Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

B-Fest 2013: NOW IT CAN BE TOLD (in exhaustive detail).

Every January since 2005, I've been making the trek to B-Fest, Northwestern University's 24-hour festival of B-movies. I don't know what compels us to make this trip year after year; it's a long, toilsome experience. Some people don't make it through the whole thing, and others vow never to return again. Yet for some reason, I go, year after year with the same group of friends, even though we should all know better by now...

We got underway on the morning of Friday, January 25th and made the trip down to Chicagoland. By now our schedule is pretty well cemented: leave around 10:00 on Friday morning, stop somewhere to pick up sandwiches for late night sustenance, pit stop at the Belvidere Oasis, and then on to Mitsuwa Marketplace, which is a Japanese mini-mall in Arlington Heights. We arrive at Mitsuwa around 1:00 PM, have lunch and buy supplies, and then we drive another 45 minutes to the Northwestern University campus. We try to time this so that we can arrive by 4:00, which is when they stop ticketing cars that park on campus without a sticker.

I rode with matt_william and his girlfriend Jen (who might have a Livejournal, but maybe not--who knows! Nobody uses this platform anymore!). Somehow we managed to forget our sandwich stop, so we ended up waiting around at the Belvidere Oasis for an hour before the other car showed up, carrying evil_jim, henrietta1, and her classmate Stephanie, who also might have an LJ, or maybe not.

Sandwiches were purchased at the Oasis, and then we drove on to Mitsuwa, where we met with our friend Tim (who lives in the area), and had lunch. I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous, so I played it safe with fried rice and dumplings, but Mitsuwa's food court offers a large and interesting selection, if you can get past the fact that you don't recognize anything, or know how to pronounce it.

The main draw of Mitsuwa is its grocery store, which we hit after lunch. The grocery store has all manner of unusual snacks and colorful carbonated beverages (and real food, too), and our group buys a lot of provisions there. I've learned, however, that junk food, no matter how exotic, will not keep me awake, so recently I've been trying not to pack really good, nourishing food rather than relying on Mitsuwa to provide my B-Fest meals.

At Mitsuwa, I ran into another group from Madison (specifically fuzzyinthehead and hacky_mcsmacko--more on them later), and I had a look around at the other stores, but sadly, Mitsuwa's offerings have decreased over the years. Oh, well.

After Mitsuwa, we drove to the University campus. We arrived a little early, but the Parking Enforcement car was leaving as we pulled in, so we weren't too worried.

The parking lot is not ideally situated. It's a stone's throw from Lake Michigan, and a bit farther to the actual building. This is not a big deal on Friday afternoon; we just have to pull our gear out of the car and lug it into the building, across the cafeteria, up three flights of stairs, and then we're in the theater. This takes maybe ten minutes, but on Saturday night, it seems to take about 45. More on this later.

The festival takes place in a campus lecture hall with theater-style seating and an aisle down the middle. We usually sit in the same area; looking down from the back of the auditorium, we sit on the right side near the front (but not exactly in front. We found our seats, unpacked a little, and waited for the festival to begin. During the interim, evil_jim tried to introduce me to The Fake Criswell, but somebody (I can't remember who) demanded my attention, and I never made my way back to where Criswell was sitting. We also ran into TelstarMan who has traditionally made an annual B-Fest Mix CD which is available to anyone who happens to notice that he's handing out discs. devianttouch showed up to sit with us, and finally, the festival got underway.

We started out the Fest with Breaker! Breaker!, starring the increasingly less-entertaining Chuck Norris. I know, I know: Chuck Norris could probably decapitate me right now from wherever the hell he's standing, but I'm just not fond of the man and his works. His movies are like frosting; the first roundhouse kick (or bite) is awesome, but by the time I've sat through 90 minutes (or a corner piece of wedding cake) I feel done for the rest of my life.

So what can I tell you about this one? Well, the sound was bad, and the movie bad a bluish tint which continued through about half of the festival. The movie opens up in the small town of Texas City, California, where the local police force and a crooked judge have teamed up to trap truckers. Why? Beats me. This might have been explained at some point, but the first few hours of B-Fest are pretty loud, and I'm usually lucky to catch any dialogue in the first movie.

Anyway, C.N. plays a character named J.D. who in introduced in a confusing scene where he seems to be leading a meditation group. At some point he uses the phrase "third eye." J.D. and his brother are truckers, and the brother disappears. J.D.'s intuition tells him that the citizens of Texas City are to blame, so he drives into town and proceeds to open up a can of Whoop-Ass. And not one of those 5.5 oz. cans--we're talking about those big 46 oz. cans that they sell V8 (and Whoop-Ass) in. At some point he gets thrown in jail, and somebody a few rows behind me plays a couple of mournful chords on a harmonica.

