2500 Words on 8 Movies: T-Fest 2011

T-Fest was a small B-movie festival started by myself, Chris Holland of StompTokyo, Ken Begg of Jabootu, and Sandy Petersen of Call of Cthulhu (and a ton of other games); we did it because we wanted a reason to get together in the Summer, after the New Orleans Worst Film Festival ceased operations. The first, tiny iteration was in a hotel meeting room near me in Sugar Land; after that, Sandy was able to wrangle venues for us in the Dallas area, so my dream of minimal travel time was quashed, but big deal.

This year Chris couldn’t make it, and I did. Sandy and Ken have apparently been putting together something called “Tween Fest” in the Spring, but my getting-away time is limited, holding down two and a half jobs as I do. I try to make the big one in July/August as often as I can.

The other character in this tale, offstage through much of it, but always making its presence felt, is the frankly unrealistic heat of this Summer. We had been sweltering in 103 degree days here in Houston, so of course I drive up to Dallas where I can enjoy 108 degree days. I have done stupider things, but not recently. The air conditioner in our meeting room was not cutting it when we arrived in the morning, and lading in 30+ movie nerds didn’t do much to help. Sweat was never running into my eyes, but it wasn’t, shall we say,  ideally pleasant.

Good God, the things I will do to watch bad movies with people of a similar bent.

Now, Ken had begged off (pun not intended, but…) of any movie choices, as he claimed to have been monopolizing the Tween Fests. This left Sandy and I with three choices apiece. I wound up supplying a bit more than that, but let’s not get ahead; I think I have a bit of reputation at T-Fest of being a nice guy. I rarely bring things that put a big hurt on the audience. Probably the worst thing I ever brought was Mystics in Bali, and even that was exotic enough to take some of the sting out. The year before when the copy of Mystics I had brought turned out to be Region 2 and unplayable, I whipped out Sugar Hill, which was warmly received. I brought Island of Lost Souls and Dinosaurus. I like entertaining people.

So, when the original schedule started being rearranged, I was a little nervous that one of mine was up first: The Deadly Mantis, which cannot truly be called lively. One of the things I want to do before I kick off is watch this movie with a stopwatch in my hand and finally determine how much of it is stock footage. I reckon it at 50%, as a rough guess.

This is pretty much classic late 50s Universal programmer claptrap: competently made and entertaining. It’s no Them!, but it is a nice enough Giant Bug movie, and at less than 80 minutes, a good warmup for the day’s anti-festivities.

I also had the next movie, which was to be the 1983 Sandahl Bergman version of She, which has absolute bupkiss to do with H. Rider Haggard’s novel. In a post-apocalyptic world, She guides a couple of guys to… something. And on the way they do… stuff. Hell, I’m not even sure the reels are in the right order on this custom DVD I have, taken from a VHS with a strong picture. The costumes were basically pulled from everybody’s closets and, seemingly, by raiding the costume departments of colleges or local theatres and using everything. Football helmets with swastikas painted on them, Italian Renaissance jester costumes, wetsuits, you name it. It’s like some half-assed comic book Jack Kirby came up with while he had the flu. Like I said, a good, stable picture, but not strong enough audio to continue watching. Which is too bad, as people were getting off on the WTF nature of all this, and they never got to see this guy: (whom I could only find en Espanol. Sorry.)

So we resorted to my backup movie: The Lost Empire. (Intriguingly, Ken had also brought a copy of that movie, just in case).

Yes, remarkable as that may seem, it is a Jim Wynorski movie with an actual budget, possibly in the tens of thousands of dollars. It is entertaining trash from roughly the same period as She – both were released in 1985 – and honestly, Empire  is a lot more fun, if infinitely more disposable. And in case you were wondering, yes, that is Angelique Pettyjohn in that one fight scene.

Please note that the Youtube uploader added the fight music from Amok Time himself.

Here’s the thing: Lost Empire runs a lean (one might even say economical) 85 minutes, while She is a much more turgid 106. We were clipping along at a good pace, and had time to spare. Sandy slipped in an episode of Ultraman (the original TV series, which I think is Ultra Q, and if it isn’t, someone will tell me soon), concerning Blowhole Monster Gamakujira, who likes to eat pearls. This (of course) makes the sole female member of the Science Police very, very angry (“It is a woman’s wrath!”). Most notable for Ultraman not doing anything particularly useful, and for the Science Police literally ramming a rocket up Gamakujira’s ass and shooting him into space.

