B-Fest 2018 – Craptastic Voyage

26 January 2018. The sun sets over Lake Michigan as a cool breeze ruffles the hair of the secretive creatures that scutter towards their lair for the next 24 hours. The time, 6:00 PM; the place, Norris Auditorium; and the event all these curiously masochistic examples of humanity have gathered for;

B-Fest 2018

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Artwork by Mitch O’Connell. Fabulous as always.
It Begins:

Double Trouble with the Barbarian Brothers. As an *opener*! What have I done to deserve this for my sins? 

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Our heroes, folks!

Double Trouble (1992): A buddy cop movie starring bodybuilding twins David and Peter Paul (AKA The Barbarian Brothers) as a police detective and a cat burglar, forced to team up to take down the head of a jewel-smuggling ring headed up by a perfectly-cast Roddy McDowell. Features Bill Mumy as a particularly disturbed (and disturbing) assassin. Cop Barbarian has no concept of the meaning of ‘concealed carry’ as he spends the entirety of the film in the same cropped Raiders sweatshirt with his gun clearly visible tucked in the back of his pants.

Shockingly, this turned out to be a pretty good little flick. The Paul Brothers are no thespians, but display a disarming degree of self-awareness. The rest of the cast is solid and turn in professional performances, with Roddy McDowell in one of his rare, but always memorable, villain roles. The direction is solid if unremarkable and the whole thing works well as the sort of light comedy/action movie that filled summer movie schedules in the mid-1980s through mid-1990s. For old music video heads, this one even has a brief scene with Bobbie Brown as Cat Burglar Barbarian’s hot girlfriend (a slice of Cherry Pie, anybody?)

So, not the H. Rider Haggard She then. Or maybe? They’re both in English at any rate. And Sandahl Bergman is usually fairly entertaining. Not always in a world class thespian way, but…

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But, this is my range.

She (1982): An atypical (not a typo) example of the 1980s Italian Sword and Sandal/Post-Apocalyptic mash-up film (Yes, it was a whole genre. Really.). The basic plot involves a young woman who is kidnapped by a gang of future Nazis in garish costumes whose brothers must quest to recover her. Along the way the are taken captive by the titular She (Sandahl Bergman) and her army of women.  Despite her initial hostility she comes to admire their bravery and, upon their escape from her clutches, will join their quest alongside her equally pulchritudinous captain of the guard.

Ah, the Quest Movie. You know the one, stuff happens, then in the next village more stuff happens, and so ad infinitum until the producers either run out of money or film stock. As dull as they are predictable. This one though, may just qualify as the plain weirdest movie I have seen at a B-Fest (yes, that includes Death Bed), and while it is many things, dull is not one of them. It establishes itself as taking place only 23 years after some sort of unspecified holocaust, but any resemblance to realistic (or even internally consistent) world building begins and ends with the opening market trading in scavenged late 20th century goods.

Spoileriffic vignettes include: She fighting robot Frankenstein monsters that leap from crates in a room she has apparently traversed many times without this previously being an issue; a battle with radiation scarred mutants whose limbs fall off if you pull; a Lotus Eater society made up entirely of decadent werewolves; fighting neo-Soviets led by a telekinetic superman (whose powers not only violate everything we know about this universe so far, but should have enabled him to have taken over the whole damned thing in a week and a half); capture by a mad steampunk scientist and his be-tutu-ed giant henchman; and a final impediment in the form of a moat guarded by a creature right out of L. Frank. Baum’s darkest and most fevered Oz dreams.

There is no rhyme or reason connecting each new step of the quest. The way it was filmed strongly suggests that each of the domains they pass through only covers about 5 acres at most and that the entire thing takes place within about 3 miles of She’s kingdom, which just makes it all the funnier. But it’s never dull, as each new adventure is unrelated in either tone or genre. She can be best described as a half-dozen unconnected short films that happen to have been stumbled upon by the same protagonists. Oh, and the only thing connecting it to Haggard’s novel is the presence of an eternal flame and healing pool which keep She young and immortal (and plays into the story not at all).

One side note: the film’s soundtrack manages to be an outstanding mix of original pop, rock, and metal best described as “music you almost know”. This turns out to be for the very good reason that Rick Wakeman wrote the majority of the soundtrack and it was performed in part by Motörhead.

