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Cinemation

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

Overview

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From 1968 to it's demise in 1975, Cinemation was one of Exploitation Cinema's most legendary stories. Led by Jerry Gross, one of the most interesting people in Exploitation history, it's aims to play it big were both it's strong point in the early days and it's biggest failing when things were fading with under-performing films, although Gross' history with classic Sexploitation helped the company to score with some classics of that genre all through it's history. It's best known films and pick-ups were solid Horror and Sexploitation, ranging from Joseph Sarno's Inga films, David Durston's I Drink Your Blood, Devil Times Five (Also known as The Horrible House on the Hill), and Teenage Sex Report, but it's also known for releases like the Blaxploitation classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song, the Anti-War film Johnny Got His Gun, Peter Fonda's Science Fiction film Idaho Transfer and Alain Resnais' Stavisky, as well as a couple of Kung Fu films and even an Adventure film in Camper John (Original title: Gentle Savage). Cinemation could have been a major contender, but sadly things would fall by 1975.

Early Years

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Jerry Gross and Nick Demetroules were already showing their potential in the Exploitation field by the Mid-60's with 1964's Vice Girls Limited (Distributed through Sam Lake Enterprises) and 1966's Girl On a Chain Gang, but their first major success was with the Roadshow Exploitation film Teenage Mother in 1967, featuring a Birth of a Baby reel and a classic trailer. The film, featuring Arlene Farber, was to set the scene for most of Cinemation's best moments, and it was not surprising that their first three films would be brought to Cinemation to play with other classic Exploitation films through the Early 70's in double bills, especially Teenage Mother, which was programmed in 1971 with Baby Doll. After scoring big with their third film, the duo decided to form the company and mainly concentrate on Distribution, with goals to mainly set up their own exchange centers and offices through the US when it was common practice for most of the independent companies that were not as strong as American International Pictures just to use sub-distributors.

A big start for them was picking up Joe Sarno's Inga from Cannon, who originally Produced the film, with Gross adding his own touches with a music score by Clay Pitts, who would work on the scores for a few of the company's films, as well as adding a scene in a train station that shows a one-sheet for Teenage Mother. With a classic exploitation campaign that centered on the erotic looks of Marie Liljedhal, Inga was an early hit for the X rating that just started out, and one of the biggest steps in the company's rise in it's early years. Their strength in picking up European erotica had another hit in Max Ahlberg's Fanny Hill, and would continue to pick up films such as The Seducers and Grimms Fairy Tales for Adults.

The Faux-Import Female Animal, actually starring Arlene Farber from Teenage Mother, was another hit, but one that used Gross' expert Exploitation skills at their best. With it's Spanish credits, with Director Gross named named Juan Carlos, it fooled many at first. and the location filming in Puerto Rico and the effective music by Clay Pitts, some parts sounding like it was influenced by Armando Bo's film Fuego, turned it into a well-made Exploitation film that's still a fine example of Sexploitation, with Gross appearing in an uncredited cameo as a pimp at the end of the film. Real imports like the Danish film Whirlpool by Jose Ramon Larraz (Vampyres) as well as The Cousins, Joe Sarno's second Inga film which would get the Cinemation voice over add ons and X-Rated footage for Grindhouse audiences, and a French film that was retitled as From Ear to Ear and then The French Cousins for the Stateside distribution, kept the company in good standing especially with Grindhouses.

Pick Ups of Classic Films and Drive In Shows

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An interesting chapter in their history surrounds the picking up of many different films in order to play them in Drive In shows or Grindhouse double features. Most interestingly, the Mondo Cane films were picked up to make a classic Drive In Double Feature of the Early 70's and Africa Addio was trimmed a bit to focus on the more Exploitation-ready moments and had a change in title to Africa Blood and Guts. Adding onto their winning streak with this format, a film by Del Tenney called Zombies was changed to I Eat Your Skin to perfectly make it go with one of the most memorable films in their history - David Durston's I Drink Your Blood, a film that was spiced again with the music of Pitts, this time using more electronic sounds to give the tale of Satanic hippies more menace, while a game with the MPAA was made in Early 1971 after getting one of the first X ratings for violence and later appealing for an R with sending a more complete version to the theaters who would still follow local standards resulting in many different edits of the "R" rated film (The reason why many tapes had different running times in the past). Additional pick ups included that of The Sadist, Shanty Tramp, and Baby Doll, with the later being used in a double feature with the ever-reliable Teenage Mother. A 1967 Spaghetti Western by Tanio Boccia was named Kill or Be Killed for the Stateside distribution.

Changing Times, Changing Aims

With the company's status growing, Cinemation had more serious aims by 1971, with a growing independently owned Film Exchange system, looking like they were trying to be the next AIP, and plans to expand their focus in film beyond what they were known for, already knowing of the country's diverse attitudes in film watching at the time. The emphasis was still on Exploitation, but thanks to films like Johnny Got His Gun, a cult favorite at the time with those in opposition to the Vietnam War, and the Blaxploitation classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which was also promoted with a soundtrack on Stax Records, there was more of a focus to break serious films that connected with the audiences of the moment. Even some Erotic films were in this plan with the releases of Oh! Calcutta and Paul Verhoeven's Turk's Fruit (Retitled as Turkish Delight), while a Distribution of Ralph Bakshi's Fritz The Cat helped promote one of America's most controversial animators of the day.

