And we are back! Apologies to anyone who was sticking with this blog for the past couple of months and getting nada in return, but circumstances had motivated me to put Psychoplasmics on the back burner for a brief spell. Irregularly scheduled updates should begin again in the next few weeks, including a series of reviews requested by friends of this blog from various spaces around the internet. Heck, if you want to add to that particular workload, feel free to drop into the comments and request a movie / book / video game / whatever that you'd like to see covered here.
Now, as to why I've been quiet for the past few weeks...
Poster by Mitch O'Connell
Damn straight I'm going again.
Some quick backstory: Without digging too much into the gruesome details, I was in something of a slump personally last year and had to finally admit to myself that the current direction I was headed was a dead end street. College and the career path I had chosen was a complete bust. I found myself struggling with staying employed and an emotional mess. I needed a change.
So, I'm going back to school. Local technical college, taking a year long course in instrumentation tech and then we'll see where things go from there. Classes won't be starting until later this year, though, which left the question of what I'm going to do in the meantime. And this got me to thinking, "Y'know, I've never really taken a trip by myself."
Which brings us back around to B-Fest. First heard of it through the B-Movie Message Board, former mutant appendage of the old Stomp Tokyo movie review site and one of the first Internet forums I posted at with any regularity under the alias "NeoKefka." (Because when you're a video game fan fresh out of high school, you think naming your on-line identity after the villain from FINAL FANTASY VI with "Neo" prefixed on sounds like a Good Idea. A decade and change later, however...) B-Fest, started way back in the 80's, had become the defacto annual meet-up for folks from the forum and myriad associated sites. It sounded like fun but y'know, that whole "It's in Chicago, I'm in Louisiana and just shy of broke most of the time" deal put the damper on any notions I had about attending for the time being, which was always a huge disappointment. Because let me tell you something I've learned: In a final analysis, geography doesn't mean squat when it comes to connecting with people. The folks I had met through that message board and kept in touch with had, over the years, become this weird little extended family of mine, a much needed constant over my life's shifts and turns and that geography was a factor in preventing me from meeting with them was frustrating.
Well, when faced with the fact that you really have no idea where your life is going to take you in the next couple of years, you realize there some things you don't want to find yourself looking back on and thinking "It would have been nice if I had done that." So, I said to myself "Just go."
Obviously, this whole deal was going to be a little more complicated than just up and going. First off, I needed some extra cash to pay for all of this, which lead to me taking a seasonal stint over at nearby Best Buy. I got hired to do the early morning inventory shift, which meant I got to spend the next two months completely wrecking my sleeping and eating habits so I could get the real important work done, like peeling price stickers off and making sure we could cram one more friggin' Disney Infinity Star Wars figure on that shelf. Granted, the money and a little something extra to throw on the resume was appreciated but when I was done, I came to the conclusion that if I ever tried to get another retail job again, I want someone to please slap some sense into me. (If I try to get said job during the holidays again, slap me twice.) I'll die a happy man if I never see another Fitbit or Beats by Dre headphone set again, let me tell you.
Then, of course, there was the whole to-do about getting there. Naive goof that I am, I had planned to make this big road trip adventure out of it, driving over two days from Louisiana to Chicago. In the middle of winter. Considering that I've lived most of my life in a place that shuts down if there's more than an inch of snow on the ground, where the biggest city that I've driven in is Shreveport, which would probably make up a modest sized suburb for Chicago, and the fact that my car is a Ford pick-up, which is not well suited for traveling on icy roads...this was not one of my brighter ideas. Thankfully, my Dad (and a "service brakes soon" light on my dash) convinced me to take a flight out of Little Rock instead. Definitely glad I did so, because not only did the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel convince me that had I gone with my original plan, Chicago traffic would have eaten me alive, but the view from the plane as it flew over the snow covered landscape was absolutely amazing. Roads and cities were little more than blue lines etched into fields of white and words can't do seeing Lake Michigan from the air justice. Wish I had snapped a photo or two. That a eight hundred mile plus trip that was originally going to be spread over two days got hacked down to just a skoosh under three hour drive to the airport and an even shorter flight is nothing to sneeze at either. Unfortunately, my carry-on bag, too big to fit in the overhead compartment, got caught on something when I put it under the seat and I ended up tearing a good sized rip in it trying to get it loose. Crud.
