Welcome to the BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO CLASSIC EXPLOITATION CINEMA. This is a start-off point for people who are new to these kinds of films and find themselves confused by the sheer overwhelming number of them. This page will provide an easy general introduction and a number of tips on films you should watch. This page is also ideal for those who want to make sure they know the basics and are just interested in learning more.
Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by "exploiting" often lurid subject matter. The term "exploitation" is common in film marketing, used for all types of films to mean promotion or advertising. Thus, films need something to "exploit", such as a big star, special effects, sex, violence, romance, etc. An "exploitation film", however, relies heavily on sensationalist advertising and broad and lurid overstatement of the issues depicted, regardless of the intrinsic quality of the film. Very often, exploitation films were of low quality in every sense. This, however, was not always the case. Exploitation films sometimes attract critical attention and cult followings.
Exploitation films feature uncut unrated material. They specialize in numerous sex and nudity scenes, bloody gore, violence, and taboos. They were most popular in the late 1960s to late 70s. Most are low budget films that would not be played in theaters today and would most likely receive an NC-17 rating.
Exploitation films may feature suggestive or explicit sex, sensational violence, drug use, nudity, freaks, gore, the bizarre, destruction, rebellion, and mayhem. Such films have existed since the earliest days of moviemaking, but they were popularized in the 1960s with the general relaxing of cinematic taboos in the U.S. and Europe. Additionally, low budget filmmakers used sensational elements to attract audiences lost to television. Since the 1990s, this genre has also received attention from academic circles, where it is sometimes called paracinema.
"Exploitation" is very loosely defined, and has more to do with how the viewer approaches the film than with the film's actual content. Titillating material and artistic content can and often do coexist, as demonstrated by the fact that art films that failed to pass the Hays Code were often shown in the same grindhouses as exploitation films. Exploitation films share with acclaimed transgressive European directors such as Derek Jarman, Luis Buñuel, and Jean-Luc Godard a fearlessness toward handling 'disreputable' content. Numerous films recognized as classics contain levels of sex, violence, and shock typically associated with exploitation films, including Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Tod Browning's Freaks, and Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Buñuel's Un chien andalou contains elements of the modern splatter film. It has further been stated that if Carnival of Souls had been made in Europe, that it would be considered an art film, while if Eyes Without a Face had been made in the U.S., it would have been categorized as a low-budget horror film. The art film and exploitation film audiences are both considered to have tastes that reject the mainstream Hollywood offerings.
Exploitation films often exploited events that occurred in the news and were in the short term public consciousness that a major film studio may avoid due to the length of time of producing a major film. For example Child Bride (1938) addressed a problem of older men marrying very young women in the Ozarks. Other issues such as drug use in films like Reefer Madness (1936) attracted an audience that a major film studio would avoid to keep their mainstream and respectable reputations. Sex Madness (1938) portrayed the dangers of venereal disease from premarital sex. The film Mom and Dad (1945), a film about pregnancy and childbirth, was promoted in lurid terms. She Shoulda Said No! (1949) combined the themes of drug use and promiscuous sex.
Grindhouse is an American term for a theatre that mainly showed exploitation films. It is named after the defunct burlesque theatres, on 42nd Street, New York, where 'bump n' grind' dancing and striptease used to be on the bill. In the 1960s these theatres were put to new use as venues for exploitation films.
As the drive-in movie theater (an outdoor theater into which the patrons drive and watch the film from their car) began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s, theater owners began to look for ways to bring in patrons. One solution was to book exploitation films. In fact, some producers in the 1970s would make films directly for the drive-in market. Many of them were violent action films which some would refer to as 'drive-in' films.
Exploitation films may adopt the subject matters and stylings of film genres, particularly horror films and documentary films. The subgenres of exploitation films are categorized by which characteristics they utilize. Thematically, exploitation films can also be influenced by other so-called exploitative media, like pulp magazines. Exploitation films also sometimes blur genre lines utilizing two or more genres at a time for example the 1980 film Maniac could be considered both a slasher film as well as a gore film. Doris Wishman's Let Me Die A Woman contains both shock documentary and sex exploitation elements.
Exploitation films made in the 1930s and 1940s that got around the strict censorship and scrutiny of the era despite featuring lurid subject matter by claiming to be educational in nature. They were generally cautionary stories about the alleged dangers of premarital sex and drug use. Examples include Marihuana, Mom and Dad, Reefer Madness, Sex Madness and She Shoulda Said No!.
In 1953 The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, was the first film about a motorcycle gang. The success of American International Pictures' The Wild Angels in 1966 ignited a trend that continued into the early 1970s. Other biker films include Motorpsycho (1965), Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), Born Losers (1967), Satan's Sadists (1969), The Losers (1970), and C.C. & Company (1970).
