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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

B Fest 2017 Part II: The Fest Itself

Man, I thought I'd have this wroted up sooner than I wound up doing it. But among other things, I got The Head Cold That Wouldn't Die, and that dropped me out of commission for a solid week and a half. Turns out that when you're too tired to read a book you're too tired to fondly reminisce about awful movies with great friends. So, later than I expected, here's the second half of B Fest 2017.

Friday morning was time for the usual "everyone who is awake go to the Omega Pancake House for breakfast" ritual. This time around it was slightly spoiled by TVs showing coverage of Donald Trump going to his inaugural ceremony. He's not my president and he's never going to be. The thought of him in charge of the American nuclear stockpile should appall and terrify everyone on Earth. Well, we're stuck with him till he decides presidenting is hard and resigns, or he gets impeached, or the stress of the job gets to him. But enough about that; the one silver lining of that particular cloud is that I was surrounded by good friends during one of the gloomiest possible days for participatory democracy.

After Marilyn's it was time to go to the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, a tiny cubical building in the undistinguished suburb of Elmhurst. With a minimum of missed-the-magic-voice-telling-me-what-to-do stunt driving, I got the party (Josh G., Melissa, Kelvin and myself) to the museum and I got to show off one of the hidden treasures of the Chicago area to a new group of people. The carved jades remain exquisite, and I can say with total authority that the Hall of Jades at the Field Museum isn't fit to drink the Lizzadro's bathwater. Sure, everything else at the Field is massively impressive, but for carved jade in a museum setting you want to go to Elmhurst first. After the Lizzadro our group took a walk past a playground in Elmhurst (featuring a spinning contraption that I stood on for exactly one-half second less than it would have taken to make me throw up and pass out) over to the Elmhurst Art Museum, which was closed for exhibit installation the previous year. It was pretty dang impressive, with ceramics, paintings and traditional fine arts occupying about as much museum space as electronic and film installations. After that I found myself compelled to hit the Elmhurst Public Library to see if they had any decent used books for sale. Didn't see any, so I declared visiting hours to be at an end and the group went back to Morton Grove to pick up snacks for the show (Josh G., Kelvin and Melissa) or take a nap before the fest (me).

I had promised to drive Dave B. to the show and woke up after a ninety minute power nap to find a series of increasingly worried texts on my phone from his wife about whether or not I was going to actually be taking him to the theater. That was the first manifestation of the traditional Fiasco Field; the second was that the desk clerk at the hotel ran out to stop everyone from getting into my car because he thought we were skipping out on the bill. One short explanation later we were headed off to spend a solid day in the nerd-funk-saturated darkness at the Norris Auditorium. Dave requested some driving music on the way down, but because I'm evil, I played one of his least favorite songs in the world instead, "Five Feet Nine and a Half Inches Tall". Then, of course, it was time for the unforgettable driving song from Truth Or Dare?:  A Critical Madness, which is what he wanted to hear in the first place.

We got to the Northwestern University campus without incident and hauled all our gear into the student union only to find a massive line of people who had not picked up their tickets yet and didn't have a chance to stow their own stuff in the auditorium yet. I busied myself handing out this year's mix CD, happily telling everyone that they were free because my GoFundMe from July had paid for them. A substantial number of people threw me a couple of bucks anyway, because they still wanted to contribute at the actual event. I made contact with my high school sanity-saving friend Joel, who wasn't going to be at the Fest on time, but another one of his friends, Joel's daughter Maeve and his friend's daughter were all going to be there at go time. Eventually getting in touch with the other friend (whose name eludes me because I'm writing this up about six weeks after the event), I got Maeve's ticket handed over to her and handed him giftwrapped copies of Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the WereRabbit and ParaNorman on DVD as a "welcome to the group of people who go to B Fest" gift for Maeve. The last time I'd seen her, which was several years earlier, she was obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas. So I figured I probably couldn't go wrong with two other stop-motion horror-comedies for younger audiences. Turns out I was right, and hopefully Joel won't get too tired of those movies if they enter frequent rotation in the household.

