Article by Ray Schillaci
As one up and coming filmmaker had recently commented to me, there are so many choices when it comes to doing anything – movies, music, clubs, restaurants, Netflix – it’s hard to keep up with it all. With the availability of so much blockbuster entertainment (that may not be all that entertaining), hard hitting dramas, comedies, and independent films vying for our attention, there is one genre that can easily be missed… B-movies.
B-movies can be as easily entertaining as many blockbusters while giving one a good laugh inadvertently. Some even have stars and tawdry drama. Then, there is always the chance of finding a cult gem amongst all the fun and weirdness of struggling indie “Bs”.
At one time, Roger Corman was known as “King of the Bs”. He developed two film companies, Filmgroup and New World Pictures, and launched the careers of several major filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese to name a few. Corman had many future stars in his movies as well that included Sylvester Stallone (Death Race 2000), David Carradine (Wild Angels), Pam Grier (The Big Doll House), Jack Nicholson (The Cry Baby Killer), Charles Bronson (Machine-Gun Kelly) and Robert DeNiro (Bloody Mama).
Corman gave talented writers a fighting chance – Robert Towne, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and John Sayles. He introduced a string of Edgar Allan Poe classics to the big screen and his company, New World, introduced several famed foreign films to the U.S. including Fellini’s Amarcord, Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, Francois Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. and Small Change, and Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate People. He was also a prolific producer and director.
Corman’s legend lives on with every struggling indie filmmaker that has a vision, no matter how demented it may be. Whether it be visiting old B-movies (as Tarantino does quite frequently) or new ones that are out to grab your attention, they are definitely worth watching and perhaps marveling at their audacity. Below, I’ve compiled a small list of suggestions for a B-movie night for friends and family. But beware, most are NSFW, so that means they may not be appropriate for younger audiences.
Bloody Mama – Directed by none other than Roger Corman, the film stars Shelly Winters (Lolita, Night of the Hunter), Don Stroud (Django Unchained, The Amityville Horror), Robert DeNiro (Goodfellas, Raging Bull) and a host of other great character actors, Bloody Mama chronicles the story of the notorious Ma Barker and her “family” gang that carried on a crime spree during the Depression era. Nearly every form of perversion has made its way into this film, and it still came out with an R rating. Sadism, incest, drug addiction and a violent bloody ending is actually compiled into a psychological gangster film. Shelly Winters’ performance is classic.
DOA: Dead or Alive – You can forget the outrageous set-up, exotic locales, manic martial arts, this movie has one of the sexiest actresses to grace the B-movie screen, the stunning Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl, I Love You Man). Downright gorgeous eyes and a damn near perfect body, Pressly has proven she can do comedy as well as drama, and yet she is probably one of the most underrated and underused talents of our time. I say that because she appears to be delegated to TV, when her talents and looks should have been put to good use on the big screen more often.
DOA was made in 2006, but even to this day Pressly is every bit as good looking, talented and continuously working. In DOA, she totally embodies the role of Tina Armstrong, popular character from the video game on which this film is based. She also practically steals the movie from not only the bevy of beauties, but also Eric Roberts.
Like Mortal Kombat (’95), a group of expert martial artists are invited to a contest where men and women will compete with one another. Aah, but there is a secret mission behind it all, and instead of three angels (like Charlie’s Angels) we get four, including Pressly and Devon Aoki (Sin City, 2Fast 2Furious). As mentioned before, the always dependable Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables) is on hand ready and willing to chew up any scene. This one you watch with your brain turned off for maximum laughs.
Dementia 13 – I’ll never forget watching this partially on “Chiller Theater” as a little kid. I say “partially” because I rarely got past the credits, and if I did, I didn’t get much further because the damn thing was so eerie thanks to Francis Ford Coppola. Yes, aside from a couple of tawdry nudie flicks, this was Coppola’s first “stab” at a real feature film. So, this has some real cool history behind it.
Aided by a fabulous score by Ronald Stein, Coppola manages to bring this creepfest to life with murder and mayhem in a gothic setting. There’s an ax-wielding murderer, a creepy doll, and a family fortune being squabbled over. Also professional camera work and editing rarely seen in a “B” picture of this kind, to Coppola’s credit.
Frankenhooker – Recommended by Bill Murray?! That’s right! (and they did not hesitate to use it in their advertising). Frank Henenlotter is a cult god-king in my book. The creator of Basket Case (a twin brother who keeps his murderous twin in a basket) and Brain Damage (a walking, talking, singing brain tumor) delivers his piéce de résistance, Frankenhooker. One of the funniest and most outrageous indie “Bs” ever made.
