And our annual pilgrimage to Dallas comes round again. Wow, 10 years, that’s a lot of crap movies (over 130 according to the commemorative programs one of the usual gang of psychopaths very kindly produced for the occasion). I didn’t attend my first T-Fest until 2008, so I missed those first three glorious years, but even after leaving Texas I’ve made an effort to get to as many T- and or Tween-Fests as possible (2012 and 2014 were bad years, but otherwise I’ve made at least one annual trip). It’s a great opportunity to spend a day with other bad movie buffs, many of whom I’ve come to consider good friends and all of whom are fabulous laid-back people. Venues have shifted, folks have come and gone, but the core of T-Fest remains unchanged. Bad movies and the people that love them.
PART I: PRE-GAMING
-We flew into Dallas on Friday this year so we could spend some time hanging out with folks ahead of the official Fest. For once we were even able to snag a direct flight, which was a nice change of pace. I’d recently downloaded some public domain films to my smartphone to pass the time, so while we traveled, Mr. Jane and I finally got around to watching
Horror Express (1972) – This is a nifty little low-budget Spanish thriller in the Hammer mold (to the point where they secured both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, in a rare non-villainous role, as the leads) about a group of passengers on the Trans-Siberian Railway who are being knocked off one by one by a mysterious creature that has been brought aboard in the luggage car (yes, whoever wrote last season’s Doctor Who episode, Mummy on the Orient Express, was definitely riffing on this film). More The Thing than Murder on the Orient Express, it moves along briskly and is far less foolish than your usual SPAM-in-a-can horror flick.
It’s far from perfect, consisting of about 85% good, creepy (and surprisingly gory) story, 10% utterly risible ‘scientific’ dialogue and 5% Telly Savalis serving up huge slices of ham as a *cough* Cossack officer who seems to have been dropped in from an entirely different movie. To put it another way, when I showed this to a friend back home she opined that he appeared to be a “very small Zero Mostel on cocaine” which was not only an accurate assessment but gives you an idea how hilariously out of place he seems in what is otherwise a rather mannered British-style production. Surprisingly effective overall and it’s well worth seeking out the Severin DVD so you can see it in the sumptuous tones it was intended vs the multitude of washed-out public domain prints that have made the rounds previously.
-We arrived early enough that the spousal unit could get in some gaming and the rest of us could visit and sneak in some extra movie watching. Paranoia was the order of the day with some creepy space operas.
Planet of the Vampires (1965) – I’d seen this in bits and pieces previously as it was once staple fare on TNT, but this was the first time I’d watched straight through from beginning to end. This early SF/Horror picture from Mario Bava regards the fates of the crews of two spacecraft, mysteriously and simultaneously crashed on the surface of a (hostile) new world. It’s drenched in the director’s signature jewel tones, though with rather (far) less blood and gore than would characterize his later works. I did probably spend too much time wondering why the astronauts thought that ill-fitting leather was a good choice for making spacesuits and why neither the good guys nor the baddies ever just set a damned guard over the movie’s McGuffin (a Meteor Rejector, if you were wondering).
The final twists are hardly shocking, though perhaps they were less overdone back in 1965 . But overall this is a solid exploration of (justified) paranoia and creeping menace that was an undeniably direct influence on Alien. FYI, it contains not a single vampire.
IT! The Terror From Beyond Space: A spaceship crew returns to Earth carrying the last survivor of an expedition to Mars, unfortunately he’s not the only thing they’ve brought back on board…
Another clear influence on Alien. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the whole thing, but for a happy reason, we had to go meet up with grown-up nerdling, who lives a few hours away and was able to drive down for his very first T-Fest. Mind you, he may not forgive me or his dad after the experience.
PART II: T-FEST 2015
-September 26, 2015. 1000 hours.
