Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who Killed the B-Movie?

I've been trying to get more writers on blog for eventually retooling of this blog. Part of my long-time plans includes my friend and fellow film geek, Ken Hanley. It's safe to say that Ken is a cult-movie expert, mixed with his wicked sense of humor, and can make a very entertaining argument for anything.

His first piece for the blog is on the apparent death of the B-movie. These aren't the B-movies that most people know of, which are the cheesy 50's movies coming out from Poverty Row, but smaller productions with more unconventional plots and he refers to the box-office failiures of the films like "Observe and Report", "Hellboy 2" and "Hamlet 2", which may I remind some people that was one of the biggest purchases in Sundance history.

Anyways, sit back, relax and enjoy the musings of Ken Hanley.


Who killed the B-Movie?
By Ken W. Hanley



What once was: B-movies back in the day, and what Ken probably thinks of Hollywood blockbusters.

I begin this article as a humbled man. A man who, as hard as he has tried to prevent the inevitable, lays shocked and hopeless as he has watched something he has loved so much die a slow and gruesome death. That is, of course, the B-Movie.

The B-Movie is always something I hold near and dear to me, and although I hope to make some quality films some day, I have an inherited love for B-movies and maybe make a trainwreck myself one day. To have my name embroidered in the history of B-movies would be an honor.

But I fear that day will never come because 2009 seems to be a year intent on killing the B-movie. And in all honesty, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The people who claim that they love B-movies and worship the cult classics avoided the theaters for the films that are destined to home video greatness and instead paid to see tripe like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, and “Knowing”.

Let’s backtrack a bit. The first time I had noticed something was amiss was in January 2008. The end of 2007 wasn’t great to B-movies, with such amazing classics as the cartoonish pun-laced extravaganza “Shoot ‘Em Up”, the creepy vampire gorefest “30 Days of Night”, and Frank Darabont’s somber, faithful and unsettling story of human horror “The Mist” all underperforming at the box office despite strong word of mouth on the internet. And 2006’s “Snakes on a Plane” showed that a B-movie can’t be poised as a summer bookend.

Nevertheless, January 2008 was where I noticed the B-movie was dying. “Cloverfield”, basically a kaiju movie on handheld camera, was a sleeper hit due to a hit marketing campaign so my hopes were up that such box office could be repeated for the upcoming “Rambo” film. Rambo, a popular character that could offer some ultrabloody escapism that could provide inspiration in a time of an unpopular war, was poised for a comeback, aiming at the audience to get ready for just a fun, kickass movie thanks to Sly Stallone, who’s “Rocky Balboa” was able to be down-to-earth and badass without becoming cheesy and stupid.

But alas, “Rambo”, a franchise who grossed hundreds of millions of dollars in it’s history, opened at #2 with $18.2 million. What was able to defeat the mighty Rambo?

“Meet The Spartans.”

A fucking dumb-as-nail’s spoof movie that barely breaks over an hour of film relying solely on homophobia and jokes that could’ve been pulled out of a tabloid magazine.

I was shocked but at the same time, I knew “Rambo” would be safe, as it eventually had a total gross of over $150 million due to DVD sales and international revenue.

But soon, movies that seemed to be out of the film nerd’s wet dreams, the people who usually worship B-movies, were pulling in shitty receipts, despite big names in the B-community:

“Doomsday”, from “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent” director Neil Marshall which had hefty homages to “Dawn of the Dead”, “Escape from New York”, “Aliens”, and “The Road Warrior”, grossed $21 million dollars worldwide.

“Hellboy 2: The Golden Army”, from Guillermo Del Toro fresh off the DVD success of the original “Hellboy” and the high-end receipts from master fairytale “Pan’s Labyrinth”, underperformed grossing less than $80 million, much less than competitors “Iron Man”, “The Incredible Hulk”, and “The Dark Knight.”


Guillermo Del Toro, basking in international acclaim, but not in box office receipts.

“The Spirit”, a cartoonish over-the-top B-movie from the childish mind of Frank Miller with choppy dialogue and Looney Toon-esque action, “Hamlet 2”, a dry and dark comedy from the mind of South Park writer Pam Brady starring Steve Coogan, and big budget B-action fare such as “Death Race” and “Punisher: War Zone” underperformed to studio expectations.

I became very worried. What would the world be like without B-movies? Without horror comedies with more gross out moments then genuine scares? Action movies with bad dialogue and badass body counts? Bleak, anti-hollywood films with final messages as hopeless and depressing as the product?

I had my fingers crossed that 2008 was a fluke. 2009, where our recession was to peak, would be the year that the B-movie would be saved. I saw several shining lights in the future of B-movies, ones that potentially would save us from B-movies becoming direct-to-dvd fare with the fun of the theater experience removed to better suit the alcoholic 24-year-old demographic.

