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Sunday, February 1, 2015

B Fest 2015, Part 2: Watching A Lot of Movies With My Friends

Ordinarily on the actual day of B Fest, I don't do much in the way of touristy stuff. This year was no exception--a trip to the Omega Pancake House, the best example of "diners run by short Greeks" that we've found in a decade of trips to the near-west suburbs of Chicago, was about it. There's something wonderful about having all the old friends and new friends sitting around a big table enjoying savory meats, eggs, and cheeses before getting trapped in the dark and watching terrible movies. And since this was the third or fourth year we went to the Omega, we were somewhat recognized by the wait staff. I'm betting it's because we're polite, distinctive (nearly a dozen hefty dudes in Godzilla T-shirts make an impression, especially if we're there every year), polite, and we tip pretty heavily.

We wound up waiting for Kelvin and Melissa to join us (smartphones and the Internet make it possible to screw up breakfast plans faster than when it took a two-day ride by the Pony Express to pick the wrong brunch time) and nobody really seemed to mind. We were all just marking time till the event we'd come to Chicago to attend, so what's an extra fifteen minutes sitting around and drinking coffee refills? Bryan's friend turned out to be a vegetarian, which was somewhat out of the ordinary for our crowd of B movie nerds, but he's also pursuing a doctorate in film studies (specifically on riffing culture, which B Fest embodies) so he fit in perfectly as far as I could tell.

After breakfast it was time to return to the hotel and take a nap so that I would probably last longer at the Fest itself; Bryan, Scott, Jessica, Lisa and perhaps a couple other people went downtown in Chicago to hit a used book store and a used music store next door to it. That's also a fine use of time and resources, but I'm aging as fast as I ever have and wanted some time to recharge my batteries. Once the nap had been concluded, I gathered up the people I was driving to the show and did so, serving as a navigation beacon for Jacob and NaTasha. Sadly for them, the road I was going to take to get to the Northwestern University campus had construction crews blocking it so we had to do some stunt driving and loop around in an icy gravel parking lot before getting back where we were supposed to go. Once we arrived at the scenic parking structure, I gazed out upon the placid waters of Lake Michigan while David and NaTasha took pictures--it also turns out that Facebook recognized me from my distinctive green bomber jacket with Telstar I painted on the back. Turns out nobody else in the world has one.

Still the best 200 bucks I ever spent.

As gorgeous as the scenery was, it was also really, really, really cold out there so before too terribly long we headed to the Northwestern student union to pick up our tickets and claim seats in the auditorium. For the first time in years, I actually got an aisle seat. I didn't get to sit in it for too long, because I wound up mingling in the crowd and handing out this year's mix CD. The people who knew what the discs were all about made sure to pick one up and the newbies who had no idea what I was doing didn't throw theirs away, so that's a success. Also, Spencer Olson took the time to let me know that my reference to the eulogy he gave last year ("Those were words, not deeds, man") wasn't something he found to be in poor taste. That really put my mind at ease, because there's such a fine line between being clever and being an asshole. I'm glad he told me that I was still okay in his book.

I wound up selling off Sam's ticket to someone who couldn't get in to the Fest because it had sold out, and if I'm remembering right I also gave that guy a full run of B Fest CDs as a welcome-to-Nerd-Thunderdome present.

And then the lights went down and the first movie went up.

The Creature With the Atom Brain:
A gangster gets a mad scientist to build him an army of radioactive super-strong zombies that he can control with a bulky console; he uses the zombies to kill the people he's got a grudge against. Notable for a Roky Erikson song of the same title, it's a lot of fun and a great way to start the festivities. Not a lot to be said about this one other than "nobody can hear the dialogue of the first movie because everyone's yelling their jokes out as loud as they can". From the producer of The Giant Claw, but considerably less goofy-ass. There are multiple creatures, and the stalwart Science Cop hero disables them all at the end by ripping something out of the control console.