-Snacks have been procured and laid out on the common tables, alcohol is present for those who must numb the pain, the lights go down and the electrons dance across the screen as our stories unfold…
Mortal Kombat (1995) – A bit surprisingly, I’d never seen this despite Mr. Jane’s love for the movie and the fact that the still-at-home nerdlings own the boxed set of DVDs. I am not a video game fan, so have no idea how it compares in that aspect, but this is a fun fantasy version of the traditional martial arts tournament flick in the Enter the Dragon mold. The screenwriters use familiar tropes (the Cop With the Murdered Partner, The Chosen One, The Dead Baby Brother) effectively to quickly sketch in just enough background to set up the story (when used correctly, Tropes are Not Bad), then steps out of the way to let a series of well-staged and choreographed fight set-pieces unfold. And let’s face it, if you are watching a movie called Mortal Kombat, well-crafted fight scenes are really all you’re there for.
It’s a surprisingly smart dumb movie that manages to be exactly what it should be. Bonus points for Christopher Lambert’s portrayal of thunder god Raiden, who manages to be on the heroes’ side without ever really understanding how humans work.
She-Devils on Wheels (1968) – Gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis’s most linear and coherent film. And if that isn’t damning with faint praise I don’t know what is. Still, at least his foray into the biker film biz didn’t actually break me the way his kiddie flick did (I’m looking at you Jimmy the Boy Wonder).
Any way I describe this one is going to make it sound more exciting than it actually is. The Man-Easters are an all female biker gang whose antics consist mostly of racing one another for the privilege of first choice of partner at their weekly PG-rated orgies, alternating with the occasional rampage through town, during which they almost manage to commit petit larceny. They are strangely puritanical outlaws, who won’t let their youngest member join in the sexual antics until she is of age and refusing to ever actually remove any clothing, even in the shower. But they do write really awful poetry and carry out the worst decapitation in cinematic history, so they can’t be all bad. Recommended for H. G. Lewis completists only (and heaven have mercy on your souls).
Bloody Pit of Horror (1965) – A badly-dubbed (duh) primary-colored Italian production starring Mickey Hargitay (Mr. Jayne Mansfield and Mariska’s daddy) as a reclusive nobleman who believes he is the re-incarnation of a 17th century serial killer known only as the Crimson Executioner. He is so obsessed with his *ahem* bodily purity that he runs around his castle in a luchador costume while plotting to kill off an entire coterie of models by increasingly outré methods.
With Mickey’s constant preening and rubbing himself with oil while rambling on about his “perfect body”, well, let’s just say that subtext isn’t actually a thing here, because it is all blatantly text! Starring a whole bunch of women you’ve never heard of “as The Cover Girls” (this is a more literal credit than you might think, as the whole reason the models are on hand to be murdered in the first place is to pose for book covers) and filmed in PSYCHOVISION. Also a GWAR album (look, I’m from Richmond, we are contractually obligated to mention GWAR at least once every 6 months, it’s a law).
Robot Monster (1953) – It’s a toss-up as to whether this or Plan 9 From Outer Space qualifies as the ur Bad Movie™. Is there a theatrical cheese fan in America that hasn’t seen this picture a dozen or more times? Well, apparently there are three, and they were all present in Dallas this year.
This is one of those rare pictures where a sort of near-perfect bad movie alchemy occurs, every single aspect of the film is utterly and completely inept, the costumes (poor, poor George Barrows lumbering around the California desert in his ape suit and diving helmet), the sets, the acting, the dialogue. There is not a competent frame to be found anywhere in the picture and yet a sort of magic occurs elevating crap to an art form. A *cough* Ro-Man from the Moon must destroy the last remaining 6 humans on Earth with his Billion Bubble Machine (eat your heart out, Lawrence Welk). The weirdest part? It all make sense in context.
Beyond that I don’t want to say too much here. For one, this movie has been covered exhaustively and very well by a myriad of folks that are cleverer and funnier than I, and for another, if you have never had the opportunity to see this gem for I don’t want to deny you the joy of discovering the best bits for yourselves.
