This past weekend, I got to enjoy my very first B-Fest: an annual 24-hour movie marathon in Chicago that celebrates the very least of cinema. I heard about it for the first time a few years ago, but, for one reason or another, wasn’t able to attend the event until this year.
First off, this entire event was a lot of fun. The audience participation was a blast, the movie selection (for the most part) was fantastic, and the handful of people that I met seemed to be genuinely good folks. That said, I think everyone I met was from either Wisconsin or Illinois, which made me wonder if there might be interest in B-fests popping up in other areas of the country, given the house was packed to the brim almost exclusively from semi-locals. Surely an Alamo Drafthouse or some LA theater would jump at this kind of idea?
There were a handful of familiar faces scattered among the sea of attendees. A couple of the folks from Red Letter Media seemed to get the most attention, and there were lots of RLM t-shirts floating around among attendees. Apparently Noah from The Spoony Experiment was there as well, though I didn’t catch him. I was a little surprised there weren’t more reviewers/personalities there: this seems like an ideal event to bring together the nebulous bad movie aficionado community. I sure know I’m not the only one doing this kind of thing, and I would love the opportunity to network with some obsessive weirdo peers.
There were some things that I hoped for from the festival that didn’t quite happen, though: engagement with the crowd between movies was minimal, a more consistent social media component would have been awesome, and a little more personality in general out of the conference and organizers certainly couldn’t have hurt. And, as much as the Northwestern University student center is almost certainly a big cost saver for them, the atmosphere of a proper theater is something I really missed. Maybe that is a silly thing to note, but movie marathons in proper theaters just feel more…charming. Both the Groundhog Day Marathon at Gateway and the Ohio 24 Hour Horror/Sci-Fi Festivals have really good host theaters, and have also been good about doing things to engage the audience between movies, like having a designated MC and giveaways/contests throughout the run of the marathon.
The only proper complaint I had about the whole festival, though, related to a number among the small army of volunteers who were (theoretically?) helping to run the festival. I spent a little bit of time outside the theater while the movies were playing, and the students running the registration tables were pretty openly insulting and dismissive of the B-fest attendees whenever they thought no one was listening, and gave vibes that they would rather be doing anything apart from engaging with the B-fest folks. Naturally, that wasn’t particularly pleasant, and gave the festival a more amateurish vibe than it should have, given how long it has been around.
In short, I absolutely love the concept of B-fest, and will try to go back in the future, even if there is more that I would have liked to have seen from it. All in all, it was an enjoyable ride, and something I can certainly recommend checking out. Without further ado, let’s get on to the lineup:
The Adventures of Hercules
Hey, I just covered this! In my review, I mentioned that it doesn’t live up to its predecessor, which I still think is true. However, it played really well with the audience. As with many bad movies, the experience of watching it with a riffing crowd in full force gave me a much more positive outlook on it than I had previously.
Caltiki, The Immortal Monster
More or less, this is an Italian knockoff of The Blob, with a bizarre and convoluted backstory about an ancient spirit and a comet. This is arguably the feature directorial debut of the great Mario Bava, though he is not credited as such on the film. He also apparently shot the film and provided special effects work under a handful of pseudonyms, making him essentially a jack of all trades on the picture. It is hardly a good movie, though, but there some impressive flashes here and there that make it stand out. In particular, there are some effects shots that look pretty decent, though they have inevitably aged poorly.
This is a bizarre movie, which provides a satirical future vision of the USA from a pre-Reagan 1979. In a way, it is equal parts Idiocracy, Death Race 2000, a racist cartoon, and the Star Wars Holiday Special in a blender. Harvey Korman is given the task of bailing out the national deficit of the USA by running a month-long telethon variety show, while the combined forces of Israel and a series of Middle Eastern countries (who have resolved their differences) are seeking to sabotage the last ditch effort to save the nation’s autonomy. The telethon features a solid week of puppeteers, Meat Loaf fighting a car, Jay Leno getting beaten by an old woman, and some astoundingly racially insensitive and homophobic acts/remarks. It is an absolute train wreck of a movie, and might have been the standout of the whole marathon for me.
Calling Dr. Death
Calling Dr. Death was probably the “best” movie of the lot featured in the festival. It is a bit predictable as a murder mystery, but it is a perfectly serviceable b-level thriller, and has the bonus of featuring Lon Chaney. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again, but it felt a little out of place with the rest of the lineup. Still, the title is beyond fantastic, and the print of the movie that was used looked stunning.