Metalstorm:  The Destruction of Jared-Syn:
Thirty years or so ago, I desperately wanted to see this movie because it was a 3-D science fiction movie. My entire family U.N. Security Council vetoed it, and it turns out they were right. It's something to do with a lone wasteland wanderer looking for a crystal, or stumbling over a crystal, and an evil overlord guy with a zombie-cyborg henchman who has a metal claw arm that sprays hallucinogenic acid on his victims. Richard Moll acts everyone else off the screen without apparent effort and there's lots of driving around the desert. Fun to watch because so many people were baffled by the plot (even if the theater was reverently silent, I don't think it would have made any sense). There's no metal storm and Jared-Syn is still alive at the end of the movie, although stuck in some kind of crystal kaleidoscope space warp thing. I took the opportunity to make a City of Villains joke that I'm sure nobody else in the hearing zone got, because Sam was back in Michigan with the flu.

Ray Milland cashes a paycheck playing the wheelchair-bound patriarch of a Southern family who wants to celebrate his birthday on an island in the Louisiana swamp come hell or high water. Or Biblical plague of toads (there are not actually any frogs in Frogs). It's a body count movie where everyone who goes outside gets taken out by a snapping turtle, butterflies that lead one person into quicksand, cottonmouths, alligators, geckos (who knock all the herbicidal poison jars off shelves in a greenhouse to asphyxiate one unlucky bastard), and Spanish moss cocoons a dude in the least plausible scene. Everyone had a lot of fun pretending to be terrified of closeups of toads until we got bored with that. Gaz, the nine-year-old daughter of Skip Mitchell (a perennial Fest attendee) was super angry that the "frogs" were actually toads. I can't blame her. The credits cut off before the cartoon frog at the end could hop out with a human hand in its mouth. I used to rent this movie from President Video every few months to watch that four second snippet of animation. I was a weird kid.

Right around this time two of my friends from middle and high school showed up:  Tim Doyle and Joel Ruggaber had been boon companions of mine during the deepest pits of adolescent hell. I fell out of touch with Tim but Joel and I were still in contact after college and my move to Michigan. It's always great to see them again. They're also in the B movie scene largely but not entirely due to my own efforts, so there's that.

What a title! A small construction crew on an island runs afoul of an advanced bulldozer that turns sentient and homicidal when it bonks into a meteorite. The Expendable Meat characters get bulldozed until the remaining two people figure out that electrocuting the Killdozer might drive the animating force out of it. Their leap of logic would have been too flimsy for an episode of Super Friends, but whatever. It was some fun. And it was from a time when there were only three television networks; they did movies of the week in order to get viewers to tune in. I hope this one broke ratings records just on the strength of the title, but it probably didn't.

The Wizard of Speed and Time:
The annual tradition of lying down on stage and pounding your feet in time with the movie was something I hadn't done since 2005 or so; I decided to run up and do it this year just because. David joined me, as did 80 other attendees or so. Man, it's noisy up on stage when everyone stomps in time with the film. As is traditional, the film was then shown upside down and backwards, with more stomping. It was just as loud that way.

Plan 9 From Outer Space:
I decided to stick around in the theater for this one, too, It's the same as it ever was but a lot of fun to riff on with a big crowd. Unfortunately I started fading in and out of consciousness during this movie, but still managed to yell all the traditional callbacks ("DAY!" "NIGHT!" "BELA!" "NOT BELA!", etc.) when I was awake.

Black Mama, White Mama:
This movie looked like the backs of my eyelids as I conked out on a bench in the student union. It's too bad, because I've never seen a Filipino women-in-prison movie and Pam Grier's a badass. But sooner or later one must bow to the inevitable.

Yongary, Monster from the Deep:
This one looked like the backs of my eyelids as well. I'd already seen it, and other than about five or ten minutes of crazypants what the hell content, it's pretty boring. I wish I could have seen the audience's reaction to the monster's death scene, but not enough to get up from a restful three hours' sleep to do it.

