Q: What about B Movies from other countries?
A: Yes, they exist. What's your point? Well, if your question is really, "Why are you ignoring them?", I'll add that for the purposes of clarity and to focus on the country that originated the term - and not for any xenophobic biases - in this primer, we're sticking to the US, the land of the cheese and the home of the schlock. (But if you want another country that's made its share of B's, try Japan. Ever see Destroy All Monsters? A classic B.) Okay, okay, there are a few British B's thrown in here, too, but those usually feature an American in the cast and were pretty widely seen in the States the first go 'round.
Q: When did B-movies become something different?
A: In postwar America, as our demographics were shifting to the younger end of the scale and people started moving from the 'urbs to the 'burbs and cars became the center of our worlds, the way we saw movies began to change, too. Indoor movie theaters, with their "A" and "B" double-features, newsreels, and cartoons, declined, while drive-ins began to take off. Teenagers were suddenly a target demographic, and teenagers needed a place to neck while their parents were home on the couch watching that new-fangled tele-vision. Cars were a perfect place for that, and drive-ins were a perfect place to park one's car and then watch a bit of the flick between make-out sessions. Horror movies were the perfect drive-in fare because guys wanted their girlfriends to get scared and then cuddle while hiding their eyes. Wait, what was your question again?
Oh yeah, so in the 1950s B's were no longer just a staple of the major studios; the decade saw the rise of both independent, cheapie studios and of B-movie genres targeted specifically at teens: low-budget, science-fiction, I Was a Teenage [insert creature here] horror movies; Hot Rod flicks; Rock n' Roll (even teen movies that weren't directly about music often featured a Rock n' Roll character; whether the actor playing them was talented or not was usually beside the point - see Arch Hall Jr. in the aforementioned Eegah! for a particularly painful example of this); and the gimmicky (3-D movies being the prime example).
This drive-in B-movie trend was at its peak in the 50s but carried all the way through the 1960s and 70s, too. As the drive-in trend died out like dinosaurs, and so, too, did many of the single screen movie houses, the official concept of B-movie faded away. But with the proliferation of home video players, the production of B (and Z) movies made directly for video has kept the genre alive, as have the DVD releases of many of the fine B-movie originals.
Q: Who are some of the best B-movie directors?
A: A few instantly come to mind: Roger Corman was certainly prolific, so much so that the quality of his films were sometimes diluted. Still, no discussion of B-movie directors can be complete without first mentioning his name; John Carpenter has exclusively worked within a genre and usually with a low budget, and his track record's also erratic - but includes a host of great B-movies (see below); Larry Cohen is another King B, who has worked in the biz for over thirty years (his more mainstream script Phone Booth was a 2003 release), mostly in the horror and action genres.
Others of note include: Ray Dennis Steckler, Edgar Ulmer (born in Hungary but worked in America), Ed Wood, Jack Arnold, Fred Olen Ray, Gary Graver, Jacques Tourneur (born in France but worked in America), Paul Bartel, Jim Wynorski, Russ Meyer (whose boob fixation still fascinates many today), Ted V. Mikels.
And then there are some studios that have specialized in this genre, the best of which is arguably Britain's Hammer Studios, which specialized in Technicolor horror films in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, from The Curse of Frankenstein to Fear in the Night. One could also argue that some of these were actually "A" films.
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