Friday morning saw our entire group gather – and rather overwhelm, as this year saw a bumper crop of our crew in town – at the Omega for B-Fest Power Breakfast. In the run-up to eating nothing but snack food out of a cooler for 24 hours, getting one last solid meal in your stomach is always a good idea. In this case, the meal is so solid I usually end up not being hungry again until well into the Fest itself. The Omega does a mean chopped steak and eggs. And a mean everything else, really. That place is just awesome in general. I had the pleasure of taking my friends there after that King Diamond concert I mentioned previously, and the only thing better than their reactions to the complimentary coffee cake were their reactions to the rest of the food.
After breakfast, Santo, Jessica, Bill, Lisa, Fistula, Ferox, Jacob, and Carl all caravaned out to Berwyn to hit up Horrobles and Reel Art. If you find yourself in the area, you should definitely stop in and check these places out. Owned by different people but located next door to each other, Horrorbles carries horror merchandise (bet you couldn't have figured that out from just the name) while Reel Art caters to comics, pop culture and science fiction. I had to limit myself to just a Bemular figure from Reel Art, because Horrorbles was having a sale on their large NECA figures, so I wound up trying to figure out how to fit a 1/4 scale Xenomorph into the back of Santo's van along with all our coolers and various other Fest luggage.
On the way back into Evanston, the various car loads split up, and the bunch in Santo's van decided to stop for supper at the first place we saw. This wound up being an Ethiopian restaurant, which displeased me greatly. Now, those who have been following me for a while know I'm a relatively adventurous eater. Provided it's not rotten or still moving or lutefisk, I'll try just about anything once, so you might be wondering why going here would disappoint me. Well, it's because the place smelled amazing and the food all looked absolutely delicious and I've never tried Ethiopian food before, so of course I was still so full from the heaping mound of protein from breakfast that I couldn't even think about trying to put away an entire entree. I settled for some chilled cucumber and yogurt soup with mint and honey from the appetizer menu. I can't remember what it was called, but it was fantastic. There's a two day black metal and beer festival hosted by Hammerheart Brewing called Ostarablot coming up this spring in Minneapolis, and there's an Ethiopian place right near the venue, so I'm looking forward to trying some more of the cuisine before getting my face melted off.
Onward to Norris Auditorium. The place was packed by the time we got there, just half an hour before the movies were to start. I have a feeling they may have oversold the tickets this year, because I don't remember it ever being quite this cramped before. Oh well. I got my aisle seat near the back so it all worked out. I got to take part in my second favorite gag of the Fest before the movies even started. Right as they were about to roll The Adventures of Hercules, Tim, Mike, Fistula and myself ran up on stage with a couple cans of edible silver cake spray paint. Some of you may remember the customer reviews for this product on Amazon going viral shortly after Mad Max: Fury Road came out, almost all of them being from Immortan Joe and his Half-Life Warboys. We all blasted our teeth shiny and chrome and roared, “WITNESS ME!” to the crowd before running back to our seats to chants of WITNESS!
Movie time. First up was the even loopier sequel to the already pretty fucking loopy Lou Ferrigno Hercules flick from Cannon. If you thought the stop-motion robot monsters in the first one were ridiculous, just you wait until you see Hercules and King Minos turn into Pink Floyd laserium versions of King Kong and the T-rex and wage their final battle for the fate of the world in a laser light show among the stars. It's even dumber when you realize that they literally just rotoscoped the footage from the battle in the original King Kong. I thought El Santo was going to burst a blood vessel laughing.
If the cake paint gag was my second favorite joke of the fest, my first hands down came during this movie. Someone with a great deal more artistic talent than I had made some large signs in the style of the old Batman TV show, reading BIFF!, POW!, ZOCKO!, and the like to hold up on the screen every time Hercules punched something, except they were written in Greek. Genius. They also had a beautifully drawn picture of Mothra to hold up every time the twin fairy oracle appeared.
Next up was the Italian Qatermass wanna-be, Caltiki the Immortal Monster. I quite like this movie. It's beautifully and atmospherically photographed by Mario Bava, has some surprisingly gruesome deaths for its time, and features some great miniature practical effects during the climax with flamethrower tanks fighting the blob monster. Unfortunately, it's not really a good B-Fest movie since up to the point of that final battle, next to nothing actually happens except a lot of Bullshit 50s Science Jargon ™. You don't want your crowd falling asleep to the movie in the number two slot, so it's a good thing that next up was Americathon.