Got to the hotel somewhere around three o'clock. This would be the Best Western Morton Grove Inn, which has become the unofficial official gathering place for the BMMB people coming to B-Fest for the past few years. Cool thing is that since the B-Fest crowd has brought so much business to the hotel and generally behaved themselves, Tim Lehnerer was able to convince the hotel to offer a discount if you were staying for the fest. My checking account definitely thanks him. Ran into two of the B-Fest regulars, Natasha Lynn Haney and Jacob Smith, in the hotel lobby when I checked in, then stopped by room to drop off my stuff and take a shower to clear my head. Sent Tim a text to let him know I was here, to which I got a reply that he had no idea who this was because I wasn't in his contacts. (Whoops) Thankfully, a phone call cleared that up, and I ran into Tim on the way to the hotel lobby where everyone was gathering up to go to dinner, so we took a quick detour so Tim could hand off the B-Fest mix CD's he had made for me. Since this was my first B-Fest, said CD's ended up being every disc he's whipped up since he started throwing them together in one big brick. I figure I'll finally get done listening to all of them by the time I get another chance to head up to B-Fest.
It had been decided that we'd be having dinner that night at the Squared Circle, a pro-wrestling themed restaurant owned by ex-WWE star Lisa Marie Varon, and then later hit up a used bookstore called Myopic Books. Not a big wrestling fan but hey, food is food, and telling me there's a place that I can get books at a discount is like telling Dr. Zoidberg the buffet is free, so I was down for it. So, we met up with the rest of the crew - Bryan Clark, Lisa Mary, and Scott Ashlin and Jessica Ritchey, - and headed over to the nearest L-train station. After grabbing our CTA day passes (and then checking to make sure the station was clear of roving bands of Turnbull AC's) we hopped on the train and headed to another station that where we were assured by the Magic Voice Lady on Tim's phone, it was just a short walk to The Squared Circle.
Turns out Magic Voice Lady was a damn liar, as that short walk turned out to be a half hour plus hike through whatever section of Chicago we were in. When I recounted this on twitter the next moring, Sean Frost commented that he was glad to see that the Fiasco Field was still in effect, which tells me that one, things go wrong during these little excursions and two, have done so with enough frequency that they came up with a term for it. The hike wasn't actually too bad, though. First, I'd expected the weather to be a bit worse in the lead up to this trip but when I finally got there things had warmed up from the previous weeks' "somewhere between Hoth and north of the Wall" temperatures to something around the mid-to-upper twenties. Heck, that's downright balmy. Second, the whole "what have we gotten ourselves into" vibe and getting to briefly talk with people on the way over helped take the edge off a bit. See, I was a bit intimidated coming here and meeting everyone. I've never been what you call the most social of people and I don't talk much, so fears that everyone was going to think I was some kind of weirdo had made themselves right at home in the back of my mind. But as someone said later, when I admitted my nervousness, "Have you seen your friends?" Point.
Anyway, we finally get to The Squared Circle. Going there was Jacob and Natasha's suggestion as they're the big wrestling fans and they got to fill us in on various trivia while we were waiting on our food. I ended up getting a macaroni, cheese and bacon calzone, which turned out to be big enough that I could possibly have cut it open and crawled inside it. Not bad, but one can take only so much starch and gooey cheese in one go, so I wasn't able to finish it. (My eyes being bigger than my stomach turned out to be a reoccurring thing on this trip.) That I was snagging fries, chicken strips and what not from other folks when offered probably didn't help things. Still, I had a good time. Then it was another train ride and much shorter "wait, where are we?" walk to Myopic Books, where I managed to snag copies of Stephen King's THE RUNNING MAN, (written under the name Richard Bachman, and nothing like the Schwarzenegger movie), Clive Barker's fantasy novel IMAJICA, and Ray Bradbury's DANDELION WINE, which is one of those books that I've been wanting to get but always seem to vanish from the bookstores in my area whenever I finally have cash on hand. Didn't have a copy of James Ellroy's THE BIG NOWHERE, the only book in the L.A. Quartet I didn't have and another one I've been scouring second hand bookstores for, but Tim was able to snag that for me when he stopped by Half Price Books later on in the week.
