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B-movies glorify best of the worst

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff can rest easy in their graves. Samuel L. Jackson has taken it upon himself to carry the torch of the B-list movie hero with the recent release of “Snakes on a Plane.”

While “Snakes on a Plane” has created quite a buzz in pop-culture circles, it’s not anything new. With its scary snakes and descriptive title, the movie falls into a long tradition that dates back to the Universal horror films of the 1930s. “Dracula,” “The Wolf Man” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” were all films that told the audience all they needed to know in the title. “Dracula” has its vampire, “The Mummy” its mummy and “Frankenstein” its monster. The titles were simple, descriptive and easy to remember. What if “The Wolf Man” had been titled “The Man Who Goes Through an Attitude Adjustment Every Time there is a Full Moon?” Not quite as catchy. B-movies don’t need creative titles or creative stories for that matter. They need strange situations and simple problems.

“Snakes on a Plane” could have easily been “Snakes on a Boat” or – even more deadly – “Snakes on a Submarine.” The writers of the film happened to decide on a plane as the setting for their film and gave it an appropriate title. Vampires, werewolves, creatures from black lagoons and snakes in places where they shouldn’t be are all scary. They turn normal situations, whether an archeological dig at the pyramids or a routine plane ride, and turn them into situations with tension and conflict.

B-movies are also films that know what they are, and “Snakes on a Plane” is no different. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the epitome of a cult film, knows that it is strange, different and not appealing to most people. The main character is a transvestite alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. Mom and Dad are not going to see this film.

This is not to say that “Snakes on a Plane” appeals to the same crowd as “Rocky Horror.” It does not. The similarity between these two films lies in the fact that they know what they are and do not pretend to be anything different.

The makers of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” know that it is a film that appeals to a sub-culture. The makers of “Snakes on a Plane” know they have made a film that is not a work of high art but is a film that no one has tried before. They have hired a well known actor in Jackson who hams it up in his performance. Tim Curry made the exact same career move 30 years ago. Here is a man who graduated from Cambridge with combined honors and worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company dressing in drag.

Every era has its great cult film. The 1930s Universal horror films are still well remembered in Lugosi’s eternal performance in the titular role of “Dracula.” No fan of movies will look confused when told, “I vant to suck your blaahd.”

The 1950s had an expedition down the Amazon disrupted by a man-reptile from a certain lagoon, transvestite aliens were a hit in the 70s and this era has snakes … on a plane. Ed Wood and Doctor X would have been proud.