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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sins of Celluloid 1: The Most Controversial, Disturbing & Essential Exploitation/Grindhouse Movies

This long list of exploitation cinema classic(k)s covers the gamut of all kinds of different genre product from all over the world. There's over 25 topics in this lewd, crude and socially unacceptable 'Best Of' list of some of the most nasty, naughty and nerve shattering grindhouse and drive in sins of celluloid. The various topics are listed below in no particular order...

























Note the HILLS HAVE EYES poster on the wall. From THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

***WARNING! This article contains images of nudity and strong violence. If the presentation of disgusting and repulsive subject matter upsets you, then please do not read any further***

This first entry in the 'Most Controversial, Disturbing & Essential Exploitation Movies' concerns movies that caused a stir of one kind or another. Some are horror classics with a strong legion of fans, some have had remakes in recent years and some others are minor league cult films that attained "classic" status because of their outrageous qualities that brought them quite a bit of attention upon their initial releases.


It's only a movie...only a movie...only a movie....

Throughout the 1970's and into the 1980's there have been more than a few notable horror films. A good number of these garnered some heated notoriety because of there violent content that pushed the boundaries of good taste and what was deemed permissible in the cinematic form. Amongst this dirty dozen are some bonafide classics and some whose infamy brought about more curiosity seekers than the film itself probably would have otherwise.

The nightmare sequence finale from MANIAC (1980)

The inclusion of SALO is a problematic one. It's not an exploitation movie, although some would argue it is. It's considered an art film and also on several lists of the most important movies by esteemed critics. However, it's a relentless and reprehensible movie that has spurned more than its fair share of controversy since its rocky release back in 1975. It's probably the single most appalling film on this list. For that, its presence here on this particular list is warranted.


Directed by David Durston

Let it be known sons and daughters that Satan was an acid head. Drink from his cup...pledge yourselves and together we'll all freak out!

Bhaskar steals the show in the bloody exploitation cult classic, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD

David Durston's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD inspired grindhouse favorite was the victim of a fate similar to that of LAST HOUSE in that various projectionists cut the film the way they saw fit to make the film less objectionable. Possibly the first horror movie to garner an 'X' for its extreme violence, Durston's movie has long been revered as a (then mostly unseen) cult classic. Seeing it now, it's a movie whose wild plot line is far more interesting than the movie itself.

Lynn Lowry as one of the crazies in I DRINK YOUR BLOOD

The plot is pure exploitation brilliance--a cult of hippie satanists terrorize members of a small town. After assaulting a young girl and an old man, the group unknowingly feast upon rabies infected meat pies and turn into savage killers. The group of ravenous ramblers also try to kill each other. Of course, they spread the contagion most prominently during a rape scene wherein a gaggle of construction workers are transformed into maniacal killers. The siege at the end is reminiscent of Romero's classic B/W zombie opus.

Originally called PHOBIA, producer, Jerry Gross changed the title and paired it with a B/W zombie movie from 1964 entitled I EAT YOUR SKIN. While there's no eating of skin in that one, there is a decapitation and the zombies have an odd look to them. Like so many similar exploitation movies that gained a large degree of infamy over the years, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD is a bit of a disappointment. It's well worth seeking out for trash fans, but it's a film that has received an enormous amount of notoriety over its violence. But compared with so many other similar savage 70's movies, it isn't quite up to snuff. That's not to say it's not a fun trash film, but aside from the high sleaze quotient and quirky spin on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it's nothing you haven't seen before.


Directed by Wes Craven

Wes Craven's savage and unsettling movie about bloody revenge details just how barbaric normal people can become when placed within a dangerous and life threatening predicament. Two young girls head out to the city for a concert and end up in the company of a group of escaped convicts. Led by Krug (David Hess), the killers take the two girls out into the country and subject them to all manner of torture and humiliation culminating in their deaths. Later, the group finds themselves in the home of one of their victims. The parents then turn the tables on their violent and ruthless house guests.

