evil_jim picked me up, and we headed first to campus to pick up his friend Sarah from Anime Club, then to pick up Thea and another Sarah, also from Anime Club (but not the same as the first Sarah from Anime Club). We made good time on the drive down and made it into Chicago around noon. Lunch at Mitsuwa, and then off to the campus of Northwestern University (so actually, we didn't actually go toChicago, but we were in that general area). We were pretty early, but pretty early turned out to be necessary to get seats.
24 hours is a long time to sit, and that 24 was preceeded by another 12 hours of being awake. Most of us were cranky and I was ready to crash, but first we went out for pizza and then to Sarah's (the one who wasn't the first one) friend Tim's apartment in Naperville. That is where I eventually lost consciousness. I'm told that (for once) I managed not to say anything embarrassing in my sleep ("mmmbfwlmmf... your ears are so pointy.... lbbsmkwwfmmmbmmmfff."). Up again twelve hours later, we had lunch at a Grandma Sally's Restaurant where the back wall sports a mural which attempts to combine the styles of Norman Rockwell and M.C. Escher. If you've ever wondered what the city of R'lyeh looks like, Grandma Sally's is worth the stop.
Anyway, back to Mitsuwa, then home sometime around 6:30. It was a long and tiring trip, but it was worth it. I need to go to bed now, but I've described the films we watched below:
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Ray Harryhausen has been quoted as saying that this is his least favorite of the films for which he did special effects. It's a typical run-of-the-mill, 50's flying saucer movie and I've seen it before. Unremarkable, but unintentionally hilarious in the right company. The B-Fest crowd was the perfect audience. Especially entertaining was the Earth vs. The Flying Saucers score tally kept next to the screen on a sheet of posterboard. Every time something blew up, a tick mark was added on the appropriate side.
I can't be the only one for whom this was the high point of B-Fest. The Apple is so blisteringly, indescribably deplorable that I can't wait to get my hands on a copy to repeat the experience. Set in the futuristic world of 1994 where popular music and politics go hand in hand, The Apple tells the story of a young, innocent Sonny & Cher duo corrupted by the music industry. Sex, drugs, heavy-handed (but ineptly adapted) Christian symbolism, and the most hideous disco/glam soundtrack imaginable ensue. Mary Cathrine Stewart plays the female lead, and Joss Acklund plays the deus ex machina character (a step up from his role as Denomolos in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey). The Apple was made in 1980, the peak of what I consider to be the era of entertainingly bad movie musicals (as in Lisztomania!, Shock Treatment, The Wiz!, Xanadu...) but its unique eccentricity puts it in a class by itself. Somebody in the audience passed out lyrics sheets for some of the songs -- even the one where the words are "hey, hey, hey, Bim's on the way!" repeated over and over.
The Syphillis Short
I don't remember what it was called, but this was a short film about that scourge of society, syphillis! In it we learn that white, upper-class teenagers (in as many words, too) are leading our nation down a moral sewer. The first few minutes were funny, but it soon became creepy and disturbingly misleading. A lot of people remarked afterward that it made them feel uncomfortable, not because syphillis is scary, but because misinformation is. Myself? I've always known that dancing the jitterbug causes genital warts.
Directed by the late, great Irwin Allen, The Swarm spectulates on how we'd handle an attack by a swarm of African killer bees (referred to through the movie simply as "Africans"). It's a wonderful example of 1970s-vintage disaster filmmaking, it features a superfluous love-story, the kind of bad science you don't see outside of the conservative right wing, and everybody who was anybody (Michael Caine, Jose Ferrer, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Katherine Ross, Fred MacMurray, Olivia de Havilland...) fighting off... The Swarm. It's entertaining enough to sit through on TV and cheesy enough to make even the slow-witted sound like Tom Servo, but you wouldn't want to pay to rent it.
Raffle for Door Prizes
My ticket (#8) didn't win anything, but one of the Sarahs won a movie featuring Santo Enmascarado de Plata.
The Wizard of Speed and Time (the short, not the movie)
Though I'm a recent convert to WOSAT fandom, I hadn't seen the original short film until now. Imagine a cross between Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and the shorts they play on Sesame Street. It's possibly the happiest few minutes ever committed to celluloid. When it was over, they played it again backwards. My head nearly turned inside out and exploded.
