I had a young lady over the other night and I made her watch Addio Zio
Tom with me. It’s the first film I’ll be writing about for my new
CHUDsploitation column, and it’s one of the most insane and depraved
movies ever made*. As I giggled my way through scenes of racism,
torture and rape, she asked me why I liked movies like this. The
question was a thinly veiled version of ‘What the hell is wrong with
you?’, but it made me realize that an introduction to this new column
might be in order.
My goal with CHUDsploitation is to write about the sickest, strangest
movies ever made, films with almost no redeeming value. There will be
no charming B-movies covered in this column, and very few (if any)
tongue in cheek self-aware pictures. I’m going to write about the films
that take themselves seriously, that were made for a particular sort of
hardcore grindhouse and drive-in crowd, that were meant to titillate,
shock and turn a quick buck. I’m hoping to write about more obscure
films (although I know that out-obscuring some members of this reading
public will be impossible) and to turn you on to the sort of movies
that will have your friends and loved ones throwing you nervous glances.
CHUDsploitation will not be tied to any one genre but rather to an
aesthetic. I’ll be writing about dramas, horror films, hygiene movies,
science fiction movies, biker films, samurai movies, blaxploitation,
cannibal movies, romances, action films and movies that defy all
classification (Let Me Die A Woman, I’m looking at you). I may even
write up a porn movie or two. What all of these films will have in
common is that they’re racing to the bottom, looking to be the lowest
common denominator so that you, the patron of 42nd Street’s myriad scum
theaters, would put your money down for their ticket over the other
sick stuff vying for your attention.
But why exploitation movies at all? What is it about these films that
have been intriguing me since I first started watching them on VHS in
the mid 80s? Let’s get this out of the way first: I like sick stuff. I
have a dysfunctional outrage sensor, so things that would send most
people over the edge – wanton animal cruelty, vicious misogyny,
laughable production values – delight me. I look to be shocked, to be
offended. I want to see things that I probably shouldn’t be seeing. The
uglier, the meaner, the more bizarre, the more I like it.
I get that out of the way first because a lot of people will make
excuses for their love of exploitation films and will be almost ashamed
to enjoy them on that lowest, basest level. I have other reasons for
liking these kinds of movies, but I never want to forget the real
reason I seek out certain titles – I hear that it’s totally fucked up
and I have to see it for myself.
But there are other reasons. There’s a weird purity to the best of the
exploitation movies. These films were financed by shady types looking
to make a quick buck by cashing in on human misery or by aping popular
releases of the time, but the money guys would often put their
investments in the hands of truly odd and unique artists. The truth is
that the money people didn’t care what was in these movies – put the
right title on it, throw in some tits, some blood, make a good poster
and you could pad the rest of the running time with whatever you liked.
Exploitation movies are bastions of auterist leanings, where the
filmmakers, free from restraints like decency and coherent filmmaking, could pursue their own fetishes and kinks on celluloid.
One of the highest things cinema can aspire to is the creatio of a personal
connection between filmmaker and audience, and many exploitation
directors could do that… even if the connection was pretty icky.
There’s also an audacity to some of the filmmaking. That’s rare,
though; most exploitation movies are serviceably directed at best, but
every now and again you’ll find a movie that does something
breathtakingly unexpected, strange or brilliant. My first film for the
column, Addio Zio Tom, masquerades as the documentary footage of an
Italian film crew who take a helicopter back in time to the pre-Civil
War American South. That’s just a wonderful and bonkers conceit. Then
there’s the other side of the equation, films that are so amateurish
and poorly made that they become audacious in their presentation. When
filmmakers don’t even know the basic rules they break them without
thinking; exploitation films can be very punk rock in that way.
Don’t get me wrong – most exploitation films flat out stink. It’s not
uncommon to wade through 80 minutes of boring trash to get to ten
minutes of glorious shock. Being a lover of exploitation means combing
through lots and lots of dross; since there are so few reliable sources
of criticism for these movies and since the real art of exploitation
movies was their posters and trailers (check out the 42nd Street
Forever DVD series to see how wonderful exploitation trailers could be.
Rent some of the movies represented to see how dull the actual films
could be), you can’t be sure whether you’re actually getting the juicy
stuff advertised or a good old fashioned bait and switch. Since this
column will be irregular (I’m going to try to do it twice a month, but
we’ll see), I’m going to focus on the best of the bunch, the movies
that pack more greatness into their running time than the average
grindhouse picture. I’m also going to try to widen my net a little bit;
my personal favorite exploitation films are the ones made in the 60s,
70s and 80s, but I’ll be also watching films from as far back as the
30s, when exploitation films hid under the guise of being
‘educational.’ I may even dip into the present day, although I find
that modern exploitation films are too self-aware and too tongue in
cheek. That’s no fun.
I’m excited to start this column, and I hope you’ll enjoy the guided
tour through the creepy, scummy underbelly of cinema. In the meantime I
recommend two invaluable resources for those just getting interestes in
exploitation: Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford’s amazing book Sleazoid
Express (if this isn’t on your shelf you’re not a film lover) and the
retail website xploitedcinema.com. Joe Bob Briggs’ books Profoundly Disturbing
and Profoundly Erotic, while not specifically about exploitation films,
are also must-reads. I’ll see you in a couple of days when
CHUDsploitation starts with a bang, with one of the most offensive
motion pictures ever committed to celluloid, the equal opportunity race
baiter Addio Zio Tom.
*Note: my CHUDsploitation column will not be a list of good date movies.