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Exploitation film


Exploitation film

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Exploitation films, exploitative films or trash cinema is a genre of films that typically sacrifice traditional notions of artistic merit for the sensational display of some topic about which the audience may be curious, or have some prurient, especially sex, gore, and violence. Such films have existed since the earliest days of moviemaking, but were popularized in the 1970s with the general relaxing of moral standards in cinema in the U.S. and Europe. Exploitation films may adopt the subject matters and stylings of other film genres (particularly documentary films or horror films). Thematically, exploitation films are influenced by other so-called exploitative media like pulp magazines.

The genre's influence on contemporary cinema can be found in such films as Kill Bill by director Quentin Tarantino, who is a self-declared lover of exploitation cinema. Since the 1990s, this genre has also received attention from academic circles, where it is sometimes called paracinema.

The word "exploitation" itself is a show business term for publicizing shows and motion pictures. "Exploitation films" are those whose success relied not on the quality of their content, but on the ability of audiences to be drawn in by the advertising of the film.


Grindhouse cinema

Another term is grindhouse cinema; referring to the usually-disreputable movie theaters that showed them. Many of these inner-city theatres formerly featured burlesque shows which featured "bump and grind" dancing, leading to the term "grindhouse." The book Sleazoid Express, a travelogue of the grindhouses of New York's 42nd Street, explains that in the 1970s-late 1980s, the etymology of "grindhouse" changed to refer to the operations of twenty-four hour theatres, which would continually "grind out" films around the clock (a reference to the cranking motion required of old film cameras and projectors).

A grindhouse is an American term for a theater that shows exploitation films; it is also used as an adjective to describe the genre of films that would play in such a theatre. While just about any film that had excessive sex or violence to play in a mainstream theatre was fair game for the grindhouses, the term has connotations of leaning more towards movies that were unacceptable by the terms of the mainstream: especially brutally violent films, films with bizarre or perverse plot points, etc. Frequent fare for such theatres were low-budget Japanese and Chinese movies, specifically kung-fu and samurai movies, usually known for being exceptionally bloody.

The term grind-house may also refer to a kind of low-budget inner-city theater common in American cities from the 1950s until the 1980s. Having been movie palaces during the cinema boom of the 1930s and 1940s, these theaters had fallen into disrepair by the 1960s. Grind-houses were known for "grinding out" non-stop, triple-bill programs of B movies. Beginning in the late 1960s and especially during the 1970s, the subject matter of grind-house features often included explicit sex, violence, and other taboo content. By the end of the 1970s, many grind-houses were exclusively pornographic and the trashy exploitation movies shown in them were regularly discussed in the fanzine Sleazoid Express.

By the 1980s, home video threatened to render the grind-house obsolete. By the end of the decade, these theaters had vanished from New York City's 42nd Street, Los Angeles' Broadway and Hollywood Boulevard, and San Francisco's Market Street, just to name a few. By the mid-1990s, the grindhouse completely disappeared from American culture.

Early exploitation films

Some of the earliest exploitation films were pitched as sensationalist exposés of some drug or sex-related scandal, and were made independently of the major Hollywood studios, thus avoiding restrictions of the Production Code and providing a revenue source for independent theaters. Now that the major motion picture studios allow much more latitude in subject matter, it is not necessary for independent producers to cater to audiences' desires to view such things. Thus, in modern cinema, roles have reversed somewhat, with major studios catering to the so-called "lowest common denominator", while art films are more typically made independently.


Classic exploitation

A screenshot from the colorized version of Reefer Madness. A screenshot from the colorized version of Reefer Madness.

Classic Exploitation films made in the 1930s and 1940s were sensationalist fare at the time, and are now valued by aficionados for their nostalgic and ironic value. The most famous example of these is the cautionary tale Reefer Madness, a sensationalized and notoriously inaccurate attempt to demonize marijuana for Prohibition-era America.

A particularly important type of exploitation film of this era was the "sex hygiene" exploitation film, a remnant from the social or mental hygiene movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These films featured white-coated "doctors" describing the how-tos of sex education to the fascinated and naive audience. Often the film would be attended by another "doctor" in a white coat selling sex-hygiene booklets in the lobby after the film screening. Usually the producers would make significantly more money from the sales of the booklets than from the tickets to see the film. This type of film was also known as a "road show," because it was shown from town to town and was promoted in advance like a circus or carnival. One of the most famous of these was "Mom and Dad" which featured actual birth footage, making it the closest thing to pornography available in late 1940s America.

