Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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B-Fest 2009 Recap

For the last few years I've been attending B-Fest, an annual 24-hour festival of B-movies that runs from 6pm on Friday to 6pm on Saturday of the last weekend in January at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. This is the sort of event that makes my mouth water, although the idea bores a lot of my friends to tears. Ah, well, their loss.

On Friday morning I got a haircut, washed my car, and picked matt_william and evil_jim up and drove to henrietta1's, where we loaded up her car and got on the road to Chicagoland sometime shortly before noon. Out first stop was the Belvedere Oasis where we picked up sandwiches from Subway for a late-night meal. Establishments within the Oasis have captive customers and can pretty much set their own price, so Subway does not sell $5 footlongs there. On the other hand, the food court on campus was closed by 11:00 PM when I finally tore into mine, so I'm not complaining. But uh, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The next stop was Mitsuwa Marketplace, an Asian mini-mall where we met up with the other car (agaysexicon, fuzzyinthehead, r3507, and some guy to whom I wasn't introduced), and with henrietta1's friend Tim. We got lunch and smoothies at the food court, browsed the stores a little, and then headed to the grocery store to stock up. Mitsuwa has been getting smaller and smaller since my first trip there, so I was pleased to see that it hasn't changed much. That's something I was a little worried about, actually. The grocery store is the same as always, however, which means that it's unpredictable. There are a few things I always want to buy there, and usually I can find around 40%, and this trip was no exception. I did manage, however, to grab the necessities that would help me stay awake and stave off hunger. That's code for "I bought tomato Pretz."

Anyway, post Mitsuwa we headed off to the Northwestern Campus, found seats in the lecture hall (hereafter referred to as the theater), and deposited our stuff. Nick, Liz, Kyle, and That Guy sat behind us. Actually, I was hoping to get to talk to them more during the festival, but for some reason it didn't happen. I spotted telstarman and we went over to pick up copies of his annual B-Fest mix CD, which we were actually able to have him sign. Then the staff kicked us out and started taking tickets. I bought a $15 B-Fest shirt which has the same artwork as on the poster:

Once we got back into the theater, it was a matter of minutes before the program got underway. I tried to take a few pictures, but as usual, somebody kept deliberately ruining every picture, so I gave up and waited for the program to start.

6:00(ish) - Welcome

6:05 - Firewalker (1986)
Chuck Norris and Lou Gossett, Jr. star as adventurers for hire in this movie that contains much alcohol consumption and Native American stereotyping, but no actual firewalking or reference to firewalking. I'm not particularly taken with Chuck Norris outside of his internet meme, so I don't really care for his brand of roundhouse-'em-ups*. Not particularly memorable, not something I'd have the patience to watch alone, but it was a good start to the festival once the novelty of shouting in a lecture hall wore off and I could actually hear the hecklers.

8:00 - Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. in the roles that made Boris Karloff and himself famous, respectively. Not one of the better Universal monster movies, but certainly more fun than Firewalker. Lugosi doesn't have much to do in this picture, other than scowling and lumbering about with outstretched arms, but Chaney has his moments. I'm mostly familiar with the shaky, alcoholic twilight of Chaney's movie career, so pretty much anything where he appears fit and limber impresses me. I'm also still impressed by the Wolfman transformation effect.

9:25 - Mystery Short #1: Takarazuka (1962)
The minimal research I've done (mostly on YouTube) tells me that Takarazuka is an all-female dance theater troupe from Japan. The database on the Em Gee Film Library's website tells me that this was made in 1962. I can tell you that it feels like an all-girl Gilbert & Sullivan revue, only with worse music and no Mikado.

9:45 - Murder in the Air (1940)
Ronald Reagan flexes his meta-acting muscles as a government agent who infiltrates a spy ring in the 1940 thriller that began his half-century battle against the Commies. The only other thing I remember about this movie is that all the bad guys sported the same tattoo, which eventually ended up on several of the paper plates thrown during Plan Nine. Notable for its lack of murder.

10:50 - The Raffle (1994)
Two out of work men come up with a money-making promotion to find -- wait, no. This was just the raffle for door prizes. Liz -- who has won the B-Fest raffle once before -- got a DVD of an anime called Gantz. There were a couple of nice prizes, but most of them were the sort of DVDs that don't sell in the Previously Viewed section at Blockbuster.

