A Simpler, More Violent Time By Josh Hadley. I remember a time when movies were more fun. I remember a time when movies were exploitative with no pretense of being anything more than what they were; tits and blood to keep you in the seat...
I remember a time when movies were more fun. I remember a time when movies were exploitative with no pretense of being anything more than what they were; tits and blood to keep you in the seat. From the AIP movies of the ’50s to the gore movies of the ’60s to the grindhouse explosion of the ’70s to the slasher boom of the ’80s, there has always been a sub-genre just outside the mainstream; a sub-genre we lovingly call exploitation. These exploitation movies were made quickly with low budgets, falling (or slumming) stars and plots that can only be described as inventive if not completely insane. Cannibals, rape, revenge, tits, blood, sadism, aliens, vampires, zombies, crazies and buxom women with a tendency to take off their tops were all staples of these films and as an audience we flocked to them at drive-in’s, on video tape and late night cable.
This is the era of the 42nd Street Theatre; of the independent video stores with the lurid box covers; of the sleazy drive in. These are things that modern audiences have either forgotten or never knew about in the first place in a collective purge of cultural memory. I find this to be a true shame as it means as a culture we have lost a significant piece of film history... or have we?
In recent (and not so recent) years, many filmmakers have attempted to take us back to this time of movies that don’t need a reason to be watched, other than you want to see some fucked up shit happen to annoying characters. Within the last decade there has been a resurgence in nostalgia for this bygone era lost to all but the most experienced of us. Kicked off by the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino box office disaster Grindhouse there has been a renewed interest in looking back at Hollywood’s past. On one hand this is great for all of us that never left these movies behind as it means that there are more exploitation films and true Grindhouse films available and accessible than ever before. On the other hand it also means that you have more and more people out there simply looking to exploit the exploitation field for a cheap buck (oh the irony).
In the pre-release hype for Grindhouse the movie I lost count of the companies that snatched up every old drive in movie, every old TV print, every old direct to VHS release and flooded the market with cheap DVDs and used flashy terms like "grindhouse" or "42nd Street" all over the covers. The market was impregnated with these quick and sloppy DVD releases to the point of over saturation and then it all came to a crash once the Grindhouse was released and made no money despite mostly positive critical reviews. Grindhouse was not even close to the pop culture hit that it was meant to be and it’s failure at the box office meant hard times and even death to a few of these flash in the pan companies that popped up to take advantage of that nostalgia wave that never broke. The shelves were packed with four and eight and 10 and 12 movie sets of forgotten films, now all labeled with some iteration of grindhouse, gathering dust and being clearanced out. For people like myself this was a great boon, to the people that have never heard of I Spit On Your Grave or Porno Holocaust it was just more hippie shit to ignore.
Why did I just spend all that time talking about the crash of the never happened grindhouse explosion? To point out that even if you missed this small window of time, the attempt at a resurgence of the grindhouse experience was not a complete fiasco; it did spawn a veritable cavalcade of grindhouse style throwback movies. Movies with titles like: Atomic Brain Invasion, Slaughter Tales, Hobo with a Shotgun, Machete, Alien Trespass, House of the Devil, Blood Junkie, Black Dynamite and Grindhouse itself. These movies all at least endeavored to throw you back to a time of less pretension and more insanity at the movies. Did they work? Not all of them, but they tried and that is something more than most films can say.
Since this was the real kick off to this whole wave of non-nostalgia let’s take a quick look at it: two full movies, four fake trailers and lots of hubris. When I mentioned above that it was a bomb at the box office I didn’t mean to imply the movie itself was bad, just that it performed that way. The Rodriguez segment (Planet Terror) is a fun romp back in time to that grindhouse era and does indeed work pretty well. Full of over the top gore, inane dialog, ridiculous plot twists and lots of film grain and cigarette burns; it is heads and asses above the Tarantino snoozefest that is his segment (Death Proof). Tarantino is so in love with his own dialog that he does not allow anything to happen for nearly 3/4 of the runtime. ’70s Grindhouse movies were not boring talk-fests like what is presented here. The four trailers are all great in their own way. Machete is a prefect grindhouse trailer. Nuts, action packed and fun. Werewolf Women of the SS is also a fine grindhouse type trailer and Rob Zombie nails the nazispliotation feel perfectly. Don‘t is a more British style trailer and overdoes the conceit a tad. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is the most infuriating as it is not really a Grindhouse style trailer but more of a video trailer from the ’80s. Roth might suck at dialog and direction and acting in his own movies, but he does hit it pretty close here, if it was just more Grindhouse-y.
