"B" movies

These aren't actually all "B" movies, but for some reason (t'wasn't intentional) most of the titles start with "B." Hence the title. Clever, no? No. Anyway, onward...


Babel (C, 2006) A couple of Moroccan boys playing with a rifle foolishly shoot an American tourist (Cate Blanchett, who’s not very sympathy-evoking) while firing at a distant tour bus they don’t think they’ll be able to hit. The incident is mistaken for a terrorist action and has repercussions which will link several strangers in countries all over the world. Brad Pitt is the wounded tourist’s husband, and his Mexican housekeeper has to take care of his kids during the crisis, so she takes them to Mexico. The deaf-mute daughter of the Japanese tourist who originally supplied the rifle is behaving strangely because she’s trying to lose her virginity. Scenes alternate between the different plotlines in Mexico, Japan, and Morocco (tourist viewpoint and local viewpoint) as the shooting -- and the events its set in motion -- play out, and the connections and separations of the human race are examined, through the lens of different cultures and languages (or lack thereof). Small moments of poor judgment have far-ranging effects, and a lack of communication can make them all even worse. Artistically done, and has a depth of message, but is a bit overlong and of the (mistaken) school that slowed-down pacing increases artistic merit. Flawed, but holds some reward for patient viewers.

Blackenstein (C, 1973) aka Black Frankenstein, Return of Blackenstein. Blaxploitation version of the classic has a black woman named Winifred seeking Dr. Stein’s help for her boyfriend Eddie, who lost his arms and legs to a landmine. Dr. Stein has been looking for subjects for his DNA experiments, anyway, and Eddie’s happy to get out of the hospital because he’s being tormented by a jerk orderly. Unfortunately, Dr. Stein’s methods have some bugs that need working out, because his DNA formula has a short lifespan and requires frequent booster shots, plus there are a few side-effects that cause “jungle throwbacks” like giving patients tiger stripes! And the bad formula gets even worse when the doctor’s assistant, Malcolm, falls in love with Winifred and tampers with the solution in hopes of getting Eddie out of the picture. Instead of dying, Eddie’s head squares off enough that he looks a lot like the Karloff version when in silhouette, and he stalks around mindlessly causing mayhem. There’s a little cheap gore in his killings (how’d he manage to pull out Liz Renay’s intestines without breaking the skin?) but mostly it’s laborious footage of him wandering around like a robot. Some of his victims are hilarious, like a guy who plays Christmas music on his 8-track while trying to park with a girl who apparently never wanted to go on a date in the first place. The filmmakers seem to be trying (they even hired the guy who did the electrical effects on the Universal original) but it just doesn’t work; there’s too much time spent walking around, and the acting is awful. The monster gets plenty of screen time so it should be good, but nope. It gets so dull that even a nightclub performer’s terrible jokes become a welcome distraction. ">Watch it online starting here.


Jerk orderly scene:

Blazing Justice (B&W, 1936) Bill Cody catches some outlaws and gets a $5000 reward. Since it’ll take a week or so for the money to come in, a friend fronts him $1000 to start a vacation. The vacation’s short-lived, though, because Cody’s almost framed by a dapper outlaw (he looks a little like Charlie Chaplin) who murders a rancher… and then is crass enough to plan to steal his victim’s insurance money from his daughter at the funeral! Cody helps the daughter fight off the bad guy and turn him over to the law. Comedy relief is provided by an alcoholic who’s always trying to scam free drinks. Standard combo of fistfights, shootouts, chases, and clowning around.

Blindman (C, 1971) aka Blind Man. This is an oddball even in a genre known for oddballs, and it needs a better DVD release because the versions you can currently find have around half an hour cut out of them, making them even odder. But anything is better than nothing. Tony Anthony (from A Stranger In Town) is a blind gunfighter who’s trying to recover fifty mail-order brides he was supposed to deliver to a mining camp, but they were stolen by his partner Skunk. Skunk passed the women along to a Mexican bandit called Candy (played by Ringo Starr), so Blindman goes after Candy’s gang and ends up taking a lot of abuse and getting tricked a lot since he can’t see. Blindman makes up for his shortcomings by tossing dynamite around a lot, and his seeing-eye horse and a bayonet on his rifle help him find his way around. He’s also fond of spouting smartassed philosophical points, like “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time.” It’s kind of like a Zatoichi movie and is intended as a parody of the Spaghetti Western genre, although luckily it’s played pretty straight and isn’t an idiot farce like most “funny” Italian Westerns. Has a fair amount of style, a good Morricone-imitation music score, and was remade by Anthony as the 3-D Comin’ At Ya. Another blind-gunfighter movie showed up decades later, when Armand Asante played on in Blind Justice. You can watch the whole thing (apparently the full-length version) online here.

There are better quality trailers on YouTube, but this one's in English...

Born of Fire (C, 1983) A flute-player (Peter Firth) feels drawn to retrace his late father’s steps and seek out “the Master Musician” (who may be Satan) in Turkey. His astronomer girlfriend also heads to Turkey to look at a volcano, which she believes has become active in response to unusual solar activity. There they engage in mystical mumbo jumbo and meet an incredibly deformed dwarf who’s the flutist’s half-brother (in every sense of the word). The Master Musician is an intense-looking bald guy who lives in a neighboring cave where he stares at a skull all day. He can breathe fire and shoot it from his eyes. The astronomer girlfriend gets possessed by djinn and becomes controlled by the Master, and unless the flutist can get the Master to submit to the will of Allah, he will “become fire” or some such nonsense, and the world will be destroyed. The girlfriend gets pregnant with an insect-thing and that inspires the dwarf to beat his chest and call on Allah, giving the flutist enough power to fight back. Despite the pretenses at spiritual allegory, the story’s about as deep as the Charlie Daniels’ Band’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” but it makes less sense. It does have some nicely weird imagery and atmosphere that has invited comparison to another brilliantly beautiful faux-spiritual-hokum-horseshit classic, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Strange Muslim fantasy is worth a look even though it’s ridiculous if you analyze it at all. The Mondo Macabro DVD has lots of interesting extras, including a lengthy interview with the dwarf actor, who’s a pretty cool guy (and whose first acting job was jerking off Ian McKellen onscreen!)

