‘Barbenheimer’: The Union of Diverse Filmgoers
Much more than a meme, 'Barbenheimer' actually diversifies viewer bases and spreads the important message of both films wider than they otherwise would have!
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When it comes to cult classics, the horror genre has always had an overwhelming number of B-movies. Horror B-movies refer to the low-budget feature films as compared to major feature films. One might call them “low-grade” cinema as opposed to the more artistic endeavours, but I’d refrain from saying that. The horror B-movie is a source of unbridled entertainment and for the fans of spooky business, it’s the perfect way to round out Halloween night or any night in which they’re in the mood for horror. Usually characterized by a somewhat loose storyline, sometimes some quite silly characters, a little over-the-top acting and a bunch of practical effects, horror B-movies used to rule the world of horror during the ’70s and ’80s with franchises like Friday the 13th, Slumber Party Massacre and Halloween.
But since the late ’90s, with big-budget horror films like End of Days and Hollow Man, the focus has shifted from the horror B-movie. We now have major horror features like It and Midsommar and every year, there are almost ceremonial releases from the studio A24 which gave us The Witch and Hereditary. This year itself, Ti West’s X and Jordan Peele’s Nope came out, which are far from being horror B-movies. But that being said, it’s only the focus that has shifted because we still have horror B-movies being made. If you enjoy the bizarre, less refined and entertaining world of the horror B-movies and want a break from the nuanced and poignant big-budget horror releases, I have a list of gore-fests from the last ten years to enjoy this October. Here are fifteen films for the fifteen days that remain till the auspicious date of Halloween!
The biggest subcategory of horror B-movies by percentage is the slasher film. Almost overdone violence and heavy reliance on practical effects as opposed to CGI characterize the slasher. And of course, the heavily criticized but also equally loved trope of the final girl is a slasher staple. Some of the most gruesome on-screen deaths have been courtesy of the slasher horror B-movie and I’m here to offer you some more horrible killings. If gore makes you queasy, you may consider skipping this segment.
Now if you like your killers to not just be brutal but thorough, this is a must-watch. Played by Luke Evans, the protagonist of this film preys on a family of gangsters after they kidnap him and his wife. There are some logical inconsistencies along the way and the first half an hour isn’t exactly a lesson in film editing, but the sheer number and creatively violent nature of the killings make up for any flaws. No One Lives is definitely extreme in its violence and one of my favourite modern slashers because the performances are genuinely compelling and make the violence feel as genuine as imaginable.
Unlike the other films on this list, The Hunt is a critical analysis of our society on top of being a bonkers slasher with too many kills to keep count of. The story is of a few upper-class aristocrats who organize the abduction of middle or lower-class citizens to a secluded town with the sole purpose of hunting them down in a competitive game. Hillary Swank plays one of the hunted and gets you rooting for her and her team of the hunted who survive the first immediate onslaught by their captors. With just about enough backstory to get you to care about the characters, The Hunt is a fast-paced thriller that has all the traditional slasher staples. These include a final girl, delectably violent killings and a sinister atmosphere of mistrust between characters. To top it off, it has a powerful message about classism.
Call me a conservative, but slashers need final girls. They obviously don’t need the unnecessary sexualization of the archetype, but something about the woman surviving and finishing off the killer who terrorizes her group of people and kills all or most of them just ups the entertainment value. An equally important member of a horror movie ensemble is the “scream queen”. Often the one to also play the final girl, a “scream queen” is an actress who specifically in scenes where her character is expected to scream, delivers affecting performances with screams that could echo through the room if you have a good stereo system. Treading the line of “supernatural horror”, The Final Girls tells the story of the daughter of a famous scream queen from the ’80s, who’s forced to relive the horror film that made her mother famous. The drama is barely compelling, but the film has a bright colour palette that’s visually engrossing and again features a bunch of creative kills that make it a fun watch.
Reboots and remakes are bittersweet experiences for moviegoers because some, like the 1998 Psycho are undeniably terrible while others, like the 2021 Dune are considered to be notches better than their originals. I’d claim that the Slumber Party Massacre remake falls in the second category. And it’s by a mile the most inclusive and diverse film on this list. A killer hunted down and massacred all the women at a slumber party in ’93 and now the daughter of the only survivor is going on her own slumber party with her friends. Involving a turning-of-the-tables storyline, this new rendition of the classic is abundant in the female gaze and features a diverse cast, including an African American lead, Hannah Gonera in her first major film role. The male sexualization is borderline objectionable, but it’s much less than the female sexualization in the original. A bonus for the faint at heart, the kills in this film aren’t as gory as the ones in the other films on this list. If there’s one film from this list that you watch this year, let it be this one. It provides an inclusive and sensitized blueprint for slashers and horror B-movies and I hope the ones that follow keep up this level of sensitivity.
