Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome To The Grindhouse

I originally wrote this article 4 years ago under the title "The History of The B-Movie" and having recently just discovered the original copy again, i felt the need to share it again, plus I felt it fits the feel of this place, so with out delay, here we go again...

" Welcome To The Grindhouse: A History of B-Movies from The Drive In and Two Dollar Double Feature Theaters To The Small Screen and Obscurity "


Grindhouse: (noun); A Movie Industry and Movie fan term for what is generally referred to as a "B-Movie" meaning of low budget production and little or unknown outside of a small genre of fans actors starring. Its taken from the 1942 movie "The Lady of The Burlesque" in which one of the dancers refers to the theater they dance in as a grindhouse. A Grindhouse film is generally a movie that would have in its day been shown at a drive in movie theater or in a cheap inner city dollar theater that would show adult features after midnight.


Ever since I was a minicon I can remember enjoying watching bad movies. It wasn't that I knew at the time they were bad, but I just loved them. Like many it started with old monster movies. See, back in the day Boston's WLVI 56, at the time an independent station, had the weekends on lock. Seriously, they would show old cartoons and early anime on saturday and sunday mornings, but come noon time, thats when it was really going on, at noon they would show a classic english dubbed kung fu movie of some kind, and then come 2pm, it was time for The Creature Double Feature. And thats when all the awesome happened, see for those of you too young to know what the classic Creature Double Feature was, it was sort of the daytime brother to the midnight movie, sometimes they would have a show host who would come in with facts about the movie or jokes about it, sometimes not. none of these hosts ever did make it to the iconic level of the late night movie ones, understandable though, people like Elvira or Maila Nurmi's classic alter ego Vampira, or even Count Floyd wouldn't really fit that well in a sunday afternoon timeslot, but thats a side point. The Concept was pretty simple, the creature double feature played mostly monster movies made in japan; Godzilla, Mothra, all the ToHo made classics or classic american B-movies, normally ranging from the universal monsters for the 1930s all the way up to late 1970s or early 1980s sci fi, and afew made by crap movie master studios Troma and Hammer films as well, they were so bad, and yet, thats what made them awesome. In time the other indie channels followed a similar format for awile, WSBK 38 would show two Blaxplotation movies back to back both days, movies like Shaft, Foxy Brown, Three The Hard Way, Car Wash, Sugar Hill (1874's version not that crappy 1994 movie of the same name and different plot), stuff like that, it made great stuff to watch if I didn't like the movie on 56, and following suit behind both of them was WQTV 68, a saturday morning favorite of mine because of their anime, followed up the other two indie stations with other movies that fit the "Grindhouse" genre, stuff like the original Walking Tall movies from the 1970s, and things of that nature. These concepts became so popular they would expand it to late night programing every night of the week, normally moving over for a nationally syndicated show on friday, saturday and sunday nights.




This is where my love of movies started. Oh sure, I didn't really become hardcore about it until I got into high school and started to take classes in Film Study, that I learned of more then just what was shown on tv on week end afternoons and late nights on the weekdays, I learned of some of the greats in film making, Troma Studios and all their intentionally bad sci fi monster movies, the UK's Hammer Studios and all of their incredibly made though really bad horror movies, as well as Cannon films and all their "bad ass" movies that starred people like Chuck Norris and such, all so very very badly made, but such a joy to watch, see, I learned in my teenage years a fact that I keep true with me today, even the worst pile of dog crap thats put on a movie screen, on some level is worth atleast watching once, even if its the worst thing you've ever seen, there is atleast one thing you can take away from it thats enjoyable. Be it, something like the two corvettes you can see in the chariot race scene in that horrible movie Ben-Hur, or the midget that killed himself on screen in The Wizard of Oz at the end of the scene where they meet the Tin Woodsman, or just how bad the line "Soylent Green .... is.... people!" really is, or any number of other things that make a bad movie, bad. And thankfully, with the power of the internet at the fingertips of anyone thats willing to use it for anything other then pornography, there are ways for those like me, to find others that love bad movies just as much, though in all honesty, I've not met one yet that could beat me in movie trivia yet, and in all fairness, I doubt I'll find anyone that ever can. But in any event, I have found those who are like me, and enjoy the same things I do for the same reasons I do, which is awesome because for so long, I thought I was the only one, I honestly did. And now, thanks to the joy that is filesharing, you can get just about any movie ever made with a day's time, or even less depending on your connection.




