Sometimes dumb people will use the phrase "B-movie" to describe a movie that's bad, or that they didn't like, or that was boring, or stupid, or incompetently made. What these people don't realize is that the "B" in B-movie actually stands for "better." To prove that sentiment, here are 6 essential films that were produced on the fringes of the studio system, but still have enough quality for 7 or 8 A-pictures.


"Touch of Evil"

Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil" is often considered to be the greatest B-movie ever made. Welles picked up a cheap paperback called "Badge of Evil" that was set to be turned into a feature film, changed most of the plot and characters, and produced a thick slab of B-movie gold. Although the movie was ignored as a cheap thriller when it was released, it now stands tall as an unparalleled classic-featuring one of the most impressive opening shots in movie history, among other treasures.


"Glen or Glenda"

Ed Wood is known as the worst director of all time. True movie fans know this is an affectionate title rather than a derogatory one-because while there are thousands of artists throughout history who are more technically competent than Wood, few have matched his ability to put his heart and soul up on the screen. "Glen or Glenda" is his masterpiece-an incoherent, hypnotic story about a man who enjoys dressing in women's clothing. Complete with incomprehensible "narration" from horror (and B-movie) icon Bela Lugosi.


"Class of 1984"

It's very rare that a B-movie tries to convince you that it's anything other than exploitation trash, made on the cheap under the blind eye of executives who were only interested in filing seats. But "Class of 1984" is a rare movie-the first two-thirds seem all the world like a particularly tasteless version of one of those inspirational movies where a young teacher gets a job in a rough, inner-city school and teaches the kids in his class about their true potential. And it kind of is, except instead of "inspirational" it's "horrifying," and the "troubled" kids in his class are actually homicidal rapist punks. One of the all-time great gearshift movies.


"Emma Mae"

One flavor of B-movie that often gets ignored by mainstream critics is Blaxploitation. Dismissed as simple action movies with outdated slang, these movies at their best are actually vital and exciting portraits of a certain time, place, and experience-namely, being poor and black in urban America in the 1970s. One of the best (and least heralded) of the bunch is "Emma Mae" (also known as "Black Sister's Revenge"), which despite its modest budget and Blaxploitation trappings features uniformly fantastic performances from its cast, particularly Jerri Hayes as the titular rural girl who moves to the big city.


"The Deadly Spawn"

A movie so cheap it might not even qualify as a B-movie (perhaps D or F-movie would be more accurate to the movie's budget), "The Deadly Spawn" was made by a group of young people in their backyards and houses. And yet, it's more exciting and funny than 90% of bigger-budget science fiction horror movies, and the alien monsters in the movie are truly impressive, no matter the budget. Also a great pick if you like outrageous blood and gore.


"Shock Corridor"

Sam Fuller is another director who specialized in B-movies that are widely acclaimed as classics today. And one of his best is "Shock Corridor," about an overambitious journalist who infiltrates a mental hospital in order to solve a murder. For a B-movie, "Shock Corridor" explores some pretty serious themes-the nature of sanity, for one. And Fuller the director is at the peak of his powers, stringing each incident in the movie together at breakneck speed with his signature style.