I’ve been away from the movies for a while., concentrating my nerdlight elsewhere. I reveled in the world of crap cinema for quite some time, and in fact got a small amount of notoriety from it. But after a certain amount of time rubbing your own nose in a highly questionable pursuit, you start asking yourself questions. Hateful, hurtful questions like, Why am I doing this to myself? Wouldn’t I rather be watching something good? What am I doing with my life?
So, yeah. You try to distance yourself from the once- defining pursuit that has become toxic. You try to watch those movies you think you should be watching, but even then you steer away from Bergman and Fellini, no, you watch Key Largo and Kiss Me Deadly and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Eventually, though, you just need your entertainment in a different form. In my case, you start reading. And even then, if you’ve looked at the past few entries, you’ll know it wasn’t what the world at large would define as “real” reading.
The last week, however, I ran to the precipice and did a cannonball back into the world of the crap cineaste. My pal Dave did one of his Bad Movie Nights on Sunday, and the following Saturday was the fifth iteration of T-Fest, a small semi-official gathering started by three of the B-Masters and a gaming legend. But let us take this in order.
Dave began this odyssey of ordure with the classic If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? It was not one of the scheduled entries, but at 58 minutes or so, it was a …”pleasant” surprise, a movie I had only heard of, but had never seen. Exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond, legend has it, walked away unscathed from an airplane crash and found Jesus waiting for him, which is a very understandable conversion experience. Ormond then fell in with Baptist preacher Estus W. Pirkle, who was having quite a bit of success with a sermon of the same name, already turned into a book and one of them fancy long-playing records the kids like.
In the sermon – of which the movie is basically an illuminated version – Pirkle warns of what will happen if America as a whole does not turn to Jesus in the next 7 years, which is that horse-riding Communists will take over the country. And it is all the fault of TV, Saturday morning cartoons (which apparently encourage fornication – I was watching the wrong damn cartoons, let me tell you), sex education, dancing and beer.
Now where Ormond’s exploitation chops come in is during the depictions of the various atrocities which are visited upon the god-fearing folks by those damn Commies. Low-budget gore abounds, as well as some Sunday school acting.
This is crap cinema at its finest. You actually feel the trap door open underneath you and you find yourself in Pirkleland, a land of starched dogma and crazed horror movie tropes. Highly recommended.
This was followed by Evil Town, which is not so highly recommended. Evil Town is constructed, Frankenstein-like, from at least two unfinished movies (some claim three or even four). One stars James Keach and a post-stroke Dean Jagger, and is about a town of old people who waylay unsuspecting travelers to harvest their pituitary glands to extend their own lives. The other movie features Lynda Wiesmeier’s boobies, and that’s about the only notable thing (or two, actually). The experience was made more tolerable by trying to keep track of what movie was what (made easier by the difference between 70s and 80s car models and fashions) and the expectation of the return of Ms. Wiesmeier’s ta-tas (in which we were disappointed).
The evening closed with Dondi. Yes, the escapee from one of the Medved’s Fifty Worst books. Based on a comic strip which ran from the 50s through the 80s, about an Italian WWII orphan who is semi-adopted by an Army unit, and who then stows away to America. Oh, yes, it is supposed to be charming, cute and heart-warming. And we all know how badly that can turn out.
David Janssen stars, about six years before The Fugitive, and appears to be drunk in every scene. Arnold Stang is in the unit, but as there are already two over-acting goofballs in the barracks, Stang elects to underplay everything. The kid who plays Dondi was the result of a nationwide talent search, and appears to have an eternally stuffed nose, because that’s cute.
You know, the last B-Fest I attended showed what was theoretically a Lassie movie, but was actually three episodes of the TV series strung together (and the reels in the wrong order, to boot). I think I was the only one in the auditorium during that; it was refreshing to find myself in an irony-free zone.
Dondi would love to be irony-free, but it had the misfortune to be directed by Albert Zugsmith. Anyone who has seen Sex Kittens Go To College knows what that man does to comedy. Now apply the same ham fist to family-friendly fare. My God, what an inferno.
But at least at T-Fest I was able to say, “Suffer, bitches! I’ve seen Dondi!”
T-Fest was held at SMU’s legendary Guildhall, where Sandy Petersen is currently teaching Game Design, and interested students swelled the attendance to a record 50 or so. Not bad for a bunch of friends who wanted to get together in the Summer and create something to replace the late, lamented New Orleans Worst Film Festival.
Things kicked off before the coffee had totally kicked in with Hausu, a 1977 Japanese movie chosen by Sandy.
Hausu is about some Japanese schoolgirls spending the holiday at one girl’s auntie’s country home. Alas, auntie is still waiting for her beau to come back from World War II, and has become a demon, and her house has a tendency to eat young ladies in the most bizarre ways. Actually, I probably could have just stopped at “It’s Japanese”.
If there is one thing I learned from Hausu, it is that if you are confronted by demon disguised as a roadside fruit vendor who demands to know, “Do you like melons?”, answering, “No, I like bananas!” will reduce him to a smoldering heap of bones. Unfortunately, you will then turn into a pile of bananas.
Like I said: Japanese.
This was followed by Ken Begg’s choice, R.O.T.O.R. Anyone who has known Ken for any length of time could have picked that one out of a lineup; Ken has a perverse love for all things R.O.T.O.R., and this time it was especially apt, since R.O.T.O.R. was made in Dallas.