Now I know that I am not the first or the last wax nostalgic on this topic, but thats alright with me, it doesn't matter who's first, who's last, all that matters is that there are others who share the same love of things because of their ability to defy logic by their very creation. And though I learned in my teen years of some of the greats, Mel Brooks, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, and people of that ilk, it wasn't really until my late 20s that I discovered just how vast and really interesting the market for B-Movies really was. And just how expansive the genre truly is. apon finding out these things, and researching, I learned to love b-movies all over again, with a rekindled joy and love for something that almost rivals that of my love for a woman. Almost. I learned of the many subfields of B-movies, from the 1930s pre-MPAA era movies like "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" and the 1932 version of "Scarface" and the version of "Little Caesar" that followed soon after, all laced with graphic violence and sexuality in their own ways, and the drug awareness movies of that same time period, everyone's aware of the ironic classic "Reefer Madness" but how many are aware the others made at that time? Movies like "Cocaine Friends" and "Marijuana"? they all followed the same basic plot, which made them kind of all comical in an unintentional way; Young couple go to a party, the party is either in a dark back alley bar or in some ultra rich mansion and the party is full of pretty people dressed in the hight of fashion for the time, there are drugs there, normally whatever drug the movie was showing you the evils of though others were mentioned, the couple have never done drugs before, the host of the party and their friends either bully or guilt the couple into trying whatever the drug "everyone's using" or whatever the term for the timeperiod is, the couple gives in, and followed by a musical bit set to strange music showing the room getting blurry and things looking funny and whatever, the two sink into this new world of drugs very fast so fast even that it always leads to sex before marriage! The movie then shows them spiral down into the lives of addicts who can't get enough, the girl normally becomes a prostitute that becomes pregnant and gives the kid up or ends up a single mother because the boy took up crime and either ends up in jail, dead, or leaving for someone else. Sometimes you'll find a different version where its just the girl and she basically becomes a prostitute with a baby, but they all end the same way, with a text card that reads "Warn your children". God I love 1930s propaganda, seriously its so much better then all that "yay go Allied Forces we're gonna win the war!" bullcrap from the 1940s, its not that I don't love my country mind you, I just find it so incredibly racist its not funny.




Also, its ironic that in the 1930s Hollywood would be doing movies against the use od drugs, when in the 1960s, one of the many genres to appear was Drugsplotation, a genre that embraced the hippie friendly drug culture and tried to make movies to bring that demographic into the theaters, movies like MaryJane, Alice in AcidLand, Yellow Submarine, Head: A Monkee Movie, Hair, Woodstock, and ofcourse the early 1970s brought us A Clockwork Orange and all the Cheech and Chong classics, all of them written for and aimed at the drug culture of the time, you still see this genre alive today in movies though admittedly there are no where near as many of them worth actually sitting down to see, though these early movies in the genre did to a point glamorize the drug scene of the 1960s and 1970s, all except afew choice movies, were quick and prominent to point out and show the downside as well as the up, if thats just how the stories were written or a hollywood mandate when studios started to aim at this demographic is unclear, but I rather like it, it added a human and harsh side to what would otherwise seem to be an onslaught of surrealistic imagery of half naked people flailing around to pretty colors played over even more surrealistic Hendrix style electric blues rock type music. The few exceptions were movies like Head: A Monkee Movie, Yellow Submarine, and the Cheech and Chong movies, Head and Yellow Submarine both being made by major label top selling music acts at the time it made since they would want to keep selling them to the drug crowd and the cheech and chong movies simply because they were just to funny end everyone knew they were really lampooning drug culture as much as they were promoting it. You still see the drug movie alive and well today, movies like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Half Baked", "Trainspotting" and "21 Grams" still show at at times, it can be a respectable field, though more times then not, its just an excuse to make a stupid movie about druggies doing stupid things these days.