J.D. gets involved with a '70s-vintage "pretty" blonde who eventually saves the day by getting on the CB radio and calling all the truckers in the county, who demolish the town by driving over it. In the climactic scene J.D. almost gets to punch a horse in the face, but no such luck. My notes for the end of the movie include the words "Yooooooosonofabitch!" That must be what the bad guy screams just before J.D. lays the smackdown on him, but I don't really care or remember.

My notes also include something to the effect that Breaker! Breaker! is sort of a cross between 2 Thousand Maniacs and C.W. McCall's "Convoy". That's not really true, but I'd rather sit through either of those. Still, this was a good way to begin B-Fest; if I'm going to miss most of the audio of the first movie, it might as well be something I don't mind missing.

The Wasp Woman has been discussed in this blog before. It's one of the many cheap, crappy sci-fi/horror pictures that Roger Corman produced (and in this case, directed) in the late '50s. None of these movies are very good, but few of them are very bad, either, and The Wasp Woman is pretty middle-of-the-road.

The film follows Janice Starlin the president and former spokeswoman of Starlin Cosmetics. She's begun to wrinkle and sag, and it's no longer appropriate for her to appear on labels and in advertisements. Luckily, the mysterious and thickly-accented Mr. Zinthrop shows up. He's been doing some impressive work with bees, and has discovered the anti-aging effects of royal jelly. Ms. Starlin hires him on the spot, and demands to act as his guinea pig.

The board of Starlin cosmetics suspects Zinthrop of being a con artist and the movie follows their amateur sleuthing. Ms. Starlin overdoses on Zinthrop's serum and sees magnificent results (i.e., the actress takes her glasses off and lets her hair down), before she turns into a bee-lady, which is a lot less exciting than you'd hope. There's also an anticlimactic bee-cat (one of Zinthrop's early test subjects).

If nothing else it's good fodder for hecklers. In spite of not being a very good movie, The Wasp Woman was a great deal of fun with a crowd. By this time I was nicely warmed up for...

Steel, the rarely-seen 1997 reimagining of Superman starring Shaquille O'Neal as John Henry Irons. Does anybody else remember this movie? I don't, but it seems too high-profile to have passed everyone by. On the other hand, superhero movies in the '90s were notoriously mediocre. Somebody with more knowledge of the subject than me could probably milk a few thousand dollars out of an e-book on the subject, but suffice to say that by the time Steel was in production, no studio wanted to throw a big budget at a second-tier DC Comics adaptation.

So anyway, Steel is the story of John Henry Irons, a designer of high tech weapons for the army. Irons is played by Shaq, which is no less plausible than anything else in this movie. Judd Nelson, having spent countless Saturday mornings in detention, is serving as a military peon named Burke who tries, as the movie opens, to to impress a cute senator with a reckless weapons demonstration. The weapon backfires spectacularly, killing the senator, and Burke, dismissed from the military, begins a life of crime which involves arming teenage thugs with laser assault rifles. Also hurt in the demonstration is Irons' friend Sparky (Annabeth Gish) who loses the use of her legs. Irons quits the army and goes home to live with his mom who dreams of opening a soul food restaurant called Black and Bleu (because she's black and it was the '90s, get it?)--but can't seem to make an acceptable soufflé.

It is at this point that I'd like to share with you my new theme song for Steel, sung to the tune of the theme from Spongebob Squarepants:
"Who lives in a salvage yard down in LA?
John Henry Irons!
[something something something] souffle!
John Henry Irons!
Uh, Burke instructs his minions to begin an urban reign of terror in the hopes that he'll attract the attentions of international dictators, terrorists, and other unscrupulous persons who might have a use for his weapons. Meanwhilst (which is a fancy way of saying "so anyway,"), Irons enlists Sparky and his uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree!) (whose salvage yard features a gutted VAX mainframe) to help him stamp out crime and get his guns off the street. They build Irons a Batcave and a strong, lightweight suit of armor, and an arsenal of impressive (but impractical) weapons, and Irons becomes a thorn in the side of the local police force who can't figure out whether or not he's on their side of the law.

Basically, this is Batman with a more likeable Bruce Wayne. At no point does Judd Nelson get to shake his head and say "where's he get all them toys?", but Annabeth Gish does get to launch rockets out of the armrests of her wheelchair. Speaking of which, if Hollywood is listening, I'd watch the hell out of Annabeth Gish in Wheelchair Massacre.

There's not much substance to Steel, but it's a lot of fun if you're willing to coast along with it. I'm really surprised that I don't remember it, but then, I was 17 when Steel came out, and I think its target demographic was probably middle school-aged boys. That's '90s-vintage middle schoolers; modern middle schoolers watch South Park and hang out on 4Chan and I'm not sure they have the patience for this stuff anymore.

