Exploiting Exploitation

Now available at HMV
As a fan of exploitation cinema and the works of Jesus Franco, Jack Hill, Umberto Lenzi and Russ Meyer I should be thrilled by the fact that this genre has come full circle and is very much accessible.  No longer do you have to trade titles like Strip For Your Killer, Mountain of the Cannibal God and Gator Bait with other cinephiles in pubs and workplaces.  These films have become available through Shameless distribution and are even stocked on Amazon and in HMV, a world away from the 76th street cinemas in New York City were they lived and were viewed by small yet enthusiastic audiences.

Get ready for More Snakes on
Another Plane
This accessibility has come at a price though.  Hollywood is rarely behind the trend when it comes to either what audiences want or more particularly what audiences are told they want.  The Saw franchise arrived on the scene and opened the avenue for exploitation cinema to return, only for them to lose track of their origins and become the polar opposite of what made it successful in the first place.  David R. Ellis was either crazy, stupid or genius enough to bring Snakes on a Plane to the fanatical internet audience the film had courted throughout production and do so with the spirit of those exploitation titles before it, dubbed creature features as they deal largely with scary animals.  Snakes openly embraced the concept of being a cinematic guilty pleasure and they even went back to the writing room to dumb the script down some more to give it a badly written exploitation feel.  A year later saw Grindhouse, the combined efforts of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, and though Death Proof was desperately poor Rodriguez' Planet Terror managed to capture the joy of film making usually found in the low to no budget cinema offerings.  The joy of making movies for the sake of making movies, which is difficult to capture with lavish amounts of finance.  Since then we've seen Machete, another Rodriguez title which featured as a fake trailer and came to life only to be better as a two minute trailer, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry 3D both starring Nicolas Cage.  Cage seems to be attempting to single handedly bring back  the drive-in B-Movie and not just in his usual courtship of currency over craft.  Since winning his Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, Cage has gone from one large pay cheque small script to another and with the exception of Adaptation and perhaps two other titles has been little more than present on screen.  Now he seems to be actively seeking out the worst projects possibility with Drive Angry being a new low.

En route to screens new you soon are offerings like Faster starring Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton which features a lot of the critical elements of exploitation cinema in guns, cars, violence and ladies in little to no clothing.  It would be quite easy to imagine Jack Hill's signature on this title as it's a pure copy of exploitation, but with a Hollywood budget and carefully crafted marketing strategy.  Add to that the release of Hobo with a Shotgun later in the year which sees Rutger Hauer starring as the Hobo in possession of a shotgun and you have exactly what it says on the tin.  Like Snakes on a Plane from five years ago or Werewolves on Wheels from forty years back it promises to be a fun and honest offering of a classic exploitation narrative.

The only issue with this, and before I'd like to quantify how much I'm looking forward to watching both Faster and Hobo, is it all seems to be in contradiction to everything that exploitation cinema stands for.  Exploitation cinema was made almost locally, every film felt like it belonged to the people who were viewing it.  The grindhouse cinemas in New York would have a completely different feel in programming than that of a similar cinema in Los Angeles and that in turn different to those in Chicago.  Like the residents of Comber would gather to star in and watch the latest offerings from Roy and Noel Spence, those in the streets of L.A would be thrilled by the latest early offerings from Rudy Ray Moore or Jack Hill.  These films would not need marketing, which is a good thing as they could never afford them, the audience would be drawn to them either because of opportunity through screening times, locale and thematic trends.

Robbie in The Switchblade Sisters
The modern Hollywood wave of exploitation cinema has the money, resources and talents to achieve the goals in effects and narrative but strive to intentionally fail.  The one quality of exploitation cinema that shines through in all the films regardless of genre is it's spirit.  The films strive to achieve something that clearly they can not afford to achieve but in failing manage to transcend their shortcomings and become something greater than what it aimed for.  They are love for cinema in its purest form, so the Hollywood exploitation movement is a difficult one to accept.  It's goal is to dumb down, to achieve less and ultimately to exploit the audience.

I will watch Hollywood's exploitation offerings and will, for the most part, enjoy them but they will most likely never find their way into my heart in the way that The Switchblade Sisters or Torso did.  Robby Lee, I love the fact that in your head you're an excellent actress and not dumbing down for profit.


Dawniepants said...

Another hugely thought provoking post. Well done.

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