QUIZ TIME– This years’ quiz was on The Movies of T-Fest, with 50 slides asking folks to identify the movie from a screenshot or two. Despite having only been able to attend roughly half the historical festivities, I racked up a respectable 33/50. Not nearly enough to win, mind you, but better than my utterly execrable showing of 2/25 on the weapons quiz back in the Spring.
Kung Fury (2015) – I know, I know, I promised y’all a review of this months ago. I just couldn’t seem to find the whopping 31 minutes to actually sit down and watch it. I think I also feared breaking the spell that the music video had over me, with its 80s near-perfection.
This Kickstarter-backed parody of 1980s buddy cop movies was filmed almost entirely on green screen and it shows (WETA Workshop this ain’t) but its po-faced earnestness covers a lot of sins. Much sillier than the Hoff video, (I know, I couldn’t believe it either) it quickly gives up any real pretense of being a lost relic of the 80s, while still recreating the look and attitude near-perfectly. I probably would have tired of the conceit if it had dragged out to feature-length, but as a short subject it never overstays its welcome and it makes up for its weaknesses with sheer audacity. Also, we discovered that my dad is Thor.
Glen or Glenda (1953) – Ed Wood’s take on the then topical Christine Jorgensen sex change case. At least that was the story he pitched to the producer before taking the money to fund this cockamamie exploration of his own transvestism instead. Because male clothing is far too constrictive and uncomfortable compared to pencil skirts, bras, and high heels. And men’s hats cause baldness. Bela Lugosi provides some truly over the top commentary as events unfold on the screen. Also has what I would argue is the best pantomime Satan in the history of cinema.
Worth a watch as a curiosity piece, if nothing else, as it does represent the directorial debut of the man who would one day go on to give us the gift of Plan 9 From Outer Space (a far more coherent film than this, and actually a bit less nutty, though not actually ‘better’ in any sane sense of the term).
Original Gangstas (1996) – Fred “The Hammer” Williamson returns home (a crumbling-into-decay Gary, Indiana as itself) seeking revenge after his father is shot by members of the newest incarnation of The Rebels (a gang he founded during his own misspent youth) who also murdered Pam Grier’s son in a drive-by. You can probably figure out how this will all turn out for the younger generation. Also featuring Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree and that dude from Superfly (Ron O’Neil) for an extra dose of awesome.
Like the best of the 1970’s blaxsploitation films it seeks to recreate, the mood runs the gamut from bleak (the execution of a pre-teen informant) to blackly humorous (an entire gang of Grier-trained little old ladies beating the ever-loving shit out of bunch of teen thugs with baseball bats), but it’s never dull and the action sequences are just as spectacularly over the top as they need to be. Also features some oh-my-sweet-baby-Zarathustra awesome classic cars. I saw this one when it came out and the only thing really wrong with it is that there’s not enough Shaft or Superfly.
-This year, instead of our usual extended dinner break, we all sort of ended up grazing all day, this put us enough ahead of our regular schedule to sneak in a bonus movie.
Harbinger Down (2015) – Our second Kickstarter backed flick of the day, and in many ways the polar (pun intended) opposite of the first, this one is a feature-length riff on John Carpenter’s The Thing, made to showcase the old school practical effects of StudioADI. Despite the fact that I am not a fan of gross-out body horror (the reason why I’ve never watched the original Carpenter flick if I’m being honest, and why I loathed every second of The Blob remake), I thought this was very well-done, well-acted and with effects that were a refreshing change of pace after the last 20 years of not-very convincing CGI. Practical effects have a mass to them that will nearly always make them easier for me to believe in than even the best digital cartoon and these were realized beautifully. I admired the film even as it squicked me out. Lance Henriksen as the gruff heart of the film is, as always, a consummate professional.
Not knowing anything about the movie before watching, I had no preconceived notions about what to expect, so I was frankly completely flabbergasted when looking it up online after viewing and discovering how much the Internet hated it. Taste is subjective, I suppose.