Snippets culled from my notes: "accidental homoerotic jokes (ex., Richard Roundtree points to Steel's hammer & says 'I like the shaft!')--Steel can't shoot a freethrow?--ppl behind me pretty sure the cops just called Shaq a "son of a butt"--running guy."

Did kids in the '90s get the Shaft joke (before the Sam Jackson movie, I mean)? Beats me. Also, the Internet says the cops called him a "son of a buck." I have no idea what "running guy" referred to.

Next came the short "Comics & Kids".

Every year B-Fest shows a small selection of short films selected from the vaults of the Em Gee Film Library, whose name appears in front of these shorts, but about which I know next to nothing. What I can tell you about The Em Gee Film Library is that they have furnished B-Fest with some real gems over the years, along with a few ungodly messes.

"Comics & Kids" is one of the ungodly messes, and it's becoming a B-Fest staple, which is too bad, because I don't think anybody really likes it.

Essentially, "Comics & Kids" follows a small group of tween boys as they hang out in a treehouse and leaf through war comics while a creepy voiceover whispers "kill! Destroy! Kill 'em! Yeah! Yeah! Kaboom! Destroy!". Then we cut to a bunch of toddlers making sand castles, and the boys rush in and spoil things as the voiceover continues: "stupid kids! Stupid little kids!"

Also, they have a clarinet.

It's obvious that the film is designed to have a moral point, but after seeing it several times, I can't find one.

Some poor, misguided soul recorded it on an iPhone and stuck it on YouTube, which is the only way you'll ever see it outside of B-Fest. I'm really kind of saddened that we're not getting better shorts these days, especially since I know Em Gee has them...

The next short was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. This is not the full 74-minute film, but a stripped down version which shortens the story to a few minutes of pure action. Interesting. I know that the studios used to sell shortened versions of popular films for home exhibition, but I don't think they shortened them quite this much. I'm curious as to the story behind this one, but it was probably just designed to fill space between features, back in the days when movie theaters ran the projector nonstop.

At this point, in the program, a raffle is always scheduled. However, some weeks (or possibly less than a week) before the fest, a couple of my friends had cleared a Special Event with the B-Fest staff. fuzzyinthehead and hacky_mcsmacko were married in a re-enactment of the wedding scene from Spaceballs. nocturne152 played the priest (which means that he has officially conducted more marriages than anyone else I know), and I played the role of Prince Valium. Some guy I've never met was Barf, and That Guy Who Begrudgingly Let Us Into the Vendors Room at Geek.Kon (sorry, I'm pretty terrible with names) was King Roland. I'm told there will be video.

Apparently nobody realized that it was an Actual, Genuine Wedding--possibly because we kept referring to it as a "scene"--but the point is that B-Fest 2013 included an actual marriage.

The raffle took place as it always does, which means that I didn't win anything. This year they asked for raffle donations, so I brought about 25 DVDs--nothing I feel too bad about having gotten rid of. Most of my companions won DVDs, so with any luck I'll get to view some of their prizes.

What can be said of The Wizard of Speed and Time that has not already been stated and restated every year when I write up B-Fest? Nothing, that's what.

For me--probably for a lot of B-Festgoers--The Wizard of Speed and Time marks the formal beginning of B-Fest. Everything leading up to WoSaT is pre-show entertainment; the audience spends the first few films getting over the novelty of shouting in a movie theater, but during WoSaT, we really get down to business. WoSaT is just about the most exhilarating three minutes shown at B-Fest, and they show it twice; the second time, they run the film backwards and upside-down as it rewinds. People lay down on the stage and "run" in place along with the movie, which is a good way to refresh one's adrenaline before the wasteland of late-night programming.

Anyway, if you haven't seen The Wizard of Speed and Time (who am I kidding? Nobody's actually reading this), you can watch it on YouTube.

Plan 9 From Outer Space occupies the same sort of station as The Wizard of Speed and Time; everyone has seen it, and it gives people a good chance to consolidate their stuff, recharge, and settle in for the long haul.

As always, everyone threw paper plates whenever a flying saucer was onscreen. Most people write messages on their plates, and as usual, I took home every non-blank plate that landed on me. Here they are, if you'd like look.

The slot immediately following Plan 9 is usually reserved for a blaxploitation film, and Black Belt Jones is exactly what I've come to expect. Look, I don't know what to say--or even if I need to justify my preferences--but I like these movies. A lot of people criticize blaxpoloitation films for perpetuating racial stereotypes and glorifying criminal behavior, but there are also a lot of people who view these movies as an exercise in empowerment. I suppose both sides are right. In my own defense, I'd like to think that I can look beyond the BS racial stereotypes of blaxploitation movies as well as I look beyond the junk "science" of The Wasp Woman. At any rate, they're a helluva lot of fun. From Blacula to Black Samurai, if it came out in the '70s and has the word black in its title, it's probably worth my time.