And at first, I thought it would happen. “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” overperformed for a 3-D R-Rated horror film, grossing upwards of $70 million. Then the action man-kicking-ass genre got a big boost thanks to Liam Neeson with the hit “Taken”, a movie that took 2 years to get to the U.S. and barely made a theatrical release and ended up taking in over $220 million worldwide.

But then tragedy struck. Genre fans knew the end-all be-all would be Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen”. Zack Snyder’s B-Movie director status was sealed by the absolutely awesome adaptations of “Dawn of the Dead” and “300”, making him one of the most bankable directors in Hollywood in terms of a track record, and he was planning a Women-in-Prison flick as his Watchmen follow up. And now, a B-movie director who’s passion get’s him the role as the Watchmen director has reigns over a potential super-hero smash hit.

But something didn’t click. It couldn’t be the running time, as the most profitable movies in film history have clocked in over 2 and ½ hours. It couldn’t be the cast of no-names either, as “The Hangover” and “Star Trek” both had outstanding opening weekends with casts of virtually character actors. And it couldn’t be the films R-Rating, considering the fans knew that without the R-Rating, the turnout would be even lower. Just something didn’t turn out right.

And thus the slaughter of the B-movie continued. “Crank 2: High Voltage”, “Observe and Report”, and “Drag Me To Hell”, were overshadowed by “Obsessed”, “17 Again”, and the already underperforming “Terminator: Salvation”.

With these numbers, it’s only natural that filmmakers will stop making risky films. They’ll prefer safe and clich├ęd films with apparent studio interference and family appeal over the absolute batshit insane products of twisted minds and actors having a great time. And the internet has a hefty fine to pay, as these people who pack comic-con’s past capacity and worship the influences of Troma, Evil Dead and mindless action blowouts will save their money for “Paul Blart”, “The Unborn”, and “Transformers 2”

All is not lost though. The B-movie can be saved. Don’t wait ‘til DVD, you cheap cretins. Enjoy the power of the cinematic experience. Sit next to your brethren in the enjoyment of cheap thrills and fun filmmaking. There are still several releases coming out that can save the B-movie, and if you love the originality and freedom of art in entertainment, then you’ll shell out the ten dollars and spread the fucking word. We’ve gotta fight the good fight, and show these studios exactly who it is that’s going to see their movies multiple times. I’ll provide a list below of movies that you can see and have a damn good time doing it, and if not for the art of the B-movie, then do it for yourself:

Kathryn Bigelow’s (Near Dark, Point Break) Dark Iraq War suspense “The Hurt Locker”

Park Chan-Wook’s (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) Vampire Epic “Thirst”

Duncan Jones’s Independent Science Fiction Debut “Moon” starring Sam Rockwell

Neill Blomkamp’s (Alive In Jo-Burg) Science Fiction Action Thriller “District 9”

Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-War Kill-Em-Up Rulebreaker “Inglourious Basterds”

David R. Ellis’s (Final Destination 2, Snakes on a Plane) “The Final Destination” in 3-D

The Neveldine/Taylor (The Crank Movies) Sci-Fi Shoot ‘Em Up “Gamer”

Mike Judge’s (Office Space, Idiocracy) newest comedy “Extract” with Jason Bateman

Ricky Gervais’s (The Office, Extras) directing debut “The Invention of Lying”

Ruben Fleischer’s Zombie Comedy “Zombieland” with Woody Harrelson

Richard Kelly’s (Donnie Darko) return to psychological horror “The Box”
Joe Johnston’s (The Rocketeer, The Pagemaster) remake of “The Wolfman”

James McTeigue’s (V for Vendetta) ultra-violent and super kickass “Ninja Assassin”

Lars Von Trier’s (Dogville, The Kingdom) psychological tormentor “Antichrist”

Scott Stander’s deadpan tribute to Blaxploitation, “Black Dynamite”

Rob Zombie and Mr. Lawrence’s Super-Sexual Animated Gorefest “Superbeasto”

Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” with Heath Ledger

Any Goddamn Thing by Robert Rodriguez

Paul Weitz’s “Cirque Du Freak” with John C. Reilly and Ken Wantanabe

Drew Goddard’s (Cloverfield) “The Cabin In The Woods”

Alexandre Aja’s (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) “Piranha 3-D”

Werner Herzog’s high profile remake “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”

Sylvester Stallone’s All-Star Action Epic “The Expendables”

Stallone in The Expendables, a last hope for the B-movie.


1 comment:

M. Komar said...

Interesting points, Ken. But personally I feel that B-movie's will live on because it will always influence people and not only that, some producers will believe that they can tap into a niche audience and make a killing. B-movies usually do poorly at the box-office and then do great on DVD (case and point: "Office Space). B-movies will live on all the time.