A History of American B Movies – Part 2
Unfortunately, not all b-movies turn out to be great movies. It’s also a fact that not every director is as talented as Ed Wood. Larry Buchanan, for example, who made such movies as Mars Needs Women and It’s Alive! All those movies did was prove that Buchanan was one of history’s worst filmmakers who made dull films with wooden performances. They’re simply anything but entertaining, although a half-decent director may have been able to salvage them. The reality is, however, that these awful directors are necessary. When they’re that bad, it gives you an idea of how to know when something is good.
Italians getting in on the act
The Italians weren’t without their share of b-movies, either. They actually developed a b-movie genre all of their own, called peplum (or sword and sandal films). These movies typically revolved around a Roman or Greek hero. Hercules and Hercules Unchained rank among the genre’s finest. Both featured bodybuilding legend Steve Reeves. While the character has been played by numerous actors, including Lou Ferrigno, many regard Reeves as the best.
Italians specialised in other kinds of b-movies, also. They produced numerous science-fiction films likes War on The Robots and westerns such as My Name Is Trinity. Not everyone enjoys Italian horror movies but there’s no denying they made a significant contribution to b-movies through such directors as Lucio Fulci with his zombie films like Zombi 2.
The Italians also made a number of cannibal b-movie films. They’re not even legal now as they featured animals being slaughtered and eaten, simply for shock value. Thankfully, any cannibalism was just special effects.
While the Italians left a significant mark upon the genre, their influence wasn’t as great as that of the Americans. It was in the U.S. that every genre imaginable was given the b-movie treatment. They also developed their own when viewers let it be known that they wanted to see something new. A need for something fresh and controversial resulted in a number of exploitation movies.
Exploitation movies can be subcategorised into various smaller genres. A typical exploitation film is typically about a girl abused by either a lone man or a group of men. Many such films often focus on physical abuse and/or drugs, as opposed to abuse of the emotional variety. There wasn’t an over-indulgence of sexual scenarios, however.
These films reached the height of their popularity in the 1960’s and 70’s. While they were of an adult nature, audiences didn’t really see more than nudist camps and topless women. There was little by way of substance and sometimes viewers could consider themselves lucky if they were treated to anything at all resembling a story.
The 70s saw blaxploitation really find its feet. Movies starring Ted Lange, Isaac Hayes, and Rudy Moore frequently cast black actors as militants, druggies, thugs, prostitutes, and pimps. Shaft is one of the very few exceptions. In the 1971 classic, John Shaft comes face to face with both the black and white mob, as well as black nationals.