Youtube,  alas, has failed me here.

Sandy next cued up Sh! The Octopus, which I believe he also mentioned was the movie his father singled out as “the scariest movie ever”. I was looking forward to this, as I had only heard about it before, and it did not disappoint, even though I was not sure what to expect. It is basically a spoof on “old dark house” movies, particularly those modeled on  the play “The Gorilla”, which had been made into a movie umpteen times by 1937. It is also a spoof that feels like it is directed by David Lynch, as it has a dreamlike and frequently nightmarish quality throughout (appropriate, given its denouement), which I was not expecting in a comedy. It also stars Hugh Herbert, who is that comedian who keeps going “Woo hoo hoo!” in really old Looney Tunes.

Still running ahead of time? Well, says Sandy, here, have the very first episode of the 1966 Batman series, featuring Jill St. John and the Batusi.

And then it was finally deemed time for Sandy’s annual B-movie quiz. This year, the subject was Mad Scientists. The posters for 30 science-fiction/horror movies was shown. The goal: write down the name of the Mad Scientist for each one. This is harder than you might think, as none of the Mads was named Pretorious or Mabuse. In a gesture of munificence, the last poster actually was Frankenstein. I got 4 and one-half correct. High score was 6 out of 30. Brutal.

Dinner break at the nearby Twisted Root Burger Company. Delicious food. I was tempted by the idea of a deep-fried hot dog, but I’m also getting old enough that I don’t think pouring grease into my arteries is a good idea. Instead, I wrecked other parts of my body with a peanut butter shake.

I dropped my wife off at our cheapass hotel (truthfully, she did make it almost 30 minutes into Deadly Mantis…) and returned to find that the ungrateful wretches had started my third movie, The Super Inframan, without me. Though, as Scott Hamilton pointed out via Twitter, it wasn’t like I don’t have that memorized.

Inframan is Shaw Brothers’ sole entry into the Kamen Rider-style Japanese superhero market, which is a pity, because there is not a single frame of this movie that does not please. The monsters are creative, and… well, that’s really all we need, right? The monsters are cool and they all know kung fu. The fact that Inframan is played by Danny Lee, who 14 years later would play loose cannon cop Li opposite Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s The Killer, just makes it better.

They couldn’t have started the next movie without me, noooooo, because Sandy Petersen is a monster who decided to unleash H.G. Lewis’ children movie Jimmy the Boy Wonder upon us. To those who have not experienced the mental disconnect necessary for this event, allow me to explain. H.G. Lewis is the director who graced us with such fare as Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, and The Wizard of Gore. He made two children’s movies. This is one.

In Sandy’s defense, the other one is even worse.

The Jimmy of the title is a boy who wishes time would stand still so he wouldn’t have to go to his first day of school. Unfortunately, he does this at the exact time that such a thing can happen each year. So Jimmy has to take a giant Christmas tree ornament to the Clock At The End Of The World (which is located in Coral Gardens in Florida, for all you Nude on the Moon fans), all the while pursued by the evil Mr. Fig, who, um… well, we’ll let him explain it.

Look, I had to sit through four of these damned musical numbers, you can do one.

Jimmy is reportedly 69 minutes long, but because that little bastard stopped time, it seems to be six hours long. It is not helped by some strange padding; Lewis bought a then-unfinished French cartoon, reportedly The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird, re-dubbed it, and edited it into the middle of the movie as a “story” told to Jimmy by Aurora, his distaff Virgil in this guide to the Inferno. I am hoping that the sync on this print used in the Something Weird DVD is off, otherwise Lewis and crew (Lewis is apparently the voice of the Captain of the Cats) just didn’t freaking care that it looked like lines were coming out of the wrong mouths. Never mind attempting to lip sync.