This is near bargain-basement filmmaking with an unusual charm (the acting looks like local talent from a little theater). But James Lorinz as Jeffrey and Patty Mullen as Elizabeth more than rise above their counterparts and are sensationally funny. Jeffrey is a medical student dropout, and is ready to propose to his sweet, yet frumpy, girlfriend, Elizabeth when she is killed in a lawnmower accident. Yes, you read that right. After absconding with her head, Jefferey decides to put her back together with the body parts of Manhattan hookers. Wait, that’s not all! How does he get the body parts? With exploding “crack”.
Blind Fury – Rutger Hauer. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to fall in love with a B-movie, a real cool star. Like Charles Bronson in any number of his B-action films, and Scott Glenn in 1982’s The Challenge, Hauer comes through with humor and grace. It also helps that action director Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Bone Collector) is at the helm of this tale of a blind Vietnam vet, who is also a sword fighter, and is out to help the son of a fellow soldier.
While helping the boy, Hauer’s character relates lessons of life while kicking ass now and then. It’s typical ’80s action fare, made all the better with Hauer and Noyce, who deliver in spades. Another interesting note, the film is a modern retelling of a famous Japanese film, Zatoichi Challenged.
The Deadly Spawn – The ingenuity of low budget filmmaking rises to new heights and gory depths with Douglas McKeown’s horror/sci-fi film. What McKeown lacked with practically every facet of film, he more than made up for with his outrageous puppet monsters and lots of gory effects. It’s like watching a kid with a camera go to town making his first Super 8 monster movie with all the effects he could muster. He delivers a clunky tale of an alien invasion (weird slug-like creatures with tons of teeth) that happen to find their way into somebody’s basement.
Once again, there is a goofy charm to this schlockfest. The acting is so bad that it’s a joy to watch, specially when the senior citizens get involved, fighting off the spawns with multitudes of razor sharp teeth. This was McKeown’s first and only film, but it maintains a classic appealing ’80s fun feel and a gore quotient that is so outrageous, you can’t help but feel it was inspired by Raimi’s original The Evil Dead. Like The Dead Next Door and Darkness: The Vampire Version, the creative make-up and gore effects are the stars of the show, and actually provide big laughs in a very dark way. I would not be surprised to hear this ended up being an inspiration to James Gunn’s 2006 gut-muncher, Slither.
The Groove Tube – Before SNL, The Kentucky Fried Movie, and Tunnel Vision, there was the sketch comedy sensation, The Groove Tube. Silly by todays standards, it still can elicit a chuckle now and then with stars Chevy Chase (SNL fame, Nat’l Lampoon’s Vacation movies) and Richard Belzer (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit). The ribald antics are pretty screwy with a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody and a TV clown that encourages his young viewers to ask their parents to leave the room as he reads the inappropriate, “Fanny Hill” to them, and has a smoke.
A bizarre cooking show out of control, a news show that goes awry, and some commercials, including one from the Uranus Corporation appear to have inspired several Saturday Night Live skits. On an interesting note, the opening scene contains a song by Curtis Mayfield, who was from the ’70s hit film Superfly. Some of the skits are hit and miss, and an extended drug skit goes on a bit too long, but then there is the PSA for venereal disease that is the real pisser!
The Dead Next Door – Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series) is the executive producer of this splatterfest under the name “The Master Cylinder”. J.R. Bookwalter, Akron, Ohio filmmaker, took his favorite subjects – zombies, soldiers, mad scientists, and religious cult leaders – and let his imagination go, all on Super 8! And believe it or not, it’s been a cult hit not only here in the States, but internationally as well with Japan, Spain, and Germany (until it was banned there).
Bookwalter conjures many insane garish shots that stick to your brain like gum to your shoe: A rotting zombie on a deserted road, an undead spasming out and head exploding against the backdrop of very grandmother-like wallpaper, a soldier staring on at his severed fingers. This film was so outrageous for its time that Japan had it titled, Another Evil Dead!
Flesh Gordon – Sure, there’s been plenty of softcore porn parodies including Whore of the Rings, Hairy Twatter: A DreamZone Parody, and Twin Cheeks, but none can live up to the ridiculous reputation of the almighty Flesh Gordon. This ’70s parody rocks with it’s unabashed raunchy humor that pays tribute to the old Buster Crabbe series.
From a spaceship resembling a partially erect penis to the monster penisaurus (that’s right), the whole movie is made for the little kid in us men to snicker to. Even the names of the characters are laughable with Dale Ardor, Dr. Flexi Jerkoff, and Emperor Wang. They’re actually the names you may hear in a prank phone call. Even though the effects are cheesy with one monster right out of a bargain basement Ray Harryhausen movie, the film is filled with tongue firmly in cheek if not in many other places as well. If you have not seen this one, make sure the kids are asleep, and enjoy a good laugh!
