Exploitation film

Exploitation film

Exploitation film is a type of film that eschews the expense of quality productions in favor of making films inexpensively, attracting viewers by exciting their more prurient interests. "Exploitation" is a term in the movie industry meaning promotion or advertising. Exploitation films rely heavily on the lurid advertising of their content rather than the intrinsic quality of the film.

Exploitation films may feature forbidden sex, wanton 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. Since the 1990s, this genre has also received attention from academic circles, where it is sometimes called paracinema.

Ephraim Katz, author of "The Film Encyclopedia", has defined exploitation as:

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" (1935) 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. Several war films were made about the Winter War in Finland, the Korean War and the Vietnam War before the major studios showed interest. When Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Halloween 1938 radio production of "The War of the Worlds" shocked many Americans and made news, Universal Pictures edited their serial "Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars" into a short feature called "Mars Attacks the World" for release in November of that year.

Some Poverty Row lower budget B movies often exploit major studio projects due to fact that the rapid production schedule of making their films can take advantage of the publicity of the major studio to get an audience for their film and leave the slower bigger budgeted competitor to suffer reduced admissions at the box office. For example Edward L. Alperson produced William Cameron Menzies' "Invaders from Mars" to beat Paramount Pictures prestigious George Pal's version of "The War of the Worlds" into the cinemas. Pal's "The Time Machine" was also beaten to the cinemas by Robert Clarke's Edgar G. Ulmer film "Beyond the Time Barrier" (1960). As a result, many major studios, producers, and stars keep their projects secret.

Grindhouse cinema

A 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. [ [http://www.grindhouse.com Grindhouse] ] In the 1960's these theatres were put to new use as venues for exploitation films. [ [http://www.grindhouse.com Grindhouse] ] Hence the term 'grindhouse' became used to describe the genre of films that played in such theatres. Grindhouses were known for continuous programs of B movies, usually consisting of a double feature where two (and very often three) films were shown consecutively.Most of these films were made for Drive-in theaters as second and third features. Beginning in the late 1960s and especially during the 1970s, the subject matter of grindhouse films was dominated by explicit sex, violence, bizarre or perverse plot points, and other explicit content.

The 1980s home video market and urban renewal threatened to render the grindhouse obsolete. By the end of that decade, grindhouse theaters had vanished from former urban "sleaze" districts like Boston's Combat Zone, Los Angeles' Broadway and Hollywood Boulevards, New York City's Times Square and San Francisco's Market Street. By the mid-1990s, they had completely disappeared from the United States.

There remains much affection for the grindhouse era amongst some cinephiles. An example is the 2007 release of "Grindhouse", a double feature consisting of "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof", directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, respectively. Both films contain elements found in many grindhouse films, and are bridged by trailers for fictitious films that also fit into the grindhouse genre (sexploitation, slasher films, etc.), although one notable example, Machete, is currently being produced as a feature film. "Grindhouse" also features simulated film scratches, splices and some clipped dialogue, to recreate the feeling that the prints of the films are worn and battered copies, which was often true of the prints of many films grindhouse theaters showed in their heyday.


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.

Black exploitation

Black exploitation, or "blaxploitation" films, are made with black actors, ostensibly for black audiences, and about stereotypically African American subjects such as slum life, drugs, and prostitution. A prominent theme was African-Americans overcoming the Man through cunning and violence. Examples from the 1970s, when Blaxploitation was introduced, include "Cotton Comes to Harlem", "Shaft", "Dolemite", "Black Caesar", "Hell Up in Harlem", "Super Fly", "Boss Nigger", "Blacula", "Coffy", "The Mack," and Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song", which is often credited with inventing the genre. Notable spoofs of the genre include Keenan Ivory Wayans' "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka", Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle" and Malcolm D. Lee's "Undercover Brother".

Sex exploitation

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; the movie "Showgirls", and the films of Andy Sidaris are examples of recent sexploitation. "Caligula" can be regarded as sexploitation, except that it was very high budget and even featured international stars such as Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole.

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 bestiality and depictions of incest. Examples of shock films include "The Last House on the Left", "Fight for Your Life", "Last House on Dead End Street", "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS", "Men Behind the Sun", "Vase de Noces", "Ta Paidia tou Diavolou", "", "Combat Shock" and "I Spit on Your Grave".

Biker films

1953's "The Wild One", starring Marlon Brando, was perhaps the first of this subgenre that usually focuses on motorcycle gangs with plenty of sex and violence. But most of the films were made in the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s. Other biker films includes "Motorpsycho" (1965), "The Wild Angels" (1966), "Hells Angels on Wheels" (1967), "The Born Losers" (1967), "Satan's Sadists" (1969), "Nam's Angels" (1970), and "C.C. and Company" (1970).