So no matter what I've just said about being reinvigorated by WoSaT and Plan 9 From Outer Space, I was pretty tired by the time Black Belt Jones started. I didn't sleep especially well on Thursday night and I'd been awake for around 22 hours, so I'm not entirely sure what happened in this one. In fact, the first note I took reads "not sure what the central conflict of this movie is." The second note is "karate funeral."

As usual, this is a story about the black community vs. the Mafia. The local Don has learned that the city wants to build a new civic center, so he buys up as much of the chosen site as he can in order to sell it back to the city at a profit. However, the African-American karate school, led by Black Belt Jones (Jim Kelly) and owned by Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers) holds out, and the Mafia enlists a local pimp named Pinky to perform a little "diplomacy." As it turns out, the true owner of the school is Pop Byrd's daughter, Sydney (Gloria Hendry), who is a pretty impressive martial artist in her own right...

...this is mostly paraphrased from a summary I found online. I don't remember sleeping through this one, but I don't remember the details of the plot, either. What I do remember is that it was full of recognizable faces, ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, property damage and high kicks. Remember what I said about Chuck Norris movies being unwatchable? Well, a lot of blaxploitation movies would have the same problems, if they weren't so full of charismatic characters.

I wrote down some quotes which seem less amusing out of context. Still:
  • "Black Belt--she is good, man! She is bad!"
  • "Mamma mia!" (I don't remember why this one was funny.)
  • "What's holdin' you up, Black Butt?"
  • "Hey, let's go to McDonalds!" (Apparently this is what you say when you've finished a fight.)
  • "My cookie would kill you." (Sydney warning Black Belt not to get involved with her.)
Just trust me, it was funny at the time. The other thing I remember is that I turned against Black Belt and Sydey during their cute, playful courtship scene, in which they destroy other people's property, break up a kids' birthday party, and commandeer the tent someone else was sleeping in so that they can have sex. They also steal a car, and to put things into perspective, they're still better people than the Mafioso they're up against, and still more fun to watch than Chuck Norris.

The climactic scene takes place in a carwash filled with soap suds. One by one, the villains are lured into the compactor of a garbage truck. I thought they were being crushed to death--which would have turned our heroes into cold-blooded murderers--but you can hear the bad guys shouting and banging on the walls of the truck by the time the police show up, so perhaps not.

I stuck around through the credits in the hopes that they'd flash a message on screen that said "SYDNEY RETURNS IN COOKIE GALORE" or "COMING SOON: COOKIE OF DEATH" or "SYDNEY'S COOKIE MEETS THE HUNCHBLACK OF NOTRE DAME", but they turned the movie off before we got that far.

I fell asleep during the opening minutes of Sorority House Massacre, and woke up a couple of times. I'd be surprised if I saw a total of five minutes of this one, but I remember the following:
  • Waking up long enough to see a rather nice-looking white house.
  • Waking up long enough to see bare breasts onscreen.
  • Waking up long enough to see a different pair of bare breasts onscreen.
  • Waking up long enough to hear some characters discussing a knife.
  • Closing my eyes for a moment, then waking up long enough to see the knife flying through the air.
  • Waking up long enough to see bare breasts onscreen.
  • Waking up just in time to see the beginning of The Mole People.
People were actually really happy to see Sorority House Massacre in the lineup this year because B-Fest doesn't normally get slasher films. I'm sure that I haven't seen any in the years that I've attended, but um, that's fine...

Next up was The Mole People, which I had been led to believe is one of the dullest movies ever made. Lack of sleep got the better of me, though, and I missed it. Two things that I do remember:
  1. The Mole People begins with a short pseudo-documentary which examines various hollow-earth theories.
  2. The mole people are very, very white.

When the 2013 lineup was first announced, Galaxina was scheduled as the first movie--6:00 PM on Friday night. People were upset. "Galaxina," they said, "is not a movie for watching. It is a movie for avoiding, preferably with your eyes closed." I wrote only two lines of notes:

  • Fails on every possible level.
  • Similar to Ice Pirates, except not fun.

That's actually not a bad assessment. We watched Ice Pirates some years ago, and while it's not a good movie, it succeeds as lightweight, off-center para-sci-fi. Galaxina is constructed out of similar materials, but it just doesn't use them very well.