Among other things, before the show started I got this year's poster autographed by the artist, Chicago's very own Mitch O'Connell. He's one of the bare handful of people who have gone to every B Fest, and he's drawn a poster for them every year since I've been going, and likely before that. This year's poster is just in a class by itself, and I didn't get it signed for me. Instead, it was inscribed to the Riverside Drive-In, an outdoor theater in Pennsylvania that shows vintage horror movies twice a year in their April Ghouls' Day and MonsterRama events. Since it's got horror and SF icons from several decades all going to the drive-in, I hope it gets put in a place of honor at the Riverside snack shack. I'll hand it over in April when I'm there to see I Drink Your Blood and seven other exploitation flicks.

Seats claimed, CDs handed out, paper plates unwrapped and anticipation levels set to maximum, it was time for the movies to start. This year the attendees from Red Letter Media were a row or two behind me, and they were all just as funny and quick-witted as freestyle riffers as they are when they've had a chance to script their jokes ahead of time. I'm pretty sure it was one of them who declared the nominal hero of the first movie "an enemy of the working man" while watching...

Hercules in New York

For the second year running, a Hercules movie opened up the Fest. This one starred Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first film acting performance, and his accent was so thick that his dialogue was dubbed into English even though that is what he was speaking in the first place. Paired with Schwarzenegger (billed as "Arnold Strong") was Arnold Stang, a man whose picture appears in dictionaries under the definition of "dweeb". Stang went through an extensive repertoire of goggle-eyed "comical" reaction shots whenever Hercules would do something impressive. The plot concerned Hercules being banished from Mount Olympus by Zeus because he wanted to see the mortal world (which means he was being punished with exactly what he wanted, which makes about as much sense as the rest of the film). After being rescued at sea by a merchant marine ship, Hercules winds up in New York City. He befriends a pretzel vendor named Pretzie (Stang), makes an all-star track and field team look like chumps because they aren't as athletically capable as a demigod, flips a cab onto its side rather than pay a two dollar fare (demigods don't pay for things), romances a college professor's daughter, wears some extraordinarily large cable-knit sweaters, wrestles an escaped bear in Central Park (the film was shot so poorly that Kelvin thought the "bear" was supposed to be a gorilla), becomes a professional wrestler, fights the Mafia, loses and regains his divine strength, and gives a happy message to Pretzie via the AM radio in his kitchen at the end of the film. The DVD had the option to use Schwarzenegger's original dialogue and that's what the B Fest organizers chose to inflict on us, which meant we couldn't understand virtually any of the main character's dialogue other than "I am Hercules", which he said quite a bit. And the message over the radio at the end was from the guy who dubbed all the dialogue so it didn't make any diegetic sense.

All in all, a wonderful start to the Fest. The college professor was played by James Karen, who was also in Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, Return of the Living Dead, and Congo. That's a hell of a resume. A brief moment later, the Fest organizers gave us the first of two (!) Bert I. Gordon movies for the day. After missing out on Earth Vs. the Spider multiple times we weren't sure they were really going to show either one, but we did indeed get both. Starting with...

The Magic Sword

A perfectly innocuous fantasy adventure that plays out a little bit like a D&D game where the Dungeonmaster hasn't figured out how to provide any real challenge for his player yet. Or possibly one where he's playing favorites with one character and dropping rocks on all the others. George, a royal orphan raised by Sibyl the witch, spies on a princess with his magic TV pond. When the princess is captured by Lodac the sorceror, George snags the titular magic sword as well as a magic suit of armor a, a magic horse, and six frozen-in-deathless-slumber knights who accompany him on his quest to save the girl. Each of the good-guy knights is from a different nation, and each actor does a creditable attempt at an accent so we can tell them apart. Sir Branton (of Missouri, according to tons of people in the audience, including me) also tags along on the quest, but is working in league with Lodac to marry the girl and take over the kingdom. Lodac just wants his magic ring back from Branton; while the treacherous knight has it, he's immune to Lodac's magic. Lodac has placed seven curses along the path to the princess (who was, to my total delight, in another castle at one point). The non-magically-protected knights lose their lives to the curses one after another (including the requisite Really Big Thing; in this case, a forced-perspective ogre that kills Sir Pedro and Sir Ulrich, of Movie Spain and Movie Germany respectively). Branton gets the girl and gives the ring back to Lodac, and then of course gets betrayed within seconds. George loses his powers and gets 'em back (just like Hercules in the previous film), Sibyl turns into a panther and gives Lodac a lethal dose of clock cleaner, George gets the girl and the six dead knights are returned to life so that everyone gets a happy ending, even the redshirts.

