A History of American B Movies – Part 1

While numerous opinions exist as to how a b-movie should be defined, there is all but one technical definition. That definition is that a b-movie was the second movie in a double feature. Typically, it was low budget and usually in one of either the gangster, exploitation, western, sci-fi, horror, or suspense genres.

That definition, however, later made way for a broader explanation, which basically included any low-budget film. But that’s lazy and not entirely accurate. If you’ve seen a cheesy 50’s sci-fi movie or a goofy old monster movie, then you’ve seen a b-movie. They have a unique style and feeling. They’re formulaic, low-budget, and often demonstrate some extremely poor dialogue and acting.

Striking a chord

Despite the approach of many in Hollywood who believe that there is only one way to make a quality movie, and that is to invest vast amounts of money into it, b-movies have dispelled that myth by making enjoyable and fun films without much money and without CGI. It was this way of thinking that made b-movies the way they are. Directors used their micro-budgets and made some of history’s greatest films.

But what was it about them that made them so great? Was it engaging storylines, impressive special effects, or convincing performances? No.

It was simply that they tapped into the child of us and struck a chord throughout the years. We don’t always remember the name of the film and we don’t always remember the story, but the images have lasted.

Thankfully, due to DVDs and the Internet, we can track down many of these films, to not only enjoy watching them again ourselves but to share with future generations that are becoming more and more exposed to adult themes and may just appreciate an escape into more innocent worlds. By doing this, we can ensure not only that these films won’t be forgotten but that this classic part of American culture will remain with us.

A man condemned

So what ranks among some of the greatest b-movies of all time. Many people have heard of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. Wood has been referred to as history’s most inept director, which is undeserving. The fact is that many people are aware of, and have seen, his work, which means that he’s now a lasting part of American film. How could a man be so condemned when he’s achieved such notoriety and greatness, even though it was achieved only posthumously?

Many people are only aware of Plan 9, but Wood created close to 500 TV commercials in the early part of his career before going on to make horror, sci-fi, and gangster flicks. He even made a documentary-style film called Glen or Glenda in which he himself played the lead. There are some fantastic Ed Wood films available on DVD and many are more fun and better quality than Plan 9. Bride of the Monster, Glen or Glenda, and Night of the Ghouls are all creative films and great fun that are compulsory viewing for anyone who enjoys b-movies and who wants to gain a better understanding of the genre.