I don’t believe Tremors actually qualifies as a B movie in either of the usually accepted senses, but at least it gives me something I can doze a bit during without feeling guilty as I saw it the first time around.

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A-List cast, reasonable budget, well-realized critters, and a solid script. What Fest are we at again?

Tremors (1990): Great, well-made SF/Horror flick starring Kevin Bacon and Micheal Gross (as incomparable survivalist Burt Gummer) as the core of a solid cast trapped in a small western town by giant subterranean sandworms. Seriously, you’ve seen this, right? And if you haven’t, why the hell not? The aforementioned nap was not due to lack of quality, but because I try to pace myself at these events by dozing during things I have already seen/will clearly not be sad to miss.  However this is such a well-paced flick that my best-efforts only got me about a ten minute nap at the climax as it was still too early in the proceedings for a real rest.

Led to a pointless Facebook exchange between myself and an acquaintance whose definition of B-Movie is “anything I don’t like” and those of us who understand that words have meanings. Still, while Tremors is decidedly not a B-picture, it is solid genre fare and went down well with the crowd.

Dolls. One I have not enough knowledge of to draw preconclusions.

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I got nothing.

Dolls (1987): The thing I love about Charles Band horror movies is their fairy tale sensibility. Dark? Sure, but rarely immoral. And with the removal of the smallest amount of gore, you could make any one of them into a dark family film (the kind Disney toyed with in the late 1970s) with very little change. Although, oddly, I hate his actual forays into family film, so…

This one is wonderfully creepy. A little girl and her abusive father and stepmother become stuck in the mud outside an old dark house where they are forced to seek shelter with an elderly toymaker and his wife. They will soon be joined by a hapless but gentle tourist and the pair of obnoxious (*cough* “Cockney” *cough*) hitchhikers he’s picked up along the way. At first everything seems fine, except for the slightly disturbing dolls that fill every room, but things soon take a turn for the darkly ironic.

Dolls is the sort of morality play where you know in the first 15 minutes who will still be standing when the credits roll and you agree completely. Half the fun is watching awful things happen to the completely deserving, the other half is seeing the wonderfully executed stop motion and puppeteering used to bring the titular Dolls to sinister life, something Charles Band would eventually build an entire (and IMHO entirely underrated) career around.

It must be midnight. The Wizard of Speed and Time to be followed shortly by Plan 9 From Outer Space and hopefully my first real nap of the Fest. Although I am highly overcaffeinated at the moment.

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Not really much to say about these that I haven’t said before, notably here and here. Look, I get that it’s tradition, but after six Fests (and a million Plan 9 showings at other places and stages of my life), I’m bored with both. I didn’t get a full nap, but did fall asleep just as the aliens zapped Fake Bela into a skeleton. This turned out to be a strategic error as it left me wide awake for

Night Train to Terror. Which unfortunately is neither the Blaxsploitation flick that usually plays in this slot, nor is it Horror Express.

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Definitely a real train.

Night Train to Terror (1985): I should probably explain that to add to the pain factor, I go in to each Fest ‘cold’. That is to say, I don’t check out the line-up in advance so that each new feature comes as a surprise. I had caffeinated right after my annual Plan 9 nap in anticipation of a 1970s Urban Action movie in this slot as that has been the case during all my previous years. Instead, the tits-n’-gore movie that had usually been featured around 3 AM had made its way here.

This one happened to be an anthology film, with a framing story of God (Ferdy Maine!) and Satan on (a really unconvincing set of) a train (it is however, broad daylight, at least sometimes). The train is currently occupied by a very 80’s pop music group who are making a video for a song that is apparently called “Dance” as 90% of the lyrics consist of that word. (According to the Internet, it’s actually called “Everybody but You”. Whatever.) The train is scheduled to crash in an hour and then the fate of all souls on board determined. In the meantime God and Satan are discussing other lives and their eternal dispositions. Spoiler alert: God gets everyone in the end. Because he cheats. Apparently He’s a Universalist.

I greatly regretted not being able to sleep through the first segment, which had no plot at all, but mostly consisted of Richard Moll as (possibly, these things didn’t really get any explanation) the insane janitor of an asylum, raping and gutting women with no rhyme or reason to tie things together.  There’s another guy who ended up there after his wife died in a car accident, (most closely resembling the one which set Beetlejuice in motion) who is supposed to be our hero?  Maybe? I really don’t know. Eventually it ended, without making a lick of sense, but having succeeded in turning my stomach pretty thoroughly. This segment was apparently made up of footage from an uncompleted movie, which was hastily edited together to seem vaguely (very vaguely) story-like.