The story centers around the Infinity, a 31st-century police ship captained by Cornelius "Corny" Butt and staffed by what the screenwriters probably hoped I'd describe as "a ragtag crew of jolly misfits." Instead, I'm going to call them morons, and express my doubt that any of them are competent enough to be real police, let alone Intergalactic Space Police. The crew include Sgt. Thor (Stephen Macht who, frankly, deserves better than this), a winged alien named Maurice, and the ship's sexy android, Galaxina, played by 1980's Playboy Playmate of the Year, Dorothy Stratten (who, incidentally, was murdered by her husband a couple of months after the release of this movie).

Galaxina is a series of flat, unfunny parodies of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien, with nods to biker culture and mid-20th century Westerns. The central plot--such as it is--congeals well into the film. Essentially, the Infinity is tapped to make a run to the prison planet, Altair One, in order to recover the Blue Star, a gemstone so precious that a choir sings whenever anyone speaks its name. Difficulty: it's a 54-year round trip to Altair One. The crew decides to make a quick stop at the Space Brothel for some Space Entertainment before embarking on their mission.

And there's a bunch of pointless sci-fi vignettes. Captain Butt confiscates an egg from a prisoner, consumes it ("can you believe people used to eat these?"), becomes violently ill, and gives birth (via vomiting) to some kind of lizard baby. Everybody wants to sleep with Galaxina, but they receive electric shocks whenever they touch her. Altair One turns out to be an old-west town populated by aliens who eat humans, and local restaurant serves such delicacies as "poopsicles", "knuckle sandwiches", and "flesh fricassee". The bartender has Ross Perot ears, and his name is Mr. Spot. The local biker gang worships a deity called Harley, David's Son, and the crew is menaced by a Doctor Doom-looking robot named Ordric.

This is the stuff of Mad Magazine parodies and Space Quest adventure games, but Mad takes minutes to consume, and video games offer the satisfaction of puzzle solving. Galaxina might have been fun at one of the extreme ends of B-Fest, but there's this block of time on Saturday morning where I become depressed that I'm not quite half done with the festival. This year the realization hit during Galaxina, and it was a sobering moment. Barbarella it is not.

After Galaxina was over, I wandered out to refill my water bottle, and a kid in his late teens was gesticulating excitedly about all of the references he'd noticed to other sci-fi properties, notably, Red Dwarf, which didn't premier until eight years after this movie. "It was so brilliant!" he said. "Galaxina has a black guy playing a bat! They're copying Red Dwarf where a black guy plays a cat!"

That young man's uncrushed larynx stands as a testament to my patience and restraint.

I returned to the theater to watch Rhinestone, which I first saw during B-Fest 2006. For years I've been describing this was "the My Fair Lady of country music," but as it turns out, I don't remember seeing most of it before. I blame the fact that 2006 was a bad year for B-Fest in general, and the very likely possibility that I slept through most of it.

So, briefly, Rhinestone follows Jake Farris (Dolly Parton), a country singer stuck in a New York City nightclub. She wants to renegotiate her contract, and makes a bet with the club's manager, Freddie: she'll turn the random slob of his choice into a country star in two weeks. If she wins, the contract is null and void. If she loses, she owes the club another five years, and she has to sleep with Freddie.

Freddie selects Nick Martinelli, a cabbie played by Sylvester Stallone whose driving is almost--but not quite--as hazardous as his singing. Jake takes Nick home to Tennessee where she teaches him to dress like a cowboy, sing like a cowboy, and walk like a cowboy ("y'ever had a real mean case of jock itch?" she asks him).

Dolly Parton doesn't quite have the comic delivery of Rex Harrison, and Sylvester Stallone isn't quite as easy on the eyes as Audrey Hepburn, but they manage. Sly runs up against the local good ol' boys, delivers an inspired (but ultimately disastrous) cover of "Tutti Frutti", and dons the ugliest suit I've ever seen. Dolly sits on the fringes with Richard Farnsworth (as Jake's father, Noah), and wonders how any of them got roped into this mess. Sooner or later, our heroes return New York, and we get the obligatory third-act romantic breakup followed by the obligatory triumphant reunion.

It's really a better film than I make it sound. Oh, it's worthy of all the Golden Raspberries (six nominations, two wins), but it's kind of fun and I'd watch it in a double feature with, say, Roadhouse. There are plenty of quotable one-liners ("There are two kinds of people in this world," Jake says to Freddie, "and you ain't one of 'em!"). Ron Leibman, who plays Freddie Ugo has a fun time being greasy and smarmy, and it seems entirely appropriate that all his stuff is monogrammed. Again, this is not a good movie, exactly, but director Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story, etc.) knows how to manipulate an audience. The movie has all the right dramatic peaks and troughs and uses all the right music queues. It might be artless, but it goes through the motions well.