So, with our outing for the evening done, we headed back to the hotel, where we all gathered up in Jacob and Natasha's room and let Scott and Jess inflict the "Spock's Brain" episode of the original STAR TREK series on us. There's a workable enough idea at the core the episode, which is basically "what if the Eloi got their hands on the Krell lab from FORBIDDEN PLANET," but the execution is just goofy as all get out, featuring things like a remote control cyborg Spock, costumes that suggested they just threw on what was available in the closet, some prime hammy "in pain" acting from Shatner and company, and choice bits of dialogue like one actress angrily shouting 'BRAIN? BRAIN? WHAT IS BRAIN!?," a line I'm certain Ed Wood's pissed somebody beat him too. Amazingly enough, this was the first episode aired for the series' third season, which means it would be the first new TREK episode fans would be greeted with after they launched a campaign to overturn the show's cancellation. Good grief. With that, I bid everyone good night, deciding that I couldn't stay up too late tonight...and then proceeded to spend another hour and a half watching TV in my room before passing out.
The next day started off with breakfast at Seven Brothers, a restaurant that's a short walk from the hotel, (where again, I ate too much. Next time, order just the pancake stack w/o sides, goofus.) before everyone split off with their little groups to do whatever. Tim, Bryan, Lisa and I, along with new arrivals Kelvin and Melissa, decided to head over to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Naturally, it was in the middle of winter so most of the bigger animals had been moved indoors but there was still plenty to see. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to charge my camera battery, which crapped out about halfway through, so I wasn't able to get any photos of things like the primate houses, where I got to see a baby monkey using a rather resigned adult's tail as a swing, or the big cat house, where a lion was gnawing down on a hunk of meet. Thankfully, I was able to snag some pictures before it gave up the ghost, including this nice shot of a lioness lounging on a snow covered rock.
Plus, I got some shots of a family of meerkats, so it wasn't a total loss. We had also discovered that one of the primate houses had a Mold-O-Rama machine. Y'know, drop a couple buck in and it gives you this cheap-o plastic figurine? Of course, I got one of 'em, which was a green chimp that I think Tim ended up dubbing Green Lantern Monkey. (Sounds like a very Tim thing to say.) Melissa loved the Mold-O-Rama, so she looked up whatever info she could on them. Who'd have thunk it, an injection molding machine is, in fact, pretty expensive, somewhere to the tune of $60,000. She also found out there was another Mold-O-Rama machine at the zoo...this one for cows. Figure that one out.
After seeing everything we wanted at the zoo, we hopped on a bus and headed towards the nearest L-train station. We had get off the bus and walk a couple a few blocks to get to it and en route, we ran across some store called Hollywood Mirror and decide to pop in for a few minutes. Mostly it was costume supplies and vintage clothing but in one of the back corners, we discovered a shelf full of Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and Godzilla toys. The plan to distract the store clerks so we could haul it out of there, possibly with a hat and scarf draped over it as a disguise, sadly, went nowhere and I decided to get stingy with my cash at that moment, so I didn't buy any. Considering I had a fair amount of cash leftover, I'm a little disappointed I didn't take the chance to grab an extra souvenir or two. For next time, I guess.
That evening we ate dinner at the Palace, a Chinese place that was near the hotel, where we were joined by Mike Bockoven and Matt Campbell. I had the pressed almond duck, "duck brownies," on Bryan's recommendation, which was pretty good but as is becoming the regular refrain for this write-up, the portions were a bit larger than I could handle. From there we went back to the hotel to get ready for a B-Fest, tradition, the trip to the Hala Kahiki Lounge, a Hawaiian kitsch themed bar. Tim had the idea for as many of us as possible to wear these horrible looking jackets and ties he had unearthed from various thrift stores, with Bryan coming out the...uh...winner, I guess, with his nuclear nightmare of a jacket and tie. Pop over to his blog to see a picture of it. For better or worse, very likely better, nobody took a picture of me in the 70's drug dealer's accountant jacket that I got saddled with. And if the jacket wasn't bad enough, I was also wearing a black and blue flannel shirt and orange t-shirt with it, and didn't even bother tying the tie because it had been so long since I'd ever needed to do so. The cumulative effect of these very poor fashion choices was, as Jessica described, an "80's action movie henchmen who stopped caring." Funny thing was, when I got home, I showed the jacket to my dad and he didn't think it looked too bad. Didn't really fit him either, though, so back to a thrift store it will likely go. As far as the bar went, I've never been much on alcohol ever since I tried some dark rum my granddad had back in high school, so I played it safe this go around and stuck to the non-alkie drinks and sodas but still had a good time and got to meet some other folks from the forum.