I got up about 4:45 in the morning and caught the last 80 percent or so of this one. Rock Hudson plays a land developer making a ski resort; Robert Forster is the man in touch with nature who feels a heaviness out in the air that makes him think an avalanche is ready to strike. Guess which person gets proved right over the course of the film! (Hint:  It is Robert Forster.) The personal drama between people got a little old but once the snow starts thundering down the movie decides to kill its characters off swiftly, cruelly and brutally (the chef that gets a pot of boiling soup dropped on him dies the third-meanest death in the film). The most hilariously cruel death goes to the developer's mother, who is being transported down the mountain in an ambulance after the disaster; the ambulance skids off the road, crashes down a ravine and explodes. Damn, man, that's harsh.

Cloak and Dagger:
Spoony, famed Internet personality from The Spoony Experiment, came down to riff on this one with my faction. He's a lot of fun, and a really nice person. I'm glad I got to meet him last year and I'm glad he came back this year. This movie was surprisingly well made--it's about a young boy named David who idolizes Jack Flack, a super spy and apparently character in a miniatures game that he plays with a neighborhood girl who doesn't get the attraction of the whole "super espionage guy" thing. When David gets a customized cartridge of the Cloak and Dagger video game with military secrets encoded into it, he stumbles into the real-world version of the game he thought he liked playing. Jack Flack is played by Dabney Coleman, and so is David's justifiably exasperated father. There's a lot of really cool cinematography when David sees the imaginary friend version of Jack Flack giving him advice (the camera will pan to the side and show that Flack was there all along; all the actors just had to avoid reacting to him). There's also a great line when David swipes the bad guys' car and tries to flee. It turns out that Jack Flack has no idea how to drive a real car. There's absolutely no way in hell this movie could be made today (among other things, David has to kill someone to get out of his adventure) but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it showing up on the Checkpoint as a full review one of these days.

Andy Hardy's Private Secretary:
I was interested in this movie because it's a pre-1950s teenager movie, and I'd never seen one. I was expecting it to be a pre-Archie "Archie", with shenanigans carried out and lessons learned. I didn't make it fifteen minutes in before I decided to get some breakfast and catch up with Joel rather than watch it. I'm pretty sure I made the right choice because the people who watched it went twenty rounds with a movie about how being rich, white and politically connected meant you never had to learn how to be a better person or apologize to anyone for your misdeeds. Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather reminisce about my home town with one of the people who made living there bearable on a day to day basis (thanks again for that, Joel).

Can't Stop the Music:
Now this is the kind of thing I come to B Fest for. It's the equivalent of one of those "hey, kids, let's put on a show!" musicals that have been made for decades (El Santo pointed out that it's essentially the plot of The Muppet Movie, more or less) but this time about the flash-in-the-pan gimmick group best known for "YMCA". It was released in 1980, but that year was basically nineteen seventy-ten instead of the dawn of a new decade. Steve Gutenberg stars as the genius producer who put five dudes in costumes together as a disco group and the movie takes about two thirds of its length before there's a band. The musical numbers ranged from the boring to the absolutely jaw-dropping (the big production number for "YMCA" has to be seen to be believed, and that might not do it). Bruce Jenner is one of the co-stars, as a tax lawyer who embraces the disco fad and finds true love along the way. Joel wanted to flee the theater under the onslaught of this movie and I told him I would physically restrain him if he tried. He stayed for the whole damned thing, and showed that he has True Grit. Next year's B Fest disc will probably have four songs from this soundtrack on it, because I love hurting people's feelings. I had a lot of fun yelling EVERY MISTAKE IMAGINABLE! when the EMI Records logo came up at the start of this one. It ends with a big production number on stage where the Village People are wearing sequined outfits of their archetypal costumes and it winds up looking like the Green Lantern comics storyline of the past several years had a dance party.

