The Lucky 13: Week One: Exploitation and Grindhouse
By Various Staff
Intro by Marc Patterson
Well boys and girls, it’s the grand kick-off to our summer series that is guaranteed to rock the horrorsphere with all sorts of fun. That’s right, it’s The Lucky 13. We’ve teamed up with Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror, and his über hip crew to unleash mayhem onto the world of horror. You want to know our favorite films? The buck stops here. Each week, for thirteen weeks, we’ll be taking a look at a specific sub-genre of horror and selecting our favorite film from that genre. Hopefully as word spreads we’ll see more and more folks getting in on the action. If you’re one of those who wants to participate, it’s easy and simple – just contact Brian or myself and we’ll get you the details.
This week – week one – we take a look at some of the most notorious films in horror, those that belong to the icky, sticky, down and dirty genre of grindhouse and exploitation film. These are films so disgusting they have a special spot in hell, and in our hearts, that are reserved especially for them. So without further ado, let’s unleash the madness. And make sure to click on over to The Vault of Horror when you’re done to get their rundown!
I can’t believe we started this series on exploitation and grindhouse films. Talk about making some hard decisions right up front! This sub-genre is unarguably my favorite of all horror genres. There’s something about exploitation that flaunts a middle finger in the conventions of good filmmaking, isn’t afraid to push the boundaries beyond any conceivable limits, and glamorizes death in such a fashion reserved for only the most grimy, dirty, and seedy of movie theaters. Good grindhouse is dripping with ballsack sweat. It’s soaked in spoiled, rancid blood and rank rotting entrails. For a horror film fanatic like myself, grindhouse feels like home. That makes this week’s selection one of the most difficult for this whole series. I love HG Lewis, Japanese pinky violence, and Italian cannibal films, but nothing quite gives me a one dollar matinee boner like Pieces. This little bit of grindhouse oozes authenticity right down to the marrow of its decomposing bones.
One of the things I love the most about Pieces is its flagrant appeal to cinema-goers. Pieces had movie marketing like you just don’t see anymore. “It’s exactly what you think it is,” says the trailer, and with such catchy copy as “You don’t have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre,” Pieces not only capitalizes on the success of its predecessor but goes so far as to challenge it, saying – you thought The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was something? You haven’t seen anything yet. And it delivers on that challenge serving up more severed body parts, bouncing boobs, and blood than you can imagine. Check out the trailer:
If that trailer doesn’t tell all, then I don’t know what does. Good movie marketing isn’t everything though. It’s only what gets asses into seats. Once you’ve settled into your seat, Pieces does things that could never be done in modern filmmaking. Real intestines, pig’s guts, and animal parts litter this film. It can be argued that there is more blood spatter per square inch than in just about any horror film made since. It made Rue Morgue’s list of the top 50 Gory Horror Films, but I imagine it would have made the top 25 if such a list were made. As a bonus to all the splattastic action is a story that’s actually worth following, though it’s executed in an absurd, inexplicable, and – at times – incoherent fashion. A guy is going around hacking apart women in order to reassemble the pieces to re-create his mother. Norman Bates doesn’t have anything on this whack-job. A sexy former tennis pro turned undercover cop is assigned to track him down. To do so, she will go undercover as no less than (you guessed it) a tennis pro! In addition to screaming the memorable “BASTARD!” line, that I swear inspired South Park creators, she is chased by our chainsaw wielding maniac, takes on a crazed Kung-Fu Ninja would-be assassin, and of course… is the prized target of the mystery killer! If you haven’t seen this film you absolutely MUST. It’s the quintessential bucket of disgusting that must be watched with friends, a sixer of PBR, and some super buttery popcorn!
A couple of months ago, I had a twenty-one year old girl ask me if there was any such thing as a “chick flick for girls who weren’t girly, featuring girls who weren’t girly, but not necessarily lesbians either.” I couldn’t believe she hadn’t yet seen Death Proof – what the fuck, honey? Chicks who like dicks, drive sticks, and kick the shit out of hicks: that’s Death Proof in a nutshell, Tarantino’s 2007 homage to grindhouse cinema. Death Proof is the chick flick I wish I’d had when I was in high school because not all of us 80s bitches were girly little prom queens, crushing on Simon LeBon and dressing like Molly Motherfucking Ringwald. Some of us actually did watch old Chuck Bronson flicks (fuck yeah The Mechanic), and knew all the words to CW McCall’s “Convoy”, and those of you girls who know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout can totally relate to chicks like Kim, Butterfly, Abernathy, and Julia, the take-no-shit tomboys who never ever let you forget that they are smoking hot females with big curvy asses, a high tolerance for alcohol and healthy, unapologetic sex drives. These are either the girls you want to be, or the girls you wish you could fuck. And maybe both! But they’re definitely NOT the girls you want to piss off. Ever seen a female mantis mate? Yeah – throw in some squealing tires and a hardcore case of road rash and it’s kinda like that.
