When exploitation goes mainstream: The 70s, 80s and beyond.
With the release (and subsequent banning) of Human Centipede 2 (2011), exploitation films have made a dramatic return. It seems that the human “car crash” interest in seeing the un-seeable is back, and filmmakers are again ready to exploit it for money. The similarities with the 80s exploitation cycle is no coincidence, and many of these older films are now finding an audience on DVD. Low production values and questionable morals often make them unwatchable, but their history is one of the most interesting chapters in the story of cinema.
Exploitation in the movies is nothing new. Even before the MPAA existed (1922) filmmakers were inserting nudity and violence into movies for the purpose of titillation. Even after restrictions were imposed many filmmakers found ways around them. These included documentaries about childbirth, autonomy and nudist colonies - all made with questionable educational value and suggestive advertising.
The phenomena of the 70s/80s cycle of exploitation first hit the mainstream due to the success of Halloween (1978) and (more importantly) Friday the 13th (1980). These films showed the major studios that that a cheap movie ($2M) could be made to turn over a huge profit ($8-20M) on the promises of nudity and explicit violence. At the time notable critics (such as Roger Ebert) saw this as selling out; but these days it can be seen as a precursor to the modern cycle of action and romantic comedies - a form of exploitation in their own right.
Some independent studios tried to turn a profit with X-rated and unrated movies released in pornography cinemas (see Roger Corman), but most films of this period were heavily cut to receive R rated status and a mainstream release. These included such Friday the 13th rip offs as The Burning (1981), Prom Night (1980) and The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) as well as (now considered) classics such as Tenebre (1982) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). These edits often made the plots even more incomprehensible and removed the special effects (such as this now famous scene in the burning) that were their main selling point.
The introduction of the video tape removed this self-censorship, and these films ended up being re-released in an uncut form. Many of these were given completely new titles designed to capitalise on unconnected successful franchises. For example Naked Exorcism (1985) became Return Of the Exorcist and then Exorcist III. Another example is Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) which was alternatively titled Sex Crime Of The Century on video format. Even stranger still – some film makers produced new films (for example, the particularly piss poor Snuff (1976)) by splicing together scenes from older ones. The results of this were often as incomprehensible as you would imagine.
Of all the countries to capitalise on this boom, it was Italy that produced the most misogynistic, immoral and often badly made films. American and Canadian movies (such as I Spit On Your Grave (1978), Ilsa – She Wolf Of The SS (1975) and Fight For Your Life (1977)) were often filled with rape and sadism (as well as being incredibly racist and sexist), but it was the Italian films that took this to even sleazier levels. Films such as The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977), Anthropophagous: The Beast (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981) are as immoral and sickening in their execution as their titles promise.
Certain clichés and sub genres started to pop up, all of them designed to maximise the amount of nudity and gore shown on screen. These films often came in (what has become to be known as) cycles. Rape-revenge, blaxploitaion, zombies, cannibals, slashers and women in prison movies were all popular. The sub genre of “Nazi-ploitation” is perhaps the most notorious and bizarre. These films often included large breasted Nazi officers, were set in concentration camps and involved the rape and torture of beautiful women.
The art-form of the trailer was replaced by the art-form of the video sleeve. Most of this artwork was far more interesting the films them selves, exploitation is more about marketing than filmmaking. Great taglines (quite a few films used “Just keep repeating to yourself…it’s only a movie, its only a movie”), promises of genuine snuff scenes (“filmed in south America, where life is cheap”) and of true stories were common. The artwork was often more explicit than the films themselves, a tactic that backfired in the UK as it lead to the banning of many titles.
Despite the shocking subject matter, many of these films now look quaint. Exploitation is mainstream these days. Films such as Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), Human Centipede (2009) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) are as exploitative and poor as the 1980s straight-to-video titles. Despite a few “now-considered-classics” (Texas Chainsaw (1974), Evil Dead (1981), Shaft (1971)) most of the original exploitation cycle were terrible movies. It is therefore surprising that so many them still find an audience. It is an irony that the status of banned “video nasty” is now considered a badge of honour, and this has lead to many should-be-forgotten crap films getting a DVD release.