This movie was notable for doing something I've never seen before--the digital equivalent of a film break. Right around the start of the third act, the movie stopped, the house lights came on and the screen retracted into the ceiling. I guess the auditorium wanted to stop the music, but it couldn't. The film resumed shortly thereafter and played to its conclusion.

There was a raffle break here and Ken Begg won the pack of B Fest mixes that I donated; I would be ticked about that because I know he already has each disc except that I also know he's a great guy and will make sure they get a home with someone who wants them, possibly when he goes to Tyrannosaurus Fest in Texas in the summer. For some reason, the Fest organizers gave them away to the person who had attended the most B Fests, rather than something like the first-timer who had the longest trip to get to Evanston.

Alien From LA:
Kathy Ireland stars as a nerdy girl (she wears glasses!) who plummets to a center-of-the-earth civilization made up of Australians. Albert Pyun directed it, so there's a lot of huge nifty looking sets we don't get a very good look at. Thom Mathews of Return of the Living Dead fame shows up as the romantic lead about twenty minutes from the end of the movie. He keeps saying "Another time, another place", which is where Streets of Fire takes place. I got really angry at the movie for using that line repeatedly and just started yelling SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP around the third time it was spoken. Even at an hour and twenty minutes, it was Pyunishingly long. I remembered this one from a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, and wound up not making a couple jokes because I remembered they were ones also used on the show. I tend to freestyle my comedy over the length of B Fest, and I like to make sure I'm writing my own material.

Miami Connection:
A group of five adult orphans live in the same house, go to Central Florida University together, practice tae kwon do together, ride around town in a big car together, go to the beach together, have a band called Dragon Sound and fight the biker ninjas who control the Orlando drug trade (because Miami Connection takes place in Orlando, obviously). Starring a tae kwon do expert who could barely speak English, this movie isn't so much a case of the actors doing their own stunts as the martial artists doing their own acting. The fights are pretty cool (and the guy with the lantern jaw goes berserk in the final one, which is pretty awesome) and the band is obviously having fun. The whole film is incredibly sincere--the Rosetta stone to the movie can be found in the scene where a college professor congratulates the CFU computer programming team for placing fourth in the international computer programming competition. None of the protagonists are programmers; it's just a way for the filmmakers to present the message that honest effort is worth applauding, even if you don't win anything for it. Fourth place, after all, is the first spot that doesn't win a medal.

Also, because one of the Dragon Sound guys had an early-eighties mullet perm and giant cop moustache and another one had a jawline like an anvil, I was calling the band "Lovecraft and Oates". The people around me seemed to dig that.

Viva Knievel:
B Fest 2015 wrapped up with this gigantic slab of 70s cheese, a movie that defined "vanity project". Not only is it an action-adventure movie starring Evel Knievel as himself, but the character of Evel Knievel is a caring man who brings toys to an orphanage, choclate bars to a nun, and reconciles his alcoholic mechanic with his estranged son while simultaneously going on a jumping-over-stuff tour of the United States and Mexico. Leslie Nielsen classes up the joint as a villainous motorcycle-jumper-guy manager who plans to murder Evel Knievel in Mexico by sabotaging his bike and smuggling drugs back into the US in a duplicate of Knievel's mobile command trailer. His plan hinges on Evel Knievel being so beloved and mourned that Customs won't search the trailer on the way back for his state funeral.

Like I said, vanity project.

Having said that, the movie was a real hoot (and Dabney Coleman shows up briefly in it, making him a two-time Fest participant this time around, or three-time if you count his dual performance in Cloak and Dagger). Gene Kelly shows up as the alcoholic mechanic and he's cruel to his son in a Dickensian manner. There's also a feminist photographer who has to learn just how awesome Evel Knievel is for jumping his motorcycle over stuff and the "Stratocycle", which looks like Stephen Colbert's id with wheels.

All too soon, B Fest was over (Tim Doyle and Joel Ruggaber left partway through, since they have real lives and families that are more important to them than sitting in a smelly theater for a solid day to watch terrible movies). The auditorium was cleaned up in record time thanks to the dedicated efforts of the attendees--I think everyone policed themselves during the run time of B Fest so that there wasn't that much to clean up in the end.

