B-Fest 2019 – Crap and More Crap

*NOTE* This has been sitting in my drafts folder 80% complete for 6 months.  I got to a certain point, hit the wall and blanked on how to deal with the pain (the reason why will be obvious). Then I refused to post anything else because I hadn’t finished my annual B-Fest write up (as you do). However, as I have had recent requests from, not one, not two, but three of my once six regular readers to unshutter the blog and go back to snarking about travel and crap cinema, I figured I’d better pull this thing out of mothballs and justify the 26 bucks a year I’m paying for this URL.

So without further ado…

It’s time for the annual big trip to Chicago to spend 24 hours with 1000 of my closest strangers (and a handful of really good friends) voluntarily subjecting ourselves to films so bad they should be banned by the Geneva convention. Yes, my friends it is once again time for B-Fest.

As in the past few years, I did live updates on ongoing events on my Facebook page. It’s almost like having me sitting next to you being sarcastic with the added bonus that you don’t know what I’m talking about because Facebook never showed you the first post with the movie name and everything is out of order.

The Food of the Gods (1976): This only slightly sillier-than-usual 1970s eco-horror stars Marjoe Gorter as a not-even-slightly heroic professional football player trapped on a remote island with a bunch of other spam-in-a-can actors as they are menaced by giant rats, giant wasps, and the most glorious giant rubber rooster head ever committed to celluloid.

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What’s the matter Colonel Sanders? Chicken?

The titular FOTG (no, really, that’s what the labels say) is some sort of white substance that comes welling up from the ground like bubbling crude goo. Local farmwife Ida Lupino (filling the requisite embarrassed actor slot) mixes it into chicken feed, as you do. Et violà, giant critters!

Other rat fodder characters include a couple of Marjoe’s teammates, the farmer, a couple so stupid they believe that the perfect time to camp in the remote wilderness is when one is nine-and-a-half-months pregnant, a “female bacteriologist”, and the contractually obligated evil-capitalist-who-will-come-to-a-bad-end who is there to somehow exploit the Food by hauling it away to the big city in Mason jars to sell.

After the second death, the Evil Capitalist™ suggests, quite reasonably, that all the survivors pile into his giant land yacht of a car, which is entirely enclosed, drive to the ferry, and escape. But since EC™ is the villain, the heroic quarterback steals his keys and insists on scouting the island in his stupid open Jeep before they try to make a getaway, thereby putting every remaining death firmly on Marjoe Gortner’s be-Brilloed head.

This is the sort of movie that would generally be my favorite of the Fest. I love stupid 70’s eco-horror full of terribly matted giant beasties, rubber puppets, guys in suits, and utterly confused moral messaging. Unfortunately, FOTG is marred by some really dreadful animal abuse. Look, I lived on a farm as a kid, I’m not particularly sentimental about animals in general, nor about vermin at all. But seeing a bunch of domesticated rats being gruesomely killed on screen became unwatchably unpleasant very quickly. As a group we never reached a consensus on whether they were attaching squibs to the animals, or just simply shooting them with small-caliber weaponry to “simulate” the giant rats being killed by shotgun blast (the drowning by holding them underwater by their tails was unequivocal). We did, however, reach a consensus that Bert I. Gordon was kind of a dick.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Starting with Bert I. Gordon’s Food of the Gods. Which oddly is the second B.I.G. adaptation of the same Wells story that I have seen this week. This is the slightly more faithful adaptation. Emphasis on “slightly”.

You know you are at a B-Fest when the whole room cheers the appearance of Marjoe Gortner.

“Jobs for female bacteriologists aren’t easy to come by!” Ladies and gentlemen, it’s early, but we may already have the quote of the night.  [This did in fact remain the stupidest quote of the Fest. The combination of bad exposition and overspecificity was just impossible to overcome. Ed.]

Mmmm, that’s some good exposition.

I feel like this movie may have lacked ASPCA oversight.