Sometimes the sex hygiene films would verge into what would be seen as shock exploitation today, showing graphic footage of the ravages of venereal disease. However, showman David Friedman said that in all his years presenting sex-hygiene films as a road show, patrons sometimes came out pale and shaken, but none asked for their money back.

Black exploitation

Black exploitation, or "blaxploitation" films, are made with black actors, ostensibly for black audiences, and about stereotypically African American themes such as slum life, drugs, and prostitution. Examples from the 1970s, when Blaxploitation was introduced, include Shaft, Superfly, Blacula, Coffy, and Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

Sex exploitation

Sex exploitation, "sexploitation" films, are similar to softcore pornography, in that the film serves largely as a vehicle for showing scenes involving nude or semi-nude women. Showgirls or anything by Andy Sidaris are examples.

Shock exploitation

Shock exploitation films (shock films), are films containing content designed to be particularly shocking to the audience. These type of exploitation films focus content traditionally thought to be particularly taboo for presentation in film, such as extremely realistic graphic violence, graphic rape depictions, simulated zoophilia and depictions of incest. Examples of shock films include Last House on the Left, Fight For Your Life, Run and Kill, Bald Headed Betty, Last House on Dead End Street, Baise-Moi, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, I Spit On Your Grave, Tromeo and Juliet, and Assault on Precinct 13. Popular fim critic Roger Ebert has gone on record saying that the film I Spit On Your Grave is "sick, reprehensible and contemptible". Sometimes these films purport to be the retelling of a true story, such as the Japanese film Concrete (a.k.a. Schoolgirl in Cement), which dealt with the Junko Furuta murder. The sub-sub-genre of simulated "snuff" films might also belong here, such as the infamous Guinea Pig films, also from Japan.

Cannibal exploitation films

Cannibal exploitation films, otherwise known as the cannibal film, are a collection of graphically gory movies created from the late 1970s through the early 1990s primarily by Italian moviemakers. In 1974, Umberto Lenzi made Man from Deep River (1972), generally believed to be the first Italian cannibal movie. Joe D'Amato made Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals in 1977 and Ruggero Deodato continued the tradition with Last Cannibal World (1977) and Cannibal Holocaust (1978), the latter of which was an acknowledged influence on The Blair Witch Project.

Mondo films

"Mondo" exploitation films are quasi-documentary films, often reconstructions of actual or purported events. The events depicted in such films are usually closer in spirit to shock exploitation: they are shocking not only because they deal with taboo subject matter (foreign sexual customs, for instance, or varieties of violent behavior in various societies), but because the on-camera action is allegedly real. Some mondo movies are more blatantly fictitious than others, and the vast majority of them are staged forgeries. Most of them tend to be anthologies of different things under a broad collective label rather than one specific thing. The name "mondo" comes from the first broadly commercially successful movie of this type, Mondo Cane. In Italian this means "A Dog's World," a title that was meant to imply that the world, as showcased in the film, is a nasty, brutal place. "Mondo Cane" was followed by a number of sequels and spinoffs, many of which were also produced in Italy. Other movies of this type include Addio Zio Tom and the Faces of Death series of films. Sometimes "mondo" films are called shockumentaries (i.e., a portmanteau of "shock exploitation" and "documentary").

Hick exploitation

Hixploitation ("hick", or redneck: dealing with rural characters), films which generally indulge in Southern American stereotypes of race relations, "moonshining," corrupt local law enforcement, and miscegenation such as The Dukes of Hazzard or Deliverance.

Other examples

Bruceploitation, profiting from the recent death of Bruce Lee
Dyxploitation ("dyke," profiting from lesbian chic)
Women in prison films

Some exploitation movies cross categories freely. Doris Wishman's Let Me Die A Woman contains both shock documentary and sex exploitation elements.

Film genres influenced by exploitation film

See also


  • Eric Schaefer, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!": A History of Exploitation Films, 1919–1959 Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999
  • Jeffrey Sconce, "'Trashing' the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style", Screen vol. 36 no. 4, Winter 1995, pp. 371-393.
  • Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984, 1994. ISBN 031213519X
  • V. Vale and Andrea Juno, RE/Search No. 10: Incredibly Strange Films RE/Search Publications, 1986. ISBN 0940642093

External links

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Movies, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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