Call it "The Attack of the Killer Bs."
It's late on a weekend night, you're standing among the racks at your local video store, and in front of you is . . . nothing.Well, OK, not nothing. There are movies available; it's just that you've never heard of them.
All you have to go on is the vague promotional blurb on the back the box, and that's no help. You don't recognize most of the stars, and when you do recognize a name it's either a minor type (like, say, Wings Hauser) or right out of the "Where are they now?" file (like, say, Linda Blair).
What you have is a case of the "B title" blues.
An experience like this may make you give up renting videos for a while. It also may make you ask: Is it worth taking a chance on one of these - and why does Kathy Shower seem to be in all of them? (Example: "Bedroom Eyes II" (Vidmark), starring Wings Hauser, Linda Blair and - as she's invariably identified - "ex-Playboy playmate Kathy Shower.")
When stuck with only such movies, you have two choices: You can just say no. Or, if you must rent something, you can dig around. Who knows, you may uncover a gem.
Here's some inside dope that'll help you make choices in the B world:
Most of what the video industry calls B titles are productions that were released to video soon after brief theatrical runs. They're the second level on the video food chain - between A titles, the major releases from major studios, and (shudder) C titles, which include dubbed Korean martial-arts movies and other truly low-quality offerings.
The vast majority of Bs are not quite bad enough to be ignored, and not quite good enough to be sought-after. Remember: They wouldn't make 'em if people didn't rent 'em.
You should know that there are essentially six genres of B titles. They're listed here in no particular order:
- Supernatural horror. Usually these are mishmashes of "The Exorcist" and "The Amityville Horror," with a little Stephen King thrown in. The typical scenario involves an ancient evil that has been dormant for some time, only to be awakened or otherwise discovered by the protagonist.
- Human horror. Slice 'n' dice, slash 'n' hack . . . there are many labels for the basic deranged-killer-goes-on-a-rampage movie. These flicks usually feature a female protagonist who has a friend or friends who have already fallen prey to the madman - and she's next. There's a grizzled police detective who's out of favor with his superiors and who comes to the rescue just as the protagonist looks like a goner. In some of these movies, the detective is the killer. In some, either the killer or the policeman or the protagonist is haunted by dreams of horrible murders, only to awake to find they've actually happened.
- Trapped with a nutball. This genre started out as subset of the previous category, but its number is multiplying so rapidly, it has earned its own listing. The protagonist is trapped in some place where no help is possible and is being stalked a bad guy. Through pluck and bravery, the protagonist eventually kills the bad guy, usually in some gruesome way.
- Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. The world evidentally has suffered through World Wars III, IV and V - and has descended into chaos. Evil overlords deploy vicious mutant gangs to terrorize the fearful populace. These productions usually take place either in hellish cities, allowing for set designs stolen from "Blade Runner," or in wind-blown wastelands, allowing for set designs stolen from "Road Warrior." Usually the last remaining decent person in the world is called upon do something courageous to defeat the overlords.
- Jingoistic shoot-'em-up. Remember Rambo? Bottom-line-oriented producers who've noted the success of Sylvester Stallone's steely-eyed avenger do. The bad guys in these things were nasty Arabs a couple of years ago, but last year they were nasty South American drug bosses. We'll be seeing lots of nasty mustachioed Middle Eastern dictators soon.
- Domestic shoot-'em-up. One brave man (or, occasionally, woman) stands up against a town terrorized by some gangster and his henchmen. Once the shooting starts, however, these films are almost identical to the ones in the previous category: lots of blood and explosions.
No matter what genre, you'll discover that most of these flicks share essential features that define their B-ness:
- Gratuitous female nudity. There is sure to be (at least) one needless shot of a young actress with (at least) her shirt off. Sadly, many producers try to compensate for a lousy script and a no-name cast with skin.
- Gratuitous violence. Especially violence directed at women. Much of it is present because the people who write these movies can think of no better way to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. The bad guys, you see, spend the early part of the movie doing horrible things to innocent, helpless people. That way we don't mind, and in some cases even cheer, when the good guys spend the second half doing horrible things to the bad guys.
- Bad acting. Hoo boy! The difficulty some of these people have when called upon to display an actual emotion has to be seen to be believed. Some of it becomes amusing, but not to the point where it saves the movie.
- Bad writing. Yikes! No matter how untalented the actors are, you're sure to start sympathizing after hearing the inane lines they're often forced to utter.
- Chases. Somebody is probably going to jump into a fast-moving vehicle and tear off after somebody else in a just-slightly-faster vehicle. It's an easy way to advance or resolve a plot and pad the film at the same time.
- Derivative plots. That's a polite way of saying that most are tip-toeing just on the legal side of plagiarism. Many are clones of A titles that were box-office smashes.
OK, say you've made your choice. Here are creative ways to enjoy any marginal movie:
- Watch for goof-ups. There's a reason these movies never made it big, and usually part of it has to do with shoddy production quality. It's fun to look for all the ways the things went wrong. These include continuity mistakes ("Is that the same tie he was wearing a minute ago?"), forgotten plot elements ("Aren't they going to say if his mother survived the operation?") and unexplained arrivals and departures of characters.
- Think up excuses. This is especially fun when your B title movie features a well-known actor, such as Anthony Quinn or Melanie Griffith. Make a list of reasons why the star made the movie ("He was having an affair with the scriptwriter" or "She got to keep the wardrobe").
- Count cliches. As the grizzled detective pleads to be allowed to investigate the murders, does his gruff-but-lovable boss say, "Blow this one and I'll have your badge!?" When the hero heads out to capture the bad guy, does his girlfriend say, "Be careful!?" In a truly dreadful B title, cliches can number in the high three-digits.
- Play a game. B titles are nothing if not predictable, so make the most of them. Have everyone in the room write down exactly how they think the plot will be resolved, as soon as it becomes obvious. The person who correctly predicted the ending at the earliest point wins.
Above all, there's one thing to remember when watching a B title video: Don't forget to rewind. It's annoying to the next person when a video starts 20 minutes into the movie, where you bailed out.