NOTE: This was mostly written from useless information in my memory and I apologies for any inaccuracies and mistakes.
10:57 am • 7 January 2012 • 6 notes
5 Things to Do on 2012 (Just Don’t Call Them Resolutions)
New Years resolutions are cack. They are always boring (stop smoking, loose weight etc.), usually are half-hearted and are rarely kept. In fact I usually end up spending more effort trying to come up with them than actually trying to keep them. Instead of resolutions then, I have come up with 5 thinks I have to do and look forward to in the coming year.
Joining and Using the Library……
Rather embarrassingly I have championed libraries more than I have actually visited them. In this time of Tory cuts the best way of showing support is by actually using the facilities, especially when the facilities are as good as here in Sheffield. The online selection really is excellent. With bill prices rising it seems like the best time to start, especially with books and comics (which I get through at an alarming rate) being so expensive.
Watching Hi-def on Blu-ray…..
Forget my obsessive buying of movies on DVD, this year I’m upgrading to Blu-ray.
Walking in the Peak District…..
The weather might currently be shitty but it will improve, and when it does I plan to visit the Peaks as much as possible. I have visited the Dark Peaks a few times by train, but Metro also offer a regular bus service into the local White Peaks. Christmas spending has provided me with an OS map, and I have already sketched out a few walks for the coming months.
Going to the Cinema….
2012 is the year of awesome franchises! The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Promethius, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo…….I’m drooling already.
Having a Holiday Somewhere…..
Finally. I need a fucking holiday.
12:31 pm • 4 January 2012 • 13 notes
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
If you have read the book and seen the Swedish version, don’t expect anything new, but Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo” is stylish and boosted by an instantly classic soundtrack.
6:34 am • 31 December 2011 • 11 notes
Human Nature, the Leveson Inquiry and why we can’t change the world.
The Leveson Inquiry has filled our collective conscience with many images of distress straight from the pages of a lurid horror weekly. Who doesn’t tremble with fear at the thought of Sienna Miller being perused frantically through an apocalyptic London by a rabid pack of ghouls; Drenched in their own sweat and saliva, willing to do whatever is necessary for that elusive photograph? How about the thought of a couple, mourning the loss of their daughter, stalked through the night by a psychopath intent on discovering every facet of their distress? Creepy isn’t it.
Like the best horror movies, there is also a subtext to the Leveson Inquiry. This is not a monster from space, a personification of pure evil, or some kind of demon from hell. Like Frankenstein and Godzilla; this is a monster of our own creation. Whatever the eventual outcome of the report, all the Leveson Inquiry shows is that we are all evil shits.
Like the gods on Mount Olympus, we have been given unchecked control over peoples lives, and we love it. We build them up, make their dreams come true and (when we feel like it) trample over everything they have become. We may justify ourselves by our actions towards the former, but it is our power to destroy that we really enjoy exercising. Who hasn’t taken to twitter to berate, say, James Cordon for trying to be a comedian when he isn’t funny? Or Piers Morgan for being a slimy turd licking toad? Or Adrian Chiles for looking like squashed mouldy potatoe? We are all guilty of it, and will continue to be so for as long as we have a voice. This is human nature.
But what about the people who sent Lilly Allen jokes about her miscarriage? Or those who wrote to Jade Goody’s husband, mocking the death of his wife? Not so nice then is it. This is the problem, where do we draw the line? It can be guaranteed that we would all chose a different point, and this is where the Leveson Inquiry falls down. We can’t expect a small group of people to solve a problem, a problem that is (unfortunately) human nature. It is true the press cannot be trusted, they had already promised to “behave better” after Diana’s death, but how are supposed to regulate them?
