By Heather Babcock
If you happen to pass by the cozy back room at the Imperial Pub on the first Saturday of the month, you’ll probably hear gales of uncontrollable laughter escaping from behind the curtains. That’s because the Imperial plays host to Killer B Cinema, a fun B-movie love-in organized by Lizzie Violet and Zoltan Hawryluk (also known as Zed Dulac, lead singer of the Toronto punk band Conflicting Plaid). As one regular calls it, Killer B is “like Mystery Science Theater 3000 with alcohol.” In other words, audience participation is encouraged (although not mandatory – feel free to sit back and chuckle at the bon mots and witticisms thrown at the screen). For five bucks, Killer B delivers two B-movies, a vintage cartoon pre-show, trivia and the chance to win great prizes – where else these days can you find a swell deal like that?
Foote and Friends on Film had the chance to sit down with Lizzie and Zoltan to chat about B-movies, today’s blockbusters and to seek an answer to that pressing question: is The Room (2003) a B-film?
Foote and Friends on Film: What sparked your interest in B-movies?
Lizzie: It was my family that got me into B-films. My father and I would watch old sci-fi and horror movies together. My Grandma Betty was obsessed with film noir – it was always either Sonny & Cher or film noir on the television. My Great Grandpa Bill loved silent movies. Modern movies don’t thrill me at all; there’s no story (in modern blockbusters), it’s all about special effects and CGI. Even if some of them are “bad”, B-movies at least had fun stories.
Zoltan: Filmmaking today is very different than it was thirty years ago. Today’s filmmakers are spoiled by technology. Sometimes they let the technology take over and make that more important than the story. In the 1970s in Turkey, there were remakes of American superhero movies made on very low budgets. For instance, in Süpermen Dönüyor (1979) also known as The Return of Superman or Turkish Superman, the director Kunt Tulgar used his daughter’s Ken doll, dressed up as Superman, and put it against a backdrop to make it look like it was flying – that’s ingenious. I have more respect for that kind of filmmaking than I do for major blockbusters. (With blockbusters) the people involved are more interested in making a lot of money than with coming up with a good story.
Lizzie: Our mutual love of B-movies inspired Killer B Cinema.
Foote and Friends on Film: What is the difference between a B-movie and a “bad” movie? Is The Room (2003) a B-movie?
Zoltan: Yes (laughter). The Room (2003) is a B-movie. It’s so bad, it’s good.
Lizzie: A B-movie is a film usually made on a very low budget but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. There are a lot of B-movies that are amazing. I think there needs to be another category like “D-movies” and that is where a film like The Room (2003) would go.
Zoltan: There is a commonality with B-movies – they are films that don’t make big money at the box office but they develop a cult following. B-films are entertaining for a different reason than A-films are. They are made in a different way that makes them quirky and sometimes inadvertently funny.
Foote and Friends on Film: Many of the Hollywood blockbusters of today are really just B-movies with big budgets. What in your opinion, besides their budget, makes B-movies unique from the current crop of superhero and disaster movies?
Lizzie: With B-movies, as a result of their low budget, the cast and crew came together as a community – a family – to make the movie. In many B movies, the cast and crew would do more than just act in the movie or when there wasn’t a budget for extras like wardrobe, they would wear their own clothing. An example would be in Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Jackie Joseph, the actor who played Audrey, wore all of her own clothes. All of the cast did. In another B-movie, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), many of the actors had other duties along with acting. Karl Hardman who played Harry Cooper was also the makeup person for the Zombies. Other actors were lighting people. Ed Wood would also have actors help build sets, finance his movies or other duties. They were all passionate about the movie project and were always willing to chip in.
Zoltan: B-movies are a little rough around the edges; they have a quirky quality. They are usually entertaining for more than what was originally intended – they can be inadvertently funny. Today we are spoiled with technology. Sure, B-movies have the rubber monster suits but that’s more imaginative than CGI. Movies are supposed to be about storytelling. True creativity comes with the hurdles, the limitations of technology.
Foote and Friends on Film: Killer B Cinema has fostered new friendships and a real feeling of community. What is it about B-movies that brings people together?
Lizzie: At our event, people can come and feel comfortable to riff on the movie. They get the chance to hang out with like-minded people who share a common interest. Sometimes people dress up for Killer B. The audience is invested in not just the movie but the culture and the history of it.
Foote and Friends on Film: Some of the movies that Killer B shows are infamous – such as Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Other movies though are quite rare such as Turkish Star Trek (1973). Where the heck do you find some of the movies that you screen?
Lizzie: Sometimes it’s serendipity. Sometimes it’s “Hey, I wonder if something like this exists!”
Zoltan: Lizzie has a large collection of B-movies.
Lizzie: Also people who attend the event will message me afterwards with movie suggestions.
Zoltan: Scenes from the Turkish superhero films started going viral on You Tube. We’d see these clips and wonder what is this film? I show my friends these movies and they can’t believe that they actually exist.
Foote and Friends on Film: Lastly, what are your favorite B-movies of all time?
Lizzie: I have three: The Screaming Skull (1958), Carnival of Souls (1962) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
Zoltan: It’s funny because before we started Killer B, I would have chosen films from that era as well, especially Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). But now if I had to choose a top three it would be 3 Dev Adam (1973), Lady Terminator (1988) and Süpermen Dönüyor (1979).
Check out Killer B Cinema held on the first Saturday of the month in the performance space at The Imperial Pub (54 Dundas Street East). Two movies for the low cost of five dollars! Doors open at 8pm.
Note: Photo of Lizzie and Zoltan courtesy of photographer Valerie Gow.