Burt Cohen sits through B-Fest

What attracts more nerds than Star Trek at the Las Vegas Hilton? Where can you hang out with a bigger collection of genetic freaks than a roulette tournament at the Western Casino? And what can you see that will leave you more dazed and confused than the Dr. Naughty the X-rated Hypnotist late show?

B-Fest of course!

For those of you not acquainted, B-Fest is a festival of 24 straight hours of bad movies that takes place each year at Northwestern University. Think of it as a really-long live version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. B-Fest has been going on for roughly 20 years now, and it continues to grow in popularity.

This year's festival began on a Friday evening at 6 p.m. with our first feature...THE CRAWLING EYE. This fine 50's flick had everything from mind reading to mountain climbing and yes, even a crawling eye. The film begins with people disappearing on a mountain top - a mountain top shown repeatedly throughout the movie. From the first appearance on, any shot of the mountain (or any subsequent mountains in other films) would send the audience into feigned horror.

Next was a B-Fest classic from the mid-80's...GYMKATA. This film stars gymnastics champion Kurt Thomas who has to combine his gymnastic skills with karate in order to enter a competition in Eastern Europe that will allow the U.S. to install a Star Wars missile defense base (???). Some of the most humorous moments of this one occur as Thomas runs through European side streets and just happens to stumble upon a parallel bar or pommel horse(!) - complete with chalk to aid his routines, er, battles.

A couple of short films were next including the now perennial WHAT IS COMMUNISM? a great cold-war lesson that teaches us that communists are a "Lying, Dirty, Godless, Murderous, International Criminal Conspiracy." And yes, we have it on no less authority than J. Edgar Hoover himself! By the end of the film, the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy of chanting "USA! USA!" A true tonic for these tough times.

Next on the agenda: MESSAGE FROM SPACE - a Japanese '70s sci-fi adventure. Not much to say about this one except that a major plot point involved glowing walnuts. Not just things that looked like walnuts - but actual walnuts. Oh, and Vic Morrow was in it too as the only American actor - and he dressed most of the time like an outerspace pimp. Hey, was that him I saw at Vegas World back in '83???

Next was another perennial short - one that's been shown for every one of the 12 years that I've been going to these things - THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME. This is a 2-minute film originally produced in order to raise the money for a feature length version. It features a load of stop-motion animation involving real people and props instead of a bunch of clay crap. Most of it involves the "Wizard" running really fast through the streets of L.A. Per tradition, as many people as can fit will run up and lay on their backs on the stage in front of the screen as this film plays (don't ask me why). Also per tradition, it is shown again immediately for a second time - although this time it plays backwards and upside down.

Now - it's midnight - and another tradition takes place: The showing of Ed Wood's masterwork PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. This film is always shown at midnight of the first night and draws the peak of attendance. Most people have seen it so many times that it has taken on the interactive feel of a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening. The audience screams certain things at certain times and throws paper plates whenever the "spaceships" appear on screen. While this movie is significantly awful it does contain a number of truths, not the least of which is "Earth people are stupid."

Right on the heels of PLAN 9 came COFFY, a fantastic blaxploitation film from the early 70's starring an extremely buxom Pam Grier. This was a very fun movie featuring Grier as a young nurse who takes revenge on the drug dealers, gangsters, and pimps that turned her younger sister into a smack addict. Well worth a rental if you want to try this one at home.

We're now coming up on the time that B-Fest veterans call the "sweet spot" - roughly 2am to 7am. This is the point when you're pretty damn tired and tend to drift a bit in and out of the films. COFFY seemed like a great way to usher in the "sweet spot," but the audience was in for a very rude awakening.

Up next was CAN HIERONYMOUS MERKIN EVER FORGET MERCY HUMPPE AND FIND TRUE HAPPINESS? Now, as you might have already figured out, the B-Fest crowd is a pretty hardened bunch - used to sitting through all kinds of crap for 24 hours straight and asking for more. But on very rare occasions, a movie will come along that is sooooo bad, that the audience will scream in protest, plead for mercy, do most anything to stop the madness. This was such a movie. I refuse to even describe the plot -as there was none- except to say that this film was perhaps the most worthless, self-indulgent, pile of shit I've ever been forced to witness. I wish a pox on all involved in its production and their families. That goes double for Milton Berle who played the Devil. And triple for the MGM studio suits (yes, this was a major studio release) who green-lit this. I will find you!

Once my eyes stopped bleeding, I saw that we were now watching THE SLIME PEOPLE - another '50s sci-fi tale about (who else?) Slime People running around (where else?) L.A. And the Slime People have erected a nice plot device masquerading as a dome of fog over the city that prevents outsiders (or expensive special effects) from intervening.

It's now 6 a.m., and what better way to wash down your breakfast than the Pia Zadora star-vehicle THE LONELY LADY. This fabulous movie takes us on a trip down memory lane as Pia is raped with a garden hose by a young Ray Liotta, beds a bunch of Hollywood movers and shakers, and eventually wins the Academy Award for best screenplay. At the awards ceremony she tells the establishment to screw off and walks off the stage. The Filthy Critic would have been so proud!

TEST TUBE BABIES was next - a '50s B-picture that was pretending to be an educational film about artificial insemination - but in reality had nothing to do with it. It did have a great drunken cocktail party that features a striptease and wonderful cat fight.

8:40 a.m. - time for THE CORPSE GRINDERS from 1972. The premise was much better than the execution in this one. The plot involves a cat food company that starts putting human flesh into its recipe. This not only increases sales many times over, but it also causes the cats who eat the food to develop a taste for human flesh. Naturally, the kittens begin to devour their owners. I was a little disturbed by the realism of the extras, because the people who played the homeless guys who were ground up into the cat food probably were actually homeless.

After a brief breakfast break, the crowd really woke up for the original BREAKIN'. If you’re like me, you've seen this movie at least a dozen times - this month - so I won't bother to go into the details on this break dancing classic. We’re all hopeful to see BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO next year.

The extremely recent BATTLEFIELD EARTH starring John Travolta was next. I can't remember ever seeing a movie this recent at a B-Fest, but it was enjoyable - in that sick, twisted way. Although there wasn't much about this movie that impressed me, I did have a strong urge to kick L. Ron Hubbard in the balls after watching it.

2:10 p.m. - the home stretch. Next a movie called TARANTULA about - yeah you guessed it. And yeah, it's big. Really big. Of course, it's all the fault of those pesky scientists! Why don't they just stick to developing Teflon?

Next was the 1959 version of THE MUMMY from the Hammer Studio in England. This version starred the Hammer stalwarts of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. A decent flick.

Finally - as is tradition - the festival finished with a Godzilla movie. Again, another extremely recent movie made an appearance. This time it was GODZILLA 2000. This is not the Hollywood garbage that came out a few years ago, but rather the modern day Godzilla movie brought to you by TOHO, the Japanese filmmakers who did the original Godzilla movies, and it is much better.

And thus, at about 6 p.m. on Saturday evening B-Fest was done. Overall this year was a very good lineup and I'm sure it will contribute to an even bigger crowd in 2003. If you are interested in attending B-Fest, it normally takes place on the last weekend of January each year. You can find more details at the B-Fest web site.

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