Thursday, October 5, 2017

Budget Cinema: Some Incidents in the History of B Movies

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) - ADAMS, JULIE. Photography. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 13 Sep 2017.
B movies had their heyday during Hollywood's Golden Age (late 1920s-early 1960s). During the Great Depression, studios and movie theaters tried to entice moviegoers into the theater with a bill that could last more than 3 hours, with two features, cartoons, a newsreel, and previews of forthcoming films. The main attraction would be the A film, with the B feature being a lower budget genre film (often sci-fi, Western, or film noir) that was quickly produced, frequently using talent that was either waning or on the rise. The big studios had separate B-units to produce these films. These early B films were tied to the Big Five studio system - before 1948, major studios had their own theater chains, and there was a complicated booking system for A and B features.

In the 1950s, feature films got longer - 70 minutes or more, rather than an hour - and the double feature fell out of favor. B movie became a blanket term used for genre films with formulaic plots and cheap production values. These films helped create the drive-in cinema business, which skyrocketed between 1945-55, and launched the career of one of the most famous names in the history of B movies, Roger Corman, and another big name in B, William Castle, who specialized in gimmicks. "For The Tingler, which starred Vincent Price, the theater seats were wired with buzzers, which would make the seats vibrate when the tingler supposedly escaped into the theater," the website B-Movie Central reports.

In the 60s and 70s, B movies came to include exploitation films, as the film industry's adherence to the Motion Picture Production Code relaxed and finally ended in 1968. Major studios were no longer making B films, and these exploitation films - which often "graphically depicted the wages of sin in the context of promoting prudent lifestyle choices" - ultimately became the whole market, ranging from "sexploitation" to "blaxploitation" films, except for the rise of  kung fu (sometimes called "Brucesploitation") and "slasher" films in the 1970s. Some famous names came out this era - John Waters, Melvin Van Peebles, Brian de Palma, Russ Meyer, George A. Romero, Tobe Hooper, Francis Ford Coppola - with some later achieving mainstream fame and others becoming cult classics. Easy Rider, with its themes of hippies, drug use, and communal living, became the first movie under the exploitation umbrella to debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a spoof of B movie tropes.

As cinema moved into the 1980s, the era of the star-studded blockbuster began. There was still a lot of low-budget horror films being made, and Troma Pictures, which got its start in 1974, was still "disrupting media." But there were more independent films being made in the last years of the 20th century, and it's important to remember that an independent or arthouse film is not the same as a B movie.

It has been suggested that recent  technological advances have made it easy to make low-budget motion pictures again, and digital cameras allow any filmmaker to make films with reasonably good image quality and effects. Is the B-movie ready to make a comeback? Well,  The Guardian suggests:

So here’s a suggestion: a two-tier cinema system. Your blockbusters in one league, and a separate circuit for lower-budget movies, with much cheaper tickets. For a long time, this was how movies operated... Now it’s serious dramas that are the B-movies, pushed to the margins along with what we used to call 'arthouse' movies: challenging, non-mainstream, maybe foreign movies. These are cinema’s endangered species. So why not put them all in a separate type of cinema and charge half the price? It would be a cheaper night out for punters and a proving ground for new talent.

Or, do you agree with Wired that "In 2017, 'genre' is no longer a niche, and nearly *every *movie feels like a midnight movie—albeit the kind you no longer need need to stay up all evening to enjoy." Whatever your take on the subject, why not take a little time to delve deeper into B movies of the past? The library catalog is here to help, with some likely contenders listed below:

Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell with Craig Sanborn

Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir by Arthur Lyons

Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s by Charles Taylor

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell [eAudiobook]

Foxy: A Life in Three Acts by Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan


The House on Haunted Hill

The Return of the Living Dead


The Blob

John Dies At the End

Evil Dead

They Live


Creature from the Black Lagoon

Brother From Another Planet


Forbidden Planet

Schlock: Secret History of American Movies

American Grindhouse

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

The Ed Wood Awards: The Worst Horror Films of All Time


The 100 Best "B Movies" of All Time [Slate]

15 Awesome B-Movies You Need To See [Screen Rant]

Attack of the B Movies! 50 of the Best Schlocky Titles of All Time [Hollywood Reporter]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting post: I hadn't realized the origin of B movies from the B reel. But it makes sense. As for your question, I agree that there should be a secondary set at half the price for the lower budget films. I used to go to movies all the time, and now tend not to for various reasons, not the least being cost.