The Fall

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Through 1973 and 1974, things were starting to slow down with Cinemation despite well-performing releases which were possibly not doing the major business that their early Sexploitation-themed early days. A major change back to Exploitation and Horror was happening wile adding a few Blaxploitation and Kung Fu titles to keep with the times. That their biggest hit of 1973 was The Cheerleaders, one of the leading titles in that genre, was proving the company's main successes were based in Exploitation and for all of their achievements, their aims set in the early days were starting to show weak spots enough for the slow ride to Bankruptcy in 1975, showing that while they were ambitious, they set their aims too early in the game for a solid foundation. this was noted also on many commentaries, most notably by Independent-International's Samuel M. Sherman, who's memories of being in the 70's Exploitation scene are great to hear.

There were still small hits, including Cycle Psycho, which turned into Savage Abduction, and The Attack of the Kung Fu Girls, but without a show with the success of The Cheerleaders, things would go down fast. An attempt to break into the small Midnight Rock Film market was proven a failure with the release of Son of Dracula starring Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson, which resulted in one of their biggest losers in a time when they did not need anything to slow them down. Opening in Atlanta in April, 1974, it was not to be a major hit anywhere, and would be cited as the film that would seal the company's fate, especially with a film that featured known musicians. A double disappointment was with the releases of Al Adamson's The Dynamite Brothers and Matt Cimber's The Black Six, two of the least celebrated Blaxploitation films ever.

Returning to solid Horror, Cinemation picked up People Toys, which would be turned into The Horrible House on the Hill. With the company going down quick, playdates were hard to come by and by 1976, and a title change to Devil Times Five, it would be one of the many films gone to another company in a couple of years. After declaring Bankruptcy in September, 1975, with some trouble with Rizzoli, the Distributor who handled Mondo Cane 2 and Kill or Be Killed in their original Pre-Cinemation Stateside runs adding to the damage, there was very little to be heard from the company, but it would not be the last of Jerry Gross' adventures in Exploitation.

By the end of 1975, the company would find itself back in the "Miscellaneous" page of Boxoffice's after years of being in it's featured company listings, but not without some interesting choices of trying to keep the company afloat. Cinemation had a small hit film with Stavinsky early in the year, but it was not strong enough to save the ailing company, while a pick-up of Samuel Fuller's Shark starring Burt Reynolds which aimed to capture some of the success of the epic mega-hit Jaws that was highlighted on Boxoffice's June, 21, 1975 front page did not do much beyond a decent couple of weeks at Drive Ins and Grindhouses under the title of Man-Eater which had ads that were highlighted by the lines "It will eat you apart!" and "More bite than Jaws!". By the end of the year, the company was Distributing films that were a part of the catalog of Carl Denker films earlier in the year) Some being with International Co-Productions earlier), which included 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Up the Chastity Belt, and Hammer's Demons of the Mind while one of the last sightings of the company in name was with a mention in April, 1976 for getting an R rating for Pete Walker's The Confessional, which went to Atlas Films in 1977 (and reportedly later picked up by Joseph Brenner)

Aftermath

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While Gross was planning his next step, which led to the Jerry Gross Organization, Demetroules went at it alone with NMD Productions, a company that mainly focused on what originally made Cinemation tick - The Sexploitation flick, which was highlighted by them with title like Teenage Tramp and Carhops, while Leonard J. Goldberg, an East Coast manager, tried out the game on his own with the short-lived A. Sterling Gold who's titles included Black Emanuelle and Larry Buchanan's infamous Goodbye Norma Jean. Gross returned to the film industry for a brief moment in The Early 80's thanks to a legendary Lucio Fulci film called Zombi 2 which was titled "Zombie" for release in The States (knowing that the first Zombi in Italy was actually the legendary Dawn Of The Dead in The States), as well as Ulli Lommel's The Boogey Man, although a major disappointment with the 1981 film Blood Beach, which tried to get a more mainstream kind of Horror that fell short of expectations which showed him trying too hard to expand the audiences for his films again, influenced Gross to sadly shy away from the Exploitation game by the Mid-80's as some of his films would go to Ambassador Film Distributors after the fall of his company.

With all that Grindhouse greatness, Cinemation went away in the Mid 70's reportedly caused somewhat by trying too hard to expand the company. Typical of companies that fade away in the Exploitation game, their filmography would turn a bit confusing as various titles going to other companies which ranged in success. Among the better known distributors, Independent International got the two Inga films, Inga and The Seduction of Inga, promoting them in a "Super Sexy Inga-thon," and Seymour Brode got Devil Times Five giving it a more deserving success (Brode was another Distributor who helped out Joe Sarno back in The 60's with the classic Sin In The Suburbs) after closing shop. Monarch Distribution got I Drink Your Blood and The Cheerleaders, while on the smaller end of the Exploitation scale, Beacon Films got Teenage Sex Report, changing it to The Teeny Boppers, and Penelope got Grimm's Fairy Tales for Adults before NMD got it and re-titled it The New Adventures of Snow White, with the title possibly reflective of looking back to Cinemation's first successes as the legendary character was played in that film by Marie Liljedhal.

When all is said and done, and upon checking out the full versions of these films on DVD today, Cinemation's films still remain a collection of great Exploitation legends, some which are essential for those interested in Grindhouse cinema history.

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