I was glad to see Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on the schedule this year, because it's such a well-known title; I figured I should have seen it by now. Sadly, by the second half of B-Fest, my patience is quickly waning. Perhaps on a different day, I would have enjoyed Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, but then again, perhaps not.

This is really a movie about marital strife. A wealthy woman with a drinking problem and a cheating husband has recently been released from a sanitarium, and nobody believes her when she sees a UFO which she identifies as a satellite. Her husband, in the hopes of collecting her money, patronizes her and eventually accompanies her on an expedition to find the landing site and prove that she's not making it all up. They find the spacecraft, but the husband flees when a giant bald guy in a loincloth comes out. With his wife missing, people begin to suspect foul play. Eventually they find her. Insanity is suspected, and a strict regimen of bedrest is prescribed. Hubby tries to kill her with an overdose of medication, but it affects her strangely, and she becomes a giant.

Look, first of all, she barely "attacks" anything. More importantly, it's almost the end of the movie before she grows to be 50 feet tall. Finally, the white orb design of the alien spacecraft affords ample opportunities to make references to The Prisoner, but apparently nobody at B-Fest remembers that show, which is very sad.

I found the film pretty dull. People like this movie, so I must be missing something. Christopher Guest directed a made-for-TV remake in 1993 which starred Daryl Hannah, and I'm tempted to check that one out, if only for the people involved.

Lest you think that I became grumpy and lost my patience just in time for the latter half of B-Fest, I'd like to point out that I quite enjoyed Beach Blanket Bingo. Oh, sure, it's no The Ten Commandments (which frankly, belongs at B-Fest), but it was fun and engaging, and woke me up a bit.

I don't believe I've ever seen a Beach Party movie before (unless you count misguided genre crossovers like The Horror of Party Beach or The Beach Girls and the Monster), but I've heard them discussed by my parents' generation for years. Beach Party movies typically starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Funicello was one of the original "Mouseketeers" from The Mickey Mouse Club, and for that reason, I've always assumed that the Beach Party movies had some Disney connection, but the opening credits of Beach Blanket Bingo proclaim it to be a less-wholesome AIP release. And I do love me some AIP.

And speaking of that theme song, boy is it ever catchy. Not in a good way, but never mind. Beach Blanket Bingo centers around the story of Frankie (played by Frankie) and Dee Dee (Annette), a couple of teenagers (?) who hang out on the beach all day with their wholesome, white friends doing wholesome, white-kid activities like surfing and dancing and eating hot dogs but calling them "wieners". They are menaced constantly by The Rats, a gang of beatnik bikers led by the (apparently locally notorious) Eric Von Zipper. Actually, The Rats don't do much menacing. They just want to hang out on the beach in their tight pants and leather jackets, but Frankie and Dee Dee and their friends belittle and goad them and generally make life for The Rats miserable. I'm pretty sure that Frankie and Dee Dee's gang (let's call them The Brats, shall we?) are the real instigators here, but The Rats' hideout is a bar whose walls feature portraits of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, so it's hard to feel tooooo bad for them.

Anyway, into all this comes Sugar Kane, a pop singer whose agent, (Paul Lynde) has been organizing publicity stunts to promote her new album. You know Mr. Lynde as the voice of Templeton, the rat from the 1973 version of Charlotte's Web. His character in this movie is named Bullets, but I don't like the way that sounds, so I'm going to call him Templeton. Templeton contrives an accident where Frankie ends up rescuing Sugar from drowning, and Dee Dee gets angry. Frankie and Dee Dee begin a low-grade war of one-upmanship by trying to make each other jealous, which leads eventually to skydiving. In the interim, The Rats and The Brats continue their cheerful attacks on each other, and a dumb surfer named Bonehead falls in love with an honest-to-God mermaid named Lorelei. Templeton and Frankie trade White People Insults, Don Rickles stops by on his way up the ladder to to semi-stardom, and Buster Keaton makes a quick appearance on his way down.

Sooner or later, things come to a head. The Rats kidnap Sugar Kane, and the film climaxes in a sawmill, with Sugar tied to a log, her head speeding toward a buzz saw as Timothy Carey looks on in misanthropic glee. How'd we get here? I'm not sure that it matters. Anyway, Beach Blanket Bingo is light and fun and not very smart, but having finally seen it, I can understand why they Beach Party movies were once an American institution. There's no real drama here, just good times and one bad joke after another. It's pretty saccharine and I probably can't handle more than one or two of these movies at a time, but it was what I needed on Saturday morning to get me into the home stretch.

...and it turns out that I needed the pick-me-up, because Steele Justice was not exactly my kind of movie.