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry – Here’s another B-movie with a very interesting history. Originally, a book, The Chase, that the famed director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, El Dorado) purchased for Steve McQueen (Bullitt, The Great Escape), he ended up commissioning three scripts for it. But the deal was killed when he was offered a great deal of money (for those days) for the rights by a couple of wealthy Englishmen who had the notion for it to be their ticket into the movie business. It never worked out for them.
Eventually, a race enthusiast and friend of the wealthy Englishmen guaranteed their investment back and was given the book to turn into a screenplay. Their more realistic concept peppered with humor and an intense chase was eventually scraped when James H. Nicholson (Roger Corman’s producing partner) became involved. He got the writers to settle and let go of the project so he could take over the helm bringing name stars and a marketable title. So goes the Hollywood machine.
Still, with a couple other B-movie writers, a competent director, John Hough (The Legend of Hell House, The Watcher in the Woods), and stars Peter Fonda (still riding off on his Easy Rider fame), Adam Roarke from a litany of motorcycle movies, and the gorgeous Susan George (Sam Peckinpaw’s controversial Straw Dogs) it posed a strong combination for a great B-movie car chase. The structure remained similar to the book with two race car drivers down on their luck who hope to further their career by building the best car possible. They nearly pull off an extortion scheme to pay for their ultimate auto, but things go terribly wrong at the last minute. They end up in a high speed chase and inadvertently involve a one-night stand. This just creates more tension as they trade their Chevy Impala for a Dodge Charger and continue with their race against the law.
Yes, there is still humor. But, there is also drama, and a very unexpected ending for this type of film. It’s edgy fun with some twists and turns that are well worth taking.
The Kentucky Fried Movie – Written by The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams, the team that brought you Airplane! and The Naked Gun, and directed by John Landis (Nat’l Lampoon’s Animal House, An American Werewolf in London), KFM is probably the funniest sketch comedy movie ever. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of bumps in the road, but there are some classic skits here along with the greatest parody of the martial arts classic, Enter the Dragon.
It also contains one of the most diverse and blatant exploitive casts including Bill Bixby (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father), Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 & 2, Mash), George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – James Bond), Henry Gibson (Wedding Crashers, The Blues Brothers), famed make-up artist Rick Baker, Tony Dow (Leave It To Beaver), and softcore porn actress Uschi Digard (Russ Meyers’ Supervixens), along with too many others to mention Some, just playing themselves! All are utilized to maximum effect for mostly low-brow humor, but that’s half the fun of it.
The other half is the parodies of popular film genres of the time. A disaster flick – That’s Armageddon, a hilarious blaxploitation – Cleopatra Schwartz, woman-in-prison/softcore porn – Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, and the best of the best (and longest running skit) – A Fistful of Yen. Evan C. Kim is hysterical as the Bruce Lee look-alike with the Elmer Fudd voice. His comic timing is impeccable.
Along with the parodies come some very funny faux commercials, an off-beat courtroom drama, a few spoofs on TV shows, and a couple of sketches that were thrown in just for laughs. This B-movie comedy exceeds expectations. It also has a lot of history behind it which makes it even more fun to watch.
Kung Fury – I have saved the very best for last, for Kung Fury is not only a homage to the very spirit of B-movies, it is the most outrageous parody that has to be seen to be believed. The acting is purposely over-the-top and watching it with the right group of people will elicit loads of laughs and applause.
At thirty-one minutes, Kung Fury packs more action and laughs than most full blown features. It is a total spoof of ’80s martial arts, cop action films, and everything else that was big in the ’80s – big hair, video games, and even David Hasselhoff! It’s a Swedish film with a budget of just over $600K, but uses every penny of it.
There are characters that you will not believe you’re seeing, and when you do, you can only hope for a sequel to see them all over again. With Triceracop, an actual cop with a Triceratops head, Thor – that’s right, the actual God of Thunder, “the Viking Babes”, Adolf Hitler, and Officer Kung Fury, this is B-movie heaven! There are loads of ridiculous martial arts fights that are more CGI’d than staged, looking like the original Sega Mortal Kombat game. There is also a stand-off between Kung Fury and an out-of-control arcade machine. But the one event that we end up looking forward to, and are not disappointed in, is Hitler vs Fury. Here is a rumble that goes down in B-movie history. Forget DC, set aside Marvel, there’s a new hero in town that’s been struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra, with an Eastwood snarl and crazy mixed martial arts skills, the title character rips through the screen and dazzles our mind, never letting us forget the legend of Kung Fury. Available now on Netflix!