By Maria Judnick
There are three levels of mainstream Hollywood films. First are the serious films: the ones in limited release, in which that incredibly important story gets told, that famous actor says or does something really brave, and everybody earns an Oscar. Next, there’s the popular movie category: the summer blockbusters people line up to see with the big explosions and scruffy guys who save the planet, while getting the girl.
And then there are the best kinds of movies…the best of the worst, at least. B movies: the low budget, anything goes, guilty pleasure science fiction or western films from Hollywood’s Golden Era (or the exploitation films of the 1970s) that now often only get made for television. Sharknado and the rubber-suit-monster films like it are the ones that make us laugh for the wrong reasons, get played at independent theaters at midnight to a packed house or one loyal viewer, and can be recited line by line by fans who’ve seen it too many times.
Let’s take a look at some B movies that are so awful that they can’t be anything but a classic.
The Famous Names
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler Jr, 1957)
Attack Of The Crab Monsters (Roger Corman, 1957)
Before Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin or MTV’s Teen Wolf, half-man, half-wolf Michael Landon (yes, that guy from reruns of Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven) was frightening — and thrilling — teen audiences. Half the fun of B movies is recognizing now-famous names as they got their start (people like Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Sylvester Stallone, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert De Niro, and James Cameron, to name a few). Many of them owe their nascent careers to director Roger Corman. While “King of the Bs” Corman is recognized for his adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe short stories (most of which starred B movie favorite Vincent Price), he also created such classics as 1978’s Piranha (his own Jaws-like film) and Attack of the Crab Monsters that featured — you guessed it — giant crab monsters.
The Aliens Among Us
Plan 9 From Outer Space (Edward D. Wood, 1959)
If the director’s name sounds familiar, you probably remember Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic Ed Wood. When most people think of B movies, they think of Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was once considered “the worst movie ever made” thanks to continuity errors, actors still reading their scripts, and a flying saucer obviously made out of either a paper plate or a hubcap. A simple plot summary is enough to get some excitement going: “Aliens resurrect dead humans as zombies and vampires to stop humanity from creating the Solaranite (a sort of sun-driven bomb).” Add in the fact that Vampira (Maila Nurmi) makes an appearance alongside the final footage of America’s favorite vampire, Bela Lugosi, and you’ve got a classic on your hands.
The Monster Movies
Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954)
Move over, Godzilla; there’s another monster in town. What happens when a slimy half-human, half-amphibian creature from deep in the Amazon falls in love with a beautiful girl? Most original viewers don’t know (they were probably too busy necking at the drive-in to pay attention), but, if you did actually watch the film, you’d enjoy many of the typical speeches from “scientists” about how there’s a world out there that we don’t even know about. The film also features some of the first really technical “3-D” underwater shots that predated Jaws. In the monster movie category, there’s a ton of competition, but this rubber-suited swimmer will always be a personal favorite.
The Modern International Contributions
Samurai Cop (Amir Shervan, 1989)
Troll 2 (Drake Floyd, 1990)
It’s not just Americans that make great B movies; clueless directors from around the world have created films that have made fans giggle for decades. Samurai Cop, directed by an Iranian filmmaker, features a plot that would make Lethal Weapon seem like Shakespearean high drama. Plus, it stars an actual hair model (Matt Hannon)! Troll 2 (which is not actually a sequel to anything), directed by Italian Claudio Fragrasso, features amateur actors (including a dentist) from Utah being attacked by vegetarian cannibal goblins. This film was so bad it spawned a 2010 documentary called Best Worst Movie.
The New Classics
The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003)
Snakes on a Plane (David R. Ellis, 2006)
Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013)
It’s hard to say much about these incredible films that hasn’t been said before. While Wiseau’s cult-favorite love triangle inspires fans to throw plastic spoons at the screen and everyone can quote Samuel L. Jackson’s epic frustration with those snakes on that plane, the legacy of Sharknado continues to grow. Sharknado 2 was released this summer and Sharknado 3 looms on the horizon. Will Sharknado 3 exceed all expectations and take the B movie genre to all new levels of bad/good? Here’s hoping.