Best of the Worst Cult Horror Films
or Return of the Son of the B-Movies from Outer Space
by Theresa Bane
Ah, it’s that time of year again. The time when network TV ignores the fact that folks like to watch scary movies around Halloween. Every year it’s more and more difficult to find good old fashion horror flicks on the boob tube. I know I can go to CHILL or SY-FY and get constipated on their gluttonous over showings of cheesy movies so thick they can’t even be microwaved into something palatable. Unfortunately not everyone has these channels on their satellite or cable package. That my friends is why Al Gore invented the internet, so we could go to sites like Hulu and Veoh and watch the timeless classics that are good for the soul – B-Movies.
Wikipedia, the on-line source for basically accurate information will describe a “B-Movie” as a low-budget film meant to be for commercial distribution that is not considered to be “art-house” or pornography. That description leaves open a lot of wiggle room, but let me explain it to you in basically two words: “Hammer Films.”
Yes, that does so to make sense, you’ve seen their pictures, even if you didn’t notice who made them. They gave us films with titles like The Daughters of Dracula and starred people like Peter Cushing who always played either the head vampire or Van Helsing. Vincent Price did a lot of films that were very much reminiscent of Hammer’s style but in fact never did a single movie for the British company. Hammer, and its competitors made movies that were inexpensive, not cheap; had simple storylines and a singular plot. Their actors were unknown not untalented. The special effects relied more on the viewers imagination than gore and the blood was bright fire engine red confined to a mere spot as opposed to modern movies where gore and gallons of blood splatter every which way.
I love these movies, they are every bit as scary and haunting as the best that modern technology can provide. In fact, in my humble opinion, they are better because as fictional as their backdrop and storylines are, they come off as being so much more likely and believable. For example, and answer honestly, what is the more likely scenario:
A: One morning all the birds of a coastal community wake up and decide to land on the heads of anybody who is walking outdoors or-
B: A terminally ill madman who can hardly lift his own head has lured 3 to 6 people who deserve a good beating into a warehouse where they must confront their sins by defeating elaborate clockwork death traps. When they fail they die in a horribly graphic way.
That being said, here is a list of 10 of my favorite B-movies. They are not in any order or ranked, the number next to them is simply so that I will not lose track of how many movies I have written about. A few of them may not exactly qualify as being B grade in your opinion, but I will explain my reason in brief for each. Here goes…
1. Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: These movies have to share a slot because they are exactly the same movie. Why is the second movie tagged with a 2 on the end? Because it was the directors third attempt at making this film, duh! Bruce Campbell stars as Ash, a guy who takes his girlfriend and a couple of friends up into the woods for a weekend of sitting around in a rented cabin. Someone finds a tape recorder and hits the play button. The magical spell which was on the tape is cast and the house becomes a nexus point for evil to enter into our world. Ash must fight the invisible force and try to save his friends as one by one they become possessed and try to kill him. My suggestion – watch one or the other movie, but not both of them.
2. Army of Darkness: This was supposed to be the sequel to one of the Evil Dead movies, but in all honesty is not. What it is however is an amazing fun time to watch as Bruce Campbell is cast once again as Ash. This time he is in a world something like, to quote the movie, “King Arthur times” and he must stop a whole army of Deadites, the very beings he was not able to stop in either of the previous movies. The fun level for this movie is off the charts, filled with very quotable lines and a better showcase for the amazing physical actor Campbell was back in the day. Watch it, but if your DVD gives you the choice of endings, stick with the original, ’tis funnier, brings everything full circle and makes tons more sense.
3. The Wolfman: A black and white flick from 1941 staring Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, prodigal son returning home to assume control of the family’s estate after his older brother has passed away suddenly. He meets a local gal, falls for her and while out on a chaperoned date with her is attacked by a werewolf. Wackiness ensues, lives are lost and no one wins in the end. This is a tight, well written script, acted well and presenting what was back in the day state of the art special effects. Try to see this before the remake comes out and all the charm and appeal for this version is gone.
4. The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires: Starring Peter Cushing as Peter Van Helsing. This movie, filmed in Hong Kong, was made purely as an attempt to lure some of the kung fu movie viewers.
The plot is simple: Dracula himself has moved to a remote village in China and has dominion over the local seven vampires (referred to as “golden” because they wear golden masks). Van Helsing is recruited by the locals to kill them all. It’s that simple. There is a remarkable amount of character development in the movie, that is, until they arrive at the village and the killing starts; then it becomes a pure kung fu action flick until the end. It’s an enjoyable flick and the last Dracula movie that Hammer ever made.
5. Dead Snow: A very modern movie, released in 2009 and I think and is only available as a pay per view here in the States. The two word summary: Nazi Zombies. Oh yea, someone went there. All the money for the film had to go into getting the Nazi uniforms for the actors to wear, and according to my brother Vin the WW2 expert, they did a decent job getting accurate enough uniforms. The opening sequence of the film is very reminiscent to the first shark attack in Jaws-you see nothing but it’s terrifying. Things taper off pretty quick after that, but they set the stage for the promise of an avalanche, Nazi gold and chainsaw. Everything they promise they deliver.