I'd never even heard of this movie until I saw it on the schedule for this year, but what a fun surprise it was! In the near future, an imbecilic president played by John Ritter has brought the country to the brink of financial ruin. With a super wealthy Native American casino owner about to call in his debt of four billion dollars, the president's emergency cabinet meeting decides to hold a month-long telethon to raise the money. An opposing faction from within the administration, who feels America's time has come and gone and wants to see us fall into the hands of the United Hebrab Nation (yes, the Hebrews and the Arabs have finally made peace and that's what they decided to call themselves), who are waiting in the wings to buy us up after the bankruptcy. Against all odds, the telethon is a success and the country is saved. This one is a real hoot. Have some friends over, drink some beers, and have yourselves an Americathon party.
Following that blast of insanity was the much more sedated Calling Dr. Death, one of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Inner Sanctum Mystery movies. So sedated, in fact, that Chaney's entire inner monologue, of which there is a great deal, is whispered to himself. A lot of people cleared out during this one, getting a head start on finding a place to sleep through the over night lineup. I stuck around out of curiosity because I'd never seen one of these before, and found it to be an agreeable experience. We knocked out some fun jokes at the movie's expense, and I enjoyed the movie too. Also, Patricia Morison is a knockout.
I hung back and watched the Wizard of Speed and Time stompers from the seats again. It's just not as much fun without Malorie there to stomp with me. There was some difficulty getting the crunchy and well-used print to play a second time, resulting in some strange warped images and sounds coming from the projection system. Since they never seem to do any shorts any more (I for one would like to see the return of What Is Communism?), Wizard is our only holdover from the film days. Granted, going digital opens the Fest up to a great deal more options for choosing movies, but playing everything on DVD is just too coldly efficient. I miss the days when a film break would elicit cheers from the crowd, followed by boos when they got it fixed. Some of the charm definitely went out of the event when the film days passed us by. Maybe some year some eager and enthusiastic new A&O crew will reinstate it for old times' sake. Although this year's A&O bunch were fantastic, but more on that later.
I stuck around for Plan 9 again this year, sitting in the back to watch it with Fistula and Ferox for the first time in fourteen years. That was a good feeling. The old band, back together again.
The blaxploitation slot this year was once again dominated by none other than the great and mighty Rudy Ray Moore, and his Dolemite sequel, The Human Tornado. This movie is nuttier than a bad of mixed nuts, and I love it to pieces. I couldn't wait to see the crowd's reaction to it, and it certainly seemed like everyone else loved it as much as I do. Unfortunately, the late night on Thursday was starting to catch up with me, and I had to tap out and miss the last half hour. At least I got to sleep through fucking Garbage Pail Kids. Fuck Anthony Newley.
I woke up in time to catch the last few minutes of Moon Zero Two, which I've seen before but didn't remember a thing about because it's so boring. It looks nice, though.
My first full movie post-nap was the KO Brothers' sponsorship, Low Blow, starring Leo Fong. Fong claims to have been trained by Bruce Lee, although after watching him barely do any fighting during the movie, and what little he did being pretty uninspired, I rather suspect his being “trained” by Bruce Lee was the equivalent of Chino Marino from the Deftones constantly bothering Mike Patton to do a side project with him and getting rejected every time because he's an obnoxious dork. Fong just figured he spent enough time irritating Lee by calling him up and following him around begging to be trained, that he must have learned at least a little something from him that he could make the claim in a movie. The first half of this flick takes forever to find its feet and figure out what the hell kind of movie it's going to be. Is it a cult movie? Is it a detective movie? Is it a kung fu movie? Eventually all the elements gel together, round about the time Fong beats up a bunch of thugs on an abandoned farm and throws one of them into a pile of random puppies before cutting the roof off their car with a gigantic angle grinder he finds laying on the ground. It's too bad the cult stuff never really went anywhere, as that was the most entertaining part of the movie. I'm pretty sure Cameron Mitchell didn't even know where he was during the filming, and Akosua Busia, who played his second in command, seems to believe she's in a much better movie than she really is. At first I thought she was ferociously chewing the scenery, but then I realized that no, she's just actually a good actress and just appears to be overdoing it because everyone else in the movie looks like they're about to fall asleep. If the first half of the movie almost put me back to sleep, the second half was like a cinematic energy drink. By the time this thing was over I was wide awake and ready to rock for the rest of the Fest.
