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When did B-movies go from bloody to bloodless?

When did B-movies go from bloody to bloodless? (photo)

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Having decided that a divide-and-conquer strategy is for wusses, there’s a rather sordid and protracted battle going on between Paramount and Lionsgate right now, with the studios poised for a “Paranormal Activity 2” vs. “Saw VII” face-off on October 22nd. Lionsgate decided to get evil on Paramount’s upstart franchise by exercising an option they had on “Saw VI” director Kevin Greutert — who recently signed on for the “Paranormal” sequel – to bring him back for another round, apparently trying to delay “Activity 2.” (Greutert took to his blog to complain, but has since removed the post.)

It’s all very cheap and petty, but aside from being a tacit admission from Lionsgate that it doesn’t really matter who makes the “Saw” movies (which we pretty much knew already), it reminds me of something different. Where are our great B-movie directors, the ones ready to use small budgets and freedom within certain genre requirements to up the artistic ante and rise up? Put another way, why haven’t any of the “Saw” directors graduated to bigger and better things?

Forget the precedent of, say, John Carpenter and Wes Craven in the ’70s; they had their own visions that took independent financing. For studio interference, you’d have to look instead to their successors, the people who took up the franchise and occasionally made something of it. Granted, to advance this argument I’d have to champion some rather questionable people. Even then, I could claim with a straight face that, in my opinion, “A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” is a terrific early movie by the occasionally brilliant Renny Harlin, and that there’s a few minutes in there more chilling and genuinely Lynchian than anything in “Inland Empire.” I could also point out that at least two screenwriters who made something out of themselves — “L.A. Confidential” scribe Brian Helgeland and Frank Darabont — did time on that series.

Now, that’s not a perfect record (and it goes downhill from there if you look at, say, who worked on “Friday the 13th” and the “Halloween” sequels) — but it’s a little something beyond the usual list of people who cranked out the hits for Roger Corman before blossoming out, and more than any of the “Saw” people have accomplished. Lionsgate tends to keep them in-house, working on similarly wretched projects (“Repo! The Genetic Opera” and the like), which I suppose pay well enough.

What’s interesting here, though, is the general winnowing down of what the B-movie can be. People are routinely championing B-movies from the ’40s through ’70s as lost classics of economy and pungency, and not just the horror films, whose reputation has risen as a whole. There’s noir, ’70s action (e.g. John Flynn, director of the smart and taut “Rolling Thunder,” a movie Tarantino wisely named one of his companies after), the reevaluation of ’70s slasher movies in search of lost gems (like the elevation in status of “Black Christmas”), et al.

A weird thing happened as you cross into the ’80s: the options for true B-movies got smaller and smaller. If there’s any movies from there onwards reviled at the time and subsequently reclaimed, I haven’t heard about it: successors to ’70s horror fare like “The Evil Dead” and “Re-Animator” were instantly embraced and deified by the appropriate fanbases. And in that budgetary realm, all that was left was the horror stuff: all other B-movie genres pretty much folded or becoming much more expensive homages.

01272010_armored.jpgAnd if it’s a truism that most blockbusters are just B-movies with A-movie budgets, there are a few true B-movies (modestly budgeted studio films, in other words) that tend to get championed by critics overeager not to miss anything that boasts those old Hollywood virtues of “craftsmanship” and “efficiency.” Two I remember: 2004’s “Cellular,” which Dana Stevens deemed “an honest, unpretentious, well-made B-picture.” These are standard terms of praise, the same way a movie Manohla Dargis likes might be “elliptical,” “rapturous,” “lyrical” etc. Another one was last year’s “Armored,” which Mark Asch also praised for its — surprise! — “honest B-movie craftsmanship.”

Although I wasn’t taken with either of those films, there’s definitely a hunger for contemporary non-horror B-movies — spry, taut, small-scale but well-filmed action sequences — that’s not being fed, so critics have to dig deep. If I were to pick a best one of the recent lot, I’d go with Wes Craven’s 2005 “Red Eye,” which was just short enough (85 minutes with credits!) and effectively had the malevolent Cillian Murphy rightly tormenting the deeply annoying Rachel McAdams. And to make an efficient B-movie in the new millennium it takes…a guy who was doing that 30 years ago.

[Photos: “Saw VI,” 2009, Lionsgate; “Armored,” 2009, Screen Gems.]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.