11:15 - Mystery Short #2: Comics and Kids (198something)
Comics and Kids has been shown before. It concerns a group of adolescent boys who hang out in a treehouse reading war comics while a creepy voiceover whispers things like "die! Get 'em! Get'em! Destroy!" Then the treehouse fills with smoke, and the kids are wearing warpaint. They go out to the local playground, terrorize the 4-year-olds, and blow up sandcastles with small fireworks as the creepy voiceover continues, creepily. Then it's time to go home. You could probably read an anti-violence message into this, but I think the director is just nostalgic for his younger days. I can't remember the names of any of the comics, but I do remember looking them up on Wikipedia last time and deciding that the film must have been shot sometime in the early mid-'80s. Also, the clubhouse is equipped with a clarinet, just so you know.

11:20 - Mystery Short #2a: Flash Gordon (circa 2400)
Black & white short in which a sparkler-powered model rocket lurches around a cityscape constructed out of recyclables and tin foil. We think it's probably called Flash Gordon because those words appear in the background.

11:45 - The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979) -- Watch it here!
Mike Jittlov's stop-motion masterpiece is always hotly anticipated because it signals the beginning of the late-night block of films, and it provides the adrenaline rush that a lot of us depend on. It always gets shown forwards, then backwards and upside-down as the film is re-wound. This time they did it twice, however, because they needed to kill time before midnight. Come to think of it, none of the movies actually started on time this year, except for...

12:00 - Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) -- Watch it here!
The other major staple of B-Fest, replete with audience participation on the same level (but not as refined) as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A good time was had by all, and a great many paper plates were hurled whenever a flying saucer was onscreen. I saved mine and have uploaded them to the Flickr account that I never use.

1:30 - Scream Blacula Scream (1973)
The traditional late-night Blaxploitation film. William Marshall (better known as The King of Cartoons from Pee-Wee's Playhouse, the captain of the Video Pirates from Amazon Women on the Moon, and That Guy from Star Trek: The Original Series) reprises his role as Prince Mamuwalde in the sequel to Blacula, which I watched last week in preparation for B-Fest. The verdict? Blacula is a better movie, but Scream Blacula Scream is a lot more fun. I had a hard time deciphering the plot, but the music's good, the fashion is incredibly bad, and it features Pam Grier. Those are all pluses.

3:15 - Don't Knock the Rock (1956)
Have you seen Footloose? Have you seen Pop Rocks? Then you've seen this idea executed in a much more competent fashion. Evidently everybody else liked Don't Knock the Rock, but I'd rather have slept through it. Essentially, a squeaky-clean rock band goes on vacation only to discover that their hometown has banned the Devil's music (as phoned in by Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, and some other band that I've never heard of). Probably not the worst soundtrack ever, but I can't think of one that I enjoyed less. I can picture Satan gritting his teeth and wishing that Black Sabbath would just hurry up and get here so the bat biting could get underway. Not recommended. The movie, either.

5:00 - Donovan's Brain 1953
A millionaire named Donovan is killed in an accident, but a scientist harvests his brain and keeps it alive in a tank. Then the brain develops telepathic powers and starts controlling people. This is as much as I got out of the movie, because I kept falling asleep. Well, that and it co-stars Nancy Davis (later Nancy Reagan) as a Patty Duke-esque housewife/scientist.

6:30 - The Tingler (1959)
Probably the most well-liked movie at the festival, The Tingler stars Vincent Price as a doctor who suspects that the spinal tingling experienced with fear is actually caused by a parasite which he dubs "The Tingler." Bad "science" but good movie with more twists, turns, and red herrings than most modern thrillers. Directed on the cheap by William Castle, the king of theater gimmicks. The Tingler is probably considered his masterwork in that regard -- in one scene, the movie "stops" and Vincent Price announces that The Tingler is loose in this very theater! And that the only way to stay safe is to scream -- scream with all your might! This movie, its bizzare marketing campaign, and its influence over the future of the horror genre actually deserve fairly serious study, though I can only give them a passing nod here. Really trashy. Really fun with a loud audience.

8:00 - Captive Wild Woman (1943)
I accidentally slept through most of this one, but as far as I can tell, a very young John Carradine transplants the glands (not brain, but glands) of a woman into an ape. The ape then transforms into a beautiful woman played by an actress with the unlikely stage name of Acquanetta. Then the film suffers technical difficulties requiring it to be stopped several times, and it still comes in under an hour. IMDB says this one is 61 minutes long, so we must have missed several minutes of footage. I didn't much care, though. Next!

9:10 - Mystery Short: Breathdeath: A Trageede in Masks -- Watch it here!
Guess what? This one is actually well-known and available online! And I'm linking to it here because I DON'T LIKE YOU. No, this is a mostly stop-motion animated film that nobody much liked. Turns out that it's by Stan VanDerBeek, a surrealist filmmaker most active in the '50s and '60s. Personally, I thought it looked like a collaboration between David Lynch and Python-era Terry Gilliam, after both have run out of ideas. I actually really like this sort of thing, but this particular film runs too long and contains too much dead space. Here's a link to an interesting website about Mr.VanDerBeek.