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) – Nifty little potboiler about a hypnotist responsible for a series of gruesome mutilation crimes.

A not very bright detective (ably assisted by his much smarter and more competent best girl and their as-gay-as-was-allowed-by-the-Hayes-Code psychiatrist friend) looks into a series of self-mutilations by gorgeous young women. There is no obvious link between the events, but the latest victim attended a hypnosis show with our lead couple earlier the very same night she washed her face with sulfuric acid. Could this be the clue that leads them to a fairly obvious conclusion? Features a not-50-foot Allison Hayes in a scenery chewing supporting role as the hypnotist’s statuesque assistant.

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A good hypnotist can defy the laws of physics.

This one was very well shot and directed for such a cheap and tawdry little piece of low-budget filmmaking. The lighting is suitably moody and made me want to throw around words like “chiaroscuro” and piss off people who (sensibly) don’t know what the hell that means. But, like many cheapies of the period, this one had a gimmick.

It was filmed in Hypnovision™ which usually just means that whenever our sinister French hypnotist (Ex-Mr. Ginger Rogers, Jacques Bergerac) is supposed to be using the hypnotic eye prop to mesmerize a victim, we get a POV shot of epilepsy-inducing flashing circular lights. However it is also the gimmick used to bring the film to a screeching halt for several minutes prior to the big denouement while Bergerac goes through a series of hypnotic suggestion exercises addressed directly at the movie going audience. This sequence also features balloons with the movie’s eye logo on them, which were apparently distributed to patrons by theater management so that they could fully participate in this scene. Man, I wish I had one of those ballyhoo props.

Overall, this ended up being my surprise favorite film of the Fest.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Next up: The Hypnotic Eye. Never seen this one so no idea what to expect.

There is a hypnotic technical advisor credited. Because this is the sort of movie where you are super concerned with ensuring verisimilitude.

That is one hell of a kimono. [on the psychiatrist. Totally straight. Really. Ed.]

So far our emerging theme is soi-disant heroes [in retrospect the more accurate term would turn out to be protagonists. Ed.] who are unlikable morons who get much smarter plans suggested by their much smarter friends. Which they promptly ignore causing unneeded collateral damage.

The PSA at the end about not allowing yourself to be hypnotized except by a medical professional was almost worth the price of admission.

Get Crazy (1983) – If The Kentucky Fried Movie and a concert film had a baby, Get Crazy would be the likely result. Features Daniel Stern early enough in his career that he is actually acting (as opposed to just playing Daniel Stern) as the hapless stage manager of a thin expy of the Fillmore East and Malcolm McDowell doing his best Mick Jagger if Jagger had a talking penis.

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If you like non-linear narratives featuring thinly veiled parodies of various early 80s musical acts, all performing their own versions of the blues standard Hootchie Cootchie Man, this is the movie for you! But personally, I much preferred Arkush’s earlier directorial effort, Rock and Roll High School. I was in the minority here, but this one didn’t do much for me (I also doubt the Northwestern crowd got the badly outdated musical references, I can’t imagine many of them remember Toni Basil). It’s good-hearted and painless though. Also the new GLOW series on Netflix shamelessly ripped off their drug dealing robot from this movie.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Next up something called Get Crazy, which I haven’t even heard of. Supposedly some sort of 80s rock comedy.

Mary Woronov! [Who then had maybe three lines in the whole movie. Damn it! Ed.]

Watching Ed Begley Jr. in this movie is like watching Martin Mull in that episode of Wonder Woman where he’s supposed to be some sort of super hypnotic rock star. And equally convincing.

“It’s like Sting and Jagger got Brundlefly-ed” – Chad

The Creeping Terror (1964) – One of the classics of crap. A spaceship arrives containing two giant carpet monsters, one of whom remains confined to its “spacecraft” (accessed by the heroes by climbing through what appears to be a hole under a fence as dug by an over-enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel) and the other of whom proceeds to carry out a slow motion reign of terror amongst the local teenagers, (and one notably rotund old man, presumably an investor, who dies never knowing what happened to little Bobby) who are reduced to climbing headfirst into the monster’s mouth when the suit operators cannot convincingly consume them without assistance.

