Bad films are form of art at cultish B-Fest (Marley Seaman column)

Movie geeks. Jokers. The kind who never miss a chance to complain loudly during a movie. There’s one in every crowd. But for one orgiastic day at Northwestern, they are the crowd.

This is their moment in the sun. B-Fest, a 24-hour movie marathon featuring the funniest, worst and occasionally most disgusting films anyone has ever experienced, takes over McCormick Auditorium on Friday night.

This will be my third B-Fest, a festival of ritual torture, tribal bonding and humor. Watching a horrible movie binds your soul to those who share the experience in an almost inexplicable way, comparable to a painful fraternity initiation.

Ken Begg, 40, estimates he has attended B-Fest 15 times. When he found out that we had both seen one particularly nauseating puppet-porn movie, he said, “I call you ‘brother’ now, for you too have survived.”

B-Fest isn’t for everybody — but it’s for me. Watching bad movies for a whole day attracts only certain people, but it also inspires fanatical loyalty.

Some followers come back every year. At least one man has been to all 21 B-Fests. That’s how the tradition perpetuates itself: Someone goes, has a blast and lures in more people.

The first movie usually is not too painful. It puts you at ease. The second or third film is a terrible, incoherent experience, like “Message from Space,” a Japanese “Star Wars” rip-off. Movies that cannot be understood are difficult to make fun of, but humor is the only way to survive.

For the first six hours, the energy is high and the movies are hard to hear as people yell their jabs. At 11:45 p.m., during a hyperkinetic short called “The Wizard of Speed and Time,” people lay down onstage and stomp their feet, “running” across the country with the Wizard. The movie is repeated backwards and upside-down, then forwards again. Ed Wood’s opus “Plan 9 from Outer Space” rolls at midnight.

Known as one of the worst productions in the history of film, “Plan 9” has rituals all its own. As the spaceships appear, hundreds of paper plates explode into the air like unaerodynamic doves. When Bela Lugosi, who died during filming, appears, the crowd hollers, “Bela!” His replacement, a tall man who wears a cape over his face, is “NOT Bela!”

At 2 a.m. you’re locked in for the night, and the worst films are unleashed: celluloid nightmares with names like “Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” The proceedings take on a surreal quality and the brain becomes weak. The films pummel you like a champion boxer.

After a breakfast break in the morning, you race to the finish. The concluding disaster is usually one of the billion Godzilla movies.

Although it tests your endurance, your wit and the strength of your ass, B-Fest is too insane to be anything but a great time. When the evil monster is vanquished and the credits roll, you wonder how you could have ever been fool enough to subject yourself to this crap. And you wonder if you’ll ever have that much fun again.

Luckily there’s always next year.

Marley Seaman is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]