I know time travel should ideally put this film under supernatural, but the structure of the narrative is very akin to slashers. Also, it’s not time travel in the traditional sense. Popularized by Groundhog Day, the time loop has become a major trope for supernatural drama and Happy Death Day is practically the slasher version of Groundhog Day. It tells the story of a college student Tree, played by Jessica Rothe, who keeps reliving the same day and being brutally murdered during it. She has to figure out who the killer is before the day is over because staying up all night somehow doesn’t help either. Apart from the somewhat brutal nature of the deaths, this is a cheery film from start to finish. Focusing on petty rivalries between sorority sisters, drama between Tree and possible romantic partners and a poignant arc involving her father, Happy Death Day is a heartwarming horror film, as paradoxical as it sounds. In fact, the colour palette and atmosphere aren’t gloomy either. The film subverts tropes of the slasher, especially that of unnecessary violence towards female characters with next to no characterization. Tree undergoes genuine character development, is a very well-fleshed-out protagonist and isn’t indulgently killed on screen. In fact, the nature of the deaths could be violent but the gore is minimal.
Mention modern horror movies and someone from the Gen Z or Millennial generation will for sure mention The Conjuring. It’s not just a cult classic, but a household name and deservedly so! But just because that is a big-budget project and supernatural elements naturally imply the use of CGI, not every horror story involving supernatural elements is big-budget. Zombie apocalypse films are famous for being B-grade horror because unlike Army of the Dead, most of them have practical, if not poor visual effects, and are often awful enough to be spoofs of themselves. That being said, here are four good and entertaining supernatural horror B-movies released post-2012 for enthusiasts to enjoy.
Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer play charming love interests in this story of literal exploding heads. They are students at a high school where their classmates’ heads suddenly start exploding. Trying to figure out why this is happening and how to prevent it from happening to them, the two embark on a survival adventure. Funny and featuring an honest exploration of teenage angst, Spontaneous is a romcom set in a horror story. The deadpan humour and the nihilistic disposition of at least one of the protagonists make for a hilarious ride despite the gravity of the situation. The story is surprisingly deep as well and despite being a horror B-movie and having to show literal heads exploding, the visuals feel authentic. If you can handle exploding heads, I recommend giving this a try.
Occult horror is a relatively niche subgenre of supernatural horror, but Ari Aster made them the talk of the town in 2019 with his film Midsommar. Before then, there was Jennifer’s Body, but the story wasn’t entirely focused on the cultists in that. In the same year as Midsommar though, a fun, gory and quite over-the-top occult horror movie was released too. Starring Hayley Griffith as the protagonist, Satanic Panic tells the story of a pizza delivery girl who is caught by the party people she delivers to and prepared for sacrifice since she’s a virgin. What follows is a messy and bloody story of survival. It’s rather entertaining to watch the development of the camaraderie between Hayley and Ruby Modine, who plays the disgruntled daughter of the cult leader interested in preventing the sacrifice.
Competitive cheerleading can create a sinister atmosphere for aspirants and this is a very common premise for films focusing on cheerleaders. Despite portraying an honest depiction of the competitive nature, All Cheerleaders Die derives its slasher story from another source. In fact, it features the cheerleading squad becoming close friends and coming together to fight misogynistic jocks! It opens with a dangerous stunt causing the death of a cheerleader, thus establishing the dangers of cheerleading and then goes on to follow the deceased’s close friend’s attempt to investigate the death and take revenge on one of the jocks for reasons initially unexplained. Now the supernatural element cannot be discussed without spoiling the film so I’ll let you discover it for yourself, but let me just say that it’s the best twist on the undead trope of horror films you’ll ever find. As serious as all this sounds, the film is a comedy and also features a Sapphic relationship!
This is my favourite of all the films I’m mentioning in this article. Played by Samara Weaving and Steven Yeun, the protagonists of Mayhem decide to avenge their ill-treatment by a company. Samara’s character has been cheated of money while Steven’s character has been unfairly fired as a scapegoat for someone else’s mistake. In Mayhem’s world, there is a particular virus which manifests visibly in the form of a red eye, which completely robs a person of inhibition. This sets up the stage for characters to literally become unhinged. Creative and visually disturbing kills, a humorous development of the chemistry between the main characters and a clinical satire of the corporate world makes Mayhem endlessly fun. It’s very fast-paced but gives to develop the emotional backbone of the story. This makes the characters worth rooting for beyond the downfall of the corporate structure and makes Mayhem that much more engaging. It’s the most entertaining violent film I’ve seen. And it gets brownie points for the Asian representation too.