A couple of years ago, when Sandy showed Nightmare City, a joke petition demanding that he never be allowed to choose another movie was circulated. This time, the petition was bypassed and we went into full-blown lynch mob. He quickly defused this by showing the infamous kung-fu sex scene from Chinese Torture Chamber Story. He then squandered that good will by following it up with Neil Sadaka’s “Do the Jellyfish” from Sting of Death.

This was followed by the final battlescene from the Turkish Rambo clone, Rampage (Did you know? Rocket launchers go “toont!” when you fire them? And spare rockets litter the ground, like in a video game?), a clip from the Mexican demon movie, Don’t Panic, with unfortunate subtitles (“Do you believe in Stan?”), and the remarkable dog vs cat kung-fu scene from 1000 Year Cat.

Once again, we were running ahead of time, so I was able to slip in an old favorite: Dark Intruder, a failed TV pilot from 1965. It starred Leslie Nielsen, still in his leading man days, as an occult detective in 1890 San Francisco. In this episode, he’s investigating a series of murders: each victims is savagely slashed, apparently by claws, and a carving is found at each murder scene. The movie has a brief mention of Lovecraftian gods, and flirts with them several times over this course of its brief hour run.

In the past, I’ve been pleased to show movies that have not yet had a DVD release, which, within a year or two, actually got one. Chamber of Horrors at the very first T-Fest, Island of Lost Souls (which is getting a Criterion release in October, for Pete’s sake.) I kinda hope this carries through on Dark Intruder. As Ken points out, a set of failed TV pilots for occult detective shows would be most welcome: Dark Intruder, Chamber of Horrors, the Louis Jourdan Fear No Evil and Ritual of Evil, Dan Curtis’ The Norliss Tapes, Gene Roddenberry’s Spectre

But that’s enough fantasizing about good things, it’s time to face the hard, cold reality of bad things, like the last movie. We always try to finish out the festival with a movie featuring a T Rex, or at least a dinosaur. (The “T” in “T-Fest” stands not only for “Texas”, but also “Tyrannosaurus”). And this year, the movie was The Mighty Gorga. This was theoretically Sandy’s choice, but Ken supplied the disc. Monsters, the both of them.

Anthony Eisley plays a down-on-his-luck circus owner who journeys to Africa to meet up with a guy who is tracking down a giant gorilla. In this case, Africa is being played by California, a zoo, and parts of Bronson Canyon. There is a giant gorilla (with hideous expressionless doll-like eyes) on a rocky plateau, worshiped by curiously Caucasian natives.There are more words in this movie than in your average dictionary, the “Talk is cheap, action costs money” taken to an extreme. So many words that several times John Woo style gunfights with nerf darts broke out in the audience. One unfortunate lady caught a dart in the eye. Once she recovered, she returned, gamely, but was soon begging for someone to shoot her in the eye again. Both eyes, preferably.

Back when Hong Kong movies hit in the early 90s, there was a lot of talk about “The Scene”, that one segment of a Cat III movie, the one thing you sat through an hour and a half of dreck to see. Like when I was assured that you sat through 90 minutes of Evilspeak and Clint Howard’s naked ass just to see the Carrie rip-off ending. Well, Mighty Gorga is like that. You sit through static dialogue scenes and endless rock climbing (yes, there is rock climbing) just to see the T Rex, in a very bad process shot, shouting “RAR rar rar rar!” while someone shakes it to make the jaw move. I have no idea why Youtube will not satisfy me with the T Rex’s best scene, but here is the “fight scene” that follows betwixt Rex and Gorga:

That is apparently director David L. Hewitt in the Gorga suit. Later on, our heroes run into a stop-motion creature from Goliath and the Dragon; luckily for them, it stays on its side of the poor process shot.

And then, praise God, the sweetest words in the English language: THE END.

A fun time, a good time. Sandy, with his showing of Jimmy the Boy Wonder, has opened a very dangerous door, I must say. On the other side of that door lurks The Wonderful Land of Oz and The Magic Christmas Tree, If I were a meaner person. Or Mr. Fig.

See you next year. Sleep well.

Ridiculous Power Fantasies

Haha, remember when I was trying to add a new post every day here? It was hilarious, how soon that ran aground on my policy of “If you have nothing to say, don’t say it.” I talked about comic books quite a bit in those days. It being the Internet, I was of course told that such  posts were not very interesting, so would I please go back to making fun  of bad movies or bitching endlessly about my Hated Job. Well, I lost the Hated Job, blogging time was mostly taken up by job searching, and at least Bad Movies, like The Poor, will be with us always.