After goodbyes and hugs for the people who weren't going back to the hotel, the Best Western faction returned to their base camp for showers and then a convoy to Portillo's, a Chicago-area chain that serves Italian beef sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs (their "vegetarian" menu features chicken and fish, which makes me think they don't know what that means). While I was unhinging my jaw to devour my sandwich, I took the time to make a quick toast / remembrance / speech to the gathered attendees. It's really my friends that I take the trip for by now; the movies are fun but Bryan, Scott, Jessica, Kelvin, Melissa, Jacob, NaTasha, Joel, Tim, David, Rob, Mike, Matt, Other Jacob, and the dozens of people I recognize even if I don't know their names are the real reason to keep going back to the pointlessly awful weather and brain-punishing schedule of films. As Bryan said in his own wrapup at Cinemasochist Apocalypse, it's a family reunion.

See you next year. I'll bring another hundred CDs or so, and hopefully Sam, Mike, Stephanie, Chad, Josh, Josh, Hilary, Adam, Zack, Freeman, Chris, Scott, Andrew, Gavin, Edward and Dave will be able to join us next time around. It isn't the same without you guys. I miss you.


Sunday was a low-key day; David and I had breakfast at Marilyn's, the last of the area diners and our traditional post B Fest breakfast location. Everyone else tends to leave at staggered hours on Sunday morning, so the Saturday night Portillo's dinner is our last hurrah as a group. Kelvin and Melissa were able to join us for breakfast before they had to leave for Minnesota, so there was one final chance to see people that I only get to see three or four days out of the year. After the final diner experience it was time for one more round of hugs, two trips back to the hotel so I could grab things I forgot to pack up and take back with me, and then several hours on the road so I could drop David off at his home before getting to my apartment and sleeping the sleep of the just. The next day I had to go back to work, which ordinarily I don't do (I like to take the Monday after one of these vacations off as a healing day, but didn't have enough time saved up at the new gig). But it was all right. Yes, I was tired, but in another way it's B Fest that charges my batteries up for another year. I wouldn't keep doing it for a decade and a half if it wasn't a lot of fun, despite all the expense and fatigue. And it is.

Want the Rashomon effect?

Here's Part One and Part Two of Cinemasochist Apocalypse's take on the same event.
Here's SerbanJ's Livejournal entry on this year's marathon.


  1. It was great to see you again this year, and as always, the CD is wonderfully silly and entertaining. It'll fit in nicely with my B-Fest playlist on my iPod.

    As the co-mastermind behind bringing "Can't Stop The Music" to B-Fest (we were the Doghouse Drive-In) and the schmuck who got to do the introduction, I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. We've wanted to bring it to B-Fest for years and finally this year we decided to pool our money for the sponsorship. Needless to say, it was money VERY well spent as the reception was everything I had hoped for.

    I was nervous that with it being the longest movie on the schedule, that it would break the attendees into a million little pieces, or our group would be torn into itty-bitty little pieces (I've read Ken's review multiple times and know there's dislike towards the movie).

    We'll definitely be back next year (my 14th year, Henrietta's 15th) and I think we already have a good idea of what we'll be sponsoring!

  2. Thank you for the kind words. I don't know how many more years there will be for the B Fest discs; I went from buying the blank discs, labels and cases in stores to ordering them from Amazon to getting them from eBay. My hobby used to be beyond the cutting edge and now it's retro to the point where it's not entirely possible to do it. Still, thirteen years is a good long run.

  3. As another of the Can't Stop the Music group (I'm the one who recognized the J&H Productions reference on your last CD, and my name's not actually Henrietta), I'd like to second everything Matt said. We always look forward to seeing you and finding out what goofy music you've put together for us.

    Also, if Joel comes next year, be sure to bring him over to our side of the theater to say hi; two of us went to college with his sister Erin.