Cannibal films

Cannibal films, otherwise known as the cannibal genre, are a collection of graphic, gory movies made in the early 1970s on into the late 1980s, primarily by Italian moviemakers. These movies mainly focused on torture and cannibalism by Stone-Age tribes deep in the South American or Asian rain forests, usually perpetrated against Westerners that the tribes hold prisoner. Similar to Mondo films, the main draw of cannibal films was the promise of exotic locales and graphic gore. Like the jungle adventure movies (popular in the '50s-'60s) and the Mondo shockumentaries (popular in the '60s-'70s) that came before them, these movies were often released under various alternate titles by their distributors, often capitalizing on their more successful US inspirations. These films are also notorious for their animal killings, featuring scenes with animals eating prey and also the cannibals killing alligators, crocodile, snakes, and other animals.

Cannibal films were very popular exploitation features in the 1970s and 80s, after Umberto Lenzi made "Il Paese del Sesso Selvaggio", the first film to depict on-screen cannibalism, in 1972. [cite interview |last=Lenzi |first=Umberto |subjectlink=Umberto Lenzi |interviewer=Shriek Show |program=Man from Deep River DVD Extras] In 1977, Ruggero Deodato made "Ultimo Mondo Cannibale", inspiring several other film makers to follow suit in a period known as the cannibal boom. This period would also see the most notorious film of the subgenre, Deodato's "Cannibal Holocaust" (an acknowledged influence on "The Blair Witch Project"), in 1980. After 1981, however, the cannibal boom had ended, and cannibal films were few and far between. The fad concluded in 1988 with Mondo film director Antonio Climati's "Natura contro" (also known as "Cannibal Holocaust II").

Chambara films

In the 1970s, a brand of revisionist, non-traditional samurai film rose to some popularity in Japan, following the popularity of samurai manga by Kazuo Koike, on whose work many later films would be based. Films such as "Lone Wolf and Cub", "Lady Snowblood" and "Hanzo the Razor" 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. Many of these films were subsequently released internationally -- sometimes in truncated form, as with "Shogun Assassin", an edit that combined the first two "Lone Wolf and Cub" films.

Famous names at this time included Sonny Chiba, Shintaro Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Meiko Kaji. Kaji, star of the "Lady Snowblood" films, would further contribute to Japan's exploitation output by starring in the "Female Convict Scorpion" series, that country's answer to the women in prison genre.

The influence of these films can still be seen today, both in Japanese films like the "Azumi" series and US films like "Kill Bill", whose plot and style pay homage to many of the aforementioned samurai films.

Zombie films

Zombie exploitation films are a collection of graphic, gory movies made in the early 1970s on into the late 1980s, primarily by Italian moviemakers and made to include more over-the-top gore, less than logical story lines and nudity. Though zombie films had existed since the early 1930s, it wasn't until the late 1970s that the exploitation angle was worked into the zombie film. Most zombie exploitation was made by Italian film makers, following the success of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" in its European release under the title "Zombi". Around the same time of the release of "Dawn of the Dead", "Zombi 2", by Lucio Fulci, was in the works. Though the film was written before "Dawn of the Dead"'s release in Europe, the film was renamed to "Zombi 2" to share in the success of Romero's film.

Unlike "Dawn of the Dead", "Zombi 2" incorporated several elongated scenes of nudity and even more quantities of gore, thus popularizing the zombie exploitation film. Several imitators and spin offs followed (including a "Zombi 3" and "Zombi 4"), bringing the European zombie craze to full steam (Fulci would again contribute with his films "City of the Living Dead" in 1980 and "The Beyond" in 1981). In the exploitation viewpoint, one of the more notable of the zombie exploitation films is Marino Girolami's 1980 film "Zombie Holocaust", which combined the zombie movie with the cannibal movie.

Mondo films

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 (for instance, foreign sexual customs or varieties of violent behavior and rebellion in various societies), but because the on-camera action is allegedly real. Though some Mondo films contain certain amounts of educational material, it is chosen in order to shock its audience. Examples of using this technique while exploiting nations in the news are the documentaries on Africa, "Mau Mau" (1955) and "Africa Addio" (1966). This can be seen not only in the way the films are shot, but also by the fact that some of the most shocking footage has, in actuality, been staged. [cite book | last=Kerekes | first=David | coauthors=David Slater | title=Killing for Culture: An Illustrated History of Death Film from Mondo to Snuff | publisher=Creation Books | date=1996 | id=ISBN 1-871592-20-8]

