What’s a B-Movie, Anyway?

Flying saucer
At B-Fest, viewers throw paper plates at the screen when flying saucers appear. Source: MarkGallagher, Wikimedia Commons

Every year, nerds descend on Northwestern University in Chicago to watch B-movies for 24 hours. Like subjects of the show Mystery Science Theater 3000, they cope with watching terrible movies by wisecracking about on-screen events. But why are so many people willing to lose sleep and smell so bad? And what exactly *is* a B-movie, anyway?

Ed Wood: A lot of the in-jokes for the yearly midnight screening of Plan 9 from Outer Space are revealed by this affectionate Tim Burton biopic on the B-movie king. For instance, when lead actor Bela Lugosi passed away during shooting, Wood did not let this deter him, filming a stand-in with a cape draped across his face to finish. This prompts the audience to cry out, “Bela! Not Bela!,” among other dorky rituals. This film captures the essentials of a good B-movie, including low budget, inept skills, a genre slant and total obliviousness on the part of all involved.

Godzilla: Cheaply made monster movies have always been a staple at B-Fest. Godzilla in every incarnation, with flimsy production values, questionable acting and rowdy creature smackdowns, remains a popular finale film at the festival.

The RoomThe Room has gained notoriety as a contemporary fiasco, complete with its own audience-participation conventions. The enigmatic Tommy Wiseau has crafted what may become the future of B-movies with his incomprehensible, unintentionally hilarious story about failed romance and betrayal, which feels like a made-for-TV movie directed by an alien with no knowledge of human behavior.

Now you can program your own B-Fest, if you dare.