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Get used to this view. You’ll be seeing a lot of it.

Short, sweet and a lot of fun if you can get around the almost entirely narrated soundtrack. There are conflicting reports as to whether it was simply filmed MOS and dubbed to save money or if the sound track was recorded, but lost, necessitating the terrible overdub and replacement of dialogue with narration. (So. Much. Narration.)

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

The Creeping Terror! Yay! Terrible carpet monsters for the win.

The Wizard of Speed and Time (1977) – The original short film, annual audience participation version. See here, here, and here. (Nope, no 2017, I was deployed)

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Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) – Just want to take a moment to acknowledge that even after at least 30 viewings, this one still has the capacity to serve up an occasional new blunder that I haven’t seen before. This time I noticed that when Paula is sitting in bed during the phone call to check in on her, there’s a photo of a couple on the wall above the bed that is not her and Jeff (I assume this was filmed in Ed Wood’s house and that this is him and his wife, but couldn’t see well enough to confirm). The shot cuts to a close up, and when it returns to wide, the picture is gone and has been replaced by a picture of a vase of flowers. Other than that, this movie has been watched and analyzed so many times that there is nothing to add. Played with (glitchy) subtitles this year, which is particularly egregious as I am pretty sure that 95% of the audience has the entire movie memorized.

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Slightly embarrassed that I dozed off during Terror, except I’ve seen it at last half a dozen times. Next up: Wizard of Speed and Time followed by Plan 9, so time for guilt-free napping.

Why are we watching this with subtitles?

Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness (1986) – Low budget slasher about a man’s descent into madness and mass murder after he catches his wife cheating on him.

Mostly remarkable for having been directed by an 18 year old. For all of that, it isn’t significantly worse than average for mid-80s direct-to-video horror, although it does perhaps contain just a smidgen too much real-time driving footage (all the driving even gets its own electronica theme, which gets funnier each time you hear it). The film features some remarkable well-done gore effects which might have been more effective in service to a more coherent story. Shockingly, none of the local Florida cast went on to become Hollywood legends, although, perhaps even more shockingly, one did grow up to be a Backstreet Boy (A.J. McLean).

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So. Much. Driving.

We all had Tim of Checkpoint Telstar to thank for this one, along with the annual B-Fest music CD. Thanks. I think?

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

I see we are definitely not returning to putting a Blacksploitation flick up after Plan 9. Something called Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness. Which I’m told is a slasher flick made in Florida by an 18 year old. Which means it should still be better than the Madonna flick of the same name.

I always pick up hitchhiking hookers and take them camping.

It’s not a good sign when the overly drawn out real time driving sequences are the most dynamic part of your movie.

Showgirls (1995) – Tacky fake empowerment film about the highs and lows of the sex industry as exemplified by a woman whose highest aspiration is to be head dancer in a “classy” topless revue, yet gets offended every time she is asked to show her tits.

I hate everyone in this movie except the fat old broad with the peek-a-boo honkers who does bad stand-up at the down-market strip joint. Yes, even the Magical Negro™ best friend who is supposed to be Elizabeth Berkley’s morality pet. Not that my dislike in any way justifies what happens to her. I just think she should have told that psychopathic white woman to keep walking after she threw French fries, that’s all.

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Literally the only character in this movie I did not hate.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Showgirls. Because boobies are allowed after midnight.

Just remember that this was the movie that was going to make NC17 respectable. And Elizabeth Berkley into a serious actress. Complete success on both accounts.

The idea that our “heroine” (A word I use advisedly) is some sort of amazing dancer is the definition of an informed attribute.

I’m watching anti-erotica.

