The thing about B-movies is that people tend to perceive them as having no artistry, done on the cheap, simply and quickly, just to make a quick buck. In the beginning, of course, B-movies were the lower-rung, inferior companions in double-features. Now, however, the term refers more to a style than to budgets or hierarchy.
But in general, there are good B-movies and there are bad B-movies. The bad ones, surely, have no artistry. But the good ones only pretend to lack artistry. Take, for example, Peter Jackson’s early squelchy horror films – they were inventive, and bore his signature artistic style even in those early stages. Or even Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead that equally showed off its director’s distinctive style. And not just because they were looking to make a quick buck with a cheapo, the directors had to work with whatever they could afford, and in a way, to get their foot in the door, too.
Or consider Val Lewton in the 40s, who produced some of the greatest atmospheric and psychological horror films ever, all relegated to B status at the time.
The mistake usually made by those who wish to pay homage to the B-movie by making their own B-movie is to think that it must be easy – just have an “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality, and don’t worry about anything looking lousy, because, well, that’s B-grade after all.
Like I said, a good B-movie only seems to be crap. It actually demands inventiveness, imagination and yes, a whole lot of artistry. One of the reasons why I didn’t take to the recent excitement over the online “tribute” movie Kung Fury was exactly because the filmmakers were just putting together a patchwork of 80s cheesiness and B-movie camp without even trying to be clever about it.
Which brings us to Stung, another homage to B-movies with its monstrous 7-foot killer wasps and practical gory effects. It has the feel of a fan-film with its paper-thin plot and its show-offy special effects. Get this: a two-member catering service is hired for a garden party at a wealthy old woman’s grand estate home, and the party is interrupted by the appearance of giant wasps that sting the party guests after which more giant wasps break out of their bodies (or that’s what it seemed to me, although I’m still not quite sure how it works).
These monsters are, of course, the centrepiece of the movie, yet they are upstaged at every turn by veteran actor Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millennium) as the gruff-voiced, alcoholic mayor whose screen presence overwhelms pretty much everything else in the film. And character-building is what the earlier parts of the film are better at. Director Benni Diez wisely takes his time to introduce each of the characters and their quirks, and shows that he is quite deft at handling actors.
Unfortunately, once the wasps make an appearance and all hell breaks loose, the characters seem to lose their interesting facets and morph into conventional fodder for a conventional monster movie. At this point, the wasps we’ve been waiting to see should have taken centrestage, yet the action is badly shot, confusing and incoherent.
The central character here, and the main concern of the movie, is Paul, played by Matt O’ Leary, who is designed to go from zero to hero, a klutzy loser who’s supposed to find his mettle under pressure. But even then, the character transformation is unconvincing and we are really left with only the thrust of his attempts to have sex with his employer Julia (Jessica Cook).
So, the movie is really about his journey to get laid. And with the mayor’s statements about being a man, this could just be the film’s big tribute to the B-movie – the sexploitative nature of the B-grade monster movie. It’s a tribute that overshadows any homage to B-movie styles and genre trappings.
This, in the end, is a movie not about giant wasps, but about a guy who would go through hell just to get his rocks off. And in the end, it is also a movie that straddles the fine line between the good B-movie and the bad B-movie, when its director’s earnest efforts for some artistry falls flat towards its finale.