-Traditionally T-Fest always ends with a movie featuring some sort of T-Rex or an unreasonable facsimile. This year the role would be filled by Gorosaurus, a secondary giant monster in our final feature.
King Kong Escapes (1967) – This Toho/Rankin-Bass co-production, made to capitalize on the popularity of the then-current King Kong animated series, is certainly a slight effort in the annals of Kaiju flicks. But darned if that Mechani-Kong isn’t the cutest giant monster in Japanese history. It’s also notable for having been dubbed in great part by Rankin-Bass regular Paul Frees, best known in my house as the Burgomeister Meisterburger.
I’d seen this before and always assumed the male villain was supposed to be named Dr. Hu (and presumably Chinese, not too great a stretch for the bad guy in a Japanese film), and that any relation to the homophonous time-traveler and his blue box were entirely coincidental. But sources do seem to indicate that the character really is named Who. And he does spend a great deal of time dressed (and made up) as the spitting image of William Hartnell. I still assume it was coincidental as I can’t imagine that by 1967 Doctor Who was being shown in either the US or Japan, but it is I suppose, just possible that someone in Wardrobe was making what would have at the time been a very obscure joke.
PART III – AFTERTHOUGHTS:
This year’s helping of cheese went down pretty easy, our evil overlords (AKA Sandy and Ken) having chosen to celebrate year 10 by sticking mostly to crowd-friendly goofball classics. There was certainly no Agonizer in the bunch and most of the films were ones that are deservedly famous in the bad movie community for their entertainment value.
Worst of the lot was undoubtedly She-Devils on Wheels, as it was the only one that, despite the salacious subject matter, actually managed to be dull in large stretches. A situation worsened by Lewis’ usual complete lack of ability with sound recording. There are whole minutes where people are talking but none of the dialogue is audible enough to be comprehensible. Nevertheless even it has a degree of goofy charm (and that decapitation!).
My personal vote for best of the official features was Original Gangstas but I have such a soft spot for that cast and style of filmmaking that I will readily admit to bias. Most technically competent was certainly Mortal Kombat, unsurprising as it was the only major studio release of the lot.
The best film overall was without a doubt our bonus movie Harbinger Down, but unlike the others, it was being shown on Sandy’s recommendation as a good movie
Definitely a good year to subject the eldest to as a first timer, nothing that would make him run away screaming, never to return.
Sunday the menfolk spent gaming while I alternated squeeing over the eclipse and trying to watch more movies (generally unsuccessfully as I was too busy squeeing over the eclipse). But one movie gripped me utterly from the get go.
Cash On Demand (1961) – Although Hammer has become known almost exclusively as a horror studio, they actually turned out all kinds of films, including a number of mysteries and thrillers. The low-budget black and white effort is a true bottle picture, all the action takes place in only three rooms of a bank, with a small cast of characters. The late, lamented Peter Cushing is a very reserved and uptight bank manager, brought to his breaking point by a faux-affable robber. After a career playing stoic professors and stern villains, it’s sometimes hard to remember just exactly how fine a character actor Mr. Cushing was and he is used to best advantage here. To say more about the plot would ruin it, but I strongly encourage you to hunt this down for your Christmas viewing pleasure (yes, it’s a Christmas movie, redemptive arc and all). A tight script with absolutely no unnecessary filler and a gripping story, with just the right touches of both humor and despair, help make this one of my new favorite movies.
BONUS COCKTAIL TO NUMB THE PAIN:
Patty’s Liquid Mattress
Take a proper pint pub glass and fill with ice, to this add:
3 fingers ice-cold vodka (adjust as needed based on current Agonizer level)
1 single serving packet Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade
Fill the glass the rest of the way with Fresca
Drink through a straw *very slowly* and titrate to effect
Disclaimer: I am not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed herein are purely my own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. All content herein is my own save for stock photos or quotations shared under Fair Use guidelines. Please don’t steal it without asking nicely first and linking back here to help make me really, really famous.