Action films (often referred to as Kung fu or chopsocky films) that are characterized by extensive fighting scenes employing various types of martial arts.
"Blaxploitation" films (Note: The word was not coined by whites but by a black person) were made with black actors, for black audiences, often taking place within a stereotypically African American urban backdrop. A prominent theme was African-Americans overcoming "The Man" (a slang term for white oppressors) through cunning and violence. The progenitor of this exploitation genre is usually credited to Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song, although Gordon Parks Sr's Shaft is truly the prototype for the standard action oriented films in this genre. Other popular titles include: Black Caesar, Blacula, Black Shampoo, Boss Nigger, Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, Coonskin, Cotton Comes To Harlem, Dolemite, Foxy Brown, Hell Up In Harlem, The Mack, Shaft, Sugar Hill, Super Fly and Truck Turner.
In the 1970s, a brand of revisionist, non-traditional samurai film rose to some popularity in Japan, following the success of samurai manga (graphic novels) by Kazuo Koike, on whose work many later films would be based. The Zatoichi films, Lady Snowblood, the Lone Wolf and Cub films, Sex & Fury (which would also be a sexploitation film) and Shogun Assassin had few of the stoic, formal sensibilities of earlier jidaigeki films such as those by Akira Kurosawa -- the new chambara featured revenge-driven antihero protagonists, gratuitous nudity, steamy sex scenes, gruesome swordplay and gallons of blood, often spurted from wounds as if from a firehose.
The Japanese Yakuza (gangster) film was also a popular staple in theaters both in Asia and in the US during the 60s and 70s. Studios such as Nikkatsu were the forerunner of these pulp-crime pictures that dealt with the violent and exotic criminal underworld in urban Japan.
Carsploitation is a genre which features automobiles as the main showcase or driving force of the films. The quintessential film of this genre is Vanishing Point. Others include Death Race 2000, Cannonball, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Gone in 60 Seconds, Mad Max and Two Lane Blacktop.
Exploitation genre films taking place in the American South. The majority of Hixploitation films deal with topics such as moonshiners & crazy backwoods hillbillies.
Mondo films, often called shockumentaries, are quasi-documentary films that focus on sensationalized topics, such as exotic customs from around the world or gruesome death footage. Similar to shock exploitation, the goal of Mondo films is to be shocking to the audience not only because they deal with taboo subject matter. The first and best-known mondo film is Mondo Cane. Others include Shocking Asia and Goodbye Uncle Tom.
Sex exploitation, or "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. While many films contain vivid sex scenes, sexploitation shows these scenes more graphically than mainstream films, often overextending the sequences or showing full frontal nudity. Russ Meyer's body of work is probably the best known example; with his best known films being Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Supervixens. Subgenres include Women In Prison, Cheerleader movies, Nurse films, Nunsploitation, Nudies, Roughies, Dykesploitation. Other well-known sexploitation films include the Emmanuelle series and Caligula. Caligula is unique among classic sexploitation films in general in that it features a high budget and eminent actors.
Shock exploitation films, or "shock films" contain various shocking elements such as extremely realistic graphic violence, graphic rape depictions, simulated bestiality and depictions of incest. Examples of shocksploitation include: Bloodsucking Freaks, I Drink Your Blood, Fight For Your Life, I Spit On Your Grave, Ilsa: She Wolf of The S.S. (and its sequels), Last House on Dead End Street, The Last House On The Left, Pink Flamingos, Salo, 120 Days of Sodom, Snuff, Thriller: A Cruel Picture
Spaghetti Western is a nickname for the Italian-made Western films that emerged in the early to mid-1960s. They were considerably more violent and amoral than typical Hollywood westerns (some films have body counts of over 200 people killed) and often eschewed (some say "demythologized") the conventions of earlier Westerns.
The exploitation of teenagers by the producers of teen-oriented films, with plots involving drugs, sex, alcohol and crime. The word Teensploitation first appeared in a show business publication in 1982 and was included in the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for the first time in 2004. These include JD Films (juvenile delinquent) and beach party movies like Beach Blanket Bingo among others.
Cult films arent necessarily exploitation films. They are simply films that have gained a large devoted following because of their unique qualities. They range from low budget exploitation features to big budget studio films that may not have done well on their initial release but were re-visited and grabbed people's imaginations/attention. Cult films can be from any period, the 20th century and beyond. Classics include: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Night of the Living Dead, Harold and Maude, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom of The Paradise, The Harder They Come, The Warriors, Eraserhead, Videodrome. Post grindhouse era cult films include: Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski, Showgirls, Donnie Darko and Fight Club...READ MORE