Certain strands of popular fiction have stereotypes attached to them that are so engrained they form part of their lasting identity on the popular culture spectrum – flash fiction, grindhouse, erotic dinosaur literature (seriously, that’s a legitimate thing – Starburst even covered the genre some months back). However, the granddaddy of this subversive attitude towards popular mediums of fiction with otherwise good intentions is surely the B’ movie. It’s rather incredible that an entire era of movies, able to traverse such different themes as science fiction, horror and fantasy with camp aplomb, can be condensed into a single letter, isn’t it?
Fabulous’ nine-disc The Killer B’ Movie Collection is an endlessly handsome reminder of how the B’ movie, despite being skeletal in the quality of its execution, was abundant in enthusiasm for tackling the mad and the weird. Collecting nine movies from between 1939 to 1964, no expense is spared in capturing the best of the worst. Littered throughout these nine escapades are creatures from other worlds, often without any concept of right or wrong, intent only on destroying, murdering, consuming. Mad scientists, experiments gone wrong and monsters accidentally let loose serve as the chief plot device throughout these madcap stories.
All sounds lovely on paper, but time has a way of romanticising that which might be perhaps left alone. When watched individually, the scars of an industry keen to exploit the zeitgeist of adventures focusing on alien invasions anyway it can show rather well. 1961’s Reptilicus for example, is at its best when the titular creature doesn’t actually appear. The discovery of a fleshy portion of unknown reptile, which eventually regenerates into a dinosaur-like monster that attacks all it sees, isn’t the most inspired of premises. However, the opening half hour or so, focusing on the discovery of this cryptic creature and its unforeseen rebirth is captivatingly tense. That enjoyable slow-burn is stamped out when you finally see the pathetic Reptilicus itself, a poorly-made puppet that shoots unconvincing acid slime at any poor soul it wants.
Nevertheless, we can still enjoy these films for tackling the early mechanics of alien invasions that have so densely populated popular fiction with a charming, gleeful abandon. 1960’s The Angry Red Planet has a loose, ethereal allure to its humans-visiting-unknown-world scenario. Even The Blob, which hasn’t aged well in the slightest, has reckless fun with its fusion of soppy teen romance and alien-takeover plot devices.
What unites these films, other than their limp presentation, is a fascination with how creatures and technology from beyond this world should be treated as an unknown, and therefore a danger. Granted, those fears are often well founded when these freakish monsters start attacking you for no good reason, but this era was cinematic science fiction’s baby steps. It’s easy to be less than forgiving about the quality of these films when so much has come after them, but would any of your favourite science fiction movies ever have happened had these films not come bursting through the gates, charging at full speed with Reptilicus-like fury towards unsuspecting audiences?
For anyone curious about science fiction’s early days on the big screen, The Killer B’ Movie Collection is an excellent starting point. It’s highly recommended that you binge-watch these films rather than view them one at a time. That way, the enthusiasm each of these films boast for handling their respective themes and ideas has just enough muscle to mask the often poor direction, writing or acting. Then again, isn’t that part of the fun with B’ movies? As mentioned, time has a way of romanticising things, but history seems to have cemented the idea that the perceived ‘awfulness’ of a b’ movie is part of its appeal. The Killer B’ Movie Collection is a joyous testament to that idea.
THE KILLER B’ MOVIE COLLECTION / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: STEVE MCQUEEN, ANETA CORSAUT, GERALD MOHR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW