B-Movie Boom: Mindless fun or arty pastiche?

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Officially, the B in B-Movie doesn’t stand for anything.

It just marks a sub-genre below the financial par of the mainstream and above grainy home video (well, just). Some may wrongly think it stands for ‘Bad’ – but that’s a cruel misapprehension. B-Movies may be trashy, but they also have a strange charm. Nothing sums this up more than Golden Turkey winning, B-flick icon, Ed Wood. This hapless film hack from the 50s made a string of horribly-crafted sci-fi pictures including Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was widely viewed as the worst film ever made. Riddled with laughable special effects, wooden acting and abysmal continuity issues, this content’s surely worthy of no more than the dustbin of history, not the minds of hardened film buffs.

Yet, funnily enough, Ed Wood’s amassed a cult following There’s even an online church dedicated to him called Woodism . Cynics may see this as some rather sardonic, reverse cruelty, but, over time critics have warmed to his films’ charm of being so bad, they’re amusing. So, does this mean that a bad film can be great art because it’s funny how bad it is?

This is the quandary with B-Movies – and with lovers of the sub-genre – like Robert Rodriguez – reintroducing it to the silver screen, one can wonder whether these film have left a legacy on the big Hollywood blockbuster. Grindhouse (Tarantino’s Death Proof and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror) immediately springs to mind, but these slumped in the box office. A fake trailer in the double-feature homage production did, however, lead to the successful Machete franchise and soon-to-be trilogy. Danny Trejo starred in this mish-mash pastiche of the blood-spurting violence, comical one-liners and sexual innuendo from the original B-capers. Other series like Piranha, Shark in Venice (etc) and Nude Nuns with Big Guns followed suit, making a whole new phenomena of the Modern B-Movie. Such films keep the style alive and kicking but, really, remain on the underbelly of the global stage.

However, the strange, decadent allure to the all-guns-blazing B-Movie is comparable to the mindless indulgence of the explosion-heavy Hollywood blockbuster. Take the Rotten Tomatoes sum-up reviews of Machete and Pacific Rim as an example. Machete is lauded for its “cartoonishly enjoyable” show of “messy, violent, shallow and tasteless” entertainment. ‘Pacific Rim’ is higher marked for its “fantastical imagery” and “irresistible sense of fun”. This “shallow” appeal to “fun” binds the two very different genres. The only break is the self-awareness, homage, nostalgia and the inevitable Hollywood effort to avoid an R rating to welcome a larger audience. Will Rodriguez-like aficionados get plaudits for pastiche pieces on Pacific Rim in 50 years?

My point is, the Modern B-Movie pull is a mysterious one. On one hand, it’s a love-letter to a lost sub-genre, yet on the other it reflects the superficial Hollywood blockbuster most film fans try to avoid. Not to say there’s any shame either way, but it’s fun to think of such a current trend, especially with the Christmas Good The Bad The Unseen Double coming on the 21st December from 7pm in Bar Paragon.

They’ll be showing John Hough’s 1973 classic, The Legend of Hell House (18), and Jack Clayton’s 1961 gothic horror, The Innocents. Admission’s free of course, get your tickets here.

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