24 hours of movie madness

Many people will head out to the movie theater next Friday hoping for the usual 107 minutes of tame entertainment.

Another group of people, though, will not be leaving their theater for 24 hours, and they’ll be hoping for something beyond mere entertainment. They are the seekers of cinematic enlightenment, and their Mecca is the trash-film orgy known as B-Fest.

The end of January marks a unique celebration for a certain breed of movie fan, as the cold mid-winter weather brings an invitation to the world’s longest running B-movie marathon. Since 1981, Northwestern University has played host to this annual program, once known as the “24-Hour B-Movie Horror and Science Fiction Festival”. A portion of the audience may come and go, but for the hard core, it’s a do or die test of filmaholic endurance.

Starting at 6 p.m., it’s nothing but one B-movie after another until the following evening at 6. Only the hardiest – or most psychotic – viewers will stick it out through the entire program. As one of the marathon’s catch phrases puts it, B-Fest is “Madness Incarnate”.

Selected titles range from 1950s sci-fi schlock classics like It! The Terror From Beyond Space to 1980s pop culture camp such as Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo to 1970s grindhouse obscurities like Monkey Hustle, with a sprinkling of eccentric short subjects in between. Traditional features include showings of Godzilla movies at the end, Ed Wood’s incredible Plan 9 From Outer Space at midnight, door prizes, and the cult f/x short The Wizard of Speed and Time. Okay, so most people have rented one or two trashy flicks to watch with friends at home, but why would anyone want to watch sixteen to eighteen of them in succession in a crowded theater?

Some see it as an experiment in just how much fun you can endure before it’s not fun anymore. Festers, like those that can’t help but go back for one too many servings at Thanksgiving dinner, always want to see one more movie. One participant has labeled them as “x-treme couch potatoes”. Some Festers confess to leaving B-Fest Saturday evening and watching more movies at home.

Others are drawn by the participatory vibe. At most theaters, ringing cellphones and gabby patrons get dirty looks. At B-Fest, the rules are reversed. Wisecracking is encouraged (provided the wisecracks are funny), and some attendees prepare costumes and skits to accompany specific scenes.

The acme of this anarchic behavior usually occurs during the ritualistic Plan 9 screening, in which every shot of a flying saucer is greeted with a volley of soaring paper plates.

If you go, know that not everyone in the crowd is going to be working at the indie video store down the block in 10 years. A group of 1980s attendees went on to create the long running cable TV staple Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Details on this year’s show can be found at B-fest.com.