B-Fest 2011

Well, B-Fest 2011 is now concluded, and for the second time I was able to attend. I went last year and had a terrific time, probably the best bit of 2010—which is rather sad as there were still at least eleven more months in that year to go. (The year improved a great deal in December, in case you were wondering).
So I decided to go again this year. As in last year, it was a tremendous amount of fun; below is a summary of how the weekend unfolded.

Thursday

My flight to Chicago was delayed slightly (30 minutes or so), but Ken (High Priest of Jabootu) was able to pick me up with no trouble. Jeff Witham was already at Ken’s place, so we turned around and headed out to meet the usual cast and crew for dinner at Jameson’s steak house, then back to Ken’s Inner Sanctum for a double feature.

First up was Destination: Inner Space, a TV-movie from the late 60’s. While slow-moving in spots, this one had an interesting alien spaceship interior and a really cool monster. The creature was well-designed and very colorful, a change from the usual dour-looking gray, green or dark monsters. The most memorable scene was watching Scott Brady trying half a dozen times to buckle his scuba-tank belt. (He finally managed to do it.) Also, Mike Road, the voice of Race Bannon, was in the cast. Also had an incredible soundtrack which I still can’t get out of my head.

Next up was a Jack E. Leonard/Jayne Mansfield/Phyllis Diller comedy, The Fat Spy. I say “comedy” because I’m not sure how else to describe it—“indescribable” actually fits better. “Unbelievable” also works. There’s also Brian Donlevy and a bunch of rockin’ teens. Some people do things, others wander around, occasionally someone stops and sings. In a bit of ironic foreshadowing, I mentioned that this reminded me of Skiddoo.

Friday

The day started with the traditional breakfast at the L & L, though later than usual because we weren’t meeting up with anyone. One thing you get a lot of at the L & L is food, so it was unsure if we’d be able to get to Superdawg for lunch. So we returned to the Ken Cave and saw the last half of the Jack Benny film, To Be or Not to Be (TCM was celebrating Ernst Lubitsch’s birthday. That’s what I call classy.)
Superdawg was still a variable at this time, but I pointed out that we’d probably get far hungrier far sooner if we didn’t make the attempt. So we packed up the cars and headed to lunch. There, we met a couple of other folks whose names, alas, I cannot recall. Then it was off to the theatre.
We hauled our coolers and snack tower and bedding in and grabbed parts of the first four rows, and settled in to have our senses wrung.

The Films.

Puma Man. An Italian super-hero film, this one was silly, stupid and overlong, with some of the worst “flying man” sequences ever. Seriously, he looked like he was tumbling through the sky rather than guiding himself. Donald Pleasance plays an evil guy who does evil for unstated evil reasons. He’s always fun to watch. I do have to wonder why they chose “puma” as the animal; I know they’re big cats, but that’s all I could tell you. “Panther Man” sounds less silly and is also only two syllables; plus a panther is pretty well known to most folks. It’s like someone who had tentacles calling himself “Mr. Chambered Nautilus.” Also, once he became Puma Man, he never went back to being a civilian again.

Since this was the first film, it was pretty much drowned out by the crowd who were, I have to admit, more loud than funny at this point. Last year’s opener, The Crippled Masters, was so grotesquely startling that the crowd seemed stunned; I think next year should take a lesson from that. I know that crowd reaction is a big part of the fest, but this film gave them too many obvious targets. Not everything that one shouts is funny, y’know.

Top Dog. This is a weird combo of family dog comedy and Chuck Norris beat-em-up. Very professionally executed, and with a charming dog, I’m puzzled by the intended audience for this. Kids who would love the dog’s antics would be rather shocked by the brutal violence, while action fans would be impatient with the dog comedy. Maybe it’s a film for folks who are indiscriminate Chuck Norris fans. He’s not an actor but he does have a certain screen presence and does his couple of emotions (“confused” and “angry”) pretty well. The audience had fun with this one. Also, the police chief was clearly Asian, but his name was Irish. Were we supposed to notice that?

Mama Dracula. This one suffered from truly dreadful print quality—hello, Mill Creek!—as well as the fact that it didn’t really have a story, just a series of bizarre vignettes. (It reminded me in places of early Peter Jackson.) After a while, I stopped hating it and was able to enjoy it in a “Okay, what’s next” sense but this one was probably the worst film at this year’s Fest. Probably, I note. The audience remained baffled for the most part, and eventually became hostile, then finally resigned.

Next up was the yearly raffle. I didn’t win anything, but I was okay with that. The only item that really caught my attention was a DVD of Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster. Ooh, pick me!

Then came the two Fest perennials, The Wizard of Speed and Time and Plan 9 From Outer Space. I don’t think there’s anything I can really say about these two, though it was nice to see some little kids having fun on stage. The first 30 minutes or so of Plan 9 played without sound while the crew tried to fix the problem.

