To B Movie or Not to B Movie
Thrills and spills at the Electric Palace Cinema By Andrew Myers
Melodramatic acting, dodgy special effects and plot holes you could fly a badly realised spaceship through – all music to the ears of John Knowles and Robin Elliott-Knowles, the father and son team who organise the B Movie Fan club hosted monthly at the Electric Palace Cinema.
PICTURE: Robin Elliott-Knowles
The club has been celebrating the highs and lows of the classic 1950s B Movie on the last Sunday of the month since 2013. Now in their fifth year, they’ve clocked up a total of over 60 film screenings – that’s a lot of ham and cheese!
And word is finally getting out – the October screening of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman was a sell out for the first time in the club’s history.
‘That was probably only because of the poster,’ admits Robin. The poster is indeed iconic, but like the publicity for many B Movies, it bears only a passing resemblance to what actually happens in the film.
The Club was originally created by John as a way of helping Robin, who is autistic, feel more comfortable in his social interactions. He now confidently introduces each film, drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre. Attendance at the club has had its ups and downs, but over the last year a committed core of regulars has developed. ‘The audience makes it,’ says John. ‘It’s like a family.’
What exactly are B movies? Strictly speaking, it means the second feature on a double bill (shown first, just to confuse matters) as opposed to the longer A film with a bigger budget and more famous stars. People tend to use the term to mean ‘schlocky horror films,’ but it’s worth remembering that a lot of B movies were Westerns and film noirs. And they’re not all terrible: Hitchcock’s Psycho was a B movie, for example.
PICTURE: Robin Elliott-Knowles
Mild Peril from Creature Features and Cartoons
The Club has programmed a variety of films, including a season of Ralph Bakshi cartoons, but the focus tends to be on the ‘creature feature,’ post war science fiction B movies. The plots often reflect cold war fears over nuclear technology. And there’s usually a monster of some kind, usually hilariously unconvincing.
One wouldn’t want to exaggerate the ‘so bad it’s good’ aspect of the club. The two films I saw were not disgracefully put together. But what is the appeal of watching ‘bad’ films? What’s the distinction between ‘enjoyably bad’ and ‘just plain unwatchable’?
‘The key thing about B Movies is they’re not Hollywood,’ John explains. ’These film makers had to be inventive on a low budget. The films were often made in four days by people with a real love for what they do. The imperfections are what makes them human. And the other great thing about B Movies is they’re short!’
B Movie Club is emphatically not Video Nasty Club, or Horror club. Most of the scares would fall into the ‘Mild Peril’ category. The club wisely chooses to steer clear of graphic violence.
There was a wonderfully good-natured atmosphere on both evenings I attended. There’s no mockery; rather, an evident affection for the films. People tend not to laugh at the dodgy effects; they’re more likely to laugh at inappropriate or outdated social attitudes or a moment of hammy acting.
Robin plans to make a road trip across the States to see at least some of the remaining 326 drive-in movie theatres. He is selling T-shirts and paintings at the Club to fund the trip.
I ask Robin if he could imagine getting bored of watching B movies or whether he had ever found one so bad he had to turn it off halfway through. The question simply does not register. It’s not that he is blind to the faults in these films, but rather that he has a capacity to find something to enthuse over in
even the shoddiest production. Flaws simply become features to celebrate.
A Beautiful Message
So behind the B Movie Fan Club is a rather beautiful message: to love things despite – or indeed because of – their shortcomings. And goodness knows the world could do with a bit more of that right now.
Would B Movies work today? We agree that modern audiences and film makers are probably too sophisticated and media aware. The thing to remember about these films is that they are absolutely not ‘ironic’ or tongue in cheek. The filmmakers were genuinely trying to make the best films they could against the odds. Sadly, it seems that B Movies belong to a more innocent age.
But luckily there’s no shortage of ideas for future screenings. Each film Robin watches seems to suggest another three or four to investigate. There’s also plans for outdoor screenings and a B Movie quiz night. Looks like we’ll be getting our B Movie fix well into the foreseeable future!
• The B Movie Fan Club is at the Electric Palace Cinema, High Street Hastings on the last Sunday of every month. The next event is : Sunday 16 December – Mothra
John Knowles and Robin
PICTURE: Susan Elliott
Robin’s Top Five Must See B Movies
Plan 9 From Outer Space Edward D. Wood Jr. 1959
The go-to film for B Movie fans. We love it! Okay the sets wobble, the script is rubbish, the acting ranges from the camp to ham and the continuity is nonexistent, but who cares?. Edward D. Wood Jr wanted to make films and make them he did, and his passion and joy live on. If anything, making them better would have made them worse.
Robot Monster Phil Tucker. 1953
If you like B Movies you’ve got to like a mad monster and this lumbering man in a gorilla suit with a space helmet on and aerials on his head is up there with some of the best. As with any good B Movie, the poster promises more and we get less. Oh and for B Movie fans the chance to see that famous quarry again (Bronson Caves)!
The Killer Shrews Ray Kellogg. 1959
One of the first films we showed at the B Movie Fan Club and it still haunts me to this day. Dogs dressed up as shrews attacking cardboard sets and the greatest use of a barrel to escape from danger in B Movie history! Truly rubbish on all levels and therefore a must.
The Brain that wouldn’t Die Joseph Green. 1962
This one is actually quite good, for a film about keeping your girlfriend’s head alive, whilst you search out go-go dancing girls for a new body…. Has one of the best ‘cat-fight’ sequences ever, where the director literally shows us a cat fight whilst two women have a fight. Not one for the feminists.
Teenagers from Outer Space Tom Graeff. 1959
Who wouldn’t thrill to young love between an alien and a teenager? Especially when they are both trying to save us all from being fodder for a giant lobster. All we get of this monster is a silhouette!
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