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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.]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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