Typically, being deemed as abrasive and unrefined, b-movies have an interesting place in the world of cinema. Their value may not be as easy to see when comparing them to big blockbusters or award-winning films, but it is present. The worth of b-movies is extremely diverse. They range from brilliant in the manner tropes are used to praising them for their astonishing incompetency. Whatever the case may be, there is a fan base and love for b-films.
Here are some of the most entertaining b-movies to add to your watch list!
1. The Tingler (1959)
Bringing together a master of gimmicks and a master of terror, The Tingler is a wonderful blend of horror and humor. The film follows Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) and his surprising discovery. Chapin learns that the spine-chilling sensation people can get when afraid is due to a centipede-like parasite. After dubbing the parasite the “tingler”, Chapin concludes that in extreme circumstances, prolonged fear causes the organism to injure a person’s spine and even become fatal if the victim cannot scream.
The magic that creates this film’s appeal is the collaboration between William Castle and Vincent Price. Castle uses his showman attitude and tricks to give The Tingler a life of its own. A perfect example is the Percepto tool that accompanied the film in its original 1958 run. As the ‘tingler’ gets loose within the film and just so happens to end up in a theater, little motors under some patron’s seats dispensed mild shocks. Being surrounded by only darkness and shrill screams, movie-goers could not help but be affected by the film.
Along with Castle, the other part of the puzzle for The Tingler’s triumph is the iconic Vincent Price. One of the most likable traits about Price and his illustrious career is his ability to find the fun within the horror genre. Price clearly had acting talent, but he never took himself too seriously. This type of attitude may seem contradictory, but it is exactly what The Tingler needs. Price maintains a straight-faced performance no matter how wacky the premise can become. However, Price also understands all comedy cannot be lost.
Being one of the few Castle movies to not be remade, The Tingler has become an untouchable b-movie classic.
2. Tremors (1990)
A box office disaster that thankfully saw a resurgence on the home video market, Tremors delivers lasting b-movie charm. In the film, Repairmen Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) along with seismologist, Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), must stop a hungry horde of giant worm-like monsters from killing the residents of the small desert town of Perfection, Nevada.
On the surface, Tremors may not seem like a standard b-movie. Being a Universal Picture distribution with a 11-million-dollar budget, does not immediately say b-movie. On the other hand, what Tremors does not represent in budget, it represents in its storytelling. It is evident the director, Ron Underwood, has a genuine appreciation for old-school monster movies. Between the animals obtaining the name Graboids, the reliance on practical effects, and the original title being Land Sharks, the nods to 1950’s and 1960’s b-movies are everywhere. However, homage is not enough. There needs to be other elements that elevate the tributes and allow the director’s own vision to shine.
From the plot to the characters, Underwood and writers Brent Maddock and S. S. Wilson expand upon b-movie cliches. The structure of the plot develops as an intriguing mystery that builds suspense and gives great clues to how the monsters operate. There is also a fantastic cast of characters with a standout performance by Kevin Bacon. The characters can realistically deduce the situation and have distinct personalities, which are aspects some b-movies fail to grasp. Even the monsters are complex creatures that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The Graboids’ method of attack and intelligence all allow them to be worthy adversaries for the heroes to defeat.
After 30 years, Tremors is still a superb film that not only admires b-movie tropes but knows how to improve upon them.
3. Manos Hands of Fate (1966)
One of the entries on this list to be so bad it’s legendary, Manos Hands of Fate is a pure train wreck that any lover of b-movies must witness. The so-called plot centers around a mom, dad, and daughter’s family road trip gone awry. Taking a wrong turn, the family becomes stranded at the home of a polygamous cult that desires to make them the sacrificial offering to their god.
From the beginning, Manos’ origin is stranger than fiction. The movie was made by a Texas fertilizer salesman, Harold P. Warren, with no filmmaking experience and was also the result of a bet with Oscar-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant. In other words, Manos’ foundation is a truly “amazing” and comical starting point for best-worst movie contender. From there, spectators are subjected to editing (or lack thereof), camerawork, storytelling, and characters that can only be described as entertainingly painful.
The laughter derives from several areas. The opening montage provides early snickers as the family’s drive is set to a soundtrack so unpleasant and misplaced it becomes hysterically puzzling. Then there is the awful dubbing of the child’s horrendous adult voice that speaks for itself. Finally, there is the piece-de-resistance. The characterization of Torgo, the cult’s servant. The character of Torgo is a new level of bad never before reached. Torgo’s behavior, demeanor, and appearance are so inexplicable that viewers are in awe. No human being on Earth can ever comprehend how a performance like that made it into the final product.
Manos Hands of Fate does everything wrong, and as a result, it turns out to be right.