Boss Nigger (C, 1975) aka Boss, The Black Bounty Hunter, The Black Bounty Killer. Ever wonder what Blazing Saddles might have been like if it had been played straight? Well, thanks to Fred Williamson, now we know! Well, sorta… it’s not played completely straight, but definitely straighter. Fred and his sidekick D’urville Martin are black bounty hunters who go after white criminals. When Fred finds a letter and a badge on a dead outlaw, he goes into town and makes himself sheriff and D’urville deputy. Of course the town full of racist white folks don’t take kindly to the idea, and whenever they give Fred any crap they end up wounded, humiliated, or dead. The crooked mayor is working with an outlaw gang (led by badass William Smith) which tries to blow up Fred and D’urville, but Fred never misses when he shoots, while the bad guys always do. As a romantic interest Fred has Vampirella magazine cover girl Barbara Leigh, who’s really pretty but maybe the worst actress since “Miss Crabtree” on the Little Rascals shorts. Fred uses the coolest of all cowboy weapons, a sawed-off rifle, which he uses to shoot racists in the feet when they demand a shoeshine. Eventually the bad guys catch Fred and shoot him in the hand and tie him to a stake, but Fred dies hard. (In fact, there’s a clause in his contract that says he doesn’t die at all!) It’s kind of silly and artless, but it’s not bad overall, and Fred’s goofier than he thinks he is but he’s still cool and I always like his stuff, if only for his presence. And this one’s got a theme song you’ve just gotta hear. Fred will probably go down in history as having used the “N”-word in more titles than anyone else, and the DVD even has a disclaimer from him saying he fully endorses the use of the word in the title and theme song. Fred made another, more serious Western with the same look, Joshua, the next year.

Must-see trailer

Brute Man, The (B&W, 1946) aka The Brute. When life gave him acromegaly, Rondo Hatton turned it into acromegaly-ade by making monster movies without needing to use makeup. Gotta love the guy for being a good sport in the face of adversity. Anyway, Rondo plays The Creeper, a big thug with an oversized, distorted face, who’s behind a series of broken-neck murders in the city. When police interview a friend (Tom Neal, from Detour) of the guy they suspect of being The Creeper, they learn that he was a handsome college football star until a chemistry lab mishap caused a distortion of his features. This turned him to a life of crime, but when a beautiful blind girl (shades of Fantastic Four’s “The Thing”) befriends him, he wants to steal enough to pay for sight-restoring surgery for her. This film was actually made by Universal, who felt guilty for exploiting Rondo’s affliction and passed the film to poverty row’s PRC for distribution. Unfortunately, Rondo died just a few months after this film was finished. It’s a shame, because even though his acting is pretty wooden and his character’s supposed to be evil, he comes across as likeable. When you consider how this film’s story must’ve made him feel while acting in it, it becomes a bit uncomfortable to watch… but also elevates it from being just another B-film.

MST3K version is online starting here.

Prison Nurse (B&W, 1938) As if they weren’t having enough trouble trying to hold back the flooding from a big storm, a prison is also hit by a typhoid epidemic. Three nurses are brought in to help the badly-overworked doctor, but he soon falls ill himself. The admiration of one of the nurses inspires an incarcerated doctor to do his bit to help out even though he’s embittered against society, but more trouble’s on the way in the form of a prison break. They force the doctor-prisoner to come with them, and he ends up framed for the murder of a guard. The law sets up a trap for him, and only the nurse who’s in love with him can help him get out of it. When you take into account that all of this happens in a running time of just 51 minutes, you’ll get an idea of how fast-paced this little B-flick is. The uncut version is reportedly 67 minutes, but you may have a tough time finding a copy of that. The shortened version on Alpha DVD feels choppy but remains coherent.

Wind Chill (C, 2007) A girl needing a ride home from college for the holidays signs up to share a ride with another student, even though she’s obviously far too much of an antisocial bitch-asshole to be in the company of other humans. The guy she gets a ride with is a putz who seems to know a little too much about her to be a complete stranger, and about the time he pulls off the highway to take a “shortcut” she figures out the guy’s lying about who he says he is. Then they have an accident and get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Little Miss Charming locks him out of the car in subzero weather so he tries to walk back to a gas station, but it’s closed. Then they discover that the stretch of road they’re stuck on is haunted by some very creepy and malevolent ghosts, and if they aren’t careful they might die out there and join their ranks. Not-bad horror film that understands that atmosphere and creepiness are more important than shocks, and also does a good job focusing on character development; even though these two are pretty detestable at first, the colder they get the more the viewer warms to them. And the ghosts are an eerie bunch; priests, accident victims, and an evil highway patrolman. Drawbacks are that the movie’s too dark to see a lot of what’s going on, and they rely too much on blue filters trying to make it all look cold. Still, it’s better than a lot of newer horror films.

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