He Watched It Sober.

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The Canned

Film Festival

     "Wait. Wait. Hold on ... Tor Johnson's last words were 'Uuggh, uuggh.' Bela Lugosi's last words were 'Aaggh, aaggh.' No ... You're wrong! You're gonna get this in Trivial Pursuit and you're gonna get it wrong!"

-- Fitz arguing over Lugosi's final on screen utterance   





B-Movie Showcases




Here, the Ritz Irregulars catch a glimpse of next week's feature.


Watch it!



Best Bet:

Sights &
The Canned
Film Festival
 Original Air Date:
  June 21, 1986
 Episodes :: 13
 LBS Communications /
 Chelsea Communications

Episode List:

The Terror of Tiny Town

Doctor of Doom

Ski Fever

The Crawling Hand

They Saved Hitler's Brain

Untamed Women

Las Vegas Hillbillies

Project Moonbase

Rocket Attack U.S.A.

The Slime People


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"Nestled deep in the heart of America's Midwest, lies the pleasant, peaceful town of Limekirk. Time was when the good people of Limekirk would flock to the downtown majestic Ritz Theater. They would watch anything. Then, slowly, the audience began to dwindle and the Ritz Theater teetered on the brink of oblivion. But Laraine, who ran the Theater with her mom, had an idea.

"If the people of Limekirk were bored with normal entertainment, why not give them something out of the ordinary? She put washers and dryers in the lobby...but that didn't work. So she gathered together a collection of the strangest, the silliest, most unusual movies ever made, stocked every refreshment imaginable, and called it The Canned Film Festival!"

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The Canned Film Festival was a syndicated schlock cinema showcase series that popped up in the summer of 1986, but then, much to my dismay, just as quickly blinked back out of existence. And of all the gonzoidal movie TV-conduits I've encountered in my lifetime, make no mistake, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the best and my favorite; no ifs, ands, or ... well, one little but. That little "but" being The Canned Film Festival, a show mined from the same comedic and spoofball vein that premiered a few years before the Best Brains went national, and managed to stake a claim on my offbeat movie lovin' heart; and that's why it will always hold a special place for this particular film fanatic because it did just that: came to me first. And though it was tragically short lived it remains a rabidly championed B-Movie venue.

...Well, rabidly championed by me anyways.

The brainchild of producer John Gilroy, and writers Len Smith and Mike Wilkins, it was a starring vehicle for Saturday Night Live alum Larraine Newman, who, unlike the other original cast members, never found any real career traction after she left the show; which is too bad because I find her genuinely quite funny. The show's sole sponsor appeared to be Dr. Pepper. Remember, that soft-drink was also prominently featured in the Americanized version of Godzilla 1985, which probably should have made it the patron drink of the B-Movie Brethren everywhere back in those days. And, man, did Dr. Pepper and Diet Dr. Pepper have some weird, post-apocalyptic commercials back in the mid-80's:

Being a Broadcast Baby, one of those poor souls who had no cable TV until he got to college, this rarity magically appeared on my local CBS affiliate one weekend, which they sacrificed to the late night time slot opposite the monster that was Saturday Night Live (-- circa Billy Crystal and Martin Short). The premise of the show was simple enough:

In a desperate attempt to keep the theater doors open, a small town movie palace gets a little creative with their promotions and film selections to try and bring the crowds back. Featuring grade-Z flicks that have to be seen to be believed, the originator of this hair-brained scheme was Laraine (Laraine Newman), the daughter of the theater owner. We never get to see the reclusive "Mom" -- who spends all her time in the projection booth, but we hear her constant presence as she bangs away on her calliope, providing mood music during the bumpers before the commercial breaks. Also, to try and increase the foot-traffic, the lobby is converted into a laundromat, so, if a person chooses, they can do their laundry while watching a film. And I don't know if it's a cost cutting measure or another gimmick, but all the refreshments at the concession stand are ... unique, and the only thing that's guaranteed is that they won't kill you (-- but will probably repeat on you like a howitzer).

Despite these efforts, the only ones who consistently show up are a handful of diehard regulars; the collective heads of knuckle known better as 'Fitz' Fitzgerald (Patrick Garner), the lost Caulkin; Chan (Phil Nee), who doesn't understand or speak any English; Jack (F. Richards Ford), the local cub reporter who must review the films; Becky (Laura Galusha), Jack's girlfriend, who always tags along; and Doris (Kathryn Rossetter), the sultry sage of the laundromat -- mostly to the naive Becky on the dangerous wiles of men who want to neck in the balcony.