They showed this movie several years ago, but the projector / lens setup matted it all wrong and the print had gone bright puce in storage so it looked more like the backs of my eyelids than a narrative film. I was glad to catch this one in its entirety, and quite liked the low budget candy-colored costumes and props in Fake Medieval Europe and a pre-Lord of the Rings-influence script. I'm sure kids who caught this as a matinee back in the Sixties were just as satisfied with it as I was. The next film was a complete tonal change, unfortunately. It was time to rip off The Most Dangerous Game without any danger with...


Movies this inert shouldn't have an exclamation point in the title. A ship full of Movie Teenagers (which means they're in their mid-20s or so) get stranded on an island and then hunted by the baron who gets his kicks tracking down people and mounting their heads in his trophy room (which, oddly enough, is also what happened to Sir Branton after Lodac could ensorcel him in the previous film). But this movie was so inert that the audience started cheering when characters walked through a door to go into another room because so little was happening. The sound on the DVD print was also really muddy, so I bailed about ten minutes in to talk with other Fest attendees out in the hallway. Because we're all nerds of the same age cohort, the subject of arcade games came up and we all just rambled on about them for an hour or so. As I recall, my friend Joel had shown up and pulled the ripcord on Bloodlust! as well; also going on about video games were Spencer Olson, a guy from a different faction, and El Santo (who was a longtime poster on the B Movie Message Board, where my faction comes from, as well as the guy who sold me the car that got me to and from B Fest the last few years). I'd much rather talk about Space Gun and N.A.R.C. than watch a movie that I have to strain to understand the dialogue and I bet you would too.

After not watching this movie it was time to hit the second half of the Bert I. Gordon double feature. This one was more traditionally a B.I.G. picture, in that it was about small things getting embiggened and attacking people. So get ready for...

Empire of the Ants

This one turned out to be more or less a land-bound Piranha until it went completely fucking insane in the third act. A bunch of people who are going on a booze-saturated boat ride and tram ride on an island to look at condos wind up running afoul of giant ants mutated by toxic waste. The sound was cranked up on this one painfully loud, especially when characters were screaming or the Ant Noises were blaring, which was often. I can't remember all the disparaging names we were making up for characters (the movie didn't refer to them by name often enough for us to know who they were) other than Leisure Suit Mario, a middle-aged Italian guy in a teal 70s ensemble, and Grampy Kneesocks, the elderly man who punks out and refuses to go on a rescue mission when someone gets themselves fatally anted. He and his equally old wife have dialogue about how all they wanted to do was enjoy the rest of their lives, after the giant ants already showed up. At this point, fewer regrets and more actions, people. Once the pared-down survivor group makes its way back to the small town they left on the boat ride from, things get super weird. A gigantic ant queen sets up shop in a pyramidal sugar warehouse and uses pheromones to make humans into docile drones (which, in practice, looks like the giant ant is farting all over someone in a big phone booth). The purifying embrace of flames take out the current crop of giant ants, but there's no reason another one couldn't show up later. I mean, they never cleaned up the silvery toxic goop that made the ants giant and smart so there's probably going to be a second hive sooner or later. A real hoot, especially because Joan Collins got her "everybody's got a movie like this in their back catalog" merit badge.

There was some wiggle room in the schedule, so before this movie ran they let the DVD menu screen play for a while. The other movie on this double disc was a killer snake movie called Jaws of Satan; there was brief talk of playing that one instead of the giant ant movie but nothing came of it. And after the film, of course, the midnight hour was close at hand. That meant it was time for...

The Wizard of Speed and Time (in triplicate)

There was nothing shown on actual film this time around at B Fest, which means frequent attendees like myself witnessed the end of an era. The print of The Wizard of Speed and Time looked like 40 miles of bad road when I saw it back in 2001 at my first B Fest, and the A&O Films staff scanned it into a digital file as a way to make sure it could still be shown around 11:45 PM for B Fests yet to come. It's not quite the same (especially because the other tradition about showing this short was that they'd re-thread it into the projector and run it upside down and backwards), but I'll take it. Because it was run three times:  Once normally, then upside down (but with the "film" going forwards), and a third time backwards (but still right side up). Close enough, says I.