Blackenstein. A black Army vet has his missing limbs replaced through Dr. Stein’s new technique. He becomes a Frankenstein Monster, complete with brow ridge, and goes on a low-budget rampage. Aside from one loathsome male nurse, all his victims seemed to be random people. A strangely bland and uninvolving film, which left the audience somewhat enthused but clearly too tired to ramp up a lot of excitement.

Manos The Hands of Fate. In terms of film-making talent, or obvious lack of same, this was the worst film of the Fest, but I’d seen it a few times before so it didn’t affect me like I thought it might. The audience felt rather baffled and helpless. Watching the film is a bit like staring into the eyes of a cobra, only less cinematic.

Hot Stuff. A cute fire safety short from the National Film Board of Canada. Over and done before the audience really had time to build up anything.

The Manitou. Probably the best film at this year’s Fest, this takes a pretty unique premise and plays it pretty straight. Remarkably, for a 70’s film that delves into Native American mysticism, it turns out the white people were able to help, and not just there to be lectured. The audience was loud and, like Puma Man, rather obvious but I think they were too tired to sustain it.

Undefeatable. This would be my alternate nominee as Worst of the Fest, simply because it was really sadistic and unpleasant, two of my buttons. I suppose the film-makers could argue that the overlong and plentiful rape and torture scenes put the audience into the place of the victims, but c’mon—it’s a kickboxing film starring Cynthia Rothrock. When a person gets kicked in the face and starts screaming in pain rather than continuing the attack, you can talk to me about “realism.” The audience seemed to agree with my assessment, though the villain’s over-the-top comeuppance got a cheer.

I Accuse My Parents. Rather staid social problem film about drinking, mostly, with descent into crime and then turning around and ultimately taking responsibility…sort of. It turns out that the title means the lead character didn’t get enough hugs. Grandfather of today’s “it’s not my fault” attitude. Easy to mock—a little too easy, since the audience never really got worked up. The only black and white entry apart from Plan 9.

Night of the Lepus. Introduced charmingly by Liz, this is actually a pretty decent giant monster film. The acting is good and the tone is serious, and there’s never a moment when someone says, “Wait, wait, what if it’s giant carnivorous worms?” The effects work is really first-rate, especially blown up on a big screen. The problem, as you probably know, is the nature of the monsters. It is really, really hard to make giant bunnies menacing, tomato paste on their teeth or not. For the first time, both doctors from the original Star Trek rode in a helicopter together. Well received by the audience because, well, you gotta love it.

American Ninja. All the elements of a typical rock-em sock-em action picture are here, and the film works really well as a well-oiled machine. It’s a lot of fun, and it had the audience eating out of its hand.

Skiddoo. Wow, talk about ironic foreshadowing! I’d seen this one decades ago and hated it; I was preparing myself for a return engagement. However, the film turned out to be “better” than I remembered it. Instead of looking for a plot that never materialized, I started to enjoy the little bits and the performances. The audience got into it, and loved my favorite bit: the singing credits.

Cool as Ice. White rapper Vanilla Ice’s only starring role. It’s a typical 1980s musical plot—he’s from the rap world, everyone else is too stiff and proper to appreciate how he is “from the streets” and thus “authentic.” In the end, he proves himself to the girl and her father and defeats the bad guys. Oh, spoiler alert. Sorry about that. Aside from the ridiculous hair, he’s a handsome guy but it’s hard to tell if he has any acting talent. If you’re a gigantic Vanilla Ice fan, well I’m sorry to hear that, but this movie is definitely one you should see. Otherwise, he plays a colossal self-centered jerk—in other words, he could easily be the villain in another 80’s musical. I honestly don’t remember the crowd’s reaction, except that they found Ice’s attire and coiffure as ridiculous as I did.

Next up was some dumb black and white film with dirty hippies in it. This one stopped after a few seconds, and there was much rejoicing.

Mighty Peking Man. The last offering this year was a pretty decent King Kong knock off from Korea. It hit all the proper tropes and had an adorable jungle woman in it. Nicely done effects, though the attempted rape scene was pretty unpleasant and set Liz off on a rant about how all men are evil, etc. I’m glad there were no sharp objects around.

After that was the post-event party and Paul and Holly’s house. I had a couple of shots of something called “Kraken” and I don’t remember any of the rest of the evening. I’m sure I was witty, charming, profound and insightful, however, as Ken and I were up until nearly 3:30 AM talking about films of all stripes.

Sunday

After an enormous breakfast, we all returned to Paul and Holly’s and watched the jaw-droppingly amateurish Birdemic – Shock and Terror (to give it its full title). The special effects in this one would have fit right into The Fat Spy. In fact, watching those rockin’ teens get dive-bombed by falcons would have been a highlight, especially occurring as unexpectedly as it did in Birdemic – Shock and Terror. The guy who made the film is doing a sequel (in 3D), so maybe they’ll be rockin’ teens this time.

After that, off to the airport where Chicago security proved to be not quite the ordeal I was expecting. I slept briefly on the plane and when I got back, decided to watch Army of Darkness as a fitting cap to the experience.

With any luck, and a kind economy, I will endeavor to be back next year.

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