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Jumping on the grindhouse bandwagon

I refuse to start using the word "grindhouse" to describe low-budget, exploitation movies from the 70s. I never used it before, so there's no real reason for me to adopt it now just because that guy with the trailer voice told me that it's the proper phrase for back-to-back movies that feature high-octane violence and extreme sexuality, or whatever. Of course, I was too young to ever go to a real grindhouse. Born in 1980, by the time I was technically old enough to see "R" rated movies by myself, the trashiest exploitation was coming out straight-to-video and perhaps the most bombastic movie to come out that year was Starship Troopers. I guess I could have theatre-hopped a double feature out of Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer, but would it be anywhere near the proper "grindhouse" experience? Also, I'm from the South where I believe the drive-in was a much more common venue for the exploitation circuit than the "grindhouse." In fact, there were a few very active drive-ins that I frequented all the time when I lived in Atlanta. Tarantino may be happy to know I first saw Pulp Fiction at the (now defunct) North-85 Twin Drive-In. The Starlight Six Drive-In, however, was my favorite. Around '95 or '96 they started showing vintage movies and hosted a 3-night-long celebration called Drive-Invasion that featured retro-rock bands, hot rod competitions, barbecue, and three movies a night. It served as my introduction to Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jess Franco, American International Pictures, and the overall joy that is the experience of watching back-to-back genre movies with plenty of vintage trailers and cartoons thrown in-between for authenticity. The Starlight is still open and still hosting revival screenings all the time, including the aforementioned and now ginormous Drive-Invasion weekend. If you're ever in Atlanta in the summer, you should check it out! So, despite my difference in word choice, age, and region, I think I can understand Tarantino and Rodriguez's desire to bring that unique cinematic experience to a new generation of people. They attempt very hard to recreate the look and feel, at least insofar as what they can put on screen, of the experience, but, in my opinion it just falls flat. You can achieve something a bit more like the real-thing catching a late-night show at the Grand Illusion or attending All Freakin' Night in Olympia. It may not be comparable to 42nd Street, NYC in 1977, but I'm certain it's a much more humble and more group-oriented experience than catching a matinee of Grindhouse at the downtown megaplex. Perhaps Tarantino's greatest contribution to the preservation of the "grindhouse experience" is acting as curator and host of revival festivals in Austin and L.A. Here at Scarecrow we decided to set up a special section dedicated to the crop of films chosen for the most recent Tarantino "Grindhouse Fest." Actually, we weren't able to fill the whole shelf with those, so we cheated and snuck in several of our favorite exploitation gems also. So if nothing else, at least Grindhouse the movie is getting people excited about "grindhouse" the movies. Over at Ain't It Cool some of the staff and friends have been posting their top 10 grindhouse movie lists, though sadly Seattle's own Outlaw Vern is unrepresented. I thought it'd be a good idea for any Scarecrow staff, friends, family, and of course frequenters, to compile some lists too. Not having extensive knowledge of the word "grindhouse" I'm not going to vouch for my list being 100% accurately "grindhouse" but anyway, here are 10 movies, in no order, of the exploitation persuasion that I recommend, please post your recommendations in the comments: Confessions of An Opium Eater (1962)- Producer/Director Albert Zugsmith had a long, strange career ranging from his involvement in A-list art such as a handful of films by Douglas Sirk to D-grade exploitation. This strange movie, very loosely based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Thomas De Quincey, follows Vincent Price as the titular eater of opium, as he is plunged into a seedy underworld of organized crime, kidnapping, and prostitution. While it has all of the earmarks of a period B-movie, shoddy black & white photography, awkward acting, excessive reference to drug-use, exoticism, extended sequences of scantily clad women, etc, there is an artfullness and inventiveness to the movie that puts it heads and shoulders over like-minded productions. It's one of my favorite Vincent Price performances along with Witchfinder General and The Baron of Arizona. Something about this movie reminds me of Big Trouble In Little China: perhaps it's all of the decorative Chinese masks, secret passages, and the extended chase scene that ends up in the sewers beneath Chinatown. Sinful Dwarf (1973)- This Danish production is pretty singular in its oddball approach to sleaze. Sure there are plenty of movies about women being held as sex slaves. Some of them involve a one-eyed woman getting bloody revenge on her captors and tormentors. This one, however, chronicles the exploits of a sinful dwarf named Olaf (he kind of looks like if you took Jack Black and shrunk him in a microwave) and his showbiz mother who lure their victims using mechanical toys, and keep them locked up and doped up in the attic of their house. They are also involved with a local toymaker who smuggles heroin by stuffing it inside his wares. Words fail me. Who Can Kill A Child? (aka Island of the Damned)(1976)- Of all the "killer-kid" movies, this Spanish entry is, in my opinion, the creepiest. It's also a great example of making the most of a small-budget. By stripping the movie down to the bare essentials: shooting on location, limiting the main characters to two, limiting the action to the climax, and keeping the style simple and clean (basically the opposite of how the movie would be made