B-Movies and Childhood: Why we Love the Best Worst Movies

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B movies title

 

According to “Wikipedia,” a B-Movie is “a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not an Art House film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood” (roughly 1929 to 1948), “the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as a less-publicized, bottom half of a double feature.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_movie

Of course, this definition has had numerous face-lifts through the years, however the B-Movie is normally a genre picture. In the 1930’s, they were mostly Westerns. The 1940’s there was a transition from the Western to Film Noir, until the end of the decade and into the 1950’s, when Horror and Science Fiction would take over. These types of films would carry into the 1960’s and the 1970’s, adding varied Exploitation films, which would be of a racial, a criminal or a sexual nature. Today, the definition hinges upon silly plots and bad acting. Money and double features are out of the equation, as most films are expensive to make and no one does double features any more. (Except for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse”, but that’s a special case.)

Most of us missed the days of the second feature at the movie theater. For many, the B-Movie found its way into our childhood in the form of Saturday afternoon “Chiller Theater” type shows that often featured these films. I spent many a Saturday watching Dr. Shock for the better part of three hours, watching films like “Tarantula”, “The Monolith Monsters” and “Kronos”, not to mention the occasional, and always welcome, Godzilla movie.

Dr. Shock’s interjections that this is the “390th showing of ‘The Lost Missile'”, or the concept of a Richard Egan film festival, or his magic tricks between scenes, made the time all the more memorable. (Yes, he looks like John Zacherle. They all did in those days.)

 

dr shock

Dr. Shock and his daughter, Bubbles. Ain’t she a cutie?

 

And that, as Frank Zappa would say, is “the crux of the biscuit.” Horror movie fans love B-Movies because it is all about their childhood. The hosts of the “Chiller Theater” type shows made watching those films enjoyable, and something to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon. I can think of no one better to spend time with than the cheesy, over-the-top, albeit friendly, spooky themed B-movie hosts and most fans of the genre feel the same way about them.

I find myself becoming saddened by the passing of little bits of my childhood. For example, when Vincent Price passed on, it took away a piece of my childhood. Vincent was one of my favorites. I and my friends found few things better than a movie with Vincent Price in it. Sadly, he was mortal. But films like “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” are immortal. Sure, they may not be “Gone with the Wind,” but when they are shown, Vincent Price is alive again, and so is my childhood. I am transported back to a time when my greatest worry was homework.

Approached differently, one could say that B-Movies are the “comfort food” of horror movie fans. Some films are like meatloaf, some like tomato soup, while others are like macaroni and cheese. Of course, some films are like bad stuffed cabbage, but that’s for another time. Fans devour every morsel and feel better for the meal. They have the ability to make us feel at home.

 

meatloaf and mashed potatoes

Eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a combo akin to watching Godzilla vs. The Thing

 

 

And no matter how cheesy, how lame or how many better films are out there, we smile, we rejoice, we laugh and we find solace in these films. We see every flaw, every misstep and every hole in the plot. Yes, that is a zipper on the back of the creature. Yes, that is fishing line holding up a hubcap that is supposed to be a flying saucer. Yes, one of the actors just called another actor something other than their character’s name. But rather than anger, they bring peace and, often, laughter. They are the return of an old friend, who has come for a brief but joyous visit.

Don’t get me wrong. Not every B-Movie has this effect. I can name a few that causes fits, “They Saved Hitler’s Brain” and “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” spring to mind. These I find annoyingly bad. But these films become personal. Somewhere, there is someone who loves the film that I find annoyingly bad. For someone, that film means their childhood.

For that reason, there needs to be a respect for all these films. No one should step on someone else’s childhood memories, as they would not like theirs tread upon.

 

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About Ernie Fink

Ernie Fink has been a fan of film, mainly in the genres of horror and mystery, in equal parts, for over fifty years. His love of horror in the cinema begins with “King Kong” and in literature with Edgar Allan Poe and Bernhardt J. Hurwood.  With mysteries, he skipped from the Hardy Boys right to Hercules Poirot, only to find John Rebus and Harry Hole waiting in the wings. He has been known to read subtitles extensively, and rarely leaves a theater until the lights come up.

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