Maybe we should take a different stance. Like Recycling and Climate Change, let us start at home. We can stop buying tabloids, we can be less hypocritical about what we say or do. We can separate “celebrity” and “culture” and we can just celebrate the good. Of course (like Recycling and Climate Change) this won’t make any difference, but at least then our handwringing wouldn’t sound so hollow.
10:42 am • 26 November 2011 • 1 note
5 Reasons Why Take That are NOT The Modern Beatles.
I am a little concerned by the current wave of nostalgia that sets out to lift Take That from being a “better Westlife” to purveyors of “defining musical statements”. The misguided attempts to peg Gary Barlow as a modern day “Lennon/McCartney” rather than just a singing Stock/Aitken/Waterman, and (most shuddering of all) the phrase “90’s Beatles”.
This trend surely stems from the current lack of a great pop band, as well as the fact Take That aren’t actually THAT bad. They have the hooks, they have choruses and they (occasionally) play instruments. Their formulaic nature may be better suited to a “megamix” rather than an album, but they remain pretty much inoffensive. It is this safeness that I have a problem with. The best pop music finds a boundary, and then steps over it. Take That can’t even see the boundary.
Rock music rebelled against easy listening, punk rebelled against Prog, Synth pop rejected traditional instruments, rap introduced a new vocal delivery and Dance removed the need for vocals at all. Pop music has always found ways to overhaul the old guard, and strike out in new directions. Clinging onto to Take That may feel comforting now, but we need to cast them adrift soon before the future rises up and tramples all over them.
And finally? Well here are 5 reasons Take That are NOT the Beatles
- The Beatles experimented heavily and produced remarkable works like the White Album and Revolver. They shaped and constantly pushed forward the concept of “pop music” in a way that still influences 100’s of artists to this day.
- Take That experimented with wearing baggy trousers during the 90s.
- The Beatles collaborated with Ravi Shankar, introducing world music sounds to a western pop audience.
- Gary Barlow wants to duet with Cheryl Cole.
- John Lennon advocated peace and challenged both religion and authority. His actions lead to well documented FBI surveillance, and (debatably) his assassination.
- Robbie Williams believes he is stalked by UFO’s.
- The Beatles produced a number of interested and original films. Pushing the boundaries of what is expected from a musician, and predating the pop promo by 20 years.
- Gary Barlow is a judge on the X factor.
- The Beatles were introduced to each other on the Liverpool skiffle scene. They maintained control of their own artistic output, lead by three of the greatest songwriters of all time.
- Take That were manufactured in a board room.
10:30 am • 26 November 2011 • 9 notes
Nicolas Winding Refn knows how to make a cool movie, and this is definitely a cool movie. With stunt drivers, car chases, gun battles and gangsters you may expect cliched action fare, by Refn’s too skilled to let this happen. Drive is so wonderfully filmed, with such stylish cinematography and music, that it is impossible not to ogle the screen. Proof that an action film can be much more visually striking without relying on CGI. The ultra violence also feels, within the context, original and shocking – even if it did cause a few people to storm out of the cinema.
The influence of Michael Mann (before he got boring) is clearly evident, both in the style and the lack of characterisation. Despite being well acted, the romance between Carey Mulligan and Ryan Goslin feels flat, and the gangsters never rise above cliché. Fortunately, when the ride is this good, these are just minor quibbles. Drive has already become an instant cult classic, and is worth seeing if you like your action movies with a bit more art.
4:41 pm • 5 October 2011 • 4 notes
Despite being a meditation on depression, Melancholia is Lars Von Trier’s warmest film yet. Minor characters, such as the wedding planner (Udo Kier) and father of the bride (John Hurt), provide an element of comedy - which prevents the film from becoming too challenging. Despite the director retrospectively dismissing the entire film as being “too commercial”, it is these touches that make it more successful than Antichrist.