4. Army of Darkness (1992)
Army of Darkness is an excellent installment to the Evil Dead film series that changes up the formula in the best way. Following the events of Evil Dead II, Ash (Bruce Campbell) is transported back to medieval days. With the Deadites existing in medieval times as well, Ash is sent on a dangerous mission by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gillbert) to recover the Book of the Dead in order to finally stop the Deadites reign of terror and destruction.
Rami successfully walks a difficult tightrope with this addition to the beloved franchise. He does not forget what made the previous films great, but he also knows total rehash in not an option. Because of this understanding, Army of Darkness thrives. The film’s mainstays include the smart choice of keeping the well-crafted and charismatic Ash as the film’s focus.
The movie also keeps Ash’s signature chainsaw and the imaginative assortment of stop-motion special effects. Where the film differs is in its tone. More attention has been put on the comedy, and while this might deter some people, it is not inherently a bad thing. Army of Darkness proves Rami is a versatile director that is not confined to the horror genre. The film also gives viewers memorable one-liners. “This… is my boomstick” and “Groovy” are just some of the goofy quotes people will be saying to their friends for ages.
Army of Darkness is a film that allows the Evil Dead trilogy to end on a humorous and action-packed note.
5. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
Never has there been a parody involving deadly tomatoes more fun to watch than Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. In this spoof, violent tomatoes go on the rampage, splattering and eating innocent victims.
A common pitfall of parody movies is the inability to stay on task. While Attack of the Killer Tomatoes mocks the corny sci-fi b-movies of the 1950s, it does not overreach by satirizing a multitude of other genres like some modern parodies. Because of this concentration, many of the jokes directly apply to the sources they are ridiculing, and the gags do not feel out-of-place.
To be fair, not all the jokes land but when they do, they are extremely amusing. One of the best scenes mocks the gathering of government officials and scientists as they try to figure out how to combat the threat. This idea has been done in many a sci-fi b-movie and it is usually portrayed in a large room with a serious tone. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes does this scene but unfortunately for the scientists and government employees in the film, the room is too small. To see them try to have a serious meeting while people are climbing over the table and acting like general buffoons is truly a highlight in the film and an indication the filmmaker comprehends the genre wholeheartedly.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ intricate knowledge of the b-movie genre is a key factor that makes the film a must-watch.
6. Piranha (1978)
“There’s something in the water at Lost River Lake. Something you can’t see… something you can’t feel… until it’s too late!” When thousands of hybrid piranhas are unintentionally released into a river, the race is on for Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and reporter Maggie McKeownand (Heather Menzies) to stop the flesh-eating fishs’ murder of unsuspecting swimmers.
From the premise, there is an immediate camp factor. Followed by the sense of campiness, is the comparison to Jaws. However, this movie deserves to stand on its own merit. There is a unique brutalness to the film that works in harmony with the tongue-and-cheek nature of the plot. Piranha uses it campiness to give the protagonists solid characterization. Menzies’ Maggie is perfect as a quirky and unapologetic my-gal-Friday type, and Dillman’s chemistry with Menzies makes them a captivating duo.
Piranha also uses impressive effects by Rob Bottin to add to the gore, frenzied violence, and intensity of the piranhas’ attacks. No one is safe from these creatures, including the children. The indiscriminatory piranhas in the film are savage. What they lack in size, they make up for in numbers, and their gruesome bites are felt by audiences.
Piranha is an exciting b-movie with a lot of teeth, and even more bite.
7. A Bucket of Blood (1959)
This would not be a proper exploration of b-movies if Roger Corman’s name did not appear. Luckily, Corman makes the list with 1959’s A Bucket of Blood. The film follows Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a nerdy busboy at a beatnik café, as he attempts to woo his gorgeous co-worker, Carla (Barboura Morris). When his desire to create a bust for Carla results in the death of his landlady’s cat, he panics and conceals its body under a coating of plaster. While the feline becomes one morbid piece of art. Carla and her friends enthuse over the resulting artwork unaware of its grisly nature. Walter then decides to make some more elaborate pieces using the same artistic but deadly method.
A Bucket of Blood’s satire of fame and the definition of “cool” comes alive in this quirky tale of macabre humor and surprise melancholy. The comedy derives from the ignorance of the hip art collectors, painters, and poets as they gaze in wonder at Walter’s corpses masquerading as masterpieces. Corman’s mocking of what people will deem as “valuable” or “art” is witty and pokes fun at the low-value and low-budget filmmaking techniques that have come to define his beloved career. The sadness is found in the character of Walter. In one of his rare roles as a leading man, Dick Miller makes Walter extremely sympathetic even through his wicked deeds. Miller highlights Walter’s corrupting desperation to be creative no matter the cost and retain his notoriety and Carla’s adornment of him.
A Bucket of Blood may be a cheap b-movie shot quick but with Corman’s skills, its commentary and imagination stay strong throughout its runtime.