The new WordPressy version of the blog didn’t fare too much better. There was an “Okay, I can do this weekly” ethic for a while there, but honestly: I work hard to make my life as seamlessly uneventful as possible. I get my excitement from movies and literature, thank you. The idea of Real Life Adventure gives me hives. I do not travel well. I could go political – God knows there’s enough grist for that mill, particularly these days – but there are lots and lots of people doing that, and doing it well. Don’t want to be a part of that particular wall of noise.

Ideally, I should be talking about stuff that I know something about, and at this point, that’s a) bad movies; b) comics; c) the workings of city-level politics. The last would mean nothing to anyone not living in this burg; I do, and it’s boring as hell to me. I’m going to a small bad movie festival next weekend, so there will be some reportage about that. But right now, dammit, we are going to talk about funnybooks.

The latest thing causing nerd dismay is the reboot of most of DC’s title to #1 in September, a reboot that involves dropping years of continuity and skewing the characters to a younger, apparently grittier and meaner venue (I don’t think I’ve seen one smile on any of the preview art). All this seems to be tied in with the alternate-universe FLASHPOINT event, which is something I grew bored with and stopped reading one issue in. That the reboot does not seem universe-wide makes my head hurt. Sorting the signal from noise is daunting, and I suppose that, eventually, all my questions will be answered (like, what does this mean for Batman Inc?); but in my usual, selfish way, this reboot sucks if only for two reasons: It has meant the cancellation of Birds of Prey and Secret Six.

I believe Birds of Prey will be continuing, but without the guiding light of either writer Gail Simone or leader Oracle; in fact, a somehow-healed Barbara Gordon is returning to the role of Batgirl (and Simone is writing that), so… nah. Not excited.

Add to this the fact that I checked out a Gotham Central  trade from my library this week and am once again being blown away by the quality… and we have (finally) the subject of this week’s mental perambulations. Were I Straw Boss of the Universe, there are certain comic book series that would go on forever.

Firstly, you should know that, under this scenario, there would have been no more Superman comics published after All-Star Superman.

(Even if one of the reboot titles I’m actually looking forward to is Grant Morrison’s return to the character)

1) & 2) Birds of Prey and Secret Six – Oh, what a surprise, am I right? You have your typical comic book plots in both these titles, but the stories are, themselves, astoundingly character-driven. Team books live and die on the social dynamics of their members, and the nuances each individual brings to that dynamic. There was never any doubt that each character in these books was a different person, with different goals, strengths, and weaknesses. The books largely deal with legacy characters, and damned if Simone didn’t take a bunch of B and even C-listers and turn them into vital, engaging individuals. Secret Six is going to be especially missed, with its cast of misfits finding itself – much to its dismay – becoming a (somewhat still dysfunctional) family. The character of Bane, largely a joke since he snapped Batman’s spine in Knightfall, was revitalized as a major player in the book’s final arc. Birds of Prey was very much a rumination on friendship and camaraderie. Both of these titles deserved to go on forever.

3) Gotham Central – one of the poster children for This is why we can’t have nice things. Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, this was a police procedural comic set in – obviously – Gotham City. The concept of everyday police work in a city with a metahuman population is a strong one – Powers remains one of my favorite books – and this series hits all the right notes. Batman is a fleetingly-seen figure, befitting his status as a near-urban legend, but his very existence casts a very large shadow over all proceedings. A large cast is well-handled, and the stories drive with all the power of a really good Law & Order episode. It was a major critical hit, but sales were never really there, and the Major Crimes Unit was dismantled during Infinite Crisis. This series deserved to go on forever.

