The Erotic World of Sexploitation

The Erotic World of Sexploitation

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Sexploitation (def): Exploitative use of explicit sexual material in movies and the media. While many of these films sported impossibly lurid titles, in truth "sexploitation" films were amazingly tame in terms of sexual content. The idea was to exploit the concept of sex without violating long-standing cultural and legal taboos against showing it all on the screen. These films were one of the biggest subgenres in Exploitation Cinema.

Thanks to an increasing frankness in the content of many foreign films during the late 1950s and early Sixties, American Exploitation cinema found itself competing with a new market for more erotic celluloid thrills. In response, a small group of filmmakers - largely centered in New York - began to producing a new strain of black and white, no-budget pot boiler centered on the trials and tribulations of young women engulfed in a world of unregulated sexual passions.

One of the legendary directors of the Sexploitation genre is Russ Meyer. Meyer began making 8mm films as a kid, then served as a combat newsreel cameraman during World War II. After the war he worked as a freelance photographer, shooting six centerfolds for Playboy, before returning to filmmaking in the late 1950s. His first feature, the nudist comedy The Immoral Mr. Teas, cost $24,000 to produce and eventually grossed more than $1,000,000 on the independent/exploitation circuit, ensconcing Meyer as "King of the Nudies." Over the next decade, he made nearly twenty movies with a trademark blend of over-the-top sleaze, huge-breasted starlets and warped humor, including classics Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Supervixens (1975). Meyer was a true auteur who wrote, directed, photographed and edited the films himself. He also financed each new film from the proceeds of the earlier films, and got very rich in the process.

It's difficult to believe nowadays that there really was a time when the human body was a forbidden image on the silver screen. After all, even in Britain, where moral censorship still runs rampant, the sight of a naked man or woman is considered completely inoffensive by all but the most bigoted and repressed. Yet only forty years ago, nudity remained strictly taboo in the world of the cinema.

Of all the directors working in the sexploitation cinema of the 1960s, Joe Sarno was one of the few who truly believed in the redemptive power of both the cinema and of sex. A man of the Second World War generation who cut his directorial teeth photographing bombing raids over the South Pacific, by the early Sixties Sarno had joined the advance forces of another invasion - the sexualization of American movies. Sin in the Suburbs, Warm Nights and Hot Pleasures, Moonlighting Wives, The Bed and How They Made It, Come Ride the Wild Pink Horse, Bed of Violence, Vibrations, Young Playthings - Sarno's films blasted away post-War standards and set the stage for an increasingly explicit investigation of the human sexual experience.

In the early 70s a subgenre was becoming popular in Grindhouse cinema: Women in Prison films. The "Women in Prison" film has been a reliable subgenre of exploitation films since their beginnings in the teen "reform school" movies. Known as "WIP" films to cinephiles, to less formal fans they are affectionately called the "Chicks in Chains" flicks. The plots were relatively simple, a bunch of sexy women get put in jail in a foreign country (usually Southeast Asia) who get to take a lot of showers; after 80 minutes of being mistreated by captors, they finally get the upper hand and they stage a bloody breakout in which all but two or three of the cast gets killed. One of the first big hits in this subgenre was Jack Hill's 1971 hit The Big Doll House. It starred newcomers Pam Grier and Sid Haig. Other Women in Prison classics include: The Hot Box (1972), Black Mama White Mama (1972), Caged Heat (1974) and The Big Bird Cage (1972).

Another subgenre of Sexploitation were the Cheerleader and Nurse films. The Nurse films in particular were very popular drive in films during the mid 70s. Films such as Private Duty Nurses (1971), Night Call Nurses (1972), The Student Nurses (1970), The Young Nurses (1973) and Candy Stripe Nurses (1974) were all about sexy women working at hospitals. The cheerleader films were simply about cheerleaders and the trials and tribulations they go through. Lots of comedy, sex, drugs and rock n' roll permeated the stories. Jack Hill's 1974 drive in classic The Swinging Cheerleaders was based around the sexual situations and the comedy, but Hill also injected his own artistic style on the film which made it more than just an average T&A film. One of the most famous actresses from the Cheerleader genre was Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith. She was in almost all of them and she had a really great onscreen presence. You could actually call her the "70s Grindhouse Marilyn Monroe". Sadly, she died from a drug overdose in 2002. You can see Cheryl in films like The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974), Revenge of The Cheerleaders (1975) and The Pom Pom Girls (1976). Cheryl also had a small cameo in Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke (1978) as a stoned out hippie chick.

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