by Heath Holland
I love exploitation cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I love all different kinds of movies, but I have a huge place in my heart for what we’ve been celebrating here during the past month. These are the cinematic underdogs, the kinds of movies that major studios and the film establishment rarely give their proper due, but which have been so important to fans.
I tip my hat to the monsters, the zombies, the westerns, the blaxploitation movies, the kung fu double features, the sex comedies, none receiving the budget that they deserved, but so many somehow transcending their limitations and becoming somehow better because of those limits, defiantly refusing to be ignored. These are the genres that make late nights so much fun; somehow it just seems to work best for me in the dark hours, probably because it’s then that I can be at my most honest with myself about what I want from my entertainment and indulge my cravings.
These movies have so much to offer. Be it the genuinely bizarre shivers that can be derived from Italian horror, the incredible cinematography and vistas found in many spaghetti westerns, the cheesy fun of a good monster movie, or the simplified justice found in so many of the action movies from the 1980s, exploitation movies give us what we want without preaching to us about morality and evangelizing over injustices. They simply offer a different reality than our own, sometimes one that’s better than ours, sometimes one that’s much worse and makes us appreciate what we have. Most of my movie heroes come from exploitation cinema. They’re never won an award, but they’re stars of their own certain kind of movie.
A few years ago I wrote something here about the future of exploitation movies where I tried to figure out where it was all going. I’m not sure how I feel about the future of exploitation anymore. I used to see exploitation in everything, everywhere. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has to be exploitation for sure, right? It gives audiences the maximum amount of mindless action while also providing the least amount of actual substance. Fifty Shades of Grey is surely sexploitation. It’s aimed at a very specific audience and sets out to do a very specific thing. I used to think exploitation was even on our televisions with shows like Game of Thrones on HBO and Daredevil on Netflix, both shows that offer their audience very clear thrills and titillations: epic action and lots of nudity for the former, kung fu and gritty urban action in the latter. But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize that all these movies and shows have something in common: They’re all made with millions and millions of dollars and full support from a major financial backer. The exploitation movies that I love come from the bottom, working from beneath, overcoming obstacles just to exist because the establishment doesn’t think that they should. My kind of exploitation comes from rebellion and an entrepreneurial spirit. Like Groucho Marx who didn’t care to belong to any club that would have him as a member, I think exploitation film probably belongs at the fringes.