Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Insomniac Theater Presents: Grindhouse and Exploitation Treasures

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 08:20:16 AM

This morning Gilligan at Retrospace, the best blog for looking at the world of my childhood, published another fantastic post called 1970s Grindhouse:  You Can't Go Home Again.  In between the newspaper ads for horror and sexploitation double and triple features, he speculates on the demise the genre and reasons why it has not experienced the renaissance many thought it would.  

So, with Machete, Piranha 3D, and Drive Angry tanking at the box office, can anyone out there deny that the public at large does not want this kind of smut? Don't blame Hollywood. When it's offered in the theaters, no one goes to see it.  It's a sad example of how you may want things to be as they were, but you can never go home again.

After seeing the Tarantino/Rodriguez homage to grindhouse films, I went to Netflix and checked out some old "classics" of the genre to see what I had missed.  It was an eye opening experience.  As I tried to leave a comment for Gilligan, this is what came to mind:

I realized was there was a reason why grindhouse/exploitation films are considered B movies-they are often badly flawed. Suffering from a combination of inept film making, poor scripting, bad acting, and severe budget restrictions, many of these grindhouse films are hard to watch at home. Not every movie I watched suffered from all of these setbacks, but there was plenty in the mix of most of them to detract from the viewing experience.

Also, despite the lurid advertisements and trailers promising sensationalized sex and violence, those elements were often pretty sparse. I am not sure if that was a good thing or not. I felt uncomfortable about choosing a movie based on the potential for gory and graphic violence.

There was also a pretty hefty dose of misogyny in many of those films; female victims far outnumber male victims. I am pretty sure that the amount of screen time devoted to violence against women was much higher than for males. Of course these movies will lack political correctness (after all, this isn't Love and Other Drugs we are talking about).  Rather, it is lazy film making; it is easier and more stimulating to transform a female character into a victim than doing the same with a male character. Bloody Pit of Horror is a great example. Of the eight murders, the female victims suffer prolonged and painful deaths compared to their male counterparts.

Bloody Pit of Horror Faces of Death

                                                 Death Tally 
                Male                                                        Female
  1. Crushed                                            1.   Slowly Impaled
  2. Broken Back                                     2.   Lingering Poison
  3. Gunshot                                            3.   Various Tortures
  4. Fire                                                   4.   Various Tortures

Leatherface, me, and Dr. Cohen, Summer, 2010
I am proud of my appreciation for exploitation/grindhouse (are they interchangable terms?) movies. Wearing my Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!,my Texas Chainsaw  Massacre, or my Night of the living Dead shirts during my hosptalization and rehab last year was a great source of strength.  Those films, to me, are winning lottery tickets found in the trash.  I never expected to love them as much as I do.  

I never know what I will find interesting to watch. I love the Blood Island films even though they make no sense at all but have plenty of gory violence and nudity.  But it is doubtful that I would pay full price to watch any of these in the theater.

Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 08:20:16 AM


Mr. Xploit, Esquire said...

I'm pretty sure I would pay. Some exploitation movies are very uncomfortable to sit through due to either lack or quality or violence against women, but some do things just right too. It is usually a cheap thrills genre and I'll admit that that's what usually does it for me. However, some pioneers of rape/revenge actually had intelligence and were great filmmaking such as Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. It's popularity just happened to lead to films that didn't get what it was trying to do in the first place and rather tried to titillate.

Michael Williams said...

Mr. Xploit,

I remember hearing Wes Craven discuss what was on his mind when making Last House; he was aiming for a documentary style realism with the violence. Hearing stories about the dedication of the actors to achieving his vision is truly harrowing.

The onscreen victims really were terrified of David Hess, their hysterics were real and Craven included that horror in the final movie.

That's pretty ballsy film making. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again, but I don't know if I am emotionally ready to do that today.