This is a spin-off of the Grindhouse film and I hate to say it, does not live up to its earlier fake trailer. Great cast, great production but something just didn’t sit right the entire time.
Hobo with a Shotgun
This is another kind-of-sort-of-almost-not really spin off of Grindhouse. Due to Canadian laws, the Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was not allowed when Grindhouse was shown up there, so they had a special fake trailer made for the Canadian release and it was called Hobo with a Shotgun. This was later made into its own movie and it fails to feel like a Grindhouse film. It's more like someone wanted to make a Troma movie and forgot to ask Lloyd Kaufman how to make something Troma style.
Here is a different kind of throwback movie, taking us back to the early ’80s and the genre we call Shot-on-shiteo. Filmed with a VHS camcorder from decades past, director John Dickie makes a movie in his basement with all the horrid lighting and acting and audio that late ’80s camcorders gave you. It’s an earnest attempt to make an actual Shot-on-shiteo movie just like the old Chester Novell Turner films of the ’80s.
House of the Devil
House of the Devil tries really hard to feel both like a grindhouse-era flick and a ’70s TV show at the same time and mostly succeeds. It’s set in the late ’70s and attempts to play itself off as an actual lost movie, down to the small details. The story is a tad lacking but I think that was the point as most of the films House of the Devil is imitating are lacking as well. To cement the street cred of the movie, there was even a VHS release in limited quantities.
What do I need to say? It is a true blaxploitation movie, just happens it was made today.
An honest ’80s slasher movie, really only given away by the fact it was shot on digital and it looks too new. The characters, the lighting, the dialog and everything all hit that late ’80s slasher film tone like they should.
Atomic Brain Invasion
A ’50s small town and aliens trying to steal Elvis’s brain movie. It works and it does not work. The story and characters feel like they are indeed from a late ’50s movie but just like Blood Junkie, it was shot on digital video and looks brand new. It does not sell itself as a ’50s movie, just a throwback to a ’50s movie.
They would have you believe that this was a lost ’50s film that was unearthed and the internet campaign surrounding this movie even tries to argue that the obviously modern (and famous) actors in this are the grandchildren of the "original" movie actors. Nice. All done very tongue in cheek, but the movie is also shot on digital video and in color no less. If you are going to go that far to market this to people as a lost movie (despite it obviously not being one), at least make it look like a lost movie. Nice, vibrant colors and clean prints are a dead giveaway that it’s new.
Movies are not the only ones trying to take us back though. Video games have embraced the grindhouse aesthetic as well. House of the Dead: OverkillFPS (First Person Shooter) games are a dime a dozen yet this one really sticks out. It is full of film scratches, a story straight out of an actual Grindhouse movie and a wicked 42nd Street in the ’70s vibe going on. This one was forgotten to time when the Grindhouse movie died its quick death at the box office.
Want a game that allows you to play a Grindhouse movie? Then Wet is it. Full of scratches, burns, masking tape edits and the good old ultra-violence, Wet is a grindhouse game. It has major technical issues such as an over reliance on Quicktime Events and a punishing lack of direction, but it is fun in the end.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Not really a throwback to the grindhouse itself, more of a throwback to late night TV and old movies in general. Name a ’50s to ’80s type of movie and there is a level in this game dedicated to it. Every level of this game gives you the impression that you are flipping channels at 3AM in 1988.
Even the role playing game It Came from the Late, Late Show is showing tremendous amounts of love for this lost era of movies.
So why do we like to look back in both vain yet honest attempts to recapture an era that most of you reading this helped to beat about the head and sodomize in the first place? If we as a film culture did not rush out to see the latest piece of trash foisted upon us by the suit simians in Hollywood, this era might have not died with the lack of dignity that it did. Why do we all have fond memories of these movies yet we gave them up in some kind of tithe when we became responsible members of society? If you love this particular era of movies or even just love the way movies used to be rather then how they are now, genuinely look back and give some love to the originals as well as the throwbacks.
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