The week they featured Ed Wood's nearly coherent Bride of the Monster, Laraine welcomed each patron and gave them the lowdown on the week's feature; an opportunity to share some obscure or odd facts about the film they were about to see -- in this case, Ed Wood's cross-dressing proclivities, the missing octopus motor, and the fact that this was Bela Lugosi's last speaking role. She also has a surprise for everyone in celebration of the movie: authentic Tor Johnson masks. (Didn't he used to break a lot of Ed Wood's toilet seats? Fitz asks.) Laraine had planned on giving them away to the first ten customers, but soon has no idea what to do with the other six masks. Fitz and Chan are excited to see Lugosi and want to memorialize his last words spoken on screen. Meanwhile, Jack is absent, covering an all-night calliope music festival in the next town over, so Becky is alone. And when the depressed girl reveals that she and Jack have been dating for over two years with no real talk of marriage, Doris then relates to her the old story about why buy the cow when the milk's free. With that nugget, coupled with a disastrous talk with Fitz, and a one-sided chat with Chan, Becky, inspired by the plucky reporter in the movie, realizes she has to become more than just Jack's girl.

Then, as the brain-bending film progresses and several characters become rubber-octopus chum, when word comes that the lead calliope player at the music festival has collapsed, and since they desperately need a replacement, Laraine convinces her mother to finally come out of the projection booth to take over the keyboard.

She never speaks, and only answers with organ stings or music cues -- and I guess "Ode to Joy" means "Yes, I'll do it."

After Bride of the Monster gets done "tampering in God's domain", as the theater empties, Fitz and Chan argue over whether Lugosi's last line was "Uuurghh!" or "Aaarrrgghh!" Jack finally shows up, too, and Becky asserts herself by admitting she did miss him -- but not enough to go to the skinny-dipping hole. Gathering around Doris, who is intently watching the balcony entrance, they spy Laraine leading a hooded figure down the steps. And when Doris tells them who it is, they all realize they've never seen Laraine's mom and, like us, don't even know her name. A curious Fitz calls out to her, the hooded figure turns, and yes, we finally get to see Larraine's mom -- who's wearing a Tor Johnson mask. (I think.) With the movie over and nothing else to do, the whole gang dons their own masks and head to the festival to be her personal cheering section.

Now, unlike Joel, Mike and the 'Bots, The Canned Film Festival players only showed up at the beginning, during the commercial breaks, and the conclusion, meaning the films had to stand up on their own. There was no running commentary, and the patrons only talked about the films during the bumpers (-- and I recall several editing gaffes where they talked about scenes that hadn't happened yet. Whoops). For these wraparound segments the show relied pretty heavily on several running gags: Chan's language barrier; Jack and Becky's relationship problems; the oddities offered at the snack bar; and Laraine's insistence that everyone sits in their assigned seats, spreading everyone around the theater, to make the crowd look bigger (-- usually meaning Jack and Becky can't make out). It was all pretty thin, premise wise, but the characters were charming, fun, and endearing, and did what they were supposed to do: set up the film, and then let it run amok and trample over the viewer as we celebrated the cheesy-awfulsomeness together until the final credits rolled.

The films were also compressed to fit the syndicated show's hour and half time frame, which meant none of the features were ever shown complete. But, regardless of these minor beefs, I will be forever indebted to this show for it was here that I saw Robot Monster for the first time. It also popped my B-cherry on the likes of Terror of Tiny Town, Rocket Attack U.S.A. and Hillbillies in Las Vegas. Obviously, I was ready to tune in for more but, alas, one fateful weekend the show vanished from it's timeslot and was replaced with M*A*S*H reruns. Feh.

Okay ... At this point you're probably saying, Why didn't you just go and buy or rent these movies to watch? And once again, at the ripe old age of 34, I've got to shake my fist in the air and go on an old man rant, reminding everyone that not really all that long ago, there was a time when things like the internet and DVDs didn't exist, VCR's were a new, magic piece of equipment -- that cost about the same amount as a used Buick, not all of us had cable, and if you were damned lucky, shows like this would pop-up out of nowhere to feed your B-movie appetite for a while.