The Wizard of Speed And Time
Apparently this short film is a bit of a tradition at B-fest, and was screened off of a tiny projector. There isn’t much to say about it, but it is totally worth watching, especially given how little time it takes to get through it. Apparently this short eventually spawned a full feature, which I may try to dig up one of these days.
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Look, it is Plan 9 From Outer Space. We all know this movie. No, I haven’t done a post on it yet. What can I possibly add to the wealth of information out there already about this movie anyway? That said, I do love this movie, and this was my first time seeing it in a theater with a participatory audience, which was quite the experience. Unfortunately, this movie also drew in A LOT of extra bodies into the theater that weren’t there previously and didn’t stick around after, which made it an especially hot and uncomfortable room. That’s a situation a proper theater might have been able to deal with, one way or another.
The Human Tornado
The Human Tornado is the second entry in the infamous Dolemite blaxploitation franchise. All of these flicks are delightful in their hybrid nature of being both immensely incompetent and influential. There sure as hell wouldn’t be any Black Dynamite without Dolemite, to say the very least. Rudy Ray Moore’s line deliveries and fight choreography are both legendarily terrible, and I dare you to drink any time you spot a boom in frame.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
I covered this a while back, and I foolishly thought I would never have to watch this movie again. Regrettably, I was wrong. This movie put the crowd in a really sour mood, which deteriorated much more with the subsequent snoozefest of Blood Mania. There was some decent riffing to be had for parts of the movie, but the whole flick just drags on way longer than it has any right to. I think most people used this as a nap break, and I really wish that I had joined them.
Good holy fuck, this movie was fucking dreadful. However, it was also probably the most fun I had through the whole duration of the festivities. This is one of those movies that desperately wanted to be artistic and stylized, but forgot to do anything else. The editing and direction are nearly nonexistent, and the cinematography and lighting bounce all over the place in the desperate pursuit of “art.” Unfortunately, there isn’t any to be found. The performances are wooden to boot, which doesn’t do this theoretical erotic character drama/thriller any favors. As many pointed out, neither the “Blood” nor the “Mania” show up until the last sixth of the movie, which is at least 45 minutes too long on the whole. On my own, this would have been torture, but the groans and griping from the audience kept me going throughout. For once, I wasn’t alone in dealing with this sort of mess.
Moon Zero Two
Admittedly, I didn’t totally comprehend this movie, as I was barely awake after the nonsense of Blood Mania. However, the concept here is actually pretty interesting, given it was made in 1969. The story takes place on a United Nations controlled moon base, after the Cold War and the Space Race have become distant memories. The setting is treated like a frontier town in a Western, which is a parallel that the movie will beat into your head with all of the force it can muster. Surprisingly, this is a Hammer film, which is a company best known for its frequent use of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in classic monster movie adaptations. Science Fiction is pretty far outside of their typical purview. Interestingly, this movie was featured on the very first (not very good) season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. As a side note: good luck getting the movie’s theme song out of your head. Thanks to the animated introduction, I think it has taken permanent residence in mine.
I’ll be honest: I totally missed this movie. I was still zonked from Moon Zero Two and Blood Mania, and decided to sleep through a feature to regain my composure. Red Letter Media covered it a while back on Best of the Worst, though. I’ll see about checking it out on my own time soon.
The Fifth Musketeer
The Fifth Musketeer is another movie in the lineup that just didn’t seem to fit in. This is an adaptation of the final Three Musketeers story by Alexandre Dumas, which centers on Louis XIV and his fictitious twin brother, who is forced to wear an iron mask to conceal his identity. The story has certainly been adapted more adeptly, but this movie isn’t totally awful by any means. The costuming and visuals are decent, even if the performances leave a bit to be desired. Generally, the big problem with this movie is how long it is. More than anything this is a mediocre, un-engaging movie, which made it a bit hard for the audience to riff on.
I covered this movie previously after Drafthouse gave it a limited theatrical distribution last year. To put it simply, this is unlike any other movie you will ever see. I only caught bits of it with the B-fest audience, but it seemed to work well with the crowd. I know when I first saw it, I definitely did a lot of cringing over the course of the movie, and I can see how a participatory audience could enhance that. However, the participation I saw was more reactive than it was riffing: it is hard to resist audibly reacting to watching a person getting literally attacked by lions and tigers on screen.
I decided to head out after Roar to get some sleep, but you can check out the final two featured movies in the lineup below.