The 1960s also gave us a very strange and hard to really define genre called Sexplotiation, see, its hard to tell where this concept came from, they aren't always hippie friendly "Free love" movies, infact though there is nudity and sexual related dialog 98% of movies in this genre have no actual sexual content, and even in the 2% that does, its never more then just passionate kissing between a man and a woman or sometimes two women depending on the story and plot of the movie, alot of people mix Sexplotation movies up with early pornographic movies, but there are many differences, there is almost never any sexual contact though there is alot of nudity, mostly "Cheesecake" poses and graphic talk of sex in some way or another, there really is none to speak of, and also, more times then not, the plot is just strange and kind of surrealistic stuff about daily life or just enjoying life wile being mostly naked or just plain violent. Graphic scenes of whipping, sometimes beating, cutting, and implied rape, by the Grindhouse era in the 1970s you had some rather interesting mixtures in movies of the sexplotation genre, "bad girl" movies like "Switchblade Sisters", "Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!" and "The Born Losers", there were alot of biker, more to point hells angels related movies in this field as well I should add, as well as "Women Behind Bars" movies, most known in the "Ilsa" series of movies where in this tall statuesque blond woman from German named Ilsa who started out as the madam of "a secret nazi sex camp" takes on various roles, alot of nudity and weird bondage like stuff thats not exactly bondage happens, and in the end, there are afew mutilated nude bodies and stuff of that nature, how they were made with out being called porn, I'll never actually understand. In Sexplotation you also had movies didn't really fit any of the other categories, movies like "The Valley of the Dolls" and its follow up "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", "3 Women" and movies like "I'm curious (blue)" and its second part "I'm curious (yellow) both highly erotic and display full frontal male and female nudity, blue has a famous scene where a woman kisses her lover's penis on screen, as well as a ton of beach movies that all followed the same plot; beaches, kids in almost nothing and sometimes nothing, singing, some older person trying to ruin their fun, and everyone getting along by the end. This concept was later redone as the "Teen Movie" in the 1980s, much like Sexplotation was recycled into the "sex movie" in the 1980s as well, movies like 9 1/2 Weeks, Basic instinct, even the recent soon to be cult movie Shortbus, all the children of this genre. Its weird, I'm not really a massive fan, given the graphic violence on women in alot of the movies, but I find it important to note in movie history.




By the early 1970s came the next genre that alot of the movies of my youth fit into, that would be the genre recently touched apon and brought back to life in the 2007 film named for the genre, I'm speaking ofcourse of the concept of The Grindhouse. The Grindhouse genre, named so because many of the theaters that aired these movies were either old porn theaters or burlesque show houses, is awesome in the fact it fits all of the above listed styles as well as many others, biker movies, slasher movies, cannibal and zombie movies, shock movies, Kung Fu movies, all sorts of stuff, all piled into dark, dirty rundown urban movie houses and shown two different movies at a time, 7 days a week, from noon till sometimes as late as 3am. The whole point of the Grindhouse style theater was pretty simple, take movies that could be gotten cheaply and aimed as second or third feature at a Drive In movie theater and show them double feature style, most of these theaters were simply just old theaters that didn't really make enough money to afford the big name movies of the time, and with the drive in movie theater slowly dying, despite most drive in theaters going to double and triple features for the price of one, it was very easy and cheap to get ahold of the movies aimed as second and third feature, and thats just what the Grindhouse theaters did, many of the movies, had film scratches, "quick clipped" edits or dialog and scenes, and other various damages or effects of badly produced movie making. See, The Grindhouse and The Drive In Movie Theaters weren't seen as being on the same level as a regular movie theater, and movies aimed at them didn't have to be overly pristine in their production and such, cheap made movies to get the people in the seats and make double or triple the movie's cost was the basic idea. The movies fit into many different categories, some of which we've covered already, but here is the complete list; Drugsplotation, Sexplotation, Blaxplotation, Shockplotation, Giallo, Disaster movies, Zombie Movies, Post Apocalypse movies, Space movies, Cannibal movies, Kung Fu Movies, Tough Guy Movies, Classic, Rubber Monster Movies, Slasher Movies, Hicksplotation, Revenge movies, Demonplotation and afew others that weren't really big enough to fit a name those are all filed under simply "B-Movies" or "Grindhouse Movies" both meaning the same thing. Some had their own subgenres too, which I would like to explain now if thats alright with all of you? Ok, I thought so, hope you don't mind alittle repeating.