The name "Mondo" itself comes from the first commercially successful film of this type, "Mondo Cane" (in Italian, this means "Dog World" or "World as a Dog", a title meant to imply that the world, as showcased in the film, is a brutal, nasty place). "Mondo Cane" was followed by a number of sequels and spinoffs, many of which were also produced in Italy. Mondo films continued to be major staples in exploitation film culture through the 60s and into the late 70s, when the style of the films began to change. While at first these films contained similar content of exotic and bizarre customs, in 1978, the film "Faces of Death" took the focus less from worldly rituals and more on footage of human death. Since then, most of the Mondo films have been similar to death films, which, unlike their predecessors, are mostly comprised of genuine accident, suicide, and execution footage.

platter films

A splatter film or gore film is a type of horror film that deliberately focuses on graphic portrayals of gore and violence. These films, through the use of special effects and excessive blood and guts, tend to display an overt interest in the vulnerability of the human body.

Due to their willingness to portray images society might consider shocking, splatter films share ideological grounds with the transgressive art movement. As a distinct genre, the splatter film began in the 1960s with the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman, who became notorious for such work as "Blood Feast" (1963), and "Two Thousand Maniacs!" (1964).

paghetti westerns and Euroflicks

Spaghetti Western is a nickname for a broad sub-genre of Western film that emerged in the mid-1960s, so named because most were produced by Italian studios. Originally they had in common the Italian language, low budgets, and a recognizable highly fluid, violent, and minimalist cinematography that eschewed (some said "demythologized") many of the conventions of earlier Westerns — partly intentionally, partly as a result of the work being done in a different cultural background and with limited funds. Examples include "Django", "Death Rides a Horse" and "The Great Silence".

With the rising cost of a B picture, American film exhibitors found that a foreign made film could be picked up for nearly the third of a cost of the cheapest American made film. For example Joseph E. Levine purchased the Italian made "Hercules" for $35,000, and years later "A Fistful of Dollars" was picked up for the same price. Both films did extremely well at the box office. In addition to Westerns, the European cinema (often co-productions between several European nations and featuring American and British actors) provided horror, and over the years as the genre's changed, sword and sandal, Eurospy imitations of James Bond, "Dirty Harry" and "The Godfather" crime films would be dubbed into English, retitled and cheaply purchased to fill out a double feature. [Bergfelder, Tim "International Adventures: German Popular Cinema and European Co-Production" 2006 Berghahn Books]

Women in prison films

Women in prison films are films that feature women prisoners who are tortured, humiliated, and forced into sexual situations by sadistic wardens and guards. In turn, the prisoners often hold a bloody revolt against their captors. Like sexploitation, the main focus of women in prison films is high sexual content (while remaining softcore) or, like shock exploitation, torture and cruelty. Movies include Roger Corman's "Women in Cages" and "Bamboo House of Dolls", "Barbed Wire Dolls" by Jesus Franco, "Women's Prison Massacre" by Joe D'Amato, "Reform School Girls" by Tom DeSimone, or "Caged Heat" by Jonathan Demme.

Other sub-genres

* "Bruceploitation": Films profiting from the death of Bruce Lee.
*"Giallo": Italian thriller.
* "Nunsploitation": Featuring nuns in dangerous or erotic situations, such as "Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentines".
* "Nazisploitation": Films such as "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS", "Last Orgy of the Third Reich", and "Love Camp 7"; sometimes tied with Women in prison films since they share a common theme of incarcerated women.
* "Pornochanchada": Brazilian naïve softcore pornographic films produced mostly in the 1970s, curiously the years when the country was under a right-wing military dictatorship.
* "Pinku eiga"(Pink Film): Japanese sexploitation films popular throughout the 70s, often featuring softcore sex, rape, torture, BDSM and other sexual subjects that were considered erotic.
* "Dyxploitation" (dyke): Lesbian chic films.
* "Hixploitation" (hick): Stereotype films about the American South (see hillbilly and Good ol' boy).
* "Cat III": Chinese films popular throughout the mid 80s to mid 90s usually focusing on serial killers or rapists and the police's search for them and frequently displaying various forms of explicit violence. Named after the age certificates they would receive in Hong Kong (Audiences 18 years or older).
* "Teensploitation": the exploitation of teenagers by the producers of teen-oriented films, with plots involving drugs, sex, alcohol and crime; examples include juvenile delinquent films and slasher films. The word Teensploitation first appeared in a show business publication in 1982 and was included in the Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary for the first time in 2004.
* "Rape / Revenge": films in which a woman is raped and then, in turn, exacts a violent and often more gruesome revenge upon her attacker.
* "Martial arts film": a type of action film characterized by extensive fighting scenes employing various types of martial arts.
* "Slasher film":sub-genre of horror film typically involving a psychopathic killer (often wearing a mask) who stalks and graphically murders a series of victims in a random, unprovoked fashion, killing many within a single day.
* "Revenge films": films where a protagonist gets back at those who have hurt them or someone they love. (see vigilante)
* "Propaganda film":a film, either a documentary-style production or a fictional screenplay, that is produced to convince the viewer of a certain political point or influence the opinions or behavior of people, often by providing deliberately misleading, propagandistic content.
* "Mexploitation": an Exploitation film and Mexican culture and/or portrayals of Mexican life within Mexico often dealing with crime, drug trafficking, money, and sex.
* "Carsploitation": cruising/racing/chasing/crashing chic films
* "Eschploitation" (eschatology): apocalyptic Christian end-times thrillers.
* "Britsploitation": An exploitation film set in Great Britain.
* "Action film": a film genre where action sequences, such as fights, shootouts, stunts, car chases or explosions either take precedence or, in finer examples of the genre, are used as a form of exposition and character development. The action typically involves individual efforts on the part of the hero.
* "Ozploitation":a type of low budget horror, comedy and action films made in Australia after the introduction of the R rating in 1971.
* "Stoner film": a subgenre of films that center around an explicit use of the drug marijuana. Typically, such movies show marijuana use in a comic and positive fashion. Marijuana use is one of the main themes, and inspires most of the plot.
*"Ninja" film: a subgenre of the martial arts films, these films center on the stereotypical, historically inaccurate, image of the ninja costume and his arsenal of weapons often including fantasy elements such as ninja magic. Many such movies were produced by splicing stock ninja fight footage with footage from unrelated film projects.