After the bar, and uh..."taking the scenic route" back to the hotel, a group gathered up in the lobby to watch TARKAN Vs. THE VIKINGS, a thoroughly delirious Turkish film about a Hun Turk hunting down the Viking raiders who killed one of his pet wolves like a 10th century John Wick. Highlights include: learning that having two wolves makes you twice as invincible, that both of Tarkan's wolves are named Kurt, which is apparently just the Turkish word for "wolf" anyhow, the Viking's offering up sacrifices to an inflatable octopus pool toy whose appearance is always accompanied by Also Sprach Zarathustra, Tarkan being somewhat terrible at the whole hero deal and Kurt the Younger having to do most of the heavy lifting, the Viking's outfits seeming to made of recycled bathmats, random Chinese villains and a snake pit of doom that is populated with about a dozen or so sleepy garter snakes. That's just the tip of the iceberg and happy days, this movie is the first in a series. I checked to see if it was available to watch on YouTube so I could link it here but it's cropped all to hell. Once TARKAN finished up, a few of us stayed up to watch GYMKATA and chatted with the desk clerk at the hotel, who was enjoying watching these crazy flicks with us knuckleheads. (And was also in training to be a mercenary / bodyguard for hire. Wow.) Unfortunately, the day finally caught up to me and I had to bow out midway through GYMKATA and call it night.
We never did get around to watching any of the movies I brought: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, FLASH GORDON, and HARD BOILED. (Which I was informed broke "the rules" by bringing flicks sane human beings would actually want to watch.) Maybe next time, with something like NINJA III or STARCRASH thrown in.
Kicked off Friday with everyone in our group, which had grown substantially since Wednesday, descending upon The Omega, a fairly fancy little restaurant, for breakfast, Totally recommend it if you're ever up that way because the food was great and they give you complementary coffee cake. Then it was a brief stop back by the hotel to pick up whatever supplies we figured we were going to need for B-Fest before I joined up with Scott, Jessica, Lisa, Brian and some of Brian's buddies for a drive into Berwyn, where we checked out Horrobles and Reel Art, a pair of shops located next door to each other that specialize in horror and sci-fi / comic book merch and memorabilia, respectively. I saw a good bit at both that I was tempted to grab, including a photo of the Faun from PAN'S LABYRINTH that was signed by actor Doug Jones and some full size posters, but the mix of the prices and little room left in my luggage to carry anything put the kibosh on that. I ended up settling for a DVD of SUPER INFRAMAN, so I could take home one of the movies we'd be watching in the Fest. Anyway, it's likely I'd have had to duel Jessica for that PAN'S LABYRINTH photo and I hear she fights dirty.
Oh, and yes, Virigina, that coloring and activity book based on David Lynch's adaptation of DUNE you see pop up here and there on the internet really exists.
Once we were done poking around the shops, it was time to head into Evanston. Before we hit the Fest itself, we decided to grab dinner at the first place that caught our eye, which turned out to be an Ethiopian place called Addis Abeba. If you've never eaten at an Ethiopian joint before, they'll bring out everyone's food in one giant platter and then rather than utensils, they hand out these baskets of flat bread called injera, which is like a big spongey tortilla, and you tear off bits of that and use it to scoop up your food from the platter. I ended up having these beef tips with spices that was absolutely delicious and even got to try some stuff that was served raw. First time that I had ever eaten at an Ethiopian place and needless to say, we're going to have to stop by one whenever and where ever I meet up with my crew again. And of course, recounting all this got me craving some more, so I just checked to see if there were any restaurants near where I lived and discovered the closest one to me is in Wylie, Texas, which is over three hours away.