And after we'd gotten our Mike Jittlov on, it was time to watch...

Plan 9 from Outer Space

Ah, yes, the "worst movie of all time". It's always a treat to see the crowd get hyped for this one. For a few years in the middle of my Fest attendance I would skip out on this one and talk with friends who were similarly done with it in the lobby. I've probably watched it the last eight or ten years running now, though, because it's such fun to see it with the newer attendees to the marathon. Of all the movies shown at the Fest, this is the one with the most codified "Rocky Horror" style callbacks from the audience. There's still some room for innovation and mutation, though; this time around I kept yelling "Dormammu, I've come to bargain!" when the clip of Bela Lugosi raising his Dracula cape up was re-used. It's a time loop joke, you see. It went over pretty well, I think. Anyway, paper plates were thrown whenever the flying saucers were on screen and jokes were shouted from a hundred throats at the movie at the correct times. Joel's daughter had never seen the movie before, so she got to see the goofiness of Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s magnum opus along with the B Fest frequent flyers' field-tested mockery for her inaugural viewing. This is good a place as any to mention it; Joel wasn't sitting with my group this year because I'm the only person in it that he really knows. Instead, he found a chunk of real estate in the back of the auditorium and he and his friend (and their daughters) hung out there riffing and watching dire-ass movies in their own group. While I'm sad that I didn't get to talk to Joel much this year, I am so proud of him for starting his own faction and getting them going to B Fest. It really does bring tears to my eyes knowing that he's duplicating my own B Fest fandom, since he's one of the people that I infected with the love of cultural garbage and incompetent cinema a quarter century ago (!) back in Wheaton. I feel at least a little bit like a proud father figure seeing my son take after me. Which doesn't work because Joel's a year older than me, but it's just a metaphor.

Following the destruction of Eros and Tanna's spaceship I realized that I wasn't even a little bit tired. Either that nap was amazingly productive or B Fest was screwing with me slightly more than usual. Or both. The next film to be shown was the first of two genre-collision flicks. The Eighties fever dream unspooled next. That's right, it was...

Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon

This was actually the second time this movie was shown at B Fest, but 2003 was the previous year--so, you know, after fourteen years it was perfectly fine to give it a second chance. For several years, 1:30 after Plan 9 has been the blaxploitation spot. It's how I first saw the mind-alteringly wonderful Avenging Disco Godfather, among other gems. Instead of a Seventies action movie with a black star, though, this time we got a heaping slab of the Eighties. The Last Dragon was Berry Gordy's first (and money-losing) attempt to turn Motown Records into a multimedia empire. Having been burned by the failure of this movie Motown Films went on to produce the Lonesome Dove miniseries, which was a gigantic smash hit, critically and commerically. It's also about the whitest possible thing you could pivot to after stumbling out of the gate with a movie about Bruce Leroy, a monastic martial artist / teenager in Harlem who eats his popcorn with chopsticks while watching Enter the Dragon. There are several plot threads that collide in this movie, so let me summarize:  Bruce Leroy has progressed as far as his kung fu sifu can guide him. When he attains total self-confidence he will manifest "the Glow", the visual proof that he's absolutely at the peak of his abilities. Until then, he wishes to refrain from using his combat skills, even in self defense, if it means bystanders could get hurt. He spends a lengthy chunk of the movie trying to find another Asian master to teach him how to get the Glow, which leads to plenty of comedy with a capital K. Meanwhile, a hulking black dude who styles himself Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, wants to pit his own martial arts prowess against Bruce Leroy, since Leroy's the only person in Harlem not afraid of him. Unfortunately his would-be opponent's pacifism means that the final reckoning won't occur until the third act of the film. At the same time, Laura Charles, a beautiful and stylish music-video show host is refusing to air videos made by a squeaky-voiced middle-aged white woman, who is the main squeeze of Eddie Arkadian, who fancies himself a pop impresario. Bruce Leroy intervenes a couple of times when Arkadian's goons try to threaten or kidnap Laura and falls instantly in love with her (as does the audience and pretty much everyone else in the film). But he's been concentrating on his dope kung fu skills so much that he doesn't know how to talk to a woman (much to the chagrin of his preteen younger brother, who finds Bruce to be hugely embarrassing and a cramp in his style). Eventually Arkadian hires a small army of bikers and lunatics to trash the video studio that Laura hosts her show in, and Leroy beats them all handily. Things come to a boil when Eddie Arkadian, with a gun, follows up on Sho'Nuff, who has hired on as the guy to take out Bruce Leroy once and for all. And, of course, the one place Bruce didn't look for proof of his awesomeness was inside himself; once he figures that last missing piece out he gets the Glow (yellow, as opposed to Sho'Nuff's demonic red glow, because if there's one thing the Shogun of Harlem had, it was total self confidence). The movie's got about four hours of plot crammed into 109 minutes, and there's always something happening. Unfortunately the narrative also grinds to a halt three or four times for an intentionally terrible music video or another scene of Bruce trying to sneak into a fortune cookie bakery to meet the wise man who writes their fortunes up. It's nowhere near a classic but it's a total delight when it's firing on all cylinders. And, for the record, the three best villains in the Eighties were:  1) The Terminator; 2) The Kurgan; 3) Sho'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem.

