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USA Today

20 April 2005

The attack of the popular 'B' horror films

Wed Apr 20, 6:26 AM ET

By Gary Levin, USA TODAY

Battlestar Galactica may get the headlines, but Sci Fi Channel's slate of original movies has revived the cheesy 1950s B-movie genre and won strong ratings with such campy titles as Mansquito (half man, half mosquito, and buzzing back Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/PT) and Larva, in which mad cow disease leads a creature to emerge from hamburger meat.

Sci Fi will air 23 original films this year, second on cable only to the Hallmark Channel, and plans 28 for 2006. But its embrace of the drive-in movie was a happy accident. "We didn't set out to do this, but we started to see there was a trend," says the channel's general manager, David Howe.

"The ones that tended to pop are those with a fun element, that don't take themselves too seriously," Howe says. Those with "ludicrous creatures," simple plots and characters prove most successful. (Related story: Sci Fi universe colonizes brave new worlds)

CBS found similar success with last month's Spring Break Shark Attack, a radical departure from its sentimental Sunday movie franchise. The network hopes similar scare tactic Locusts (starring Xena's Lucy Lawless) will fly on Sunday (9 p.m. ET/PT).

Sci Fi's biggest son of drive-in movie was Alien Apocalypse, in which an astronaut doctor returns from space to find that Earth has been taken over by aliens. Three million viewers tuned in.

Many are filmed in offbeat locales such as Bulgaria and Romania and need little explanation. Take The Man with the Screaming Brain (due in September), which sells itself without noting that it concerns a murdered banker brought back to life with part of his brain replaced by that of Paco, a street hustler. The brain seeks vengeance on the pair's murderer.

Coming up for 2006: three action movies from comics icon Stan Lee (Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk), and still more out-there titles:

•Fire Alien, about, yes, a fire-breathing alien, starring William Shatner.

•Citadel, in which "Nazis unleash a killer beast in the mountains of Europe."

•Magma, a volcano disaster film starring Reiko Aylesworth and Xander Berkley (both of 24) and Amy Jo