Drugsplotation: Is a movie that intentionally glamorizes the use of drugs be it by intent or not, many times movies that were ment to be anti-drug were given cult status for their overly preachy to the point of comical depiction of drug life, almost every single one of them ends with the main characters dead, in jail, pregnant and single, becoming involved in prostitution, or some mix of all of them, movies like Reefer Madness, MaryJane and Cocaine Friends fit here. Some would also argue that 1970s things like H.R Puffnstuf the movie would fit here too.

Sexplotation: Is a movie that shows graphic nudity or women wearing almost nothing or very revealing clothing, more often then not the women were large busted, some were also very violent and degrading to women as a whole though not to the extent that Shocksplotation was at times. Russ Meyer and Roger Corman were the two biggest film makers of this field. It had subgenres too, Women in Prison, where its your basic prison movie, just with women and nudity, Bad Girl movies, were you would have a woman or a group of women dressed rather sexy going around fighting bad guys for whatever reason, Nunsplotation movies, were you normally had an attractive nun meeting a man or woman and questioning leaving her station for them, there were also movies that would today be listed as "erotic art house" movies like I'm Curious (Blue) and I'm Curious (Yellow), though they were more "intersexual" movies, meaning though erotically based in story and image, they were intelligently written and ment to make you look inside yourself and your own ideas. Movies like Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!, The Born Losers and Switchblade Sisters fit here.

Blaxplotation: Is a movie aimed at urban culture and mostly black movie-goers, they dealt with issues that were common to the urban landscape at the time, though looking back at them now, as cool as they are, some do come off seeming insulting to the culture itself. Movies range from being about music, to drugs, to pimps, to revenge, and all sorts of others too, sometimes they would just take a movie that was already made and give it an all black cast, Black Shampoo and The Whiz come to mind as examples of that(Remakes of Shampoo and The Wizard of Oz respectively). Movies like Shaft, Hammer, Coonskin, and Cleopatra Jones fit here.

Shockplotation: Shock is just that, shock. Any movie designed to gross you out with gore and violence and things of that nature, The whole point of them is to, well shock you, "Faces of Death", "Mondo Cane", and the Ilsa movies too, "The Life of Ricky" movies come to mind as well. Though admittedly, The Life of Ricky movies came along many years after the golden era of Grindhouse. You see just about anything can fit in this genre really, sexplotation crossed into it alot, as did slasher movies, and sometimes even kung fu. There really aren't any definitive series or movies in this genre, sept I guess Faces of Death and Mondo Cane and all those cannibal movies.

Hicksplotation: These were movies aimed at people who lived in rural areas, mostly in the south, alot of these movies starred country music singers from the 60s and 70s and to a degree had a revival in the early 80s with those really bad Dolly Parton movies, but they would be based on stuff you would find happening in the rural areas of the country, moonshine running, stock car or hot rod races, saving the farm from being taken by the bank, stuff like that, mostly movies that starred Burt Reynolds or people like that. Movies like, Stroker Ace, Convoy and Harper Valley PTA fit here.

Demonplotation: This where you would fit all the "demonic" movies, things like the exorcist, poltergeist, the omen, movies of that nature as well as classics like Häxan, a 1922 movie about witches and satanic worship that gained a cult following, and others that fit that same formula. this genre really only came into being near the end of the Grindhouse era and isn't as well known as its older brothers, the zombie and cannibal movies. Movies like The Omen, Phantasm, to an extent the Hellraiser movies later on, all would fit here.

Rubber Monster Movies:
These are basically all of those monster movies from japan, mostly ones made by Toho and companies like that, there are so many sub genres of that its kind of dizzying, so for the American crowd its just lopped into one, this is also were you would find badly made American and European monster movies too, and some would list zombie movies in this grouping too, I tend to do that for sake of simplification, Movies that would fit into this genre are Godzilla and all the movies spun from that, most of the alien movies made in the 1950s, and alot of the monster ones made in the 60s too.

Space Movies: Space movies, and their sister the post apocalypse, always seemed to follow the same formula basically though Post Apocalypse doesn't leave the planet normally, the great nuclear war has come and gone, and whats left of mankind have either taken to space for a home or searching for a new home, normally they involve fighting some big alien armada of some kind, more often then not there are robots of some kind, or strange alien crew members and such, basic sci fi fodder. Movies that fit in this genre would be things like The Black Hole, Darkstar, 2001: Space odyssey.