Bryce Holland on Cannibal Holocaust
What is my absolute favorite exploitation film? That’s kind of a hard question for me to answer, but when I really think about it, the answer is oh so obvious. My favorite exploitation film is one that’s filled with murder, gore, unbridled violence, and above all else, cannibalism. My favorite exploitation film is the one that absolutely goes all the way. It’s the one, the only, arguably the most controversial film ever: Cannibal Holocaust. Check out the video to find out why.
I don’t know that Troma would want their films to be known as “Grindhouse”, with their insistence that they are “the last truly independent film studio,” and yet their films bear all of the earmarks of classic exploitation cinema. Boobs, extreme gore, eye-rolling humor, and awesomely 80s music. I first discovered their signature character, Toxie, when he got a cartoon show called Toxic Crusaders, where deformed mutant heroes battled space aliens to protect the environment. Seeing how much I loved this innocent little cartoon action show, my sweet little grandma went down to the local rentals and, ignoring the R rating on the box, picked up Toxic Avenger for me.
It was about five minutes in, when Bozo and Slug were tossing Melvin back and forth calling him “faggot” over and over again that she said to me, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have rented this for you.” And yet, Grandma, being the kind and forgiving soul she was, sat with me through that entire movie. Together we watched a kid’s head get crushed, point blank, by a racing car, we watched as Toxie saved his blind love from being corn-holed by a trio of taco-stand robbers, and we watched as Toxie saved the town of Tromaville from a drug-smuggling mayor by ripping his guts out in front of a cheering crowd of children.
Ya know, it’s probably because of kids like me that the cartoon was cancelled after a year. I’m sure some studio exec heard that I had rented the movie because of that cartoon, rented it himself, and then promptly shit his pants. Anyway, by the end of it, my grandmother had been converted. She laughed along with me at the funny quips. She overlooked the ultra-violence and cheered with me as Toxie found the bad guys and mashed them. He tore them apart! And we loved it. As years have gone by, shitty sequels have come and gone, but my love for Toxie had remained, unabated. Nothing can spoil the moments I’ve had sharing with friends and family all of the super-carnage, superhero action.
Allow me, in opening, to be completely honest whilst at once making a sweeping generalisation: as a British man born in the 1980’s, whilst growing up I really was not at all familiar with the term “grindhouse”, and (here comes the generalisation) I strongly suspect that’s true of most people of my age. It was really only when that little Tarantino/Rodriguez double bill popped up that the term really came into popular usage on my side of the Atlantic, prompting hitherto successful indie distributor Tartan to rename their Extreme label Tartan Grindhouse (which, some might say, contributed to their downfall). But there’s more to the British unfamiliarity with grindhouse than simple semantics, or the relative absence of such disreputable cinematic venues on our shores: more than that, we literally couldn’t see many of the movies in question over here. Grindhouse/exploitation, as I have come to understand it, is defined largely by its deficit of taste and decency, and its abundance of sex and violence, oftentimes with the two overlapping; and until relatively recently, the BBFC have been decidedly scissor-happy with such material. But with those draconian days largely behind us, we Brits can now access such films with ease. And of the previously undiscovered forbidden fruits I’ve encountered, none has screamed “exploitation” quite so virulently as the Japanese women-in-prison extravaganza Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion.
Mild-mannered beauty Matsu (Keiji Meiko) is betrayed by the man she loves, gang-raped, and thrown into a hellhole of a jailhouse. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’s continually beaten, tied-up, burned, scolded, and otherwise humiliated, usually whilst not wearing much and/or with what little she happens to have on getting torn off in the process. Yes, it’s an extreme film, specifically designed to inspire an extreme response. Many have condemned it as horrendously misogynistic and offensive, and not without justification. But by presenting those hideous acts in so stylised a manner, with archly theatrical and cartoonish devices (witness the revolving stage that tells Matsu’s backstory, or the prisoner who suddenly turns into a backlit Bride of Frankenstein when enraged), the movie ensures we can never mistake what we are seeing for reality. The result could be the very definition of “guilty pleasure”. No matter how knowingly cruel and distasteful the whole thing might be, there’s no denying it’s a well-constructed, visually interesting film, and that… whisper it… it’s really quite good fun. After all, if the heroine doesn’t go through hell, we don’t get half the sense of satisfaction when she finally gets her revenge – a revenge taken to the sound of “Urami-bushi”, sung by Meiko herself, and pinched by Tarantino in Kill Bill.
I’ve yet to see all the films in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series, nor will I be declaring myself an all-knowing exploitation expert any time soon. But I definitely feel from this one movie I’ve had a good taste of what exploitation is all about. And this sub-genre to me is like tequila: it’s comparatively rare that I have the inclination to sample it, but when I do I’m sipping it down with relish until it quite literally turns my guts. And then I resent myself for it in the morning. Ah, such is life.