Terms such as “B-grade” and “laugh-inducing” belie the absolute brilliance behind the so-bad-it’s-good horror sub-genre. Low production values and even lower budgets mean the creativity of the filmmakers is paramount; otherwise, so-bad-it’s-good quickly ventures into the more familiar terrain of so-bad-it’s-just… bad.
As subjective as cinema can be, there are still shining examples of B-grade horror flicks that have made their mark on generations and acted as the inspiration for other filmmakers right across the world. All of the following have their own hallowed place in cinema history, whether you consider that laughable or not.
Just like Gizmo, treat these films with respect (which means not getting them wet or feeding them after midnight).
Blood Feast (1963)
Widely regarded as the first splatter movie, Blood Feast is the garish lovechild of its entrepreneurial director and all-round mensch Herschell Gordon Lewis. As the title suggests, a social gathering turns into a feast of the bloody kind when its cultist caterer starts serving up human body parts.
Lewis not only directed and composed the music, but also shot the film himself in brilliant colour that serves to emphasise the arterial blood and rich flesh of internal organs. Most importantly, the carnage is shown in the most intimate of detail (no cutting from the action). Lewis isn’t known as The Godfather of Gore for nothing.
Zombie Flesheaters (1979)
Riding on the coattails of Herschell Gordon Lewis and George A. Romero came Italy’s own Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, and this guilty pleasure (slyly marketed in Europe as a sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). Unafraid of the extreme or ridiculous, Fulci pushed at the gore threshold with Zombie Flesheaters, most remarkably with an extreme close-up eye-piercing that was censored from Australian VHS versions and an incredibly nutzoid zombie versus shark encounter.
Could Madonna have been correct when she said Italians do it better? This film is a compelling argument for the affirmative. Trash exploitation at its best.
Houseboat Horror (1989)
Australia gained its own notoriety in exploitation (often referred to these day as ‘Ozploitation’) when Quentin Tarantino picked up on this horror “spectacle” featuring pop cultural names from the late ’80s, such as Alan Dale (Neighbours), Animal (Hey Hey It’s Saturday), Gavin Wood (Countdown) and film commentator John Michael Howson as himself.
Frequently touted as the worst Australian film ever made, Houseboat Horror came from the mind of businessman Ollie Martin and was shot on location at Lake Eildon where a rock group filming a music video on a houseboat are terrorised by a hideously disfigured psychopath called Acid Head.
This is a fascinating time capsule into Australian horror history. So bad it hurts.
Mystics in Bali (1981)
Aussie tourists drinking Bintang in Kuta are most likely unaware of this gem that uncovers a supernatural side of Bali constantly festering under the surface of local society. The genius of Mystics in Bali is in its evocation of atmosphere while simultaneously presenting outlandish imagery, such as a flying severed head that eats a foetus out of a woman’s womb.
Special mention must be made of the German tourist who was plucked from the beach to play the lead role of an American girl with a fascination for the dark arts. And then there’s the Balinese leyak (Sophie W.D.) whose maniacal laugh will haunt you FOREVER.
The Tingler (1959)
Just as Herschell Gordon Lewis understood the entrepreneurial aspects of movie making, so did William Castle – a jovial personality who put the “show” in showbiz. To see a Castle film at the time of its release was to indulge in a magical journey into gimmickry. In particular, for The Tingler – referring to a parasitical creature that feeds on people’s fear – Castle rigged electronic devices under select cinema seats for a butt-buzzing experience (called Percepto) whenever The Tingler appeared.
The Tingler is thrillingly entertaining in its own right and, given Castle’s reliance on promotional tricks, suggests he probably didn’t even fully realise his own talents as a filmmaker. And it stars Vincent Price.
Emma Westwood is a presenter on Triple R FM’s film criticism show, Plato’s Cave, airing Mondays at 7pm. Triple R is a fully subscriber-funded community radio station, and they’re currently in Radiothon-mode, doing all manner of ghoulish and ghastly programming; the theme of this year’s Radiothon is “It’s Alive!”
Should you subscribe during Radiothon and pay up by Wednesday September 20th, you’ll not only be supporting Triple R’s unique and independent voice, you’ll also go in the running to win a spine-tingling array of prizes. Swing over this way to find out more.