Usually it'd be time to pass out around now, but despite not consuming any caffeine during the night I was wide awake. Which meant I couldn't find refuge from the next movie by looking at the backs of my eyelids for a couple hours. That didn't mean I had to watch it, though, and you'd probably bail too if you had the option of not watching...

Battlefield Earth:  A Saga of the Year 3000

So, yeah, I saw this one at B Fest 2002, I think, fifteen years ago. I don't think it got any better while I wasn't looking. So instead I chatted with Joel and Maeve, Melissa, Kelvin, Scott and Jessica (among other people who have bailed out of my memories in the two months since the Fest took place). Everyone was happy to see Maeve there as a representative of the Next Generation and we tried to think of suitable gateway drug B movies that were all right for a thirteen year old girl (Infra-Man turned out to be the consensus choice). I also taped some commentary about The Last Dragon for the Xanadu Cinema Pleasure Dome podcast, providing exposition about how the film came to be and what happened to Motown Films afterward. Then it was twenty to six in the goddamned morning and I still wasn't even slightly tired, so it was time to watch...

Action Jackson

Vanity wasn't just the love interest in The Last Dragon; she's the junkie with information about the Big Bad in this movie. This one was a Joel Silver action extravaganza where Carl Weathers got his shot at establishing an action franchise in the Eighties. It must not have made as much money as the bean counters wanted, because there were never any sequels. Jericho Jackson is a Harvard-educated sergeant in the Detroit PD, busted down from detective for arresting the sexual predator son of a rich important dude who is, of course, the main villain. Which means we get to see Craig T. Nelson kickboxing Apollo Creed at the end of the film. The plot's something about Nelson's character using a squad of assassins to kill troublesome union officials so he can take advantage of the working man (I think he runs an auto manufacturing firm or something). Of course it's just an excuse for set pieces of Carl Weathers and Vanity escaping murder attempts and going on the run until Jackson figures out the whole evil plot and turns the tables on the bad guy. This involves, for some reason, racing a Lamborghini through a mansion and up a flight of marble stairs before the aforementioned kickboxing match. For all the violence and mayhem, this one didn't really make too much of an impression on me (other than the scene where a grunt-level bad guy reveals that he's got a severed pair of testicles in a jar from the last guy who came by asking questions about the evil plan). Jessica referred to this one as "Diet Commando", and that's harsh but fair.

After a thick slab of high-budget Eighties action cheese it was time for something from the other end of the "How much money can we spend on this?" bell curve. Andy Sidaris' softcore porno / detective story was up next...

