As far back as the 1930’s, B-Movies have existed in contemporary American culture. These movies came about with the idea of a double feature, the way for those suffering from the Great Depression to still attend their favorite blockbusters.
The second feature was often something that was low budget, otherwise known as the B-Movie. This second feature on a double bill was a cheap, independently made flick to hold people’s attention. Perhaps the most popular sub-genre of these B-Movies is the B-Horror movie. Even today, this sub-genre holds its reign as the king of the B-movies.
A B-Horror Movie is defined as a type of B-Movie that consists of poor acting or script, a lot of gore, little to no special effects, an independent production team, and lesser known actors. These components, combined with a small budget and its release in grindhouses, run-down theaters, and drive-ins, made them a staple from its most popular time from 1930-1975. Check out all the parts of the genre and how they have made B-Horror movies transform into exactly how they are today.
Low Budget and Independently Made
B-Horror movies, especially when they first came into American culture, were rejected by mainstream media. Directors often had to take it upon themselves to create and create and produce it with little to no help from the outside. They did not have a lot of money like the big budget blockbuster producers did. Therefore, they were limited in what they could do.
Movies like B-horror flicks proved that it wasn’t costly to produce a film that audiences loved. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho proved this – it made $9 million by the end of that year, with its limited release happening in June. The film’s controversial subject matter and shocking ending showed that the Production Code of 1930 didn’t always have the upper hand and thus paved the way for lack of censorship in B-horror movies.
Due to their financial setbacks, their limitations included special effects. Some of the original monster films from B-horror movies such as Halloween favorite Frankenstein, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, or The Thing don’t use CGI or any expensive technique. Instead, the production team must find innovative way to make their monster what they envision. It’s not always as believable as they would have hoped, but it is what has made these characters so unforgettable in these independent horror films.
Blood and Gore
B-Horror movies pushed the envelope when it came to content. After 1968 especially, people began using the blood and gore component in their films more and more. The abolishment of the Production Code of 1930 paved the way for directors to make their art more graphic. Most b-horror movies are also considered exploitation films, which allow the art to take a niche or a trend and feed on it. The fact that producers could now show more was taken advantage of immediately when the code was replaced with the X and NC-17 ratings.
In the Production Code, violence, sexuality, creatures, and crime were considered immoral. The 1970’s set the stage for movies that shocked and appalled audiences. Some B-horror movies were too controversial to even show in some theaters. B-Horror movies such as Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre began to appall its audiences. With the use of spatter, gore, and its fair share of homicidal maniacs, audiences came for the thrill and left with nightmares.
Campy Performances by Little Known Actors
It’s no secret that B-Horror movies aren’t very good when it comes to Oscar standards. There is a reason why Psycho didn’t feature Elizabeth Taylor as Marion Crane. These highly paid actors wanted nothing to do with the horror genre, not to mention the B-horror movie genre. Acting in this type of a film was almost a slight to their talent in their eyes. B-movies featured little to no character production, as the leads were usually tortured, killed, or both. Female leads were often used for their looks, not their acting skills. A leading example of a casting choice such as this would include Chesty Morgan, who was better known for her physical assets than her acting chops.
The same remains true today. Higher paid, A-List actors are not often seen in b-horror films. While actresses such a Susan Sarandon and Jamie Lee Curtis have jumpstarted their careers by starring in b-horror films (The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Halloween, respectively,) they were not well known upon being in these movies. Lesser known actors are easier to hire and pay, but the quality may suffer at this discretion.
While the script or concept of the movie may be intentionally campy, it is the execution of the plot by the actors that carries a b-horror film. Take for instance the body language of Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which added to the depth of this albeit mute character. Combined with Marilyn’s Burns chilling cries of hysteria this movie remains memorable and is considered one of the most influential horror movie of all time. It is the expressions of the victims and the body language of its slashers that create it’s campy-ness that entails the epitome of an independent B-horror film.
However, the success of a b-movie has also been dependent on the bad acting of its performers. While unintentional, some of these movies are so unbelievable even the actors themselves find it ridiculous. For example, in the Gingerdead Man, a b-movie that developed a cult following, the plot and the actors work harmoniously to really drive this flick six feet underground. It includes everything a b-horror movie should have: blood and core, a low budget, a cheap monster, and scantily clad women yet continues to only woo audiences that find humor in an ugly looking pastry inhabited by an evil spirit. While it is one of Gary Busey’s most notable role, none of the victims are remembered when this movie’s long-awaited credits roll.
Creatures of the Night
No b-horror movie is complete without a fictional, mythological, spiritual, or realistic creature to wreak havoc on its victims. Often, an independent horror film in a b-movie consists of a poorly made alien, ambiguous monster, lizard, dinosaur, shark, and the like. Science fiction will usually take it’s form in one of these terrifying creatures.
B-horror movies use their creature to get some laughs from its viewers. Usually, these monsters are based on the time. In the 50’s and 60’s, aliens and the unknown were a large fear of many. We had yet to explore space and shows such as the popular “Twilight Zone” often explored visitors from the beyond. This terror gave rise to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Plan 9 from Outer Space. In the 1970’s uncovering of the treatment of patients in mental asylums as well as the use of more blood and gore gave way to psycho killers of all shapes and sizes who hunted down (mainly) women for various psychological reasons. This was also partially due to the Manson family and Charles Manson’s sentencing after enlisting his cult to perform “satanic” rituals. Slasher flicks boomed during this time, such as the shocking killers in The Hills Have Eyes and the ever-popular Halloween. This continued into the 1980’s as well as the introduction and popularity boom of zombies with the Evil Dead franchise. Directors have taken note of what people are afraid of and take no prisoners upon providing these viewers with thrills.