Kirsten Dunst has rightfully generated a huge buzz for her portrayal of Justine. This is a character whose depression leads her to both accept the end of the world, and to optimistically look forward to it. Charlotte Gainsbourg does an equally spectacular job playing her sister, Claire. Claire is a familiar character to fans of Von Trier’s filmography. Similarly to Bjork in Dancer In The Dark and Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, she is an optimist placed under hardship. The twist here is that her optimism is robbed much earlier, by the inevitability of the apocalypse.
It is the contrast between these characters, told in two parts, that provides a interesting new interpretation of the usual Von Trier themes. Though it may not be his best film (that is a toss up between Dogville and The Idiots) it is still a spectacular one. Essential for fans, and also a good introduction to one of cinemas greatest modern directors.
4:33 pm • 5 October 2011 • 1 note
Is Dragon Tattoo remake pointless?
There are many examples of Hollywood remaking European films, and they are not very encouraging. The Vanishing, Funny Games and the Ladykillers all made the transatlantic trek, with their original brilliance largely discarded. Recently Let Me In did prove it was possible to produce and fresh and worthwhile remake, but these have always been in the minority.
My initial feelings about the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo have somewhat been soften by the introduction of David Fincher to the project. The book is rich with ideas about sexual violence, capitalism, the press, hacking and scandals in general. With Anonymous, Wikileaks, the Murdoch empire, Strauss-Kahn and the banking scandal still major news stories, this film could potentially be hugely relevant. It also has the chance to change the boundaries of sex and sexuality within mainstream films, letting them catch up with the independent world. Fincher is an assured Auteur and has the potential to turn the project into a work of art.
Also lets not forget that, as entertaining as they were, the original adaptions of the last two books felt less inspired than the first. They were let down by too conventional a direction style, which left them feeling flat and a little unconvincing. Fincher, if he chooses to continue the project, could produce a more satisfying version of these more difficult to adapt books. Therefore there is the chance to produce a more rounded trilogy.
The difference between this film and the remake of Let Me In is that its whole success rests almost exclusively on a single character. Lisbeth Salander is one of greatest characters in detective fiction and ranks up there with Marlowe, Holmes and anyone else you care to mention. She is also completely unique. The original portrayal, by Noomi Rapace, is so perfect that it is difficult to see where Rooney Mara can take it. If she copies Rapace completely the film will become pointless, and if she takes it too far in another direction it could alienate fans of the books.
Another, rather odd choice (setting this apart from Let Me In) is the decision to keep the Swedish setting. The idea of Americans talking in English, pretending to be Swedes sounds ludicrous. They have the potential to come across as sounding more like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets than locals. It is hard enough to successfully portray such popular characters, without having to do it in a comedy accent. One would hope Fincher has a reason behind this, probably related to stylish shots of beautiful Swedish vistas.
As difficult and potentially disastrous as this remake will be, I am still extremely excited about it. Mara looks fabulous in recent press photos, and both her and Fincher talk the talk. With so many potential avenues to explore, this could become the definitive film version of the book.
4:25 pm • 5 October 2011 • 4 notes
While I was talking about Nirvana I thought it was unfair not to mention the other album that changed my life, and the one that is personally more important. I always assumed it was unique to me that The Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers had such a life changing impact, but I have met so many people since who have said the same thing. It may not have had the commercial success of Nevermind, but I think it has a special place in a lot of people’s hearts and remains a vastly underrated piece of work.
7:31 am • 25 September 2011 • 4 notes
Despite the fact Nevermind was released when I was still three years old, it still feels like it was part of my generation. It is a testament to its far-reaching impact that it was still so ubiquitous and contemporary feeling during my teenage years. Its success can be attributed to two things. First of all, obviously the music is great. It may not have had the edge of In Utero, the atmosphere of Unplugged or the raw power of Bleach, but it does have an all-encompassing popularity. It can bring together people from punk, pop, metal and indie backgrounds in a way no other artist has ever achieved.