Malibu Express

So, yeah, it turns out that nudity can eventually be boring. It also turns out that if you have a scene in your movie where a woman is sexually assaulted but then turns out to like it after a little while the mood in the Fest auditorium will audibly curdle against you. It's a testament to the likability of the main character (a doofus of a detective who only figures out the big case after other people literally tell him all the clues, and who can't hit the broad side of a barn with his pistol) that I didn't just leave about twenty minutes into the movie. There's a murder, a disguise to frame someone for that murder,
and a computer company selling technology secrets to the Soviet Union in there somewhere. Also a redneck family that continually challenges the protagonist to drag races (and the races are shot so confusingly that I'm not sure if the good-hearted idiot of a main character won them or not). There's really nothing else to say about this one other than "Andy Sidaris sure did like filming women who were not wearing shirts, didn't he?". If the main character hadn't been shown as such an incompetent at nearly every aspect of his life he would have been an insufferable Marty Stu because of all the women who threw themselves at him. Instead, the film was merely nonsensical and overstayed its welcome by at least twenty minutes.

Then it was time for breakfast before the annual "you will never be able to see this thing except at B Fest movie" was shown. Have some cereal and a glass of orange juice to fortify yourself against...

The Gong Show Movie

So, uh, during the late Seventies there was a highly rated TV show that became a cultural punching bag for being awful. The Gong Show was a game show where semi-talented people would perform short bits for host Chuck Barris and a rotating panel of whatever C-list celebrities could be enticed into sitting on the judges' bench. Acts were scored from 1-10 by each judge and could be cut off if any of the judges hit a big gong behind their seats, hence the name. (If you're my age or older, you didn't have to read the previous couple of sentences.) The movie, which made so little money in theaters and was so reviled by critics that it didn't get a home video release until 2016, is about a week or two in the life of Chuck Barris as he hosts the titular show. He can't go anywhere without some weirdo trying to audition for a vaudeville show based on mocking the semi-talented, ratings are down, stations are dropping the show as an insult to the intelligence of the household pets of people who watch it, and there's constant pressure from his manager to keep hosting the show because Barris' name is poison in Hollywood for being involved with the show--if he gets fired, he'll never find work in that town again. Oh, and there are multiple musical numbers. After an hour or so of suffering through his life and job, Chuck Barris decides to pitch it all and fly out to the Gobi Desert, where he will be by himself and not have to deal with anybody else or their bullshit. Which, of course, doesn't work--all the judges and suits from the network track him down and have him go back to work, which is either a happy ending or the bleakest thing since Angel Heart's conclusion. I did feel good for cracking the Red Letter Media guys up when I yelled the "Three, two, three, four, four, two, three--and!" line from the start of the Ishtar trailer at the start of the Gobi Desert sequence.

How do you follow The Gong Show Movie up? With a kaiju film, thank goodness. Although I missed the start of this one because I was grabbing an early lunch, I was happily there for the final seventy percent or so of...


For many years, B Fest would wrap things up with a Godzilla movie, or at least another kaiju flick. As film prints got tougher to rent and as DVD showings became feasible, there were different flicks that would show up. They showed Gorgo in 2000, at my first B Fest. I remember it well because they programmed it for 2:30 in the morning or so, which led my friend Dennis and I to bellow out "NO! SLEEP! TILL GORGO!" like we were two thirds of the Beastie Boys. Since then the movie has gotten a beautiful blu ray release, so any time you want to watch this film you can. In summary, a sea monster the size of an 18-wheeler with a trailer gets found off the coast of Ireland, and a pair of unscrupulous sailors figure out a way to keep it alive long enough to get it to London, where it's sold to Dorkin's Circus and put on display for English people to gawk at. Which is all well and good except that the monster they've got is an infant, and Mama Gorgo is on its way to wreck up the place until she can rescue the poor thing. Cue the city smashing, panicking crowds, ineffective military response, etc. Gorgo takes its cues from Japanese films (and the movies ripping them off) more than it does the American giant-monster template. After all, King Kong was shot to death by machine gunners in biplanes. The Deadly Mantis succumbed to bug spray, essentially, in a road tunnel in New York City. The Blob was frozen and stayed inert in the Arctic (which means we're super fucked in about another 18 months or so once it thaws out). In an American movie, engineering knowhow and military power kills the monster dead at the end of the film. But the films that Gorgo are aping have monsters that are generally immune to military attack; some of the time, Godzilla doesn't even seem to notice that tanks are shooting at him. So if you want to see a Japanese-style monster flick set in England, this one's a great choice. Plus the monster has a pretty boss roar, and since you will be hearing a lot of it, that's not a trivial concern.

