When my wife couldn’t make it to B-Fest this year Mike was the first person we thought of. We asked him during a fortuitous meeting at a local burger place on our first trip out of the house after my daughter’s birth. I told him about the fun we had last year and a friend from Northwestern encouraged him to go. Over the next few months I sent him a few e-mails confirming his participation, but his address changed somewhere along the line and he never was informed I had already purchased the tickets until early January. Whoops.
Well, fortunately everything worked out and when January 26th rolled around we were in the car and headed to the airport by six. Last year my wife and I had flown in to Midway airport, on the wrong end of Chicago from Ken, requiring a three hour train ride to get anywhere near where he could pick us up. This year I decided the extra $15 or so was well worth being able to fly into O’Hare, so the early departure time was mainly because LaGuardia airport had managed to earn a reputation for absolutely miserable service.
Fate was smiling on us, however, and the plane ride was on time and uneventful. Ken picked us up at the airport and we rode to his place where Joe, Andrew and Apostic were already asleep. Joe Bannerman, the first to awake, runs Opposable Thumb Films on the Stomp Tokyo site. Joe was a bit more talkative this year, and that was a good thing. He had also grown a beard, temporarily making the facial hair ratio even (Apostic and I also have beards). He had dragged along a rather nasty film called Frankenstein Sings that had "Olsen twins special" written all over it save for the fact that it starred Candice Cameron instead. He also felt obliged to torture Mike with the most horrifying scene in Sextette.
Andrew Borntregger went in and out of sleep for a while, occasionally muttering things about how big my daughter’s head was. Andrew rules BadMovies.org with an iron fist (or something like that). He spent most of the first morning trying to work out how to repair his car. Apparently his car broke down somewhere along the route to Chicago and Andrew came dangerously close to a re-creation of the more unpleasant parts of Deliverance when he foolishly stopped at a backwoods garage for repairs. At least, that’s the impression you get when he starts muttering about inbred mechanics.
After a few hours Apostic woke and started scrounging about for coffee. He is quiet and, minus the tweed jacket and pipe, exactly what you would expect after reading his scholarly (yet disappointingly infrequent) reviews on B-Notes.
I took the opportunity to hand off to Ken a few movies that my wife and I had stumbled across during the year. To my astonishment Ken had two of them already, so I offered them up to the group (for some bizarre reason people actually considered the possibility I would want to keep a movie starring David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair). We also watched an episode of Ultraman and a wonderful Mexican wrestler film Neutron Vs. The Death Robots which afforded Mike plenty of fodder for the upcoming B-Fest.
Somewhere in here Jeff arrived. I don’t think he runs any site, but he had been part of the (frighteningly huge) crowd that had gathered last year and it was nice to see him back. He had recently become a father himself, but foolishly brought no pictures (I didn’t want to torture people, but anyone foolish enough to ask would immediately be presented with a wallet full of images . . . as a father it is expected of you).
So we piled into the cars and headed off to superdawg for a pre-fest meal since meat would be difficult to come by in the massive "Tower of Snacks" Ken drags to the theater each year. Then it was off to the theater. Last year my wife and I gave Ken a Jar-Jar Binks lollypop (the kind where you lick his tongue) and Andrew had run around with it every break calling out "Meesa Love Ken." This year a cardboard standup of Jar-Jar greeted us at the entrance, so I’m guessing some people remember the incident (and my sincerest apologies if you do). Once inside we ran into a few more people but I had started getting confused about names, and with them coming at odd angles throughout our wait for the official start I seem to only remember Chris Holland and Mark Mitchell (and Ken’s cute co-worker who Mike spent a while schmoozing with during a break).
Since pretty much the entire B-Masters cabal will be reviewing the films seen this year, I’m going to review people’s reactions to them instead:
Reform School Girls - A good film to start out with, not terribly exciting and certainly not horrible, but everyone seemed to need the slow introduction. By the time the lead started singing "Puppy Love" with some of the stupidest choreography you’ve seen, the wheels of derision had been greased.
Greaser’s Palace - Holy hopping snot that was one freaky movie. Andrew Borntreger spent much of the movie trying to explain the allegory involved, though I’m not entirely confident even he knew what was going on (nor the cast, director or writer for that matter). While most people cheered on the topless girl (Toni Basil – on a painful looking horseback ride) Mike’s favorite moment came when one of the cronies, for no clear reason, dropped trou and started dry-humping a small cigar store wooden Indian. This became a running joke for Mike, whenever anyone spent too much time examining a person in any of the following films he would quickly shout "Hey, you look kinda like a wooden Indian." There was nearly a riot when the final shot, a sunset, was shown in real time (taking almost four minutes to drop below the horizon).
Blood of Dracula – Pretty much a horror version of the first film, but it was necessary to let everyone cool down after the surreal film that had shown before. There were more than a few scenes which if shot twenty years later would have led to scenes getting an R rating, but this was set in the fifties and merely made modern viewers uncomfortable.
Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold – People loved Cleopatra’s bizarre taste in clothing, something hard to miss since it usually involved colors not found in nature and materials best left in the ‘70s. Norman Fell’s almost cameo appearance was fun, but the best moment came during the final showdown where Cleopatra, entirely clothed in cinnabuns, and her Evel Kneivel sidekicks shoot down at least a hundred ninjas as the building literally collapses from all the holes made by bullets in the structure. I was reminded of that scene in “The Gauntlet” except for the fact that it was a much better film.
What Is Communism – Ken left for the short this year. I completely understand (and to some degree agree) with the reasons for this. While everyone was cheering on the nearly jingoistic qualities of the film, even Mike halted and shouted "What the Hell!" when out of nowhere they start showing newsreal footage of actual executions and mass graves.