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

Directors associated with exploitation film

* Kenneth Anger
* Stephen Apostolof
* William "One Shot" Beaudine
* Giovanni "Tinto" Brass
* Bob Clark
* Larry Clark
* Roger Corman
* Joe D'Amato
* Ruggero Deodato
* Don Dohler
* David E. Durston
* Dwain Esper
* Michael and Roberta Findlay
* Jess Franco
* Lucio Fulci
* Samuel Fuller
* William Girdler
* Frank Henenlotter
* Jack Hill
* Lloyd Kaufman
* José Ramón Larraz
* Umberto Lenzi
* Herschell Gordon Lewis
* Bruno Mattei
* Radley Metzger
* Russ Meyer
* Carl Monson
* Ron Ormond
* Melvin Van Peebles
* Fred Olen Ray
* Jean Rollin
* Lindsay Shonteff
* Juan Piquer Simón
* Jack Smith
* Ray Dennis Steckler
* John Waters
* Doris Wishman
* Edward D. Wood, Jr.
* Jim Wynorski

Other important figures in exploitation film

* American International Pictures
* Kroger Babb
* Karen Black
* Wes Craven
* David Cronenberg
* David F. Friedman
* James Gunn
* Sid Haig
* Herschell Gordon Lewis
* Pam Grier
* S. S. Millard
* Andy Milligan
* Bill Moseley
* K. Gordon Murray
* Bob Murawski
* Harry Novak
* Robert Rodriguez
* Eli Roth
* Something Weird Video
* Sage Stallone
* Quentin Tarantino
* Troma Entertainment (Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz)
* George Weiss
* Rob Zombie

See also

*Aestheticization of violence
*B movie
*Cult film
*Video nasty
*Midnight movie


* 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, "", 1994. ISBN 0-312-13519-X
* V. Vale and Andrea Juno, "RE/Search No. 10: Incredibly Strange Films" RE/Search Publications, 1986. ISBN 0-940642-09-3
* Ephraim Katz, "", 2005. ISBN 0-06-074214-3
* Benedikt Eppenberger, Daniel Stapfer "Maedchen, Machos und Moneten: Die unglaubliche Geschichte des Schweizer Kinounternehmers Erwin C. Dietrich." Mit einem Vorwort von Jess Franco. Verlag Scharfe Stiefel, Zurich, 2006, ISBN 3-033-00960-3

External links

* [http://www.grindhousedatabase.com THE DEUCE: Grindhouse Cinema Database] The original Grindhouse/Classic Exploitation Cinema Wiki.
* [http://dir.salon.com/story/ent/movies/feature/2002/09/03/christian/index.html "Lights! Camera! Apocalypse!"] , an article about Rapture films as Christian exploitation filmmaking
* [http://www.youtube.com/thecinemasnob The Cinema Snob] Comedic reviews and retrospectives of Exploitation Cinema.
* [http://luridcinema.com/?p=73 Lurid Cinema - Babes, Bimbos & Badasses] Top 250 Exploitation & Grindhouse Movie List
* [http://www.cultuurschok.com/ Cultuurschok] Dutch website dedicated to Cult and Exploitation

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