After Gorgo there was a brief lunch break (yay!) and a giveaway--not a raffle, because raffles are not permitted in Illinois--wherein I won a bunch of VHS tapes that I gave to Melissa because she still has a working VCR and can watch them, plus Dolemite on DVD. I contributed a bunch of stuff to the raffle giveaway, just like dozens of other Fest attendees did. But it was the hardback of Battlefield Earth that got an "OH MY GOD!" out of the college girl that was listing all the prizes off. I feel pretty proud of that one. Then, raffle giveaway concluded, it was time to watch something from the Golden Age of VHS. We sat back down and buckled in for...

Future Hunters

This was another one of those "several hours of plot in a regulation length movie" movies, starring Robert Patrick as a dude who gets involved in a plan to recover the Spear of Destiny when the person who finds it after the Apocalypse gets transported back to California in the mid-Eighties. The movie changes genre about every twenty minutes once Robert Patrick's character and that guy's girlfriend get pursued by people looking for the Spear; it goes from being a Mad Max dune buggies in the desert ripoff to a kung fu movie (featuring a brief appearance by Legendary Superkicker Hwang Jang Lee), to an espionage thriller to jungle adventure and probably some other stuff I've forgotten. Two actors from Gymkata are also in it (Richard "Zamir" Norton during the post-apocalyptic prologue and Bob "Thorg" Schott as a hulking Nazi named Bauer). I'd been awake for 26 or 27 straight hours at this point and the movie was shown on VHS; the muddy brown-and-dark-green color palette combined with the fatigue toxins blasting through my system resulted in me seeing red circuitry-like patterns on the actors' skins partway through the movie. As I recall, this worried me but didn't quite frighten me. I still wasn't tired by now, which would have been around 2 or 3 PM, I think.

So, eventually, this movie ran out of different genres to be (and the good guys won, but damned if I can remember how, but the girlfriend character did get a chance to kick some ass during the "amazon jungle tribe" segment. And it was time for one of those American kaiju movies I was talking about. To wit, it was time for...


And this is where I crashed. So I don't really have an informed opinion of this one. Plus it played at previous B Fests, including one time that my friend Sean made a giant prop "Tarantula crossing" sign, which he displayed to rapturous applause when the Big Damn Spider crossed a highway in the movie.

Also, the fighter pilot that napalms the tarantula was a young Clint Eastwood when he was a contract player for Universal. So there's that. I caught about half an hour or so of this movie in between brief power naps, which meant I got about maybe 40 minutes of sleep during this B Fest, and all of it between 3 and 4:15 PM if I remember right. I'm a little surprised that I didn't drive into Lake Michigan when I went back to the hotel.

One movie left! It was time to ring in the Donald Trump presidency with a genuinely left-wing movie by John Carpenter, asking the question "What if the Reagan revolution was really done by aliens trying to enslave humanity?" That's right. It was time for "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's finest cinematic hour...

They Live

The audience was captivated by this one, and for good reason. The sequences where Nada wanders around and sees the alien manipulation of society are flat-out amazing. John Carpenter had a brilliant run as a director (other than Christine, there really isn't a clinker in his career from 1974 to 1988), and the shots in black and white of THIS IS YOUR GOD on currency are as good as anything he's done. Hell, they're as good as anything any director has done. There wasn't really all that much riffing as I recall (although Melissa pricelessly said "I've had this conversation on Facebook" during the endless fist fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David), just a bunch of B movie fans enjoying a spectacularly well made B movie. Of course the wheels fall off at the end when it turns from a scathingly funny political satire to a Weightlifter with a Machine Gun flick, but that's how a lot of movies ended during the second half of the Reagan years. Sean (that's the guy with the spider sign up there) bought me a copy of this flick on blu ray for my birthday this year, and the cover has a little round sticker that would ordinarily display the price. But for this flick it just says BUY. Even the people making the blu ray packaging want to pay tribute to this unique gem of a film.

