Aesthetics Wiki

The B-Movie Horror aesthetic is a love letter to a mostly bygone era of film. It is taken from the often outlandish looks of cheaply-made 1930s-1980s B-horror movies, which aimed not to stay in the public consciousness as great pieces of art but instead to entertain (and in this case scare) audiences for the duration of their runtimes, and make some money, then be forgotten. Still, many of these old horror films have gained cult followings and enjoy a place in modern culture thanks to memorable characters, plots, effects, and of course the aesthetic. Features of this aesthetic include grainy or washed-out-looking footage, cheap effects (especially prosthetics and fake blood), ridiculous but distinctively styled posters, and dramatic title screens.


(This will specifically cover American B-horror movies and B-movie culture. Feel free to add information on B-horror from your country.)

During the Great Depression, the film industry was hit hard. To entice people to go to theaters, films began to be screened in pairs, called Double Features. Often one of these films, called the "A-Movie," would have the bigger budget and a longer runtime, while the second, the "B-Movie," would be much more cheaply produced, and were at first made by up-and-coming talent as opposed to more experienced directors, writers, and actors. Later, films bought from failing studios were screened as B-features.

In the 1950s and 1960s, B-horror movies became especially popular, somewhat thanks to the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers becoming teenagers and young adults with disposable income. B-horror movies of this era are what many people tend to think of when they think of B-horror, with their bright colors and dramatic narration. This was the early part of the Cold War, when horror movies fed off of Americans' fear of nuclear war, mind control, spies and stolen identity, and alien invasions (which were all of course metaphors for communism and/or teenagers). Some of these B-horror films are lost, and most are simply not remembered, but some are still a part of cultural and sub-cultural canon to this day, including (according to IMDb) The Giant Claw, The Alligator People, Teenagers from Outer Space, and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. With the rise of in-home televisions in the 1950s onward, double-features became much less profitable, and B-movies began to be used for late-night programming. Early made-for-TV movies could have higher budgets and were more like anthology series or mini-series, but the rise of TV also lent itself to the new sub-genre of exploitation films, a type of low-budget movie with an emphasis on sex and gore.

The 1980s and 1990s made up the second great era of B-movies, thanks to the rise of home video. Now, cheaply-made movies could be released directly to video and marketed in video stores instead of going through the much more expensive process of releasing to theaters. These were extremely popular, probably owing to the fact that they were so cheap to make and watch. Some of the best-remembered B-horror movies came out in this era, defining the genre for Gen-Xers and Millennials. B-horror movies from this era include Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a parody of 1950s B-invasion movies), Demonic Toys, Happy Birthday to Me, Chopping Mall, Ice Cream Man, and of course the charmingly strange Blood Rage. Many a horror series that began in theaters at this time had countless straight-to-VHS or made-for-TV sequels, including Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Jaws, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

A lot of these continued to get sequels, or were totally remade or rebooted, as DVDs became the more dominant form of home video entertainment in the 2000s. In a more cynical post-9/11 world, the horror genre was loaded with what would have once been called B-movies. There was of course the sub-genre of found footage films, popularized by 1999's The Blair Witch Project, and what we now call "torture porn." Violence, gore, torture, insanity, and a largely pessimistic feel characterized this sub-genre, which includes House of 1000 Corpses, the Saw franchise, Hostel, and The Human Centipede. There were some comedic and parodic B-horror movies, too, (Birdemic and Evil Bong, for example), but they were nowhere near as popular as they had been in the 1980s.

No discussion of B-horror movies would be complete without at least mentioning the 2010s made-for-TV franchise Sharknado (which is somewhat a parody of the 1950s B-disaster horror movies), that started a whole sub-genre of imitators, and brought killer shark movies back into the pop cultural conversation for a little while. Finally, in the 2010s streaming became the primary way of watching movies. Many old Double-Feature horror films can be found for free on YouTube, and newer films can be watched with subscriptions (and sometimes also for free on YouTube). They're not necessarily coming back, in the sense that they are becoming popular again, because they never really left, but a whole new generation of film nerds now has the opportunity to discover the weird and wonderful world of B-movie horror.

In short, B-horror movies are not high art, but they have been around for a long time, and they maintain a place in popular culture.