Giallo: are Italian made movies with a mix of thriller/erotica/Crime Drama normally, kind of the Italian brother to the gangster movie of the 1940s normally. Dario Argento was the master of this genre if there ever was one. Movies one would put into this genre are Five Dolls for an August Moon, Don't Torture a Duckling, A Dragonfly for Each Corpse.

Kung Fu Movies: Simple explanation, these are as they seem, kung fu movies brought over from Asia, mostly hong kong, ironically based on Japanese lore or manga, they were tales of honor and stuff of that nature, the genre is, always defined by Akira Kurosawa and his work. Movies in this genre would be things like Enter The Dragon, Lone Wolf and Cub, and Seven Samurai.

Slasher Movies: Slasher movies have to be the most well known of all the Grindhouse genres, the basic idea is pretty simple, a group of teenagers or collage age kids end up somewhere, normally a campground or some old house in the middle of nowhere, and there is some kind of local legend about someone that goes around killing people cuz of some stupid thing or another, and normally all one one of the kids dies, its kind of what you wished Scooby Doo cartoons would be, but never ended up being. Movies in this genre would be things like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Nightmare on Elm Street.

Tough Guy Movies: The concept of the Tough Guy movie is pretty simple, angry man or group of men normally fight against a big business or some local rich person thats trying to take over or something, action movies also came out of this genre as did alot of biker movies, and it infact made Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and earlier then them Steve McQueen and James Dean stars. though some argue on if thats a good thing or not. Movies in this genre include Death Wish, Bullit, and the three Walking Tall movies.

Music Movies: The Music Movie is, in some cases the greatest form of Grindhouse movie there is, normally they were just an excuse for a band to act in some crappy written movie that allowed them to sort of Showcase their greatest hits, or songs off a certain album, maybe work a cover or two into the mix for fun, sometimes they were movies that were simply documentaries, like Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Wattstax, and the like, others were completely off the wall, Tommy, Rock and Roll High School, KISS Meets the Phantom of Central Park, This Spinal Tap, and many others worked in popular songs by the bands involved but were actual movies, that told a story, even if it wasn't that powerful of a story. Movies that would fit this genre are like, Heavy Metal, Rock and Roll High School, and Tommy.




The rest filter off into Cult and standard B-Movies, not incredibly bad, not incredibly good in most cases, there are many gems though among the coal though, when researching the history of the B-Movie, Harold and Maude comes to mind as one of the best, as does Carnival of Souls, and Somewhere In Time, another great classic thats forever to be a B-Movie. I know alot of you out there are thinking "the hell are you on about, the B-movie is still around, they make them all the time.." well yes, you are right, the *name* of the B-Movie is still around, but the concept, well the concept is nothing more then cable friendly softcore porn in the modern era, don't get me wrong, there are many stars who have made great careers out of being in B-movies in the modern era, Julie Strain comes to mind, but still at the risk of sounding somewhat like a whining old grump thats scared by change, its not the same, a B-Movie isn't supposed to be softcore pornography, or crappy sex joke movies that star people like Ron Jeremy, simply because they're Ron Jeremy. A B-Movie is ment to be somewhat campy and fun, or to scare the piss out of you and make you laugh all at the same time, its not ment to be this stupid excuse for washed up pornstars to try and act in "real" movies, just seems strange and out of place to me. But thats me, I'm kind of stuck in my movie past.




I won't lie to you, as a whole I sometimes think the modern movie business has lost something, its lost its way, and its soul, and its originality, oh sure you see afew gems a year, though many are loe budget, Indie or direct to dvd movies with no promotion at all, wile piles of crap like Mission Impossible 3 and that really bad Pink Panther remake get all sorts of promotion and just plain tank at the box office. I just don't understand Hollywood I guess, no matter how well I read on it, and learn on it, and the more and more people I meet in the business, I swear I will never understand the way the promotional values are divvied up, I just don't get it. I am not going to be one of those doomsayers that proclaims the end of the world is at hand because they made another DieHard movie, or whatever, but I won't say I don't miss my weekend afternoons as a child watching movies with people in foam rubber suits fighting in miniature cities where stuff gets blown up constantly, or old black and white movies where a woman will let out a really loud earsplitting scream for no reason at all half the time wile running away from what looks like jello.



--

BC

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