Steele Justice stars Martin Kove (who you remember as John Kreese, the sensei of the Cobra Kai) as John Steele, an alcoholic Vietnam veteran and ex-cop who can't seem to get his life together. Steele gets a hand up from his ex-partner Lee and Steele enjoying a relaxing bath when Vietnamese drug dealers show up and kill Lee and his family. Lee's daughter returns from a grocery errand to find her family's corpses laying in the street, and example to the rest of the neighborhood.

Steele tries to get the cops involved nobody takes him seriously he gets arrested blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah and he goes into full Chuck Norris mode.

Then blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Vietnamese drug kingpin who--incidentally--tried to kill Steele back in 'Nam.

This is your basic tough guy action movie. In searching for it online, I see that a lot of people really like this one, but I didn't. I remember laughing--a lot, and in places where the filmmakers didn't intend--but I wasn't favorably impressed. Movies like this one are better when they're more over-the-top. I need a stupid doomsday device or a wacky evil genius named Doctor Destructo, or a wise-cracking Bruce Willis. Without any of these, Steele Justice merely fades into the background of late-'80s military/martial arts movies that play at B-Fest every year. No thumbs-up, but it probably deserves a finger.

The Barbarians was next, and it is an amazing film. Not in a good way, but it is amazing. You've seen those Written By a Kid videos? If not, click the link and come back when you're done. The Barbarians plays almost like an episode of Written By a Kid, if the kid's 12-year-old brother were in the back of the room providing off-color commentary, and if the kid were a Robert E. Howard fan.

The Barbarians tells the story of a couple of identical twin brothers, Kutchek and Gore, who are adopted as orphans and raised by a traveling band of entertainers who enjoy wealth and prosperity thanks to a ruby that fits tightly in their queen's navel. The evil tyrant, Kadar (who looks like David Bowie in Labyrinth, desires the ruby, so he attacks the entertainers and takes the queen and the kids hostage.

The two brothers are raised in separate dungeons and tormented by a guard in a metal helment. They grow up into well-oiled Italian bodybuilders with wall-to-wall muscles, and just around the time they've reached the right age to be posing for the beefcake bridal shower cards they sell at Spencer's Gifts, Kadar decides it's time have a little fun with them. He gives each brother a metal helmet and throws them into an arena together. Having been conditioned to hate the helmet, the brothers fight to the death, but sooner or later one of them is unmasked and they are reunited and they escape and...

I'm sorry, this review of The Barbarians is sounding too serious. This is not an innocuously bad swords & sandals movie. The dialogue is insanely stupid, the plot is stupidly insane, and this is an Italian production (and a Golan-Globus film, to boot!), which means that everything is ratcheted up past eleven to somewhere in the vicinity of 13.1. Conan the Barbarian might star one barely articulate meatneck, but this movie stars two barely articulate meatnecks! Krull might be really stupid, but this movie is really, really stupid! The Beastmaster might be about a beastmaster, but this movie has Michael Berryman as the Dirtmaster! You get the idea. The story is a series of loosely connected vignettes which, while they function as a plot, feel more like the separate quests of a video game, and each segment is dumber or weirder or has more slime or gore or missing fingers than the last. And the dragon? I don't even have words to describe the dragon.

For better or worse, The Barbarians is this year's Megaforce.

*FUN FACT* The Barbarians was directed by Ruggero Deodato who made a name for himself by directing cannibal films so graphic that he was once held in custody while his business partners frantically rounded up the actors he'd supposedly killed on camera. Wanna feel bad about yourself? See the movie Cannibal Holocaust.

Finally, with everyone more or less awake and their spirits lifted, we ended with Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.

As documented in years past, I am not a big fan of kaiju movies, but they're a B-Fest staple, and people tend to think that they make a good end to the weekend. I'm torn. On one hand, I think it's good to end the fest with something epically over-the-top (Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, Megaforce, or Road House, f'rinstance). On the other hand, by 4:00 on Saturday afternoon my body is trying to crash and my brain is begging me for a change of scenery, so maybe it's best that they schedule something I don't mind missing.

Anyway, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Okay. So the story begins with a bit of revisionist history. During World War II, a conflict between Japanese and American soldiers on Lagos was brought to an unexpected halt when dinosaur called Godzillasaurus attacked the Americans. Ten years later, a hydrogen bomb test destroys Lagos and creates the monster Godzilla that we all know so well.

Cut to 1991. A spacecraft lands on Mount Fuji, and it turns out to have been piloted by time travelers from the year 2204. They explain that in the future, Godzilla destroys Japan, but that they can stop it by destroying the Godzillasaurus. An agreement is made and they travel back to 1944 to destroy Godzillasaurus, but not before releasing three genetically engineered creatures called Dorats which become irradiated in 1954 during the bomb test, and which fuse to create King Ghidorah!

