Making A (Midnight Movie) Monster: A Bloody Valentine To B Movies
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. Never have. Life is far too short to limit one’s self to a staunch and steadfast diet of whatever cultural touchstones have been deemed to be suitably nutritious. In fact, the fastest way to suck the joy out of anything (be it vegetarian food, opera or the slower sorts of arthouse film) is to consign it to the rarified cultural dustbin of being “good for you” without any real context of why that ever became a widespread opinion.
Where this otherwise perfectly sound stance gets tricky is when I’m trying to explain why exactly I have spent a rather large portion of my free time and editor-approved word counts deep-diving into the bottom of the cinematic barrel. Most people (even a lot of horror/genre fans) don’t really engage with exploitation/cult/B-movies outside of the context of “so bad it’s good”, with a beer, some friends, and a laugh.
While the brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed us all that that is certainly a valid take, it’s not the only one. Both fans and film critics far too often reduce all of B cinema to either a guilty pleasure to giggle over or a shortlist of films that “transcended” their essential cheapness to be deemed of merit. It’s reductive, and about as much fun as explaining the punchline to a joke.
In this subbasement of film, Swiss cheese plotting abounds, and payday loan production budgets mean the walls shake when a character slams a door. In the quest to compensate for both of those things and keep asses in the seats, blood, boobs and incredibly bad taste are just as plentiful. By all means, get your one-liners in, and direct a good solid kick at the uglier retrograde social values that have aged like cheese. Just don’t let talking back to the screen cause you to miss what other charms these weird little movies have to offer.
Fast, cheap and often shot on the fly, exploitation films often focused on subjects that the mainstream wouldn’t touch for years or even decades. If it freaked polite society out or secretly turned them on, it’s a subject that was likely first seen on celluloid in a low budget B film. From pregnancy and sexual fetishism to the anxiety over the burgeoning youth culture, feminism and civil rights movements, you can see every emerging societal scapegoat/boogeyman form in real-time. Nothing scares us more than a changing world, apparently.
These heavy subjects were mostly handled with all the subtlety and nuance of a building demolition, but in rare instances actually caused a widespread sea change that reverberated into the mainstream (Night Of The Living Dead being the most famous example). For those inclined toward historical research, it’s fascinating to track the sea changes in public opinion based on what was considered too spicy for public consumption outside of a roadshow or a sticky seat downmarket theater.
Perhaps you find that argument a bit rich for discussing the likes of Scream Bloody Murder, Plan 9 From Outer Space, or A Night To Dismember. Perhaps you find that line of logic a bit too close to film student pretence, or more analytical than necessary. Fair enough. I’d respectfully ask you to consider what it took for many of these films to be made at all, let alone survive to the present day.
The cult film landscape is filled with against all odds, strangely soulful filmmaking. People so hell-bent on making a movie, they would not let a lack of budget, experience or discernible talent stop them from making their dreams a reality. A dream is a wish your heart makes, even if your heart is set on unleashing Nail Gun Massacre onto the world with the help of a pile of personal loans and your grandma. The passion is commendable, even if the end results aren’t.
Another class of dedicated restoration fever dreamers scour their VHS collections, yard sales and Hollywood dumpsters, lovingly restoring the red-headed stepchildren of cinema into formats that prevent them from being lost to history, and allow a generation that wasn’t even born yet to experience a bygone era. It takes a village, or at least some very dedicated historians, critics and film editors, to necromance films that would otherwise be left to (literally) rot.
I think that’s a narrative that all film fans can get behind, horror hounds or otherwise, as it’s a narrative that transcends genre and generational divisions. We all know how to root for the underdog, even if we can see the zipper at the back of his rubber monster suit.
G.G. Graham is a cult film cryptid, horror hag and exploitation film explorer of the dusty and disreputable corners of cinema history. As a street preacher for Z grade cinema, G.G. writes for multiple genre film sites. They are also the head midnight movie monster over at their own blog, Shock, Schlock & Leftover Film Stock and can be followed on Twitter @msmidnightmovie.