The carnival is leaving town.
The sky is grey and cloudy. There’s a slight drizzle, causing a damp chill in the air. The workers are breaking down the rides and the crowds have all dispersed, leaving the distinct quiet that always, inevitably, follows the madness of the night before. It’s back to reality.
Junesploitation had impeccable timing. During the busiest part of the summer movie season when studios were releasing some of their biggest, most bloated movies into theaters, we’ve spent the month of June watching modestly budgeted exploitation films. Thank God for them.
Meanwhile, outside of our Junesploitation bubble, entire economies were being bought and sold. The combined budgets of just three of June’s major theatrical releases total over half a billion dollars: Man of Steel with a budget of 225 million, World War Z at 200 million, and Monsters University being estimated at near, or possibly over, 200 million.
The discussion that day made for some big headlines. Spielberg and Lucas, two men who KNOW what they’re talking about, basically pronounced that we’re in a period in which things are only going to get worse and worse at the box office. They both feel we’re at the end of a cycle in which movie studios have killed small movies and set the investment/return bar so high that it’s all about to implode.
Spielberg talked about how studios are currently only interested in making 200+ million dollar movies with the hopes that those projects then will become blockbusters and return many times that investment. No one, he says, is interested in the less expensive, more personal movies of the past. He talked about how his film Lincoln was almost a cable movie project for HBO because it wasn’t current blockbuster material. He also lamented that his movies used to stay in theaters for a year or more, but now they’re in hotels two weeks after they are released.
Lucas seemed to paint an even darker picture. In his view, a night at the movies is soon to be akin to a night seeing a Broadway play or a sporting event, where the evening will cost 100 or 150 dollars. His thoughts are that theaters are going to make going to the movies more of an experience and more of a luxury in order to increase revenues. Cable television and the rise of internet content, he feels, has almost entirely killed the traditional theatrical experience.
Why am I bringing all this up in this week’s Exploitation Nation? Two reasons: first, we’re actually witnessing, in real time, the death of the kinds of movies we’ve been watching all month. Independent studios will always make smaller personal movies that give people what they want to see, but in a market of 200 and 300 million dollar movies, they’re going to be harder than ever to find. They will probably never make it to a theater.
The second reason I bring this up is because now these major movie studios are no longer exploiting things like gratuitous violence or gore, they’re exploiting YOU AND ME and seeing how much we will let them get away with.
There are fewer and fewer movies being released each year. The money that used to be allocated for financing, say, 25 movies in a year is now being used to finance about 5 absolutely gigantic movies. I have huge problems with this for several reasons. These movies are generic and disposable and MOST of them do not work. Of the movies that we watch each year, few of them end up being memorable. I think we can agree to being disappointed with a large portion of each year’s releases. We either get a) terrible failures, or b) forgettable, cookie cutter movies.
But all is not lost! I’ve been watching exploitation movies for a long time, but I’ve never watched so many so quickly and of such a variety as I have during Junesplotation. It’s taught me something. It’s proved to me how much I love and value so many of these films and how wonderful they still are. I’ve come to believe that these movies are not only the past, but also the future. The stars that we’ve focused on this month (Pam Grier, Fred Williamson, Sid Haig, Charles Bronson) and the genres of exploitation that we’ve covered (Italian horror, spaghetti westerns, 80s horror, kung fu and samurai/ninja movies) have been a revelation. They’ve proven to me that this is where I belong.
Almost every single one of the movies I’ve watched this last month has had an impact on me. I’ve already forgotten much of Star Trek: Into Darkness, but I can’t shake the image of ninjas on kites, floating silently above their prey, from Duel to The Death. Nor can I stop thinking about the killer in The House By The Cemetery, who spilled maggots from his guts when he was stabbed, or of Jim Kelly throwing an entire gang of bad guys through every window of a train car, one after another.
We can’t let it die; as long as movies have existed there’s been exploitation. This has been, and will always be, an Exploitation Nation. I hope you join me in preserving the cinema of cool, the films of the fantastic, and the world of weird that exists out there, just below the surface.
And I hope I see you at the Grindhouse.