Ah, the B movie. With a low-budget and low expectations, B movies have been around for years. While many say that they have passed their golden age (namely the exploitation films of the 1960s-70s), they have persevered and continue to amuse, disgust and delight audiences. They also cross many genres from comedy to sci-fi and horror.
B movies have had a long run, from 1933’s The Vampire Bat to Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and Sharknado (2013). While we mock their weak storylines, poor acting and ridiculous special effects, these movies have been the starting place for some of movies’ biggest legends. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, two names synonymous with classic horror, first starred together in The Black Cat in 1934. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee have also starred together in movies such as Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors in 1965. Roger Corman, a god, or even THE god of the B movie world gave us The Pit and the Pendulum with the incredible Vincent Price.
It’s not only the legends that can thank the B movie. Some of today’s most recognizable names had their start there.
Just a few of them are:
Jack Nicolson, Hollywood icon (The Terror, 1963)
Tom Hanks, Hollywood icon (Mazes and Monsters, 1982)
Jonathan Demme, director, Silence of the Lambs (Caged Heat, 1974)
Sylvester Stallone, action movie icon (Death Race 2000, 1975)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, action movie icon (Hercules in New York, 1970)
James Gunn, director, Guardians of the Galaxy (Slither, 2006)
Nathan Fillion, tv/film actor (Slither, 2006)
Peter Jackson, director, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit trilogies (Dead Alive, aka Braindead, 1992)
I think that one of the things that I love about B movies is that people will argue about whether the movie is actually any good or not. There is the B movie that takes its low budget and has a weak storyline, lousy special effects and poor acting. Then there is the B movie that can take that same low budget and turn it into a true gem.
So, going by the previously mentioned genres of comedy, sci-fi and horror, here are my picks for some of the “gems” of the B movie universe.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
yep, that just about does it. Mutant tomatoes attack humanity. There’s a lot of blood…or ketchup….does it matter who wins?
Yes, there was more than one. This movie had it all. Mutant worm creatures who lived underground and could detect the slightest movement. One of the best bad-ass couples in a movie (Michael Gross, Alex P. Keaton’s dad and country music legend Reba McIntire) as survivalists who had enough firepower to make the US Army jealous. Kevin Bacon and John Goodman, well, because it’s Kevin Bacon AND John Goodman. Tom Woodruff Jr. created the creatures (the man behind The Terminator and Aliens). It was fun and scary at the same time (don’t tell me that you didn’t feel the urge to lift your feet off the floor when one of the creatures was about to come to the surface).
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The little independent movie that started the zombie phenomenon. Romeo’s classic horror was done in typical B movie style with a small budget and unknown cast but went on to incredible financial success. Despite the controversy over both race (the lead character, a black man, is shot by white mob waiting outside the house at the end of the movie) and the initial reaction by audiences for its violence (it was shown before the MPAA rating became standard, so kids could see this film), this movie has withstood the test of time and is still unnerving in its portrayal of survival against the undead.
Now, there cannot be an article on B movies without naming two people who are synonymous with them….(photos courtesy of IMDb.com)
The King of the Bs, he has been involved with hundreds of B movies over the years and revolutionized independent movie making. “The King of the Cult Film” and “The Pope of Pop Cinema” are two names that he’s known by. From 1954’s Monster On The Ocean Floor to the upcoming Death Race 2050, made with wife Julie, Corman has influenced actors, producers and directors alike. Names like Nicolson, Hopper, Cameron and Scorsese owe their starts to him. He has proven that you can make a great movie without breaking the bank and that taking risks only could make you better at your craft.
So in 1981, childhood friends Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert decided to make a scary movie called The Evil Dead. People liked it…a lot. It kick started their careers, with each going onto incredible success on both the large and small screen.
Bruce Campbell has become synonymous with his Evil Dead character Ash. With other B movie hits such as Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), Alien Apocalypse (2005), My Name is Bruce (2007) and others he has become a B movie legend and cult icon. He has continued to work with both Raimi and Tapert on various projects over the years and most recently reprised his role as “Ash”in the Ash vs. Evil Dead tv series.
There is more than our fair share of B movies that are just plain “I’m never getting those 2 hours of my life back” bad…and then there are the gems. For every C.H.U.D. there is Tremors, for every The Giant Claw there is the Creature From The Black Lagoon.
We the movie-loving audience will never tire of them. While there are directors willing to take risks on questionable plots and actors willing to possibly destroy their careers on poor dialogue, the B movie will always be around.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Text © Written In Geek blog (2016) All rights reserved
The movie images that I used are from their Wikipedia sites. My information came from Wikipedia, imdb.com and a fantastic blog that I found…