today), the masterful director Narciso IbaĦaħez Serrador is able to maintain the mystery and focus his energy on atmosphere and pacing. It pays off in spades. Possibly European horror's answer to Hitchcock's the Birds. A DVD is finally forthcoming from DarkSky films this June. Tony Arzenta aka Big Guns aka No Way Out (1973) - Actually, I feel weird even lumping this in with these other movies. Sure it's from the 70s, from Italy, a gangster genre movie, and from a director who made his fair share of movies that played the B-circuit, but it stars friggin' Alain Delon and is extremely well-made. I watched this on a Japanese DVD a few months ago and it blew me away how much better it was than most Italian crime movies. Sure the Fernando di Leo stuff is fun, but this one is so much more classy and coherent. It's almost as if Melville directed a re-make of The Big Heat. Well, not that good, but it's pretty great. Powerforce aka Dragon Force (1983)- I don't really know if a movie like this would play at a "grindhouse," but it probably didn't play at the Loew's Cineplex downtown either. I watched this movie hoping it was somehow connected to the equally perplexing Raw Force. It's not, but it does have ninjas. Red ninjas. Black ninjas. Blue ninjas. Ninjas hiding in trees. Ninjas jumping through windows. Exploding ninjas. Whimsical musical cues and chopsockie action make this movie a confusing mess of tones and cultural influences, but throroughly unique and enjoyable. Perhaps the only greater moment for ninjas in cinema history is in 1982's Duel to the Death, in which ninjas can fly, vanish, and group together to form one giant ninja. Petey Wheatstraw the Devil's Son-in-Law (1977)- Rudy Ray Moore is probably best known for his character Dolemite, but I've always been more fond of Petey Wheatstraw. He struts about with his cane and there's magic and mayhem abound. Also, lots of watermellons explode real good. I've been told the commentary track on the DVD is great. Gordon's War (1973)- Directed by Ossie Davis, who younger folks may remember as JFK in Bubba Ho-tep, this is another movie that I highly recommend, and I wonder if I should even be lumping it in with some of these other movies. It's just a solid action movie, and perhaps of all Blaxploitation movies the one that I'm Gonna Git You Sucka apes the most. A bunch of Vietnam vets return home from war to find the streets and people of their neighborhood trashed and victimized by organized criminals (going all the way to the top, where a syndicate of evil white dudes meet in secret via close-circuit satellite). Needless to say, the veterans use their military training to kick some butt and clean up the place. Brotherhood of Death set in the rural South rather than the urban North has a similar, but more exploitative, plot line, but suffers from a lower budget (e.g. somebody's wooded backyard as a stand-in for a Vietnamese jungle) and lamer action. I'd still recommend it, but it's nowhere near as good as Gordon's War. Boxer's Omen (1983)- Again, I have no idea if this actually played anywhere in the U.S., but if it did, it would certainly be limited to the kind of theatres that were showing Italian gore, Hong Kong kung-fu, and American exploitation. This is one of my favorite Hong Kong horror movies, and certainly one of the strangest movies... perhaps ever. That's not to say that it's nonsensical or artsy: it has an internal logic all of its own, but unless you are well versed in Chinese supersition, black magic, and Buddha, you may find yourself scratching your head. In any case, watching this you will be treated to some of the craziest curses, body fluid spraying, psychadelic rotoscope special effects ever to grace your eyeballs. A description of the plot is both pointless and unfair, so just trust me on this one, it's pure cinematic experience: gross, weird, and wonderful. Image put out a great DVD as part of their Shaw Brothers release series. Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)- Often cited as the "Godfather of Gore" director Herschell Gordon Lewis sees himself more as an investor. He figured out that by increasing the blood and sex in his low-budget movies and marketing them to niche audiences he could turn an incredible profit. Two Thousand Maniacs is about a group of Yankee tourists who accidently end up in a town full of angry rednecks, who decide to celebrate the Centennial anniversary of the Civil War with festivities that include a parade, a brass band, pie, and brutal fucking murder. Some of the more inventive and nasty murders to come out of the South, which, by the way, will rise again. Dragon Lives Again (1977)- As if it's not already strange enough that a sub-genre of kung-fu movies known as Bruceploitation (movies about or starring Bruce Lee imitators) exists, someone had to go and make this movie. I couldn't find a poster image to use, so that there is a scene from the movie in which Bruce Lee (played by Bruce Leong) battles some mummies in hell. If you've read the above recommendations, you've probably gathered by now that I have an affinity for silly things. This movie is certainly that: Bruce Lee awakens in hell to find it corrputed by the evil King of Hell. Hell, by the way, just seems a lot like Earth, only they tell you it's hell, so I guess it is. In this realm Bruce must battle various pop-culture icons who team up against him, including James Bond, Zatoichi, Emmanuelle, Dracula, as well as guys named "The Godfather" and "The Exorcist," and perhaps most curiously "Clint Eastwood." Not the real actor, of course, but a guy wearing the Man With No Name get-up. Luckily the One-Armed Swordsman and Popeye the Sailor Man assist Bruce in his endeavor to straighten out hell. All of the above movies are available for rent at Scarecrow. Feel free to ask anyone for recommendations, and please, if you read this contribute to the comments with your own thoughts/recommendations. Thanks!

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