Wizard of Speed and Time – I was worried this film had been too hyped to Mike by another friend who attended B-Fest years ago. Fortunately it lived up to the hype. Everyone leaping to the stage to run along with the wizard definitely adds to the atmosphere.
Plan 9 From Outer Space – Those of us in the front get hit the worst by the paper plates, but it also affords us plenty of ammunition long after the people in the back are nearly out. Other than that everyone knows the process, though someone near me seemed to actually be confused over when Bela was on screen and when the Chiropractor was, calling them so wrong everyone started turning around to determine if perhaps a sports referee had wandered into the theater.
Gavotte – Andrew was absolutely mesmerized by the film, spending it front and center on stage. The rest of us wondered what the hell the film was supposed to be about (other than the obvious).
Gorgo – Hey, it was 2 in the morning and I had seen this film dozens of times before, I took my first nap.
Colossal Man – Seen it on MST3K, didn’t even bother waking up.
Uh, some porno cartoon – Good thing the animation was so primitive, otherwise I’m not sure how watching a fellow pleasing his donkey in way man was not meant to would have gone over. I’m not quite sure how it started since I missed the opening, but the finale with a cow seemed tacked on.
Invasion of the Bee Girls – I hadn’t seen this film since I was in high school, and even then on broadcast TV, so I decided to stay up for it. After two nude scenes I started to understand just how much I had been missing. When Mike awoke and asked if it was worth seeing I though back to one of the most heavily edited scenes on TV and said “Only if you want to see nude bee girls rub honey on each other.” I don’t think I’ve seen anyone wake up quite that quickly without some sort of caffinated substance involved.
Solarbabies – Saw this in the theaters (to my shame) so after confirming it was as dumb as I remembered I took another nap. It was also horribly blurry because the anamorphic lens was not properly centered.
Wild In The Streets – I’ve missed the opening to this film a few times, and this was no exception. I caught the ending, just as dumb as I remembered, though the third real was upside down and backwards contributing ot that impression.
She Creature – Why oh why did I stay up for this? Not much happened and few people had any real comments. Mike slept, or he would have had plenty of wooden Indian comments to make with all the glowering that went on in the film.
The Undertaker and His Pals – Everybody was pretty much ready for this. This was an attempt at black comedy that just couldn’t follow through with the punches. Why did the detective walk out of the diner? Because they couldn’t bring themselves to actually have anyone eat the long pork, that’s why. Oddly, the hero disposes of the three serial killers by not doing anything as the stupidly off themselves. There was a great deal of fun as the female lead runs up a flight of stairs over and over and over and over, with the undertaker casually sauntering after her yet never falling behind, though. Lots of Iron Chef jokes worked their way into his film.
Atomic Submarine – Saw this when I was a kid and had to watch it again. Most of the audience fell asleep, but I found a great deal of amusement here . . . it was too much like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” to resist.
Mystery of the Leaping Fish – Argh, missed it while at lunch (not that I would have skipped lunch had I known) which is annoying because Mike and I had been wondering just what the mystery was ever since we saw it in the lineup. According to Andrew it had something to do with LSD which makes no sense.
Assassin of Youth – A wonderful social conscience film. Everyone had great fun with the wicked witch from the west on a motor scooter and the idea that a reporter would choose to break into a drug group by going undercover as a soda jerk.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave – This was pretty fun with the Christopher Lee Dracula going to great lengths in an attempt to get back in his castle. All this could have been avoided if the moron villagers had just said to the Monsignor "Uh, actually we are pretty sure Dracula is still alive." instead of just glancing at each other meaningfully and mumbling. Outside the window of the Monsignor’s ward’s bedroom is a rather tall cornice with a very distinctive and suggestive shape. Every time this horribly Freudian prop showed up Mike would shout out "Too subtle, I don’t get it!"
Mothra – B-Fest ended with one of my favorite Toho films. At one point Mike said "Call me crazy, but the Mothra twins are cute." Err, actually I think an argument to the contrary would have been more likely to earn you the "crazy" label. Another wonderful example of how little of Christianity is understood by the Japanese at one point the hero decides to cross himself since he is standing in front of a church. After poking his arms head and stomach a dozen times in random order he seemingly decides that was sufficient and wanders off. That this small adobe church on a dirt square surrounded by cactus is supposed to be in the middle of New York City lent no small amount of amusement to the proceedings.
And so everything was over. We packed up our belongings and hauled them out to the cars. Ken took us to his Mother’s house where we had pizza and watched the Indian Superman (no subtitles, not that they are needed). Mike and I then went to a hotel for the night. The offer to crash at his place was very kind of Ken, but the lure of a shower (desperately needed) and a good night’s sleep on a bed was just too much. I ended up showering that night, and then again in the morning. I’m an early riser, so I went for a walk and returned in time to wake Mike up (well, except that I never adjusted my watch for Chicago time and ended up waking an hour early).
Ken dropped us off at Denny’s for a quick bite before taking us to the airport. An unenventful trip to LaGuardia, though anyone listening in might have been confused as we tried to sort out what the hell was going on in Greaser's Palace. Once at LaGuardia Mike took off for the city, hoping to get in before kickoff time for the super bowl and my wife picked me up.
As always, the big question: was it worth it? Answer: Hell yeah. Mike will be working full time next year as a lawyer, and will almost certainly be too busy to make it again, and he was genuinely disappointed about that. So despite having to sleep on a floor and watch bad movies for 24+ hours he was willing to do it again even with the perspective of a single day’s rest. I can’t think of a better endorsement, or a better host than Ken. Thanks.