Natural Fromage

What happens when sharks need more iron in their dietOne of the hardest goals is to make a B-film that actually works – something that actually transcends its very nature to fill a void on the video rental shelf, and earn a store owner few extra bucks.

The term B-movie actually stems from the era when studios owned and operated their own chain of movie theatres, and offered a whole program of material for theatre patrons. During the thirties and early forties, prior to TV, the easiest (and probably most value-added) way to get an audio-visual combo of news, sports, entertainment, and local announcements was in a movie house.

Some of Warner Bros.’ classic film DVDs – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), for example – offer a sampling of the kind of product people would see for maybe a dime. You’d sit in a cool auditorium and watch a newsreel, maybe a political announcement, a sports piece, a comedy short, a cartoon, and then the double-bill: the A-level film (big stars, high production values, and sometimes in blazing Technicolor), and the B-film (low budget, barely recognizable faces, a far shorter running time, and a story that usually stayed within the main parameters of a genre – western, crime thriller, comedy, etc.).

One function of the B-movie was to test out new talent and see if they could carry a film, check if an actor or actress had any real screen charisma, and were worth testing out in A-level productions; even Clint Eastwood popped up in a B-film (Universal’s 1955 thriller Revenge of the Creature) before moving into TV and later feature films.

The B-movie as product was eventually phased out by the studios, but indie producers filled void by making their own cheap or low budget films, which kept the double-bill format alive for a while, whereas newsreel died once TV became a more effective medium for audio-visual information, and cartoons as short bursts of kidfare moved into the Saturday morning arena.

I remember that by the mid-seventies, the occasional NFB short was still being shown Toronto theatres, as well as playing the national anthem short, but both disappeared by the eighties and were taken over by garbage ads and wads of trailers.

The B-movie did live on as drive-in fare, but once the drive-ins as a revenue source for indie producers went southward, that body of exploitation and sexploitation fodder – mostly from the seventies and early eighties – got some extra life when home video grew in popularity.

The B-movie occasionally made its way to major theatres as a knock-off horror or sequel, but it’s arguably because a few generations grew up watching those low-budget flicks (either vintage, fifties, or more contemporary exploitation) that the format returned as direct-to-video product, and like the B-portion of a double-bill, they also filled rental shelves and cable TV schedules so a renter or subscriber’s weekly choice looked full and rich.

The genre basics are still there: elements and predictable plot points remain, but by retreading and being restricted to limited budgets and having little desire to transcend the genre, most B-movies are completely disposable. Troma tried to make their newer product fashionable, but there’s a genuine difference between cinematic fromage that’s stale and uninspired, and finding something that’s clever, or at least fun, because the filmmakers focused and developed the right elements and made it all click.

The big budget remakes Amityville Horror (2005) and When a Stranger Calls (2006) are still a B-movies, but they chiefly suck because the scripts were written by minds less creative than an elephant with a chunky paintbrush and a sheet of paper; the films have gloss and some name actors, but no soul, no sense of fun, and no coherently plotted stories to make up for lesser performances or overly flashy direction. (Rare exceptions include the cheesy Eight Legged Freaks, and the visceral Rogue.)

Those latter qualities matter, and they can carry a movie if there clearly was not enough money for elaborate effects montages or longer money shots. That’s the case with Jack Perez’ ridiculously titled Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (Asylum Home Entertainment), which actually has a classique B-movie story as well as some hysterical sea creature attacks that defy gravity and natural instinct.

Lorenzo Lamas. Debbie- whoops, Deborah Gibson. Big shark. Giant octopus.

And it works. Read why.



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