The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love

Book Reviews | By on May 9th, 2009

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Author: Edited by David Sterrit & John Anderson
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Genre: Film
Pages: 240
Retail Price: 15.95
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This is an enjoyable collection of breezy film reviews and analyses, though the wide array of films chosen greatly stretch the definition of “B-movie.” In fact, B-movie fans looking for a companion guide will be disappointed. “The B List” rarely delves into what I (and likely others) consider the three pillars of B-movies: sci-fi, horror, and exploitation (teen-, sex-, black-, or otherwise… and it doesn’t hurt to have a giant monster.)

Regardless of genre, what makes a movie “B” is its low budget and the intention for cheap entertainment, the combination of which often results in camp. No matter how bad the film is, a B-movie is not something that’s meant to be artistic, thoughtful, or “indie” on the one hand, nor is it a Hollywood blockbuster on the other. Oddly, this book covers overlooked, old noir gems (“Detour,” “Crime Wave”); Oscar winners (“Platoon,” “The Buddy Holly Story”), arty road movies and westerns; big-budget stinkers (“The Core”); arthouse (“Eraserhead,” “Videodrome,” “Stranger Than Paradise”); and contemporary homages to B-movies without being B themselves (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Grindhouse”). How can you represent Oliver Stone but not Roger Corman in a book on B-movies?

Films included in this collection that are closest to my definition are now well-regarded classics, like the original “The Fly,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” None of films listed here would belong on an episode of MST3K, which is probably the most accurate gauge of B-ness.

That said, these essays are exceptionally well-written, often bypassing plot summaries to discuss a new interesting angle. Most clock in under three pages, but have something to say, making each one a bite-sized nugget of meaty commentary. On the strength of the essays, I’ve Netflixed a number of the films I hadn’t seen. I must give this collection some credit, because I doubt anything else would’ve put “The Core” in my queue.

Bottom Line: Great collection of film essays, but very few follow the premise.
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