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Plan 9 is sort of the high point of B-fest, I suppose because everyone's seen it. They show it every year, and it's accompanied by Rocky Horroresque callbacks (not as funny or refined as RH, but they're there). Paper plates are thrown at the screen whenever UFOs appear and everybody has a good time. I brought a stack of 72 plates and wrote messages on them during the earlier films (a lot of people do this). I got through a little more than half of them, mostly making fun of the previous movies ("The Apple is rotten!"). After the movie the aisles were a cluttered, white sea of plates. It was a lot of fun.
Blaxploitation films never really went away, Hollywood just figured out ways to make them palatable enough for everybody. Black Caesar is a good illustration of what changed. It's the gritty tale of a kid who works his way into The System and climbs the ladder to mob boss, eventually becoming what he used to hate. Even the good guys are bad guys and the end of the movie is so depressing that it was cut from the original theatrical release. Maybe if I'd been expecting this kind of movie I would have liked it more, but I came to B-Fest for escapism. Black Caesar lacked whatever it was that makes me like Shaft.
Masculine or Feminine?
I think we all expected this short film to be about antiquated (or one would hope) family values. As it turned out, nobody could figure out what the message of Masculine or Feminine? was. It was a series of scripted interviews talking about gender roles -- there was the construction worker who considered women in the workplace and men with long hair to be an abomination, the career gal whose income exceeded her husband's... The film didn't commit to one side or the other, but it did offer a good running gag -- the question "Masculine or feminine?" was asked throughout the rest of the films.
Beauty and the Robot
Apparently there's a late-night spot reserved every year for B-grade porn (which apparently differs from the other stuff). Beauty and the Robot filled that spot this year, but (mercifully) it wasn't porn. Instead, it's a G or PG-level sex comedy from 1960 in which Mamie van Doren plays a college professor with an IQ of 268 and body like Marilyn Monroe's who can't seem to get a moment's rest from the male faculty. Throw in some jealous coeds, a couple of gangsters, a gambling robot named Thinko and you've got the sort of thing I'll never sit through again. Even for Conway Twitty's soundtrack, featuring the movie's theme song, Sexbot Goes to College.
The porn eventually made its way into the late night offerings between reels of Beauty and the Robot in the form of a couple of animated shorts from (I'd guess) the 1930s. Horrible, horrible stuff featuring all manner of beastiality and alarm clocks coming out of places where they should never, ever be. evil_jim had chosen to sleep through Beauty and the Robot, woke up in the middle of these shorts, and had to pull me aside later in the morning to ask if he'd really seen what he thought he saw. I assured him that yes, it was real, and just as wrong as he's assumed in his dazed state.
Death Wish 3
I managed to make it through Death Wish 3, though I slept through maybe as much as 20 minutes of it. Charles Bronson plays a hardass vigilante out for revenge against what he perceives to be evil... just like in the other Death Wish movies. Not so bad I'd tell you not to watch it, but not enough fun that I'd recommend it. Apparently I missed Marina Sirtis' (ST:TNG's Counsellor Troi) rape scene, but that's more a relief than a disappointment.
I can't really address this one as I fell asleep about two minutes after the opening credits,
3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain
THIS movie was not good. At all. Those of us who were awake had to make fun of it because otherwise it might have killed us. Think children's entertainment is innocuous? Think again. 3 Ninjas is exactly the sort of pandering mess that makes me frightened of so-called "family movies." It's really too bad, too, because the film features Loni Anderson, Jim Varney as bad guys, Victor Wong playing the wise sensei character he always plays, and Hulk Hogan as Dave Dragon (sort of an answer to the Power Rangers). All four are better than this crap (perhaps only marginally, but they are (or were, since Varney and Wong are dead)), and could probably have been really good in a different children's film. Instead they get to be the background chorus in a sub-Home Alone smart kids vs. stupid adults movie. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone but the people who made it.
Boy meets grill in this 1968 Japanese classic inspired by the works of Bram Stoker and Jane Austen and starring-- oh, wait. This was just where we had a short intermission for breakfast.
