Part One

by Greg Sorenson

I've lived where I live for about seven years now, and only just found out that the local college has sponsored an annual "B-Fest" for over 20 years. So I went to this year's installment, seeing 15 features and a few shorts in 24 hours.

The Crawling Eye (Quentin Lawrence, 1958).

An Alpine village is menaced by aliens who manifest themselves with a creepy fog, proceeding to kill people and take over their bodies - and their true form is, um...big crawling eyes. The aliens seem bent on terrorizing the village, but are especially drawn toward a pair of psychic English sisters (Janet Munro, Jennifer Jayne), who get visions when humans are in danger, but aren't very good at predicting where the monsters are. A good classic cheapie, with laughable monsters and breathtaking stock footage.

(Robert Clouse, 1985).

It must have seemed like a sure thing in 1985: Bruce Lee had been dead for over a decade, attempts to break Jackie Chan into the U.S. had failed, and Chuck Norris was aging and trading chop-socky for explosions. What better way to revive the martial arts genre and cash in on post-Olympic afterglow than by getting Clouse (Enter the Dragon) to direct a Most Dangerous Game-type story featuring the limber, all-American athlete...Kurt Thomas? As I remember it, gymnastics fans and action fans all stayed away - too violent for the former, too girly for the latter. Gymakata was less painful than I expected, mostly because Clouse is a competent action director. Thomas, babyfaced mulleted hero clothed in the height of mid-80s fashion, is sent to a generic foreign country to compete in an obstacle-course-type contest where ninja-garbed officials will up and shoot you with an arrow if you aren't careful. Along the way, Thomas gets to inject various gymnasty things into his asswhuppings - a flip here, a flair there; a narrow alley just happens to have a highbar in it; a town waterpump just happens to have pommelhorse-style handles. All that was missing was Nadia's Theme. The East German judge gives it an 8.5.

What is Communism?
I have mixed feelings about this Kennedy-era short. It was full of red meat, no pun intended, as we learn that communists are LYING! DIRTY! SHREWD! GODLESS! MURDEROUS! DETERMINED! INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL CONSPIRATORS! It's ironic now to hear people invoke J. Edgar Hoover as a great American, and to see people treat the Bill of Rights as a hindrance (especially in light of recent current events), but you can't get around the fact that millions were killed under Stalin (and later Mao and Pol Pot), and the shots of mass graves can't be played for laughs.

Message From Space (Kinji Fukasaku, 1978).

Now I've been to two events in a 12-month span where Battlefield Earth was on the bill but was not the worst movie shown. Kinji Fukusaku, the director responsible for one of my best movies of 2001, Battle Royale, also directed this muddle walnuts? Although it was dubbed in English, I have no idea what was going on. There are these glowing walnuts which are apparently distress signals sent from a space "ship" (quite literally, an Earthbound nautical sailing vessel in space), and Vic Morrow is on hand as a disgraced general who dresses like a pimp when he's on the outs, but is soon restored to his Chairman Kaga-esque glory, and - well, I should have just gone to sleep for this one.

Plan 9 From Outer Space
(Edward D. Wood, Jr., 1958)

This is the perennial B-Fest favorite, having been screened for 15 of the program's 20-odd years, usually at the stroke of midnight. It really doesn't deserve its title of Worst Movie Ever Made. One of the most inept, to be sure, but it's consistently entertaining, well-paced, and just has a spirit about it that you can't help enjoying. The audience participation angle didn't hurt either, as the auditorium filled with paper plates whenever the flying saucers appeared onscreen. Remember, it's based on sworn testimony. Can you prove it didn't happen?

Still to come: Blaxploitation! Zadora! Travolta! Breakdancing!

©2002 Greg Sorenson