Have you recently went to the movies and experienced the endless commercials before the actual movie started? Well, in the past, when movies were beginning to be shown in theaters or cinemas in the late 1890’s, that didn’t exist as a form of advertising. The very first modern or storefront type theater in the United States opened on June 26, 1896 at the Vitascope Hall on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.
At the time, more and more theaters popped up throughout the United States and it became a popular form of entertainment. These theaters would show the popular movies of the time. Almost like the establishments were grooming the theaters to become a classy form of entertainment.
The 1930’s and 1940’s would show the fans of movie theaters that they had a degenerative side to them as well, well in the eyes of those who didn’t appreciate things like humor and the like.
To give the customer more bang for their buck, movie houses would present a double feature and start the show with a cartoon and a newsreel. The first film was usually shorter than the main film. The main, feature length film was called the “A” movie by the theater owner and the first movie shown was called the “B” movie. The “B” movie was usually low budget and starred most unknown or little known actors. The “B” movie was said to be, by the patrons, entertaining in a non-flattering way.
The “B” movies were shown in theaters until the 1950’s, when the Drive-Ins began showing these movies every weekend. These Drive-Ins shown the “B”movies because the teenagers were rarely paying attention to the flick, they were too busy making out in their cars. By the end of the 1970’s, Drive-Ins started showing mainstream movies such as “The Omen” and exploitation and pornographic films.
For a while, “B” movies were hard to find until customers began to purchase the big technological advancement called the “VCR”, or video cassette recorder. The cassettes were called “VHS” tapes and that is when the “B” movies were accessible within the comfort, and privacy, of the customers home. The “VHS” tape cover art was as good, or bad, as the movies themselves. Some people even rented these tapes based on the cover art from the video store, all the while, getting a raised eyebrow from the store clerk.
Characteristics of B Movies
Some ways to detect a “B” movie from a mainstream movie include:
- Unknown actors or little known actors such as Shannon Tweed and Fred Ward.
- Low budget. Usually five hundred thousand dollars or less.
- Innovative design or shooting. Think “The Blair Witch Project” shaky camera.
- Odd or out of the box subject matter
- Genre specific – Action, Horror, etc.
Notable Directors, Actors, and Movies
The most famous “B” Movie director of all time is arguably Roger Corman. Corman directed over four hundred movies including “Sharktopus”, “Death Race 2000″, Swamp Women” and “Caged Heat”.
Johnathan Demme directed “Crazy Mama” and co-directed “Caged Heat” with Roger Corman before directing bigger movies such as “Silence of the Lambs”.
Lloyd Kaufman is the “Troma Film” king! Kaufman is the creator and director of the “Toxic Avenger” movies and such classic “B” movies as “Bloodsucking Freaks” and “Class of Nuke ‘Em High”. Kaufman has directed over one thousand movies, most of them “B” movies.
Have you ever heard of Bela Legosi or Pam Grier? What about Vincent Price? They all got their start in “B” movies.
Bruce Campbell of “Evil Dead” fame has starred in many “B” movies such as, well, “Evil Dead”.
Sid Haig from Rob Zombie movies “House of 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” has starred in many “B” movies since the 1970’s.
With choices such as “Killer Klowns from Outer Space”, “Basket Case”, Two Thousand Maniacs” or “Alligator”, you can make up an idea and it’s probably a “B” film. Want to watch a movie about a mama’s boy that runs over people with a lawnmower? Fine, it’s called “Dead Alive”. How about a movie where a father flushed his kids small pet alligator down the toilet and it grows in the New York City sewer system and returns as a giant killer? That exists too as “Alligator”.
“B” movies are horrible, great, exciting, crazy, awful, fun, bloody, bad, and humorous all in one great package. When searching for a movie to watch, don’t underestimate a great ” B” movie. You may not be disappointed.