B Movies Get A New Lease On Life

Exhibit Number One: Tarantino’s Oscar-nominated film “Django Unchained” is done in the style of the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and ’70s. The majority of Tarantino’s films pay homage to the film industry’s rich history of traditional “B” movies, exploitation flicks, drive-ins and $1 a set cinemas.

When Tarantino made the 1997 crime thriller “Jackie Brown,” based on Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch,” he changed the titular heroine from white to African-American in order to work with Pam Grier, who first received noticed in such coarse 1970s blaxploitation films such as “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy” – sold with the inimitable tag line, “She’ll Cream You!”

“Gremlins” director Joe Dante believes that Tarantino continues to make the kind of movie he saw when he was younger. “He is a video store guy,” Dante says. “He had access to all of these bizarre films, many of which were made overseas that weren’t theatrically released here.”

Among all the inspirations hovering around “Django Unchained” is the series of vintage Italian spaghetti westerns, most notably the Sergio Leone-Clint Eastwood “Dollars” trilogy.

Hindered by a lack of cash, the classic Hollywood B-film would pander to the types of subject matter that paying audiences wanted to see – cowboys, monsters, biker gangs, girls in revealing clothing who took long showers, you name it. The B-film provided ample opportunity for those on the way up – Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas all started with low budget films – and those on the way down.

There was the breed of filmmaker who elected to stay in the low budget realm due to the artistic freedom it afforded them. Edgar G. Ulmer began in the Hollywood major studios to eventually helm no-budget tales brimming with stark poetry. His best known film, “Detour,” shot in six days in 1945, is an unsparing look at American post-war life as a down-on-his-luck drifter (Tom Neal) becomes involved in blackmail and murder.

Other filmmakers gave a lift up to many Hollywood heavyweights but never pursued bigger projects. Roger Corman gave Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Ron Howard their first big breaks. All went on to far bigger and better things.

Corman, however, never tired of low budget pictures. The titles of some of his most recent films include “Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader” and “Camel Spiders.”