There were a lot of unknowns for me in this year's lineup, and The 5th Musketeer was no different. I like a good adventure where swashes are buckled and chandeliers are swung from and duels are fought with swords, so I was ready to give this one a chance. When the first name in the credits was Sylvia Kristel, the movie had my attention. Then Ursula Andress. Then Alan Hale, Jr. and Beau Bridges. What the hell!? And music by Riz “Cannibal Holocaust” Ortolani! OK, movie, let's do this! The general consensus was that this movie just turned out to be too good for B-Fest, and I can see why. It had fantastic production value, fine performances from everyone (including a visibly intoxicated Kristel). But like I said, I enjoy a good adventure story, so I had a good time with this one in spite of its apparent quality.
Any disappointment in the previous entries was completely forgotten once Roar hit the screen. This movie must be seen to be believed. Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren bough a lion preserve in Africa, and to prove to the world that the lions, tigers, leopards, and various other big cats living there were snuggly kitties rather than vicious killers, they shot a movie there. A movie that is 90 minutes of Marshall, Hedren, daughter Melanie Griffith, her two brothers, and several of the preserve's staff being brutally mauled, laughing it off as the cats just wanting to play while blood pours from their wounds. At one point you can actually hear Griffith's scalp tear while a lioness is chewing on her. The day after B-Fest, this movie sold out on Amazon. They probably have more in stock by now. You should really get a copy. It's sheer insanity.
After that heaping helping of crazy, almost anything would be a letdown. Doubly so if it's a deeply boring movie about roller derby that promises to be fun in the first five minutes, and then immediately turns into a relationship drama where no one's even wearing goddamn skates! If they'd shot the whole thing on wheels, Kansas City Bomber might have been worth a watch. As it is, this is like some godawful horseshit frat rock band like Breaking Benjamin following Strapping Young Lad on a concert bill.
Fortunately, the last movie of the Fest ramped the crazy back up to 11 and then snapped the knob off the amp. Sponsored by none other than Captain Telstar (he's gotta teach stuff), who introduced the movie onstage by saying, “The first fifteen seconds are a little slow, and then a pterosaur belly flops onto a highway in front of a bus full of kids which causes an earthquake and then Hong Kong explodes. After that, things get nutty,” the audience was treated to one of my favorite loony flicks of all time, Super Infra-Man. Basically, Runme and Run Run Shaw caught an episode of Kamen Rider on TV one day and said, “Ooh, ooh, us too!” Then they took a shitload of speed and got really drunk and made this testament to cosmic insanity. I can't even count how many times I made my parents rent this for me when I was a kid, and I'd watch it multiple times every time I had the tape, probably just to make sure I really had seen what I thought I was seeing. Mount Devil explodes to reveal the secret base of Princess Dragon Mom, who, with her army of prehistoric mutant monsters, intends to take over the world. The only thing standing in her way is a cybernetic superhero called Infra-Man, and his ultimate weapon, the Thunderball Fists. Yes, you can have such a thing. I love showing this movie to people who have never seen it and watching it melt their brains.
After the Fest was over, some of this year's new A&O team were asking people about their experience at the doors. We stopped and talked to them for a while about how this started out being about the movies for all of us, but over the years as we got to know each other, it had become more like a family reunion, and about all the little traditions we have now that surround the event. They seemed genuinely interested and excited to be a part of this great thing called B-Fest. Many of them were even in the theater watching the movies for quite a bit of the show. It's great to have people who actually care about B-Fest running things again. Several times in recent years it felt like the organizers had drawn the short straws or got stuck doing it for extra credit or something and really didn't want to be there. This year, I think we've made some converts.
Once we'd all cleaned the nerd funk off ourselves (and it was mighty this year, since the air conditioning in the auditorium didn't get turned on until halfway through the Fest) and had our Portillo's Italian beef and hotdog repast, Santo, Jessica, Fistula, Ferox and I headed downtown for some top shelf bourbon at Delilah's. It had been a few years since any of us had gone, and we were wondering if we had all gotten too old to be able to do something like that after the battle of will that is B-Fest. So we glued in our dentures extra tight, oiled up the wheels on our Zimmer frames, took an extra dose of Metamucil, and set off. Turns out we were feeling unusually spry this year, and had a nice relaxing evening drinking excellent whiskey and hollering at each other over the din of the bar.
Since I wasn't driving back home into the teeth of a massive winter storm for the first time in three years, I stuck around a little later so I could have breakfast at Marilyn's with the few remaining Festers. Over bacon Belgian waffles and omelets, we recounted our favorite memories from this year and said our fond farewells. It always takes forever to get here, and it's always over before you're ready. Until next year, my friends.
May Tor bless you and keep you.
May Criswell make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May Bela lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.