And after that it was time to get pictures taken with the B Movie Message Board attendees, clean up the trash (my faction is among the 30% or so of the audience that doesn't get Raptured when the final movie's credits run), and go back to the hotel for the most enjoyable shower of the year followed by a run to Portillo's for Italian beef sandwiches and a low-key positive emotional buzz that I usually only get to feel one time a year. After that, some of the Festers went off to a dive bar called Delilah's to have bourbon and yell conversations over the blaring music. Dave B., rather than driving to where his wife was staying, got a rollaway bed at the hotel and crashed at the room that Josh B. and I were using. I put on a disc of horror movie trailers and waited for fatigue to overwhelm me, which took about fifteen minutes, top. Josh and Dave were out cold in about five, so they're better at sleeping than I am.

The next morning we got our disorganized asses set to go; Josh and I went to Marilyn's Pancake House, the final diner on our whirlwind tour of reasonably priced breakfast restaurants run by short Greeks. Dave treated Josh and me to breakfast as a "thanks for letting me sleep rather than drive off the road because of fatigue" present. We were joined by Melissa and Kelvin, who had returned from Delilah's at about two in the morning and somehow got themselves out of bed in time to check out from the motel and join us for hearty meats and starches (and plenty of coffee; though Kelvin seems to be made out of the stuff, Melissa only drinks decaf). And then, all too soon, it was the part that I hate. It was time to say goodbye to my annual-release friends again, go back to the hotel to check out, and drive back to Michigan. That's the part that stings more every year, to be honest. I'm selfish. I want to spend more time with this weird goofball family that I chose for myself. I like being with people who understand some of my demented hobbies and who will indulge me in things like wearing awful jackets to a tiki bar. I like being able to go places with people who accept me for the asocial fuckup that I am ten thousand percent, and I like being able to give my friends the space they need to be themselves as well. One week a year is not nearly enough.

Driving back to Michigan was surreal; through all of Illinois and most of Indiana there was a thick fog surrounding the roads so the Chicago Skyway looked like it was suspended in grey smog more than anything. Once I got back into Michigan I proceeded without further incident and went back to the apartment, where I fell into a healing coma for a day and a half. Sam wasn't there, so I didn't have to help him get his luggage into his mom's car for the final leg of his journey back home. Sean hasn't gone to B Fest for years, so I didn't need to drop him off at his own house. And the people who weren't there this year--Bryan (in a just world, we would have been brothers), Zack, Mike, Adam, Lisa (who went to a protest march in Washington, D. C. rather than riff on goofy movies in a theater), Dave T., Mike, Chad, Stephanie, Matt...I miss you all. I hope that I get to see you again next year.

It's only ten and a half more months till B Fest 2018, so let's all be kind to each other till then, hope that Dolt 45 doesn't get mad at a tweet and provoke a planet-scouring nuclear war, and my friends and I will meet up again in Morton Grove to be together as the family that we chose.

And maybe next time I'll be able to sponsor a goddamned movie.


  1. Every time I read a b-fest roundup, I'm overwhelmed with envy for those with the time, energy and freedom to travel that can make it there. However, that's balanced out by appreciation of the report which makes a vicarious attendance possible. Thanks for sharing, you lucky pup!

    As a sort of low-grade quid pro quo, I'll make sure you've had a chance to look at this:

    1. I don't know what your financial situation is or where you live, but if you're anywhere near Chicago you really should try to get out there at least once. It's an endurance test and a real treat, because it's not very often that I get to hang out in a room full of people just like me.

      If you do wind up going, I'm the six foot three white dude with short dark brown hair and a goatee, probably wearing a shirt that says 15,000 JOE MEEK FANS CAN'T BE WRONG. Stop by. Get yourself a brick of mix discs, and then immediately regret it if you sit near me because my jokes are plentiful, but not necessarily good.

  2. Sorry Malibu Express wasn't a favorite. Mike and I were hoping for 4 other films to sponsor ahead of it, but all of A&O's attempts came up empty. I didn't notice the crowd turning on it, but maybe was delirious at that point.

    1. It's not the best Andy Sidaris movie I've seen, but "plot happens when the women aren't taking their shirts off" is a genre of B film that will show up from time to time. I've certainly seen movies I resented way more at other Fests. Hell, I resented the Gong Show movie more at *this* one.