No terror and no train. So as inaccurately named as the last Richard Moll movie I saw at a B- Fest. [Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn ed.]

The pop band from the framing segment sings the whole “Dance” song to the same video again. That’s it.

The second segment involved a young man who falls in love with Greta, a porn star/classical pianist (as you do). Her manager/sugar daddy/pimp doesn’t appreciated the competition, but instead of  having the young man quietly murdered, which would have made actual sense, he instead forces the young lovers to join a “death club” whose meetings consist of increasingly outré forms of Russian roulette. This involves such things as killer insects who can only sting once and a circle of electric chairs, only one of which will randomly kill an occupant.  This one was so stupid that despite having stayed awake, I literally cannot remember how it ended (there was something with a wrecking ball?) but presume Greta died so that Ferdy Maine and Satan would have something to argue over between stories.

And we see (and hear) the same video once more. Once more there is nothing further from these characters.  At this point friend Jeff quipped, “This movie provides its own stock footage.”

The final segment involves a devout Roman Catholic cardiothoracic surgeon, married to a God-is-dead-and-I’m-not-feeling-so-well-myself Richard Dawkins type (again played by Richard Moll). She must fight Satan in the form of a seemingly-immortal Nazi/saturnine young man of the Disco era, who has been preying on young women that he picks up in nightclubs.  It all ends badly. Also that’s not the way heart surgery works.

At this point you’d presume we’d get a little background information on the musicians whose lives and souls we have supposedly been waiting all movie to judge, but you’d be wrong. We now watch the “Dance” video a 4th time, the train crashes, we get a quick view of jumbled corpses and God takes everyone to heaven. The end. But no. Because, damn it all, we will now watch that lousy, stupid, cheesy, obnoxious video a 5th time over the closing credits.

Ugh, definitely the most unpleasant movie of the Fest, and I have probably managed to make it seem far more interesting than it really is. I can say that while the first segment has no redeeming qualities at all, the latter two do display the absolute cutest stop-motion Cosmic Horrors™ to ever grace the silver screen. It isn’t enough to redeem the rest of the vile display, but does provide the occasional entertainment amongst the (literally, I mean by the MPAA and everything) X-rated garbage on screen. The fact that this pornographic violence is somehow supposed to be a morality tale about God’s mercy just makes it all the more distasteful.

Crippled Avengers I do love me some Shaw Brothers.

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Technically only the guy with no legs is “crippled”. Perhaps this should be known as Differently Abled Avengers.

Crippled Avengers (1978): Shaw Brothers movies are about as perfect as Hong Kong cinema gets. Unlike some of the newer Kung Fu movies I have seen, they generally run right around 90 minutes and every action drives the plot.  They move fast and the fight scenes are always exceptional. This particular one involves four young men who offend the local feudal lord and are punished for their lack of obsequiousness with crippling at his hands; one is deafened and muted, another loses his eyes, one has both legs chopped off, and last and worst, a talented young martial artist has his skull crushed and is brain damaged beyond healing, so that while he maintains his skills, he has the mental and emotional capacity of a small child. The four travel to the temple where the last had trained and spend 3 years honing their skills, despite their new disabilities, before returning to the original village to take their revenge.

At this point the earlier nap and caffeine gave out and I did fall asleep for the final third of the film, although I did manage to make it through the training montage before succumbing. I woke up to the surviving avengers walking away from a pile of bad guy corpses, so I am guessing that the rest of the movie went about the way I expected, but I will definitely seek this one out again to see in its entirety.

Shaw Brothers suggestion for B-Fest 2019: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Please?

The White Gorilla with ‘Crash’ Corrigan.

So this is an entire movie of one guy watching other people have adventures. Except when he’s watching stock footage instead.

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55 minutes of watching this guy watch other people.

The White Gorilla (1945): 55 minutes of African stock footage from a 1920s serial intercut with just enough “original” footage of an explorer following, but not interacting with, the cast to pretend it was a new movie. Let’s put it this way, I never even figured out if Ray Corrigan was the hero of the new footage or the old. Nor could I bring myself to care.  Went back to sleep as soon as I remembered that I had, in point of fact, seen stock footage before, and it never gets any more interesting.

Well I couldn’t manage to keep my eyes open for all 55 minutes of that. Halfway done and the Nick Cage version of The Wicker Man is up next.

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Literally the only reason anyone remembers that this movie exists.

The Wicker Man (2006): Well, now I’ve seen this.  Which means I don’t have to see it again, right? Even stupider than the reviews make it out to be, Nicolas Cage spends 90ish minutes screaming at the screen while investigating the disappearance of his (until then unknown) daughter at the hands of a really dumbassed pagan fertility cult (of course they still manage to outwit Cage, so…). Briefly becomes awesome when he punches out Kathy Bates in a giant bear suit.

Infamous for “NOT THE BEEEEESSSS!!!!”. Also, that’s not how you use epinephrine. But it would work to revive him long enough to not die before being immolated, so whatever, you get half a point screenwriters (minus 1 million points for everything else, though).

Final observation: those are the worst animated bees I have ever seen, and I’ve watched The Swarm close to a dozen times. Voluntarily.

Surf Ninjas. Seems like a really good opportunity for a nap. It’s a shame I’m now wide awake. Man, I hate Rob Schneider.

Apparently, the rest of B-Fest agreed.

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We hatessss it, my preciousss…

This crowd will cheer anyone. They will cheer Peter and David Paul. They will cheer a sixth billed Troy Donahue. What does it tell you that they unanimously booed the name of Rob Schneider.

Would much rather be watching Surf Nazis Must Die.

Surf Ninjas (1993): Look, I stayed awake long enough to see Leslie Nielsen as a cyborg villain straight out of Batman (1966) and to hear about whatever prophecy meant that the kids were some sort of lost, surfing, ninja princes then dozed off.  I woke up briefly to see that the ninja kids appeared to be ruling either Indonesia or Thailand (you, know, where ninjas come from) and went back to sleep muttering imprecations at screenwriters who can’t grasp that Asia is a whole damned continent.

At least this one gave me the energy to remain awake for the rest of the Fest.

The Villain is cute but I’d rather be watching Rustlers Rhapsody.

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Handsome and Charming. Because of course they are.

The Villain (1979): This early Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy western is really just a 90 minute, live-action Roadrunner cartoon without the advantage of Chuck Jones’s incomparable timing. It isn’t terrible, but the first act takes far too long to set-up the premise, where Handsome Stranger (Ah-nold) is hired to escort the, um, extremely amorous Charmin’ Jones (Ann Margret) across the desert with a boatload of cash. Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) fills the Coyote role, with a (too-long) series of gags outlining his various plots to capture both the money and the girl.  Frankly you know you’re in a bit of trouble when your horse steals the show.

Troll 2. Eh, it’s a movie. One where the making-of documentary is far more interesting than the movie itself. Oddly, that’s a fairly broad category of films that transcend genre, budget, or indeed quality.

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Try pissing on this hospitality. (Horse Brutality!)

Troll 2 (1990): I kind of feel like the internet has already exhausted this one. Don’t misunderstand, this is a great bad movie, and went over extremely well with the B-Fest crowd, but it has been rehashed and analyzed ad infinitum. Trolls 2 is what you get when a non-English speaking director hires a bunch of non-acting Mormon locals to make a low budget horror movie about goblins in the Utah desert with a script inspired by his wife’s exhaustion with the moralizing self-righteousness of her newly-vegetarian friends. The movie has no trolls in it and is in no sense a sequel.

Personally, I think you would be better served seeking out the excellent making-of documentary Best Worst Movie, which I believe is still streaming free on Amazon Prime.

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I am still convinced that my renting this movie contributed to the passing of George Burns that very night. Like Blockbuster told him that someone rented it and he died of shame. Please don’t let me kill Alice Cooper tonight. [He seems to have made it through OK ed.]

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The exact moment Maurice says “fuck this noise” and gives up.

Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978): I actually found this notorious all-star stinker to be pretty innocuous as 70s disco-rock musicals go, neither as painfully embarrassing as Xanadu, nor as weird as The Apple, and certainly not half as terrifying as Tommy.