Street Fighter (1994) – OK, OK, I admit it, I fell asleep for most of this one. Spousal unit is still POed at me about that as it’s a personal favorite and he’s been trying to get me to watch it since roughly six months after it came out.  All I can really say is that I didn’t recognize pre-plastic surgery Kylie Minogue until I saw here name in the closing credits, because she doesn’t resemble her(current)self in the least and I’d forgotten that was what her original face looked like.

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Seriously, did not recognize her.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Street Fighter. Which should be a good palate cleanser as we approach the halfway point.

Ming Na must have really needed a job,

I just realized that this movie is positing Jean Claude Van Damme as the token American on this UN task force.

The Manster (1959) – This one was sponsored by the good Acolytes of Jabootu (so your good hostess is at least partly to blame). A surprisingly effective little low-budget Japanese/American co-production that is one part Mad Scientist movie, one part Monster flick and one part Relationship Drama.

It’s a unique twist on the old Jekyll and Hyde bit. When All-American journalist Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) gets drunk with his interview subject, eccentric Japanese scientist Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura), he is injected with a mysterious formula while incapacitated and over the following days and weeks finds his evil side taking on a literal life of its own.  Blatantly ripped off by Sam Raimi in Army of Darkness.

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Peek a boo!

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

The Manster. Our little group of merry maniacs sponsored this one.

And here is where I hit the wall, both at the Fest and while working on this write-up. The next eight hours were absolutely the most painful, brutal, unpleasant stretch of films I’ve ever sat through all in one sitting (and I am a 30 year plus veteran of the crap cinema trenches). While any one of these movies (except Lisztomania, which would remain intolerable when watched under any circumstances. I’m looking at you, Ken Russell) might have worked as a painful but entertaining interlude if placed between two lighter entries, running them one after another was like a freight train of unpleasantness that Just. Wouldn’t. End.

So I’ve decided not to relive that stretch but simply to present the titles and my Facebook snarks without further comment. Otherwise this thing will never see the light of day.  Yes folks, it was that painful. I will note that I has seen all but the Russell monstrosity before, but that still did not relieve having them scheduled all in a row.

Howard the Duck (1986)-

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Seriously?!? Who exactly is the target audience for this movie?

Well, looks like it’s time to go do anything except watch Howard the Duck.

Nothing But Trouble (1991) – OK, I will make one very small observation about this one in that I was mildly tickled that the theme song played whenever anyone is sent through the Funhouse Rollercoaster Of Doom, is a Damn Yankees tune that never made it to one of their albums. And I love me some Damn Yankees.

My Facebook Thoughts™-

Nothing but Trouble. Yet another film my dad is inordinately fond of and…the rest of the world… isn’t.

Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a a B-Fest crowd boo every single name in the credits before.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996) –

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Literally my Irish-American ass on any given day at the beach.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Who the hell programmed all the real pain-bringers in a row? Now we are on to the dreadful Brando version of The Island of Doctor Moreau. This is becoming a real gauntlet.

Raffle time. With an MC so young she has no idea how to say VHS. So far I haven’t won anything this year either.

Lisztomania (1975) –

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The slide which showed before the film. It is literally everything you need to know about this movie.
My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Lisztomania?!? Ouch!

You know, I’m not bugged by nudity in the slightest, but in previous years we’ve kept the boob-heavy flicks to between midnight and 8 when the building gets locked down and the under 18s have to clear the building.

I get that we have been slating the weird, surreal 70s and 80s musicals in this slot, but perhaps an exception should have been made this year. Or showed Xanadu. [Or put Get Crazy here, as for all intents and purposes we ended up with two musicals. Ed.]

I never want to hear Chopsticks again.

Nothing about this movie is ok. I’ve decided that the most likely explanation for the entirety of Ken Russell’s oeuvre is tertiary syphilis. That’s my considered medical opinion. Although I suppose a metric shitton of cocaine is an alternate possibility. Or perhaps I should embrace the power of “and”.

This movie makes The Apple look coherent. And allegorically subtle.