Oh, sure. My family had one of those new fangled VCRs. 

We had a Betamax.

Yeah, yeah. Laugh. Go ahead. I can wait. (Did I mention it had a non-wireless remote control?)

In my fuzzy recollection, I had at least two episodes of this taped in that format, maybe more. Then, not long after this show disappeared, Santa finally brought me that coveted VHS VCR (-- the whole sad and sordid affair is gone into greater detail in my It Came From Hollywood review). I had every intention of dubbing those over but, being the procrastinator that I am, never got it done. Eventually, the old Beta player died and headed for the landfill, but, wanting to save these old shows for posterity, I guarded the tapes like a mama grizzly protecting her cubs whenever asked if those old things could be tossed out. Someday, I said, I'll find another Beta player and revisit the show.

And then things got a little complicated.

The video market boomed, these types of films became readily available, and MST3k came to the forefront ... Almost a full decade passed before this show cropped up in a conversation with Naked Bill, circa '96, over several beers, during a screening of whatever the hell we were watching that night -- my guess would be Tobe Hooper's remake of Invaders from Mars. Newman was in that, right? Anyways ... I was really drunk and really sold the show because, for my following birthday, Naked Bill came through and found an ancient, second-hand and, I shit you not, wood-paneled Beta player. But once I got the player, do you think I could find those blank Beta tapes? Heck, no ... Allegedly, they were back at the old homestead; and even though my Mom denied throwing them away, I figured they were gone for good and I'd never see the show again.

So, for the longest time, I thought my beloved, eccentric denizens of Limekirk would forever remain just a memory for me. Sure, every once and a while I'd do a search on the web, to see if any sites dedicated to it had cropped up. Alas, my searches came up mostly empty, and the only people, aside from myself, who seemed to remember this show were the fine folks over at Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension. And I seemed to be in the extreme minority as someone who remembers the show fondly as opposed to lame.

Now let's flash-forward again, to when Ma Beerman -- a widow for almost thirty years -- remarried to a real swell guy and moved in with him, meaning my brother and his wife took over the old homestead. And though I thought I had everything out that was mine a long time ago I got a message saying they had several boxes of stuff that looked like they belonged to me. Sure enough, hidden in the cave, under a stack of canning jars was a box of blank Beta tapes. (There was also a shop-class produced spice rack that Brother Beerman claimed I made. I said it was too structurally sound to be made by these inept hands, but he insisted.) To make a longer story shorter, I hitched up the behemoth Beta player, flipped the switches and diodes to tune it in properly (-- and oh, you should of heard that thing humming when it fired up. Wow.), punched the rehashed 8-Track buttons on the front, the canopy popped open, and I shoved in a tape that had Scooby-Doo, Duck Tales and The Canned Film Festival scribbled on the label.

I wish this story had a happy ending but *sigh* it doesn't (-- at least not yet). No, I didn't tape over anything but the ancient player wasn't quite up to snuff; the tape would barely track, and the audio was all fouled up. Basically, the player wasn't playing the tapes at the right speed -- everything was slightly sped up, making everyone sound like they were sucking on helium. (But honestly, you haven't heard Lugosi's superman speech until you've heard it on Hungarian helium.) Undaunted, despite this excited state, I watched the whole episode anyway, severe thunderstorm warnings and all.

I've been through all the other tapes now -- a slow and tedious process (-- as you can't do a visual search on these old machines), and, unfortunately, I can't find a single trace of any other episodes. But, I've at least got one, in its entirety. And I wish I could tell you more about this show -- how it came about, how many episodes there were -- but all I have is what I can remember and gleaned from the closing credits.

So until I find a more reliable Betamax, I'll just have to go back to this show via memory lane. That's right, baby. I'm headed back to Limekirk and my usual seat at the Ritz, where I'll throw some popcorn at Fitz, eat a box of chocolate covered Lug Nuts, do a load of laundry, and survive another fractured feature with some old friends.

The Canned Film Festival (1986) LBS Communications :: Chelsea Communications / P: John Gilroy, Jeff Lawenda, Michael Yudin / D: Jonathan Heap / W: Ken Smith, Mike Wilkins / M: Robbie Kondor / S: Laraine Newman, Rick Ford, Laura Galusha, Patrick Garner, Phil Nee, Kathryn Rossetter

Originally Posted: 09/27/04 :: Rehashed: 07/16/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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