6. Dead and Breakfast: It has the tagline “It’s like a bad horror movie, only worse.” If you only watch one movie off of this list, this is the one to watch! This movie has it all: David Carradine and zombie line dancing! I know, that sounds like it is too much beyond the pale to work but Carradine is only in the film for a few moments and is used in a believable way. I don’t think he even stands up from his meditative “sitting Indian style” position. The best part of this movie is that it rides the fine line between being a musical and not. See, there is a narrator, Zach Selwyn, a cute farm hand looking guy who sings all the exposition so that the writers did not have to make the actors deliver contrived dialogue. He follows the main characters around like an invisible Greek chorus every once in a while but this filmmaking technique is not overused. In then end however, this is a hard boiled, tried and true zombie flick that just so happens to be funny as heck and have a musical score connected to it. If you watch “Dead and Breakfast” consider yourself forewarned, the next day you may find yourself singing the ditty “We’re Coming Ta Kill Ya” from the soundtrack. Its fun when you are alone in the car. Not so much when in the office or supermarket.
7. Skeleton Key 2, 667 The Neighbor of the Beast: Its tagline says it all “The wackiest mind screw yet!” This is the one star movie by John Johnson and not the big budget version you are thinking about. This movie is a sequel but I promise you that not seeing the first one will not be a problem at all. In fact, it’s better that way. Written, directed and starring John Johnson opens up with a guy watching the first movie and recapping everything. Let me set the tone for you. It is a very low budget film, has lots of gratuitous boob shots and a song sung by the star while wearing a rabbit suit called “Putting on the Shits.” This one is not for the kiddies and should only be watched if you like movies that are akin to Danny Elfman’s “Forbidden Zone.” There are lots of highly memorable lines like “Hey, did I just die in the flashback scene?” and “Remember long ago, back when we used to be French…” and last but not least “I hope you get some gasoline underwear and then run through hell!” Well, I found it to be funny and look forward to buying the fourth installment. Yes, this is another film that is not numbered correctly. At a sale price of $4 to own the DVD, I have no right to complain, although that did not stop anyone who reviewed it at IMDB. Apparently they missed the fact that it was not meant to be a serious docudrama about a man’s downward spiral into madness and his half hearted attempt to regain sanity. A really great John Johnson film is “Shadow Hunters.” Again John Johnson stars but this is the far superior movie, an 8 of 10 stars. Filmed in an abandoned hospital 4 demon hunters must stop a fallen angel from realizing his evil and nefarious plan. In fact, better watch this one before you watch “Skeleton Key 2” otherwise you will never believe me about how much better it is and worthwhile it is to watch.
8. Vampire Hunter D, 2: I know, this is not a B movie strictly speaking but it certainly is not well known outside the bubble that we gamers and fans of anime live in. But this can be said for it-it is in fact the second movie in the Vampire D story line. The story: a vampire has kidnapped the beautiful daughter of a local rich guy who has hired 2 different vampire hunters to get her back. The hunters are a trio of brothers and D. There is a lot of action and violence along the way. Somewhere on the trail D learns that the girl was not kidnapped so much as she is in love with the vampire and that they are racing off together to a castle that has a space ship that can take them to where lots of other vampire/human couples live. Sad, loving and touching, but not D’s problem. What will he do? How will it end? Not how you think it will. I can say that, any more and it’ll be a spoiler.
9. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and the Toxic Avenger: No one will ever dispute that these are B grade films, some will even go so far as to suggest that they are C level in terms of quality, scripting, acting, cinematography, lighting, Craft food services, gaffing, costuming. I put these movies here together because neither one deserves an entry all to itself and to illustrate a point. There is no accounting for taste. Both of these movies are considered to be cult classics and any Geek worth his NaCl has watched both more than once. There is nothing that improves a bad movie more than watching it with a group of friends and giving it the MST3K treatment.
10. Magic: This is a bleeping scary messed up film. Anthony Hopkins plays a shooting star ventriloquist named Corky Withers who is trying to rekindle the romance he had with his high school sweetheart Peggy Ann (Ann-Margaret) much against the liking of his dummy, Flats. Here is the line that was said during the commercial back in 1978: “Twinkle, twinkle movie star, how I wonder where you are. Try to run, try to hide; you won’t get out of this alive.” I re-watch this movie every couple of years and whenever I do I debate about what the hell was really happening-was Corky crazy? Is Flats possessed? Was it Peggy? Why are ventriloquist dummies so bleeping scary?!? Why do I do this to myself every couple of years?
There you have it, enough varying levels of cheese to guarantee constipation and back up even folks with a cast iron gut and perfect constitution. I know I left a bunch of films off the list, but there’s always next year. Till then give “Burnt Offerings,” “The People under the Stairs,” “C.H.U.D.,” and “Demon Seed” a watch.