The Best of the B Movies: So Bad, They’re Good

| August 15, 2014
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sharknado-2

 By Maria Judnick

There are three levels of mainstream Hollywood films. First are the serious films: the ones in limited release, in which that incredibly important story gets told, that famous actor says or does something really brave, and everybody earns an Oscar. Next, there’s the popular movie category: the summer blockbusters people line up to see with the big explosions and scruffy guys who save the planet, while getting the girl.

And then there are the best kinds of movies…the best of the worst, at least. B movies: the low budget, anything goes, guilty pleasure science fiction or western films from Hollywood’s Golden Era (or the exploitation films of the 1970s) that now often only get made for television. Sharknado and the rubber-suit-monster films like it are the ones that make us laugh for the wrong reasons, get played at independent theaters at midnight to a packed house or one loyal viewer, and can be recited line by line by fans who’ve seen it too many times.

Let’s take a look at some B movies that are so awful that they can’t be anything but a classic.

The Famous Names

I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler Jr, 1957)

and

Attack Of The Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957)

Before Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin or MTV’s Teen Wolf, half-man, half-wolf Michael Landon (yes, that guy from reruns of Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven) was frightening — and thrilling – teen audiences. Half the fun of B movies is recognizing now-famous names as they got their start (people like Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Sylvester Stallone, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, and James Cameron, to name a few).  Many of them owe their nascent careers to director Roger Corman. While “King of the Bs” Corman is recognized for his adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe short stories (most of which starred B movie favorite Vincent Price), he also created such classics as 1978’s Piranha (his own Jaws-like film) and Attack of the Crab Monsters that featured – you guessed it – giant crab monsters. 

The Aliens Among Us

Plan 9 From Outer Space (Edward D. Wood, 1959)

If the director’s name sounds familiar, you probably remember Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic Ed Wood. When most people think of B movies, they think of Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was once considered “the worst movie ever made” thanks to continuity errors, actors still reading their scripts, and a flying saucer obviously made out of either a paper plate or a hubcap. A simple plot summary is enough to get some excitement going:Aliens resurrect dead humans as zombies and vampires to stop humanity from creating the Solaranite (a sort of sun-driven bomb).” Add in the fact that Vampira (Maila Nurmi) makes an appearance alongside the final footage of America’s favorite vampire, Bela Lugosi, and you’ve got a classic on your hands.

The Monster Movies

Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954)

Move over, Godzilla; there’s another monster in town. What happens when a slimy half-human, half-amphibian creature from deep in the Amazon falls in love with a beautiful girl? Most original viewers don’t know (they were probably too busy necking at the drive-in to pay attention), but, if you did actually watch the film, you’d enjoy many of the typical speeches from “scientists” about how there’s a world out there that we don’t even know about. The film also features some of the first really technical “3-D” underwater shots that predated Jaws. In the monster movie category, there’s a ton of competition, but this rubber-suited swimmer will always be a personal favorite.

The Modern International Contributions

Samurai Cop (Amir Shervan, 1989)

and

Troll 2 (Drake Floyd, 1990)

It’s not just Americans that make great B movies; clueless directors from around the world have created films that have made fans giggle for decades. Samurai Cop, directed by an Iranian filmmaker, features a plot that would make Lethal Weapon seem like Shakespearean high drama. Plus, it stars an actual hair model (Matt Hannon)! Troll 2 (which is not actually a sequel to anything), directed by Italian Claudio Fragrasso, features amateur actors (including a dentist) from Utah being attacked by vegetarian cannibal goblins. This film was so bad it spawned a 2010 documentary called Best Worst Movie.

The New Classics

The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003)

and

Snakes on a Plane (David R. Ellis, 2006)

and

Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013) 

It’s hard to say much about these incredible films that hasn’t been said before. While Wiseau’s cult-favorite love triangle inspires fans to throw plastic spoons at the screen and everyone can quote Samuel L. Jackson’s epic frustration with those snakes on that plane, the legacy of Sharknado continues to grow. Sharknado 2 was released this summer and Sharknado 3 looms on the horizon. Will Sharknado 3 exceed all expectations and take the B movie genre to all new levels of bad/good? Here’s hoping.

 

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About the Author ()

KQED Pop is a daily blog edited by Emmanuel Hapsis that critically examines the social and cultural impact of music, movies, television, advertisements, fashion, the internet and all the other collective experiences that make us laugh, cringe and cry. We focus on local, national and international experiences with a Bay Area lens. We don’t do reviews.
  • cliffordweimer

    Ms. Judnick has no idea what a B movie even is. None. Absolutely none. She doesn’t know a B movie from a quart of milk.

    Roger Corman: “My work in low-budget exploitation films would eventually earn me some notoriety as ‘The King of the B’s’, which is ironic … I never made a B movie in
    my life. The B movie dated from the Depression and was a phenomenon only up through the early 1950s… Bs had died out by the time I began directing. The term was never used in connection with any of my films within the industry, where the precise meaning of the term was always known.”

    Go read this article and then come back and re-read the Judnick article and see how embarrassing it is:
    https://classicflix.com/Classics-101-Answering-Qs-about-Bs-ar-55.html

    Cliff Weimer
    Inthebalcony.com