We made it to the University and into Norris Auditorium about a half and hour before the Fest started and the place was already packed. Still, I managed to find a spot down towards the front in the general area where most of the BMMB folks had gathered and settled in for the first real stretch of the Festival. Things got off to a great start even before the movies started (I'll discuss those more in-depth in the next post) when Tim, Bryan and a couple other guys went up on stage and did an impersonation of FURY ROAD'S War Boys, spraying their faces with this edible silver paint and shouting "WITNESS ME!" and getting the crowd worked up and chanting "WITNESS!" back at them. I have it on Bryan's word that that paint tasted absolutely godawful.
We had some technical issues with our starter, THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, where the volume was too low to be able to hear anything, especially over all the noise the crowd was making, and then the volume was almost too loud when they did get it turned up. Despite all that, HERCULES was the perfect movie to kick things off with, fast paced and completely bonkers. Making it even better it that whenever Hercules (Lou Ferrigno!) would punch somebody, somebody would hold up a sign done up like the old Batman show starring Adam West - y'know, BAM! BIFF! POW! - only they were written in Greek, Everybody absolutely loved that. They'd also break out a really well done drawing of Mothra whenever the twin oracles showed up. It was the only real stage skit that we had for the whole show but it hey, it was a good one. Following up HERCULES was CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, an Italian riff on THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT probably best known for having it's cinematography done by Mario Bava and the bizarre-yet-distressingly-prescient comedy AMERICATHON came after that, Tim told me that at your first B-Fest that you'd run up against your limits and I ended up crashing and dozing off during movie numero four, the Inner Sanctum mystery CALLING DR. DEATH. However, I was told I didn't really miss anything except Lon Chaney Jr. having an hour long inner monologue, so good timing there. After that came the special effects short THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, which is shown every year and is one of the big audience participation dealies at the Fest and since it was my first time at B-Fest, I had to take part. Basically, you just go on stage, lay down and stomp your feet in time with the short as they play it forwards and then in reverse. Doesn't sound like much but man, my legs were freakin' humming when we were done and I nearly fell over trying to get off the stage. I also ended up dumping the change in my pocket on the floor while I was stomping along. After that was the other B-Fest tradition, a midnight showing of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. I stuck around for most of it, throwing paper plates along with the rest of the crowd. but stepped out for a bit towards the end to stretch my legs and get some water. I headed back in for the next movie, the completely nutbar blaxpo-flick THE HUMAN TORNADO starring Rudy-Ray Moore. I started drifting off at points during this, so I came half convinced I dreamed some scenes in this movie until I found it on YouTube a couple weeks ago and gave it another watch. Nope, it was all real. After this was THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS movie. Yes, somebody made a movie based on those gross-out cards from the 80's. Everything I've heard about this movie makes it sound absolutely god awful in all the wrong ways. By total coincidence, I started to feel like I could really use a nap about this time and went and crashed on a couch in the student union, Slept through all of THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS and most of BLOOD MANIA, the movie that came after. I'm all broken up about that, let me tell you.
When I got back in the auditorium, I had no real interest in muscling my way back to where my seat was, so I just plopped myself right down on one of the steps and leaned against the wall for the next movie, MOON ZERO TWO. Hilariously enough, this turned out to be the best seat in the house. MOON ZERO TWO, despite some wonderful production design and being from the same director as QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, ended up being a total slog. When it was apparent that LOW BLOW, the next movie, wasn't doing much for me, I decided to head back to the food court to grab a cinnamon roll and sweet tea at the Dunkin' Donuts they had there and then hung out with Jessica and Scott in the student union for a while. (I heard later that LOW BLOW livened up considerably after I had left, including a scene where a guy basically gets snuggled to death by rotwiller pups.) The student union had a great view of Lake Michigan and so, adding to the ever growing list of things that I need to do next time is snag a photo of it. We all headed back in for the next movie, THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, which turned out to be actually a surprisingly decent movie, maybe even too good for B-Fest. We eventually concluded that the main reason THE FIFTH MUSKETEER was shown due to its rather odd cast, including Beau Bridges (who, as Bryan observed, had the same haircut as Audrey Hepburn), Ursula Andress, Emmanuelle-herself Sylvia Kristel, Loyd Bridges, Alan Hale, Ian McShane ("Welcome to Gay Paree! It can be combative!"), and Bernard Bresslaw. Throw in music by Riz Ortolanti of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST fame and we were expecting some weirdly miscast craziness and instead got a fairly entertaining flick, like something you'd watch on a Sunday afternoon as a kid.
