with his new chick even after his wife is transformed by aliens into a giant who needs to be locked up.  Naturally, she escapes.  This one was pretty breezy for an old B&W, letting giants flip over cars and smash buildings with a minimum of speechmaking

But even in 1958, AOT50FW must have met the same howls of derision that it did at B-fest for the sub-Corman special effects.  The two “giants” are not in camera-phase with the stuff they’re supposedly destroying; initially I legitimately thought that the alien giant was supposed to be some kind of holographic projection because he was so faint.  It’s all just a laughable effect.  So you get stuff like a rampaging giant woman whose head is actually fading in and out of view as she pulls down power lines or whatever

My wife, who’s not into this particular type of geekery enough to actually attend but likes hearing about it was very fixated on whether the woman was, in fact, exactly fifty feet tall.  I was sure to let her know that the titular woman’s height is not actually specified during the film.

Movie rating:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Lunch break here, then we moved on to...

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Aaargh.  For some reason I felt obligated to stick this one out in its entirety, even though it was really fucking long and I knew I’d hate it.  Proving once and for all that previous generations were assholes, this is one of a series of like seven apparently very popular “Beach Blanket” movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.   I’m sure there are people who enjoy seeing rich “teens” spend their lives lounging on the beach and singing bland pop tunes.  Of very minor note are the surprisingly positive depictions of a dimwitted diva and her promoter, who’s one of those people looking to exploit “youth culture” for the benefit of the music industry.  And of course, as in any beach party movie, there are the “comic relief” adult figures who are not even remotely amusing, including one villain who was so annoying that we started yelling “shut up!” every time he said anything at all; even so, the relentless (but “comedic!”) physical violence that the movie puts him through gets a little unpleasant.  Oh, and Buster Keaton shows up and dances with some of the kids.

I’d pre-called BBB as my personal worst-of-Fest.  As it turned out, Galaxina earned that distinction, hands down.  But I really despised “Bingo” too, and desperately hope the Beach Blanket series never gets played at B-fest again.

Movie rating:  Bad
B-fest rating:  Bad

Steele Justice (1987)

Our hero, John Steele (AKA That One Bully Guy From The Karate Kid), is a Viet Nam vet whom we follow into the 1980s to single-handedly take on an entire Vietnamese mafia who’re breaking into people’s houses and killing them.  I honestly didn’t pay much attention to this one except to confirm that, yep, we were still in an elaborate action setpiece.  Steele seemed a little more vulnerable than the Chuck Norrises of the world, often getting beaten up rather than seeming invincible, and throwing himself into danger in a way that wouldn’t have worked in any other movie.  But hey, he holds his own pretty well considering that he’s killing a small army effectively alone.  I don’t have much else to say about SJ; fun enough, and a nice palate-cleanser after Frankie and Annette.

Movie rating:  Decent
B-fest rating:  Decent

The Barbarians (1987)

Italian swords-and-sorcery!  This one stars a pair of identical bodybuilder twins billed as “The Barbarian Brothers.”  It actually had the elements to be an amazingly fun movie – lots of scantily clad dudes and ladies killing things and a self-serious fantasy plot offset by a very relaxed, casual line delivery from both the Brothers and the chick who plays their sidekick.  Unfortunately, I guess, the plot doesn’t actually make much sense (for instance, the villain has sworn not to kill the brothers, so his master plan is to wait twenty years before moving forward with any of his other plans, let them grow into huge gladiators, and kill each other).  We were promised copious nudity by the vague recollections of a few folks who’d seen it, but that turned out not to be the case, although everyone’s easy on the eyes.  The numerous fight scenes are universally cheap and clunky.  So The Barbarians is both inept and surprisingly slow moving for a movie of its ingredients.  Still, it has a lack of pretension that makes it very easy to like, and as a fan of cheesy fantasy, I quite liked it for what it was.

Those of us tired folks who’d made it this long had grown easily amused, so we spent the majority of the movie imitating the Barbarians’ battle cry, which sounded like a Sand People yell crossed with an ape.  [For those who need to remember what it sounded like, the end of this clip is a decent exemplar, although nothing like having a whole auditorium imitating it.]

Movie rating:  Weak
B-fest rating:  Good

Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Hell yeah!  For the first time in awhile B-fest got a legitimate Godzilla movie to close with.  And although I’m no expert, I’m still going to say that this is the best Godzilla movie ever made, including the ones I haven’t seen.  I know some people are attached to the wrestling-heavy cheapies of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but sometimes you want monsters shooting lasers at each other that actually looks cool.  Sure, you can complain that GVKG is way overplotted for a monster movie, involving time travel between three different eras and requiring every character to pretty much be a total moron.  And you can complain that the movie is like 50% longer than it has any right to be.  You’d be right on both counts, but I really don’t care.

GVKG builds perfectly.  First of all, the stuff with the humans actually has a point rather than being a throwaway, and has its own set of cheesy chase scenes to break up the monster action and provide some tone-deaf anti-American sentiment.  And I like the fatalism, where no amount of time travel can change the inevitability of Godzilla attacking and killing the people he once saved.  (BTW, extra cheese credit for the US military commander telling one of his men something like – “aliens from outer space!  Maybe you can tell your son about it, Major Spielberg.”)  But enough of that, it’s all about the monster fights, and that’s where things shine – it’s all about gradual escalation.  First the movie builds up Godzilla through reputation, and by having a pre-Godzilla dinosaur trample some stuff.  Then it introduces King Ghidorah and the first set of laser shooting.  Only then does Godzilla himself emerge, and the movie saves busting out the famous laser breath until the heat of the moment.  It’s clear that Ghidorah is pretty badass, but Godzilla is unstoppable, as he finally moves on to Tokyo (the early action was set in places like Sapporo).  Finally the good guys up the ante by leveling up King Ghidorah with future technology (including a rainbow colored laser) and a little human ingenuity (the movie’s hero a Japanese woman from the future who eventually pilots the monster Robot Jox style), setting up the final, biggest battle.  The incredibly geeky video game geek in me couldn’t be happier.  Ah, I unabashedly love Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah.

Despite the film’s length, we as a group ate it up, with much cheering and more Barbarian imitations aplenty.  A great way to end a great B-fest.

Movie rating:  Good
B-fest rating:  Excellent

And that’s it!  Well, thanks one more time to all in attendance for making my tenth B-fest one for the ages.  Right now the plan is to try for another ten, at least.  ‘Till next year...

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