The second, and for me most important part, of Nevermind was that it provided a window into another world. Growing up in the age of corporate sponsored pop music I longed for the music of the 60s and 70s. When I heard Nirvana for the first time (on VH1 classics, forever the shame) I was immediately blown away. It opened a door to a world, a contemporary world that I could feel part of. The American underground scene had existed since the early 80s, but it was this one moment that introduced it to the wider world.
Bands like Husker Du, Black Flag, Fugazi, Minor Threat, the Pixies, REM, Pavement, Sonic Youth and, of course, Nirvana became my life. Alternative music was currently undergoing another burst in to the mainstream with the popularity of nu-metal, a genre largely indebt to Nevermind’s pop shine. A genre I didn’t particularly have much time for. No worries though, if Nirvana had taught me anything, it was that there is always something great to find if you scratch below the surface. This is the legacy the album has had for me.
Nevermind’s long lasting appeal will inevitably be judged by the fact that there will never be another Nevermind. The internet has made music scenes and genres available at the click of a button. There will never again be a moment when an underground band will take the mainstream by surprise, because the underground scenes are no longer so hidden. As contemporary as Nevermind miraculously still feels it is also gloriously old fashioned. Listening to Nevermind today is a thrilling as when I first heard it, but it is the added layer of nostalgia that really stirs the emotions. It is this, more than anything, that warrants Neverminds inclusion in the often-discussed idea of the “rock cannon”.
6:52 am • 25 September 2011 • 5 notes
Metronomy - The Leadmill, Sheffield. 2011
When I used to listen to Metronomy’s debut album I would never have predicted them as one of the success stories of 2011. It was great little record (and they have always been an enjoyable live act), but they felt like a band for the moment, rather than a long term preposition. Fast forward 5 years and they are heavily hyped throughout the music press, nominated for a Mercury prize and are embarking on an almost sold out tour. Quite a change of fortunes for the band that, admittedly, played to “about 5 people” last time they visited the Leadmill.
So where has this sudden success come from? Unlike most of their over-hyped 2006 contemporaries (The Zutons, the Vines & The Feeling for example) they have managed to refine and move forwards, rather than trying to recreate past successes. Instead of getting lost in the post-2006 “ladrock” scene that dominated (and almost sank) rock music, they steadily built up a fan base and played festivals. With alternative music returning back to being more of a cult concern, the stars have aligned and they have released a career defining album. An album that derives it strengths through subtlety and atmosphere rather than by stealing pop gimmicks.
Online hype is a fickle thing, but there is nothing wrong with being introduced to a wider audience. There is, though, nothing worse than popularity ruining a bands live experience. Back in 2008 I saw the depressing sight that was British Sea Power trying to work up a crowed of people who only knew one song. It had recently both been played on an episode of Skins and picked as “single of the week” in Q. The mix of bored looking 15 year olds and 30 year olds was a strange site, but not a particularly compelling one. Metronomy’s album orientated approach to their new material appears to have paid off. Their expanded fan base seemed equally overjoyed by material from all the bands past earas, giving older songs a new lease of life.
Their energetic live interpretation of recent material provides a great link between their current maturity and the Metronomy of old. Its good to see the LED lights still pinned to their chests, and glad to see them having so much fun. Lets hope the rest of the tour is as successful as their stop in Sheffield.
*PS. The photo was taken by me when I saw them play at Glastonbury.*
12:29 pm • 24 September 2011 • 11 notes
Seen as I feel mean about rubbishing his latest work, here are 13 essential Lou Reed albums:
1. Velvet Underground And Nico
2. Velvet Undgeround
3. New York
5. White Light/White Heat
6. The Blue Mask
8. Songs For Drella
10. Street Hassel
12. Coney Island Baby
13. The Bells
12:09 pm • 24 September 2011
The Negative Reaction To Lulu
The suggestion of a Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration has caused more contemptuous tutting than cries of joy. With its awful name (Lulu) and the fact both artists are way past their best (and Metallica are overrated anyway) it is always going to be a hard sell. The teaser trailers, poster campaigns and website launches have tried hard to build up hype, but they have been hampered by the fact the preview material is so terrible. The recent poster, for example, looks like something the Manic Street Preachers rejected in 1994.