Generally R.O.T.O.R. is referred to as a Robocop wannabe, as the story concerns an attempt at constructing a robot policeman; but since the prototype is accidentally activated and proceeds to shoot a man for speeding (and attempting to offer him a measly $20 bribe), and then spend the rest of the movie chasing his girlfriend, it is more appropriately a Terminator wannabe.
R.O.T.O.R. ain’t terrible, but it’s not particularly good, either. The budget is definitely low, and there’s plenty of touches guaranteed to trigger audience hoots (an earlier comic relief robot, a “Sensor Recall” mode that allows R.O.T.O.R. to see event that transpired when he actually wasn’t there, and an incidental character that defines the term “muscle bitch”). Ken was hopeful of looking up the director while he was in town and encouraging him to produce R.O.T.O.R. II. The sick bastard.
Then, to everyone’s dismay, came my first choice: the 1932 Island of Lost Souls, which I had ripped from my laserdisc, since for some reason it has never been given a DVD release. Heads crane to quizzically look at me. “What a minute… isn’t this supposed to be a good movie?” What can I say? I’m a nice guy.
Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau effortlessly upstages everyone else in the cast, and the presence of The Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke, though the credits don’t seem to want you to know that) guarantees many furry/catgirl jokes. Good times, good times.
Then the first of Chris Holland’s choices: Big Man Japan. Chris had intended to substitute another film, but apparently the kvetching about another of his choices – two years ago! – the utterly bizarre and frequently disturbing Funky Forest, convinced him to go with his first choice.
Japanese comedy is, I suspect, an acquired taste, and I don’t think the audience was interested in acquiring it. The buildup to the monster fights were protracted interview scenes, which provoked much shuffling and some unfortunate remarks about not enough bombs being used in World War II. Overall, like Funky Forest and Titanic, I’m glad I saw it, but won’t be revisiting it.
Somewhere around here, there was a horror movie trivia test. I only missed two, and won a DVD of Weasels Rip My Flesh. I think that was a win.
After dinner was supposed to be my second choice, an Indonesian horror movie called Mystics in Bali (“If you see only one movie about the penanggalen this year, make sure it’s Mystics in Bali!). But the disc wouldn’t work, so we used my fallback movie instead: the 1974 blaxploitation zombie flick Sugar Hill. Another flick that’s evaded DVD (though one is rumored in the works) I had a nice widescreen print pulled off Turner Classic Movies.
I’ve always considered Sugar Hill a fun but somewhat middling horror movie; its major plus is Don Pedro Colley’s turn as the voodoo god Baron Samedi, a death god who reaaaaaaaally enjoys his work. The fact that former Playmate Marki Bey as Sugar is hella cute and Robert Quarry is, as usual, wasted are icing on the cake. As is the fact that the movie became a crowd favorite by not causing any suffering. Like I said, I’m a nice guy.
I returned from the restroom to find a familiar sight upon the screen: it was a short film about Lapland, which can be found on the Something Weird DVD for Attack of the Animal People. A bunch of young, attractive Laplanders, dressed in traditional attire, herd up the reindeer for the yearly ritual. We are told that “Some will be slaughtered, some will be bred, and some will be castrated in the traditional way.” And we are then treated in the traditional way, which is handled by the Lap women, using their teeth.
Chris, mad genius that he is, was at the front of the room, taping with his iPhone:
And I still feel the best part of this whole folderol is that we expected to believe that the men then lasso the woman of their choice, magically causing them to be married, and these young folks then take to the hills to fornicate madly even though the men know that these gals just bit off a reindeer’s wang.
Things were running long, and Ken sacrificed his second movie, Cat Women on the Moon, so that we could, alas, watch Sandy’s second choice, Nightmare City, which is an Umberto Lenzi Italian zombie movie. Which should tell you all you need to know about it.
Yeah, a plane disgorges a bunch of zombies that either do or do not infect you when they suck your blood (see, they’re not total cannibals. That would be derivative!) Society collapses, a journalist and his panicky girlfriend try to get out of town, nobody seems to notice that the only time the zombies stay down is when they get shot in the head, and in the end the journalist wakes up and it was all only a dream.
Yes, you read that right. In the end the journalist wakes up and it was all only a dream. Then he goes to the airport and it all starts over again. I believe a petition began circulating to prevent Sandy from ever choosing a movie again. I’m not certain, as the document was likely suppressed. Especially after what came next.
You see, it is traditional that every year, T-Fest end with a movie featuring a Tyrannosaurus, or something close (the “T” stands not only for Texas, but Tyrannosaurus). It was apparently Chris’ turn to choose the end film, and what he came up with was Theodore Rex. You remember Theodore Rex, doen’t you? Here, let me jog your memory:
Apparently the most expensive movie ever released direct to video at the time. Any movie that begins with a text screen detailing the plot is going to hurt. In the future, some genetic genius has managed to revive dinosaurs, but instead of opening a park, he’s given them intelligence and turned them into muppets. One gets murdered because it gets wind of the plot – I guess it read that opening text – and Teddy Rex and Whoopi – who is some sort of cyborg cop – get the case.
Theodore Rex is one of those movies where you wonder why somebody didn’t pull the plug on it sooner, like in the script stage. When a movie makes me think fondly of Howard the Duck, you know you’re in trouble.
So that was my week. In closing, just let me say: suffer, bitches. I’ve seen Dondi!
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