Not Little Nell’s most dignified performance in a cult musical.

Army of Darkness (1992) – Proof that Sam Raimi understands everything about movies that Ken Russell doesn’t.  Thank goodness for a well-paced and well-crafted finale after eight hours of absolute misery.

Poor Ash (Bruce Campbell at his rubber-faced best). After losing his friends, sister, and girlfriend to the predations of the Deadites while on a weekend break in rural Tennessee, he is now stuck in the Middle Ages, declared an enemy of the local warlord, and the Deadites are still after his soul.

This may not be high art, but it sure is a fun film and one that never drags. Per his own admission in the Special Edition commentary (we saw the original U.S. theatrical cut here), Raimi had excellent editors that kept him in check when he was too in love with his stop-motion cleverness to keep things moving and made him keep things to the essentials. While lighter in tone than the first two Evil Dead movies, it is an emotionally satisfying ending to Ash’s adventures, bringing him fully from hapless college student, well out of his depth, to full-fledged, wisecracking badass (though without ever teaching him humility, but what fun would a humble Ash be?). It is also a loving tribute to the late great Ray Harryhousen and full of the sort of impressively believable practical makeup effects that have gone entirely by the wayside in the era of cheap and accessible CGI.

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Hmm. Why do I feel like I’ve seen this before?

It was weird seeing this within 12 hours of The Manster, just because there is a scene in here for which ‘homage’ is far too weak a term. Still, this went a long way towards restoring some goodwill after eight hours of the emotional and intellectual equivalent of beating the audience about the head and neck with gravel-filled pillows.

My Facebook Thoughts™ –

Finishing up with Army of Darkness which has the dual virtues of being painless and requiring no comment. Although I think I’d enjoy it more if it hadn’t been proceeded by 8 hours of painful dreck.

Overall, this year’s Fest was a mixed bag. The first 16 hours or so was some of the best balanced mixture of periods, styles, etc. that I had seen in a B-Fest lineup, and my little group was quite pleased to see more of the older stuff make a comeback (although I wouldn’t have scheduled The Creeping Terror and Plan 9 back to back). But that eight hours that made up most of the day on Saturday was truly brutal.  The first two were too weird in the same creepy 80’s-bad-makeup-and-creepy-sex ways to go down well back to back although I think either might have worked better (not well, in the case of HTD, but better) if separated by several hours. Moreau was the least painful of the three, and one I’d have not hesitated to include in a B-Fest lineup, but it’s long and weird and coming once everyone was already worn out on bizarreness from the previous two films it was hard to feel anything but tired while it played out.

Lisztomania? Well, that was gonna be hell no matter when it played, especially to a recovering music major. My biggest issue with it was not that it was woefully awful (although it was), nor that it was generally and gleefully offensive (although it was that too), but that it was a hard R film scheduled in a Saturday afternoon slot.  In previous years, while R-rated stuff might turn up at any hour, the hardest sexual stuff was always slotted during the late-night period when the under 18s are locked out of the building. I don’t bring my kids, so no big deal, but it is a legitimate programming consideration to take into account.

Overall I think they made good selection choices but the Fest as a whole would have been more effective if the programing had been rearranged a bit. As it was, three out of four black and white films were scheduled in the first six hours, and then there was the later issue of having two tonally similar 80s films back to back. If I were Queen of the B-Fest, I’d have swapped Nothing But Trouble and The Creeping Terror, then placed Lisztomania right after Plan 9, pushing the rest of the lineup back to fill the space.

This year’s event only seemed to come together at the last minute, with dates unannounced until after Christmas, so there may not have been a lot of time to get the lineup order just right. Next year is already being planned all the way  back here in July, so here is to a great B-Fest 2020!

One thought on “B-Fest 2019 – Crap and More Crap

  1. Weirdly, since I posted this today, tonight’s Svengoolie turns out to tie right in as the movie is Village of the Giants, a take on Food of the Gods that features Toni Basil in a prominent secondary role.

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