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Learning from B-movies by Colson Whitehead

by Kim Packard
Learning from B-movies by Colson Whitehead by Kim Packard
Created June 2012 I have not watched these films except for: Alien, A Clockwork Orange (partially,) Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Psycho (partially,) The Birds and Coming to America. (I’ve also watched, in addition to the above, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films such as Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven and The House of Usher as well as Federico Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead which are not mentioned in Whitehead’s article.) I would like to know which B-movies among the ones listed below I can safely avoid. If you’ve watched any of them and liked it, please let me know. If there Is a good educational reason for watching any of these given… Read more

Created June 2012

I have not watched these films except for: Alien, A Clockwork Orange (partially,) Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, Psycho (partially,) The Birds and Coming to America. (I’ve also watched, in addition to the above, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films such as Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven and The House of Usher as well as Federico Fellini’s Spirits of the Dead which are not mentioned in Whitehead’s article.)

I would like to know which B-movies among the ones listed below I can safely avoid. If you’ve watched any of them and liked it, please let me know. If there Is a good educational reason for watching any of these given what I’ve already watched, please let me know, also. I really would like to know which ones I should I watch if I ever get around to them.

The films on this list are mentioned in Colson Whitehead ’s article in the June 4&11 issue of the New Yorker magazine which includes the following passages:

I hadn’t seen “Demon Lover” itself, but there was an entry for it in my new companion, Michael Weldon’s “The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.” This was before the Internet, right? How to know if something was worth checking out? How to hear about that oddball gem which had eluded syndication and the video store? Like many a great American innovator, Weldon had recognized a problem and applied himself. His project grew from a weekly Xerox, which he assembled in his East Village apartment, into an encyclopedia that was eight hundred pages long and covered more than three thousand films, from “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars” to “Zotz!” Psychotronic films were, most simply, exploitation flicks, B-movies in all their shameful exuberance. Their directors occupied the bottom rung on the ladder, below the Famous Directors, the Masters of Horror, and the Kings of Gore. Weldon defined the movies this way: Psychotronic films range from sincere social commentary to degrading trash. They concern teenagers, rock ’n’ roll, juvenile delinquents, monsters, aliens, killers, spies, detectives, bikers, communists, drugs, natural catastrophes, atomic bombs, the prehistoric past, and the projected future. They star ex-models, ex-sports stars, would-be Marilyns, future Presidents (and First Ladies), dead rock stars, and has-beens of all types.They exploited cultural trends and fads, and buried cultural trends and fads with the shoddy facts of themselves. They were the realization of their incompetent creators’ dreams, and, as such, the most powerful indictment of their creators’ empty vision.

My psychotronic explorations led me to a new formulation: an artist is a monster that thinks it is human.

Billed as the “First Monster Musical,” Ray Dennis Steckler’s “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?” (1964) is a masterwork of incompetence. After hearing about it for years, I finally saw it in 1996, on a double bill with “Rat Pfink a Boo Boo,” Steckler’s Batman-and-Robin pastiche (don’t ask). I was in my twenties, long past my B-movie phase, and working on what would become my first published novel. In the eighties, when I was reading up on exploitation flicks, I’d seen “Incredibly Strange Creatures” routinely characterized as a celluloid atrocity, “the worst movie ever made,” mostly on account of its title, I think. (If, like me, you operate under the assumption that the world is only getting worse, at an ever-accelerating rate, then you’ll agree that “Incredibly Strange Creatures” has been out-awfulled plenty of times in the past thirty years. No need for superlatives.)

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