After that was lunch and then a raffle where I actually won something! I wasn't paying attention, though, so I had no idea until I got down there to collect it what I had won. Turns out I got a copy of THE MUPPET MOVIE and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND on VHS. Yeah, I think my niece will enjoy getting those. What came next was one of the movies I had been most curious about when the line-up was announced, ROAR, Noel Marshall's attempt at a SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON-style adventure set on his and Tippi Hendren's large cat preserve but played out more like EVIL DEAD 2 in denial, with lions. The result was complete insanity. Unfortunately, the next movie up, KANSAS CITY BOMBER, somehow managed to make "Raquel Welch does roller-derby" completely uninteresting and felt like it went on forever. Realize that at this point we had been there for over twenty hours, so even if the movie was good, we'd start to feel every minute of it, so no surprise most of this snoozer was spent hanging out and chatting. Thankfully, the movie that followed up would be the closer for the festival and what a note to go out on...SUPER INFRAMAN, a Family Dollar knock-off of ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER produced by the Shaw Brothers. Tim, who sponsored the movie, summed it up best in his intro, "the first fifteen seconds are little slow...then a pterosaur belly flops onto a highway in front of a bus full of kids and causes an earthquake and then Hong Kong explodes. After that, things just get turbo loopy." One of the most bugnuts crazy movies ever made, and honestly, I don't think that I'll have a movie going experience in the remainder of 2016 that can even come close to watching this movie on the big screen with the enthusiastic crowd we had.
And so ended my first B-Fest.
On the way back to hotel we talked about what were our favorites of the bunch, with HERCULES, ROAR, and INFRAMAN being the unanimous winners, with AMERICATHON being something of a dark horse. After a brief stop at the Best Western to shower off the fest-funk we had accumulated, we all headed out to a place called Portillo's, where I got to try my first Chicago hot dog. Also ran into Gavin Smith and his son Ian, who was just adorable. I had him give me a high five when I got there and every time I walked by afterward he held up his hand and wanted me to give him another one. Afterwards, Scott and Jessica invited me and couple other people to go track down this whiskey bar called Delilah's. Unfortunately, I had to head out early the next morning to catch my plane home, so I had to turn them down and say goodbye. (Boo!) As it turned out, I probably could have gotten away with it because I was so keyed up from everything I barely slept at all that night. Like I said earlier, I'm not much on alcohol, but really would have liked to have one last hurrah with my friends. Oh well, I guess that just means I'll have to come back, maybe stay an extra day. Thankfully, I was able to hang out a little more with Tim, Mike, and Matt the next morning while waiting for the taxi to take me back to O'Hare airport. \
Amusingly enough, I had a much, much easier time getting through security at one of the biggest airports in the country than the one in Little Rock, where I damn near had to strip before I could step in the X-Ray machine. The flight back actually managed to be even shorter than the one over and Dad picked me up when I got to the airport, which meant I could catch some much desired z's on the drive back home. My throat had started to get a little sore that day, and as much as I hoped that I just made raw hamburger out of it hooping and hollering at B-Fest, nope, it turns out that I had caught a case of Con-Crud and decided to stay over at my parent's place for a day or so to recover.
Like Bryan said in his recap over at Cinemasochistic Apocalypse, it took forever get to B-Fest and then it was over before I was ready. But it was worth it. It was exactly the little kick I needed after a fairly rough few months, so you bet your life I'm coming back. Don't know when that will be and y'know what? I may keep it a secret when I do find out, just to surprise everybody.
Want to read more about this year's B-Fest. Hop over to Checkpoint-Telstar and check-out Tim's take.