Are you with me so far? That's good, because I'm somewhere else. All of this sounds vaguely familiar, but I'm stitching this plot together from memory and (mostly) the Wikipedia article. King Ghidora--is he actually the king of something? I don't think so.

Back to the story--The Futurians have created King Ghidorah to ensure Japan's economic downfall; Japan is on a straight track to become the greatest world power, but an attack in 1991 by Ghidora will disrupt that. Our heroes from 1991 create another Godzilla. The Futurians turn Ghidorah into a cyborg. Stuff gets blowed up real good while I root around on the floor to make sure that I've packed all my stuff, because honestly, at 6:00 PM on the Saturday of B-Fest, I'm ready to never see this place again. Finally, everybody cheers, and I look up to see the credits rolling. Somebody tells "one more time!" A few rows ahead of me someone else shouts "run it backwards!" and the person next to him hits him in the face with a pillow.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is probably not that bad. I bet none of these Toho movies are, but 80% of my experience with Godzilla movies is during the home stretch of B-Fest, and they leave a bad taste in my mouth. For what it's worth, I'm surprised that this one came out in 1991 because the CGI (what little there is, I mean) is pretty good. I also wrote notes that the time travel looks like a cross between Back to the Future and Doctor Who. I remember the Whovian tunnel, but I don't remember why it reminded me of BTTF. I also noted that the movie contained some amazing Engrish, and I wrote down a couple of quotes, but I don't see why I found them noteworthy; like I said, I was tired.

So the lights came up and everybody packed up their stuff, said their goodbyes, and GTFOed. A very attractive girl who smelled like cigarettes asked me to take a picture of the group she was with. I did this, returned to my friends, and stuffed a couple of hundred paper plates into a shopping bag before finally leaving.

All right, so remember how I said that the walk TO B-Fest ain't no thang? Well, the walk BACK is damn near unbearable. There's a significant uphill portion, the wind coming off the lake is biting into your face and hands, and you have to lug a bunch of stuff behind you. You probably also weren't smart enough to bring a hat or gloves.

The cold air perked me up and I started to feel very alert. This is something that's happened the last couple years that seems unique to me, and I really think it's the food I'm eating that does it: after B-Fest, everybody wants nothing more than to find some food, find the hotel, and crash for eight hours. When I stopped buying most of my rations from Mitsuwa, however, I started finding myself wide awake at the end of the Fest. When I pack for B-Fest these days, I plan to subsist on water, protein (hummus or cheese), apples, and vegetables (carrots and broccoli this year) and some crackers (as a concession to my fondness for carbs). I stay away from sugar and too much salt, though of course, I got plenty of those from the sub I'd picked up at the Belvidere Oasis.

At any rate, I felt up to heading home on Saturday night, but of course, I didn't bring it up because it was too late to cancel the hotel rooms, and I'd have to drive someone else's car. Still, I was feeling pretty good, and I think it was the protein. The lesson: stop eating crap at B-Fest.

We'd reserved rooms at a Best Western nearby, and once we'd checked in we discussed dinner. Everybody was non-comittal, but we knew there was a small Mediterranean eatery called Olive Branch Express nearby, so we thought we'd walk over and have a look. We could always go elsewhere if it didn't look appealing.

Olive Branch Express turned out to be small, family operation run out of a converted Taco Bell (we could tell by the shape of the windows). They have a large menu, and it didn't take long for everyone to find something that looked good, so we decided to stick around. Nobody in the group had eaten shawarma, but nearly everyone ordered it, thanks to its mention in The Avengers (which I still haven't bothered to see). I ordered a combination plate that came with shawarma and felafel, some rice and a small salad, and it was all excellent. Olive Branch Express doesn't get high marks for atmosphere, but I think everyone was very happy with the food.

After supper, we returned to the hotel. I took a shower, caught up on my RSS feeds, and went to sleep.

I think we all woke around the same time on Sunday morning. Bad weather had been forecast, so we decided to get breakfast and go home. Generally, we stop at the first Denny's we come across, but between the weather and the better-than-usual continental breakfast at the hotel, we got a meal there and hit the road.

All in all, it was a good weekend and a (mostly) enjoyable B-Fest. One of these years, I'll probably remember what an ordeal it is and decline to go, but 2014 will be my tenth B-Fest in a row, and why stop before reaching such a milestone?

  • B-Fest 2016 Recap

    As has been documented many times in the past, I go every January to a film festival called B-Fest which is held on the campus of Northwestern…

  • 31 Days of Halloween: Fright Night

    The pumpkins are carved and the candy has been distributed and I've come to the end of another October. I like to cap the month off with something…

  • 31 Days of Halloween: The Keep

    The walls of the Keep, we are told, are embedded with 136 nickel crosses. Nobody knows why built it, or why, but he largest stones are on the inside…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.