MODERNSPLOITATION | Modern Exploitation Films and Why They Matter
When I told friends and family I was starting a “blog about modern exploitation films,” looks would inevitably follow. Then, after the looks, the questions would come flooding in: “What’s an exploitation film?” “Oh, so like those old trashy movies? They still make those?” and, of course, “Why modern exploitation movies?”
I write about exploitation films because I love them. Horrendous horror and audacious action, that’s my jam. There was always something pure about these films as well. They’re not stuffed with thematic imagery that I need to dissect for days following. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good drama, but often I just want to have fun. You can love Waygu beef and arugula salads, but sometimes the only thing that hits the spot is a Big Mac.
The “exploitation” refers to exploiting something in the film: a location, a trend, an idea, a holiday, you can even exploit a prop! Now, in our current climate, the word “exploit” has some well-deserved negative connotations. Thankfully, I’ve found a good way to explain it to the uninitiated. “Exploitation” here simply means that the film’s core concept (or location, prop, etc.) comes before even the plot. “Carsploitation” puts cars before the plot, “nunsploitation” puts nuns before theme, and “sexploitation” put sex before…well anything. When Herschell Gordon Lewis set out to make Hall of Fame exploitation flick Blood Feast, he didn’t have have a story in mind. He just knew he wanted to make a film featured all the blood Psycho was missing. The story would come later, the blood came first. So if you feel a little iffy about the word “exploitation,” that’s okay. Think about it more like…showcasing. However, in full honesty, you should probably feel a little iffy about these movies. They’re meant to push buttons because pushing buttons puts butts into seats. Plus, thrills and chills are a natural part of life. Exploitation lets us dabble in these darker desires safely. Which is why exploitation movies are still made today!
Oh yes, the era of the drive-in may be long gone, but the age of the exploitation film still reigns supreme. Here’s the thing: exploitation flicks have been around for as long as the camera has been rolling. Don’t believe me? Check out a movie from 1927 entitled Forbidden Daughters. You couldn’t make that movie now. Hell, you couldn’t make that movie in the 70s! Flash forward nearly a century, and audiences still love to be titillated and terrified. Between IT and this year’s gross-out Terrifier, I think “clownsploitation” might be finally having its day in the sun. Really, night in the moon is probably a better phrase, but oh well. Film and television shows that put zombies before plot are a dime a dozen and “torture porn” is a just the grandchild of Blood Feast and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Meanwhile, carsploitation is bigger than ever with Fast and the Furious bringing in billions of dollars worldwide. Exploitation cinema never leaves, it just looks different. Just like the exploitation films of the 20s and 30s look vastly different from the “classic” grindhouse films of the 60s and 70s.
Exploitation stays around because of two distinct reasons. First, because people want to have fun. Like we said, Morton’s Steakhouse and Taco Bell can occupy the same arena. You don’t want either all the time. Second, exploitation cinema does reveal something about our nature and our culture. Exploitation filmmakers have the guts to show us, without filter, the things that horrify us, make us laugh, and turn us on. Sometimes, you just want someone to shoot straight with you. Is it base? Sure. But is it honest? Hell yeah.
On this weekly blog, we’ll be covering exploitation films from the year 2000 onward. Everything from the crassest VOD releases like House Shark to Oscar-worthy exploitation gems like Black Snake Moan. Hopefully, along the way, we can discover a little bit more about exploitation cinema and ourselves. So buckle up, its gonna be a bumpy ride.
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