Loosen Your Corset and Give Exploitation Movies a Chance

The moment I saw Fred Williamson shooting Nazis with a Thompson 45 ACP while smoking a cigar in The Inglorious Bastards, I knew I loved exploitation movies. For the longest time, I was trying to find MY kind of films. Sure, I always loved action, horror, and martial arts. But I loved it more when films went that extra mile. When I say the extra mile, I don’t mean flashy camera work or top-tier acting. I wanted something that would make me yell at the TV with excitement. I wanted to cheer on the villains as well as the heroes. Outlandish violence and over-the-top sex scenes are things that I just unapologetically love.

However, I also wanted these films to push the envelope regarding politically correct values and themes. No matter which genre decides to integrate with exploitation cinema, it all has merit; even the ones with a couple of solid scenes but the rest is filler. Nazis, sleazy killers who sound like Donald Duck, and Bruce Lee imitators all have something in common. They exploit to rattle the senses. It awakens the perverse in all of us. But only a select few of us embrace it for what it is, as opposed to hiding under the old “It’s so bad it’s good” excuse. A guilty pleasure is a state of mind that less confident people push on others so they don’t feel alone. I call bullshit on guilty pleasures. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy exploitation cinema. The only thing I ask of you is to leave your self-respect at the door.

This isn’t going to be a history lesson on how exploitation cinema came to be. I am merely a salty 33-year-old woman who lives in a bubble full of trash, who wants you to know why exploitation cinema is essential. I want people to be excited about these films. I want people who have barely dipped their toe into the grimy, excrement-ridden swamp to dive in. With the introductions done, let us shoot the shit about exploitation cinema.

In life, we all know that scapegoat, don’t we? You may have a sibling who is the black sheep of the family. Or work with that one guy who is a bit weird, but you leave him alone because you don’t understand what his “deal” is. Or that one dog that is at the animal shelter that no one wants to adopt because they are missing an eye. That is what exploitation is. This is where the “weirdos” come together to make films that they would want to see. There’s a lot less preparation and time that goes into the filmmaking process, not to mention a lot less money. That is part of the charm. It has a raunchy and raw aesthetic to it. Exploitation cinema looks and sounds different to the more mainstream and highbrow fare, but its purpose is the same as every other film: to entertain.

I understand there are sub-categories of exploitation movies that people have a large problem with. Two that come to mind are Nazisploitation and rape-revenge films. These are highly sensitive subjects that a lot of people will not explore in the exploitation realm and automatically write off without really seeing them. Over time, you might become desensitised to specific themes or types of films, and the things you found amazing, to begin with, start to turn rather stale. You start off watching a surly Christopher Lee as Rasputin in a Hammer horror film and then the next minute you are seeing a French chick being flayed in Martyrs. It is all a progression, and it takes time to get there. But it’s a journey every film fan remembers, no matter what genre it is.

Almost Human

Even as an exploitation enthusiast, I sure as hell didn’t start watching rape-revenge films right off the bat. I couldn’t deal with rape scenes in films until I saw A Clockwork Orange. Watching gore, violence, and sensitive subject matter in films is essentially unlocking rooms in your psyche. You start to understand what you can watch with ease over time, and what films you still cannot stomach. You apply the same method to exploitation cinema. Nazisplpitation movies tackle an extremely sensitive subject, and I was once someone who couldn’t face these types of films. What made me change my opinion on them was changing my mindset. They are only movies. They are fantasies. A unique perspective. Changing how I looked at films was really what helped shape my taste but also embrace films for what they are.

Everyone is perverted. The quicker we all accept that, the more we will get along. And when I say perverted, I don’t just mean it regarding sex. We are all in some way voyeurs. We all want to have a little peek behind the curtain. When someone tells us we can’t do something, our natural instinct is to do the opposite. When you are creative, you move towards what is the most natural thing for you to create. Exploitation cinema exists because people were bored of the same mundane society that was being conveyed through film, for the most part, until the 1960s. Sex, drugs, and violence were swept under the rug for a long time. It was only a matter of time before it would combust and we would get films like The Wild Angels, The Trip and Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill.

During the height of drive-ins and scuzzy theatres on New York’s 42nd Street, these films once thrived and found an audience, which in turn created a “pissing contest” between filmmakers who wanted to bring attention to their sleazy movies. The Italians took notice of what was going on and really used it to their advantage, whether it was through Spaghetti Westerns, Giallos or Polizioteschi films. The exploitation “blueprint” was set but the Italians really brought the grime, the sleaze and perversion and turned it up way past 11. You just have to watch films like Contraband, Almost Human and Rabid Dogs to see that. In Italy, the crime rate was high at the time, and Europe was more sexually liberated than a lot of the world. With that in mind, it is also understandable why these kinds of films were a shock to the rest of the world.

When you have an orgasm, get high, or even get a notification on your phone, your brain is hit with a thing called dopamine. Essentially, dopamine is released when your brain expects a reward. When I watch exploitation films, I expect lots of violence, sex, big muscles, and epic kills. When I get that hit, it makes me seek out more films like it. That dopamine also creates addiction, and depending on what you get that hit from, it can be both good and bad. However, when it comes to film, it can not only create your addiction to these movies, but also a passion FOR them.

We all have a different lens that we look through. Our culture, race, how we were brought up also affects how we view the world. And that includes film. Ideas and passions are created by life experiences, and no one can have the exact same experiences as someone else. This is why it is completely justifiable to disagree with someone. It is fine to not enjoy something that everyone else is enjoying. Film is inclusive however not every movie or genre is going to be for everyone. This is where the problem lies for exploitation cinema. If people don’t understand it, they try to destroy it, as was attempted in the Video Nasties era. Or they write it off as garbage and anyone who associates with said films may as well throw themselves in the garbage too. The best advice I can give to anyone who feels offended by these kinds of films is: just don’t watch them.

Like Jerry Springer, I have a few final thoughts. Enjoy what you want. Dislike what you want. Be open to a difference of opinion. Embrace the grime and the sleaze, and for God’s sake, loosen that damn corset.

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