It’s that time of year!!!! Who doesn’t like being scared? Well now that we are in the month of October it’s time to don the costumes, bring out the candy, and visit your favorite local haunt, hopefully clutching someone close and dear to you!
I present to you my series on B Horror films, Classic Horror Actors and filming techniques of yesteryear!
Fall is a wonderful time of year to capture a different color spectrum on film, whether it be the leaves as they descend to the ground among crisp autumn air, the contrasty gray shadows of a spooky graveyard, or the sepia tones of an overcast sky against an abandoned woodshed. I’m starting a special series dedicated to the horror film genre. I have just wrapped up a project in Houston, Texas as an Associate Producer/cast extra for an independent horror film called “Jacob,” to be released this fall. It’s an exciting time for Texas and independent film makers! One of the most notable cast members of this film is Michael Biehn, who played Kyle Reese in ‘The Terminator’ and Johnny Ringo in ‘Tombstone’. I will be writing a special piece dedicated to this picture after the release and reviews, so stay tuned!
But now, I want to focus on film and horror itself, and especially the evolution of the “B” movie which became so popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The roots of the “B” movie actually go back to the 1920’s. At the end of the silent film era, if a film could be produced for $50,000 or less, it meant that studios could churn their products out quicker. Shorter running times and limited releases kept extra costs down to a minimum. Thus by the time the “Golden Age of Hollywood” rolled around in the 1930s, the concept of the “B” movie was born. “Poverty Row” studios made movies on shoestring budgets, consisting of shorts, independent films, and imports.
By the 1950’s, when television became widely available to average Americans, studios had to scale back their production schedules. But with the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, fear of fallout, and the beginnings of the space program, the studios saw opportunities to make money on these themes of horror and sci-fi and once again began filling the theaters. Successful examples include Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Jack Arnold’s “Creature from The Black Lagoon.” The Black Lagoon was also released in a 3D version.
With the average wealth of Americans increasing post World War II, more could afford automobiles and thus began the era of the drive in movie theater. Packed cars full of teenagers flocked to the big screen on double dates in search of squirming thrills and chills. Most directors knew that their patrons were not that interested in the movie itself, but as long as it had a beginning, middle and end, and some sort of story line, they could keep the public interested. Most were monster and science fiction exploitation films.
The majority of B movies were more than likely shot on black and white 35mm film on Arriflex and Mitchell cameras. Some very low budgets could have used 16mm. Methods of filming varied by director. Due to budget constraints, most effects were done in-camera, using filtration methods, and miniatures, such as William Castle’s “The Tingler.” Stop motion was also widely used. One example is Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s “King Kong” released in 1933.
Since the fifties, B movies have run the gamut to being intensely popular to being almost extinct. In recent years there has been in increase in B movie production and remakes. This could be partly due to the world economy combined with public desire to enjoy these types of films once again. With the advent of 3D filming and television, the sky is the limit technologically speaking.
As I close this first article I would like to recommend a new Grindhouse exploitation movie produced by Michael Biehn and his partner, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn entitled “The Victim.” I attended the Houston premiere for this film on August 17th and it is fantastic. Dirty cops, a couple of hookers, drugs, and a serial killer all thrown in make for a very fun exploitation movie that’s just perfect for Halloween. This was a lower budget movie shot with the Red Camera, using day for night techniques, and shot in 12 days.
You can go to Grindhouse the Victim for more information. (The trailer is for mature audiences only.)
So if you’re looking for some lomographic inspiration for this scary season, check out some of the old B flicks at your local movie store or online service. You might just be surprised at what you and some friends could recreate in your own backyard with your Lomo and some film!