It has been a commonplace for quite some time now to take for granted that the B-movie, as we used to know it, has died. The types of stories we used to get in those films, from, for the sake of argument, the 30s to the late 70s, have been taken over by the blockbusters. So we get the same narratives, but with budgets in excess of 100 million dollars. So not only has the B-pic lost its turf, but it has also lost its natural habitat. The drive-in is almost extinct, and anyway, it is almost impossible for such films to…achieve any kind of theatrical distribution at all.
But the form isn’t quite dead. Roger Corman, king of the Bs, saw the writing on the wall some time ago, and shifted his focus almost exclusively to producing product for home video and cable TV. That is where the B-movie now resides. And while much of that product is deservedly maligned (does anybody really deserve to be put through another Jim Wynorski film?), and equally deservedly consigned to the remainder bins of video stores, let us reconsider our instinctive bile for a moment.
Consider the many monster movies from the 50s and 60s. Genre movie fans tend to have an indiscriminate (and unapologetic) love of the film from this era, regardless of actual quality. As I’ve stated in the past, I have an inordinate fondness, for instance, for Monster from Green Hell (1958). This is film that would count as a guilty pleasure if I felt at all guilty about it. But let’s be honest: it’s no damn good. But that, of course, is part of its charm. How many of us positively savour the bad special effects, wooden acting and painful scripts of these movies? More than a few, and you know it.
So who’s to say that the Velocity releases of today won’t be just as big a part of tomorrow’s nostalgia? Once again, every conceivable type of monster, from sabre-tooth tigers to pythons to octopi, slither and stalk their way across our TV screens. Sure, the CG FX are rarely convincing. But all things being equal, they are at least as impressive as any vintage rubber suit. In fact, some fairly spectacular (if often cheesy) results are quite often the order of the day. And yes, sure, absolutely, the scripts are unimaginatively derivative and we spend far too much time in tunnels. But so what? How many Big Bug movies slavishly copied the formula of Them!, right down to the educational documentary short shown to the Concerned Authorities?
So here’s a modest proposal that we modify our grumpiness (I’ll do my best at this end). I’m not saying we let sloppy writing and cynical filmmaking off the hook, but hell, I found a lot of old-school, schlocky entertainment in something like Python 2. Half the fun was because of its flaws, and that’s a situation any fan of the vintage B-movie should be familiar with. My rule of thumb would be this: as long as there is a decent amount of monster footage, regardless of whether said footage is in any way convincing, then the movie is delivering the goods, and should be saluted for that. (On the other hand, excessive corridor footage with NO monsters deserves nothing but bile.) So the next time one of these engaging turkeys stumbles its clumsy way across your path, you don’t have to give it some love, but maybe a bit of like.