November 24, 2010

Why Bother with B's?

Why bother with old B movies? Because they're there. They're on NetFlix. They're on Amazon. They're on eBay. They're on Turner Classic Movies. They're on hundreds of video archive and gray market sites. They're everywhere.  It seems there are a lot of folks who can still enjoy a good pre-CGI sci-fi, fantasy, or horror flick. Fans can excuse that model spaceship hoisted on wires, or the creature from beyond space in a rubber suit, because there's a kernel of pure, childish joy to be found in these modest pictures.

In case you hadn't noticed, science fiction, fantasy, and horror have become BIG business. Millions are sunk into productions requiring vast armies of technical specialists. To ensure maximum returns, films are crafted to resemble amusement park thrill rides or big screen video games. Vampires have turned into teen idols, and torture porn (Saw, Hostel) masquerades as horror. Filmmakers with more modest budgets compensate with over-the-top, gross-out special effects (Slither, Splinter). And as if that wasn't enough, a film can't just sell tickets. If it's not already part of a franchise, it has to have franchise potential… and it has to do merchandising, and tie-ins, and product placements, and you name it.  With all that riding on the typical science fiction or fantasy vehicle, there's very little room for imagination, creativity, uniqueness… or simple fun. For all the latest CGI effects, today's movies tend to "dazzle" audiences in the same predictable, stultifying ways.

Sure, B genre pictures are by definition formula pictures, and there's nothing more tedious than a bad, unimaginative, shoestring-budget programmer. But for many pics, low budgets and modest expectations freed moviemakers to take chances on interesting lesser known actors, original material, creative shoestring effects, and quirky bits of dialog and business. The results, while not always sublime, were often refreshing and fun. It's to these movies, the men and women behind them, and the fans who enjoy them to this day -- free to 'B' themselves -- that this blog is dedicated.

So, what to expect? I'll be rooting around in the shadowy past, from roughly the early '30s to the early '70s, dusting off those intriguing rough gems of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that have been overlooked and under-appreciated. While I love them dearly, I'll tend to bypass classics like Forbidden Planet and Creature From the Black Lagoon (what's left to say about them?) in favor of more obscure titles like The Phantom Planet and The Monster of Piedros Blancas.

Making movies, even "bad" ones, is a hard, time-consuming job. My purpose is not to make fun of these underdog movies to show what a clever, sarcastic guy I am. Granted, there will be unintentionally funny and inept lines, plot elements, acting and/or effects in many (if not most) of the movies featured here, but my mission will be to show what works, what doesn't, and why you might want to seek it out -- not to ridicule it. And wherever possible, I'll include clips to show you exactly what I'm talking about. Occasionally, I'll veer off into film noir and even westerns-- it is my blog after all.  And I reserve the right to just blather in general about movies or popular culture.

There's a lot to discover beyond the cinematic time barrier: giant mutations, mythical beasts, gothic vampires, atom-age vampires, teenage werewolves, mad scientists, madmen, and their cursed sons and daughters…  I invite you to come along for a ride or two into this fantastic film world.