Zombie movies don’t necessarily always feature actual zombies and a common premise is the outbreak of disease or the launch of a bioweapon that practically makes corpses of living people. Yummy features a similar premise. A heterosexual couple goes to a critically acclaimed plastic surgeon for the breast reduction of the wife but while there, the husband discovers a dying man restrained to a bed in the basement. He releases the man and this has catastrophic consequences. Apparently, the doctor is famous for performing relatively rare kinds of surgeries through unorthodox means in some illegal proceedings. That dying man shows cannibalistic tendencies and soon he has bitten enough nurses and patients to trap a few of the main characters in a zombie apocalypse-like scenario. Even though there’s humour in Yummy, the desperate nature of the situation makes it quite a heavy watch and it’s also rather heavy on the violence. Unlike most of the other films mentioned in this article, Yummy weighs heavily on the mind and might trigger intrusive thoughts, so be cautious.
I’m not sure which specific subgenre these next five films fall into, but the amount of gore and the psychological effects of the stories definitely make them horror films. And they involve some of the most disturbing scenes of bodily harm which are created entirely with practical effects without using CGI. So not only are they horrifyingly good, they’re also delectably fun as horror B-movies.
Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, starring Elijah Wood as the protagonist is arguably as good as, if not better as a remake than the 1980 film of the same name, which was directed by William Lustig. Following a deranged man who scalps women to decorate the mannequins in his factory, Maniac is very affecting with its close-up cinematography and claustrophobic visual design. This is the perfect example of why horror B-movies shouldn’t be referred to as “low grade” because this is in no way inferior to more famous films like Jordan Peele’s Us. Maniac deals with mental health in a somewhat nihilistic way, but is definitely a nuanced narrative and a treat for fans of gory films.
Popularized by provocateur David Cronenberg, the genre of body horror focuses on bodily mutilation and horror arising from modifications to the human body. Now a lot of Cronenberg’s films involve themes of bodily autonomy and also a common trope of the mutilation being caused due to supernatural elements as opposed to being the consequences of surgery. However, American Mary is more similar to the 1960 French film Eyes Without a Face in that the body horror arises specifically from surgery. Played by Katharine Isabelle, the protagonist Mary is introduced to the world of black-market body-modification surgeries while trying to find ways to pay her rent and college tuition. The kill count isn’t very high in American Mary but some of the visuals can cause permanent fear of hospitals and surgery. Also, I should provide a trigger warning for sexual assault. In fact, the perpetrator of said assault is tortured, which I have no moral issues with, but which might be difficult to see for some viewers. American Mary is extreme visual horror, so proceed with caution. You can read more about, American Mary on Semoy’s “Top 5 Cerebral Gore Films”.
The infamous I Spit on Your Grave is possibly the most well-known rape-revenge film. It’s a specific subgenre of the exploitation genre of films which focuses on how a person’s rape is avenged. The genre dates back to at least 1960 which was the year Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring was released. More recently, Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman was the talk of the town for bringing a rather sad but liberated perspective to the genre. That being said, Revenge is the peak of the genre for me. This could be because I enjoy vengeance only in the form of brutal violence or it could be because of the fact that here the raped woman is the one who takes revenge. Similar to Abel Ferrara’s 1981 cult classic Ms. 45, Revenge features a woman avenging her rape by killing everyone involved. Unlike Ms. 45 though, this is set in a secluded space out in the desert. So the rapists are the woman’s boyfriend and his friends and that kind of makes the revenge more satisfying. The biggest plus point for me, however, is that the wardrobe is absolutely practical and though there may be enough content for sexualizing in the eyes of the viewer, the camera is respectful. It’s clear that the show of skin is only done as a consequence to story points and not with intention of sexualizing the protagonist.
Punk rockers have been infamously considered to be moral deviants and Satanists for as long as the genre of punk rock has existed and Green Room uses this premise to set up a survival horror. Members of a punk rock band get trapped in a venue after they witness a violent crime by a gang of skinheads. They’re persecuted by the skinheads to prevent information from leaving the venue and what follows is an uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing gore-fest that becomes more and more nerve-wracking as time passes. Featuring the late Anton Yelchin as a soft-spoken but strong-willed member of the band, Green Room is an affecting but nonetheless entertaining must-watch for fans of the closed-room horror.
No list talking about horror films is complete without the mention of at least one film whose subject is queerness. The infamous trope of “bury your gays” comes to life in The Retreat as a lesbian couple who go to a secluded cabin for a getaway are soon enough persecuted by a group of homophobic men who film the torture and killing of queer couples for a live audience. Taking a step beyond the usual, The Retreat even features a particularly disturbing on-camera killing of a gay man. But this is not a sad story and even though that’s a spoiler, I’ll let you know that the film is effectively a queer-positive twist on the homophobic horror movies of the past. It’s like the creators of The Retreat wanted to respond to those horror films which demonized gays and portrayed their deaths in a positive light.
I hope this list has convinced you in some part at least, that the horror B-movie never went away but just became less popular. So enjoy the apparent revival of the genre while you count down the days till the return of Michael Myers. And Happy Halloween in advance!
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Much more than a meme, 'Barbenheimer' actually diversifies viewer bases and spreads the important message of both films wider than they otherwise would have!
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