4) Grimjack – I will brook no argument here. Grimjack was the finest comic book ever made by the hands of man. Imagine Raymond Chandler in a city where magic and science work (but not necessarily in the same time and place), where time and space travel are possible, and your protagonist – a world-weary, aging soldier of fortune – can find himself involved in any genre – including, memorably, a funny animal cartoon – and you have Grimjack. Writer John Ostrander seemed to make it a point to piss off readers every ten issues or so, but damn, the man can tell a story. Read it from the beginning and you find yourself enjoying a well-plotted novel that was cut off way too soon when publisher First Comics went under. Ostrander managed to bring it to an end of sorts, but he had plans far beyond we got. There have been a few new issues of Grimjack over the years, but these were all in prequel territory; I doubt we’re ever going to get to see Grimjack in Hell, or the Grimjack twins. This makes me sad, because Grimjack deserved to go on forever.

5) & 6) Nexus and The Badger – Two more casualties of First Comics’ implosion. Nexus, by writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rudewas Space Opera writ large; Space Ghost without the annoying teen-agers and space monkey. The title character, aka Horatio Hellpop, is granted almost unlimited power, but must – driven by life-threatening dreams – seek out and execute mass murderers and tyrants in the galaxy. Nexus’ origin was a mystery slowly teased out over the early series, then Hellpop abdicated his role and powers, leading to a series of substitute Nexuses (Nexii?) that drove the story. The cover pictured here is to the magazine-sized black-and-white premiere issue. I bought that first issue because of the Paul Gulacy cover, but was immediately won over by the script and Rude’s simply phenomenal use of zip-a-tone screens. I’m not kidding here, the man’s use of different layers of dots and dashes made the B&W art gorgeous. I was sad to see it turn to a color comic after three issues. The second or third issue of the magazine-sized series had a flexi-disc with an audio dramatization of the story, which was a pretty gutsy move.

The Badger, also written by Baron, took it’s ad slogan quite literally: “Put on a costume and fight crime? You’d have to be nuts!” Norbert Sykes is a martial artist and Viet Nam vet who suffers from multiple personality disorder. His dominant personality is The Badger, a costumed avenger who really likes beating up street thugs and people who mistreat animals (he can also talk to animals, it seems). The Badger stories were a lot more free-form and fun than the strait-laced Nexus stories, and both series had a large cast of interesting and engaging characters. Both series had limited series released about 2008-2009, but hey. They deserved to go on forever.

7) Savage Henry and 8 ) Those Annoying Post Brothers – The order of those two should be reversed, since Henry is a spin-off of Post Brothers, but I profess a greater love of Savage Henry, which actually rather surprises me. I first encountered Matt Howarth and his creations in Heavy Metal  magazine in the late 70s, during a period when I found the magazine actually readable, as opposed to “Gee, these are nice drawings of tits.” This was the serial Changes, which introduced Howarth’s world of reality-level-hopping denizens of Bugtown: the extremely formidable Ron and Russ Post, and their experimental rock group the Bulldaggers, which included in their line-up the real-life synthesist Conrad Schnitzler, and the Lord Cthulhu. Savage Henry was their guitarist, and had a series of his own, which guest-starred more actual musicians from our limited reality, like Wire, Moby, Clint Ruin and The Residents. These books were full of heady stuff, madman riffs, and actual, honest-to-god science fiction, which spun off into other Howarth series like Particle Dreams, Konny and Czu and Keif Llama, Xenotech. One of my prized possessions is a mini Howarth did in the day called The Mighty Virus, which is an alien comic book, translated into InterLac and as I recall, three other alien languages (none of which is English). Hell, go to Howarth’s site and give him money for stuff. It will be worth it. Needless to say, both series deserved to go on forever.

There are others – limited series that I loved but came to a planned end. I realize that in many of these cases, the creators have grown and gone on with their lives, and in some cases might not even want to go back to their babies. At least one other favorite from my old days – American Flagg, by Howard Chaykin? I looked in on it a few months ago. It has not aged well, with me. Could Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen have kept Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. going beyond its ten issues? I would have loved to find out.

A bright spot in all these ruminations is Starstruck, The Series That Will Not Go Away. Writer Elaine Lee and artist Michael Kaluta keep bringing it back,over and over again, expanding its universe a bit more every time, and thank God for that. Its wry science-fiction universe universe is a breath of fresh air every time. Dense, funny and literate, and I have loved Kaluta’s art forever.

Well, here we are, over 1700 words later. I have changed nothing, and now I need to go to lunch. Likely a good thing that I am not Straw Boss of the Universe.