Robot Monster is arguably the quintessential cheap, bad, sci-fi B-movie. More fiction than science, more dumb than anything else, Robot Monster tells a touching story of the forbidden love between the girl-next-door and a fat gorilla with a space helmet. Er, no, wait. That movie might be entertaining. Instead, Robot Monster chronicles the story of Ro-Man and his attempts to destroy the last human family, having apparently eradicated the rest of us. Ro-Man really is a guy in a gorilla suit and a space helmet, and he lumbers around his cave like a bear, operating his futuristic space-alien equipment (which looks suspiciously like an old-fashioned TV and a Lawrence Welk-style bubble machine). Legend has it that Robot Monster was so viciously panned upon its release that its director, unable to find work, attempted suicide by shooting himself and missed.
Short Film I Can't Remember The Name Of
Girl likes boy at church. Girl brings boy home. Girl seduces boy. Boy turns out to be a pastor. Boy and girl both die and (I'm assuming here since I couldn't hear the sound over the audience) are learn that they are sinners and must return to Earth as superheroes to save the human race or at least New York (where the film was made). It's anti-theist satire made by a bunch of college students, but most of the theater was too noisy to have picked up on that.
Class of Nuke 'Em High
When the films of Troma Studios were first described to me, I was ecstatic. Then I actually saw some of them. This is the third time I've paid to see Class of Nuke 'Em High, and it gets worse (in an unpleasant way) each time. This particular type of gore for the sake of gore does nothing for me, and I always walk away from Troma films feeling like I've wasted time on something that's actually poisoning me. Reflecting on this, I realize that Peter Jackson's early films -- which I love (even Meet the Feebles) are full of the same stuff. I think my dislike of Troma is the same "even the good guys are bastards" issue I had with Black Caesar. Either way, Class of Nuke 'Em High: Waste from the nuclear power plant starts contaminating the students at a local high school. Hilarity fails to ensue, but the accidental anti-drug message is pretty effective. Ironically, Nuke 'Em High had some of the highest production value of any film we watched.
Lassie: The Adventures of Neeka
How Lassie ended up on the B-Fest schedule, I have no idea. I also didn't know that Lassie featured a character named Neeka, but I'm told that this movie was edited together from episodes from the TV show. That's not much of a surprise, since it seems to be more a series of disjointed vignettes than an actual plot. Lots of (hopefully) unintentional innuendo, but otherwise this was the boring answer to The 3 Ninjas' dumb.
This is what B-movies are all about. Actually, that's not true. B-movies can be about anything because the label "B-movie" indicates how a film is marketed, not necessarily what qualities are, but um, I digress... Anyway, Ice Pirates is a truly, truly strange science fiction film that appears to have been written without giving any consideration to the audience's entertainment or gulibility factor. The end result comes across as a medley of Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Marx Brothers, with a liberal amount Dune and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for good measure. The plot? It's the distant future. Water is scarce and pirates resort to stealing it to obtain it. Our heroes -- a couple of pirates (duh, did you read the title of the film?) -- get captured by a princess for the purpose of slavery, but she kidnaps them and leaves in search of her father who probably lives -- you guessed it -- on that fabled planet of water that nobody seriously believes in. Pursuing the princes and the pirates are a bunch of knights in armor, a nasty case of space herpes, and enough other silly plot twists to keep you interested.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space
I have a new tagline for this one: "IF you liked Resident Evil... IF you loved Alien... Then you've already enjoyed this movie... twice!" Three times, if you stayed awake through the parts of Dark Star that featured the alien which was obviously a beach ball with swimming flippers. I love that movie. It!, unfortunately, is not Dark Star, Alien, or even Resident Evil.
Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo
Somehow I was expecting Breakin' 2 to be painfully difficult to sit through. In fact, I was speculating that they'd saved it for the end so that the attendees wouldn't kill each other. Turns out that Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo is not so much awful as it is a very definite product of the mid-'80s. Not a movie I'd ever consider renting, but I'd sit through it again. The plot? Old white guys want to demolish urban youth center to make room for a new commercial distric. Witty, break-dancing, multicultural street-urchans band together to save their beloved rec center. Even speaking as somebody who has seen this story a million times (UHF? Old Mickey Rooney musicals?) and wants to be an old white guy at some point, it'd hard not to side with the dancers, especially since they have a very young Ice-T on their side. Breakin' 2 lacks the pretentious self-importance of a movie like The Apple, but it was a good, upbeat ending to the film festival, and probably did a better job of keeping me awake.