Metallica and Lou Reed actually have much more in common than you would at first think. They have both produced highly influential early albums and they have both struggled with relevance over large portions of their careers. Where as Metallica have spent the last half of their lifetime in decline (at least critically), Reed has always maintained the ability to reinvent himself and pull himself out of a slump.
Is this a chance for Reed’s “reinvention magic” to rub off on Metallica? I am afraid that signs so far aren’t exactly great. I think a recent Youtube comment sums up the reaction to “The View” with the phrase “I actively despise this fucking terrible song”. It is awful. It sounds like what Iggy Pop did at the nadir of his career on the risible Beat ‘Em Up, the sound of a sad old man shouting at passing cars. It has no redeeming features what so ever, and absolutely no class.
Despite the unfairness of judging something based on a 30 second clip, I shall remain pessimistic about this release. I feel neither acts fit well together, and I also don’t think Metallica have had the ability to produce anything halfway decent for a long time. As for Reed? He is nearly 70 for Christ sake. What expectations are there left to lay upon his shoulders? I think I shall just stick to my Velvet Underground records for now, thank you very much.
11:58 am • 24 September 2011 • 1 note
The Deaf Institute - Manchester
I recently saw a newspaper headline proclaiming this to be “The Year Of The Woman”. In reality this article was in relation to the chart dominance of female pop stars such as Adele and Lady Gaga, but in practice this could easily be extended to the alternative scene. Lykke Li, Pj Harvey, Laura Marling, Anna Calvin and St Vincent have all produced outstanding albums, with Zola Jesus hopefully soon to follow suit.
For me, though, the best female star of this year has been South Dakota’s Erika M. Anderson (EMA) with her album Past Life Martyred Saints. The mix of grunge, noise rock and folk mines similar territory to her previous band Gowns, a band who were recently described by Pitchfork (post breakup) as “one of the most jaw-dropping live bands on the American DIY underground circuit”. Hype was high then, and I had a huge amount of anticipation for this gig. And boy did it deliver.
The most immediate and stand out features of her songs are their internal manipulation of fidelities, the sheer density of sounds within, and their coherence but complexity. I was intrigued as to how this could be achieved live and the answer was, surprisingly well. Her voice and guitar were backed up on stage by percussion, a second guitar and most importantly an electric viola. The interplay between the 4 musicians was impressive, always important when a structure is required in such cathartic songs.
As good as the band are, and as impressive as the venue is (it cannot be understated how wonderful The Deaf Institute is), it was still EMA who was the star of the show. From imitating the tricks of long dead blues singers (playing the guitar with her teeth) to punk rock posturing, she did everything in her power to entertain the crowed. At one point she announced her wish to pay homage to the “only other music to come from South Dakota” before bursting into a particularly energetic version of Add It Up. I recently saw this performed by writer Gordon Gano himself (with Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah!) and it is honestly difficult to decide who did it better.
This song was in fact chosen by her fans on Twitter who were asked to pick their favorite Violent Femme’s song for her to perform. This type of fan interaction was also present in the show with her proving quite chatty between songs.
As mentioned before the magic of the evening was further increased by a wonderful venue and a great support band. I would recommend seeing her live to anyone, and her tour with Zola Jesus later this year should be well worth attending.
12:41 pm • 17 September 2011 • 7 notes
Instead of further spreading the leaked naked photographs of Scarlett Johansson (I’m sure you must have googled the pictures by now) here are her 5 best films. Essential watching for all her new fans.
1. Ghost World
2. Lost In Translation
3. Vicky Christina Barcelona
4. The Prestige
5. The Man Who Wasn’t There
10:28 am • 16 September 2011 • 16 notes