9:30 - American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)
Two Army Rangers are transferred to a base in the pacific where the military is handled more like a boys' club and the commanding officer looks like Arnold Rimmer with a mustache. The local international terrorist is genetically engineering an army of superhuman ninjas, who, presumably, will help him conquer the world. However, before they get started on the conquering, the terrorist demonstrates their strength and agility by assembling them in an arena and ordering his top henchman in to kill most of them. Good thing, because our Ranger friends have already demonstrated that although they're good, they're not that good. Nor, technically, are they ninjas.

11:10 - The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) - Watch it here!
A by-the-books Western featuring an all-midget cast. It might have started a tradition of shortsploitation films at B-Fest, but everybody was pretty disappointed with it. If you've ever seen one of the myriad singing cowboy movies of the '30s and '40s, you seen this in a different aspect ratio. Unfortunate, since it started promisingly; the opening credits say that Nita Krebs plays The Vampire. The Vampire, sadly, is the stage name of the local singing prostitute.

12:15 - Lunch
The original online schedule gave us five minutes for lunch, but by the time everything was finalized, we had half an hour. Headed down to the food court and had a pesto crepe with feta cheese. The food court was not ready for the B-Festers, which is why it took a good 20 minutes before I had my food, and I missed the opening rape scene of the next film.

12:45 - The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)
Bruce Dern and Casey Kasem star as a scientist and just some guy, respectively. Dern plays a scientist who thinks it would be pretty neat to graft two heads onto the same body. The donors? His mentally disabled hired hand and the serial killer who committed the opening scene rape that people tell me I missed. This might sound promising to you, but I got bored, fell asleep, and missed most of it. No big loss.

2:20 - Mystery Short #3: The Concert (1974)
Remember the scene in Big where Tom Hanks plays the giant piano keyboard in the department store? The Concert is basically the same thing, but the piano keyboard is actually the crosswalk outside of the Royal Albert Hall in London, and the musician also conducts birds, dogs, a policeman (sorry, bobby (it's British, after all)). Probably the only short I've ever seen at B-Fest that was roundly enjoyed by everybody. Pretty good. Not in the public domain, otherwise I'd link to it.

2:45 - Megaforce (1982)
Not the best movie at this year's B-Fest, but easily the most fun. Imagine a 1980s paramilitary cartoon ala M.A.S.K. or GI Joe adapted verbatim for live action without a trace of irony. Oh, the terrible one-liners are still there, along with the over-the-top action and more explosions than the Michael Bay's entire oeuvre, but somebody clearly took it seriously. One of the worst movies I've ever seen, yet one of the most fun to sit through. henrietta1 leaned over at the beginning and told me that this was "going to be awesome," and I told her that if I were alone watching it, I'd probably be bored to tears. She was right, I was wrong. Bonus: Main character is played by Barry Bostwick wearing gold spandex that's far (and unpleasantly) more revealing than his near-nudity in Rocky Horror. Features the most unfortunate accidental shadow puppet ever recorded. This would probably pair well as a double feature with Hudson Hawk, The Fifth Element, or Troll 2.

4:30 - Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)
I can understand the cultural significance of the original Godzilla, but I have never seen the appeal of the Japanese giant monster movies, which puts me into a minority. It also means that the last time B-Fest went out with a bang for me was 2006 when we watched King Kong. Godzilla vs. Megalon is basically the same as any other Godzilla vs. Somebody movie, except that in this one the little boy has two daddies. I spent part of the film trying to sleep, part of it rounding up my possessions, and most of it wondering when it would end.

I realize that my comments may make B-Fest sound like a harrowing experience, but in fact it's a very good time. Any unpleasantness onscreen is offset by sharing the experience with a theaterful of people.

* Think we can make this catch on? No? Oh, well.

After Godzilla vs. Megalon, we started rounding up all of our stuff to leave. The first order of business was to find some real food, so we stopped at a diner close to Tim's apartment and had the next best thing (I shouldn't make fun, actually. Mine was pretty good). After that we went to Tim's place, chatted briefly with his wife, Jessica, and discovered that one of the local TV stations was playing Tarantula -- a B-Fest staple. Sarah and I took showers (separately), and zonked out on the floor. I work early on Sunday morning but didn't bother moving until Matt and Sarah started debating as to whether or not I was asleep. We breakfasted on a delicious egg dish and a coffee cake, both provided by Sarah, and I discovered the the coffee Tim buys from Aldi's tastes better than the coffee for which I pay twice as much. We got on the road quite a bit sooner than we'd planned, and were home really early.

I had a blast.

We oughta do it again.

In a year.

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