Most of the musical numbers are pretty tepid, although you can see Steve Martin trying to give all his comic energy to a rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. Unfortunately his over-the-top physical performance is paired with a lame audio track  that has all the charm and character of warmed over boiled cabbage. Of all the other acts involved, Aerosmith and Earth, Wind and Fire at least manage to not embarrass themselves. And Billy Preston will pull out all the stops at the end. But it’s too little, too late, and this will now live in infamy as the movie that finally broke Ken “high priest of Jabootu” Begg.

The plot (such as it is) involves the latest incarnation of the titular band (currently consisting of Peter Frampton and the BeeGees) going off to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. Meanwhile the magical instruments that belonged to the original band are stolen from Heartland’s City Hall by order of the FVB (Future Villain Band, sigh) causing their hometown to immediately go from bucolic anytown to den of vice and misery. And hookers, this movie likes hookers.

This now turns into yet another damned Quest Movie™ as the boys must seek out and return the fabled instruments in order to save the town. Many Beatles songs are given lackluster covers along the way by whomever the producers had under contract. It culminates in the revelation that the FVB is Aerosmith, who do give my personal favorite rendition of “Come Together” before Steven Tyler dies from being knocked down a flight of stairs by a struggling Strawberry Fields (sigh), who then falls to her own death.  Unfortunately there is still half an hour of movie left.

Lets face it, we all know she is going to get a miracle recovery when the power of the instruments restores the town. But no, we have to get through the town-wide wake and funeral first. And then a Barry Gibb solo that brings the movie to a screeching halt for about another 7 minutes before we are allowed to move forward with our statutory happy ending. It was at this point when veteran B-Movie maven Ken seemed to levitate from his seat, both middle fingers raised to an uncaring sky and proceeded to bring forth an eloquent litany of obscenities such as I have never before heard from the mild-mannered former librarian. He was both beautiful and terrifying in his rage and we all trembled at his wrath.

So there’s that.

Giving myself a little break as The Mummy’s Ghost is a toss up for my last favorite of the both the Mummy series and of the Universals as a whole.

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Not the high point of either’s career, but then again, nowhere near the lowest either.

The Mummy’s Ghost (1944): This was the forth movie in a row that I had seen before, and one I find tediously dull, so I took a little walk to stretch my legs.  I don’t much care for any of the Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy movies, but this one and The Mummy’s Curse I am particularly unfond of. It does end with some spectacular falling down of stairs though.

Finishing on a high note with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. That should go down well with the crowd and help block out a lot of pain.

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Why yes, that is Jeff Goldblum as the world’s most Jewish cowboy from New Jersey.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984): One of those odd movies that I have seen at least half a dozen times and enjoyed each time, but then can’t remember anything about a week later.

It doesn’t really matter except to say that Buckaroo is the world’s top rock star/neurosurgeon/physicist and that his Hong Kong Cavaliers are all equally hypercompetent polymaths. There are many many aliens named John. And a love interest named Penny Priddy (who may or may not be the title characters dead wife, or her clone) whom I loathe because no more useless wet sack of cement has ever graced the screen. But she gets to live when Buckaroo saves the day from the Red Lectroids and everyone pimp walks through the Los Angeles River. And we never do get to find out what happened when he went up against the World Crime League, because this one sank like a rock at the box office. The End.

And the end of B-Fest 2018 as well. We cleaned up as best we could and moved out for the traditional once-a-year gorging on Chicago-style pizza.

This year was a good mix of styles and genres, without any really serious pain-bringers (although Night Train to Terror certainly brought the nausea). I was about 50/50 on movies seen vs new-to-me flicks, which is a good ratio, although having five in a row that I had seen before all lined up at the end was a bit of a bummer. I would liked to have seen some representation of the 50s and 60s, and was very disappointed to have neither  Blaxploitation nor kaiju (or Harryhousen monsters, I’m not that picky) on the menu this year. Still it was a very enjoyable return for me after missing last year due to deployment and a great time was had by all.

As always thanks to Ken both for his hospitality and for bringing this group of misfits together through the power of the Internet. I have made the best friends on the planet through this hobby and he’s the one who got us all together in the real world. Thanks also to Jeff for transportation in Chicago and yet another in a string of wonderful L and L breakfasts (with gyro meat). And to Paul and Holly for bourbon and sympathy after it was all over.  Until next year, guys!

And just because I had to hear it 5 times….

 

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