Wes Craven's version of Bergman's VIRGIN SPRING (1960) has been the subject of so much debate over the years. Shot during the early part of the 1970's, the film is very much a product of its time. Americans were an angry people during this time and deep seated aggressions were expressed on celluloid resulting in some of the most gloomy and ferocious films ever made. Craven attempts to alleviate the tension by including several totally jarring and goofy comedy scenes, which he would later regret. Some versions on VHS existed without these scenes. When the film was released to theaters back then, people were horrified beyond belief. Projectionists were cutting the film how they saw fit resulting in several sequences being lost to time.

The cast likewise suffered, most particularly David Hess. Truly one of the scummiest performances in any movie of any genre, people were genuinely afraid of him in public believing he was exactly as the character he portrayed in the movie. Oddly enough, one of the films champions is Roger Ebert, who, along with his partner in crime, Gene Siskel, led the critical wave against violent horror movies. Ebert even praised the recent clone of LAST HOUSE, a film called CHAOS. Craven's movie gave birth to a slew of copycats during the 70's and had one of the most memorable ad campaigns (Keep repeating, it's only a movie...only a movie...) LAST HOUSE is down and dirty cinema at its nihilistic best.


Directed by Tobe Hooper

Look what your brother did to the door!!

Tobe Hooper, a director currently fading into mediocrity with a continued downward spiral of lousy movies took the reigns of this seminal cinematic madhouse about a group of young people terrorized by a family of cannibalistic brothers. Inarguably Hooper's greatest achievement, it follows the template of similar 70's brutal horror with its documentary style approach to filmmaking. The violence is extreme despite very little blood being seen onscreen. Shockingly, the original thought process was to deliver this $60,000 exercise in unremitting terror with a 'PG' rating!

Hooper came up with the idea during the Christmas season while in a hardware store vexed by the large crowds. The grand guinol aspects of the old and gruesome EC comics were a huge inspiration as was the story behind Wisconsin cannibal, Ed Gein. A series of bizarre murders taking place at the time involving multiple killers was also an inspiration.

Franklin: Well I think we just picked up Dracula!

The title came about during a poker game as a joke. Prior to that, the film was said to have had many titles associated with it such as SCUM OF THE EARTH, HEADCHEESE, LEATHERFACE and the bizarre SATURN IN RETROGRADE! The film was released by Bryanston Inc., a company that was responsible for the porn sensation, DEEP THROAT as well as having had ties with the Mafia.

Upon its release, the film gradually became a massive hit the world over, but none of the filmmakers ever made any real money for their efforts. Soon, it became apparent that Bryanston was defrauding the cast and crew and eventually had unpaid debts that ultimately fell at the feet of the filmmakers. After multiple lawsuits (including one for Joseph Brenner Associates), those responsible for CHAINSAW got the movie back and a deal with New Line was made. It's said the film had made upwards of $100 million during its first seven years of release, but virtually none of those involved were able to reap the rewards for their participation.

After nailing their victim to the ground, they pour paint down his throat


Directed by Nico Mastorakis

Erotic thriller and exploitation director, Nico Mastorakis directed this oft banned obscurity that pushes the envelope of what is/was permissible onscreen. Like so many other grindhouse movies of the 70's, the filmmakers intent was to devise the most despicable movie imaginable. For this picture, the Greek director took Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW as his inspiration.

An uncultivated and sex obsessed couple vacationing in Greece embark on a killing spree (murdering in the name of God) amidst a backdrop of sexual depravity as well as taking pictures of their victims. That's the plot in a nutshell. The directors movie contains an inordinate amount of offensive material including bestiality, man-on-man rape, sexual violence, sexual deviancy, assorted gore murders (including decapitation by bulldozer!) and a searingly disturbing coda that must be seen to be believed.

Another victim, a detective on their trail, meets his doom dangling from a plane with a noose around his neck. He also happens to be black

Some of the scenes are so glaringly over the top, they become comical. Such is the case during the conclusion when the couple, on the run from the law, find themselves in the company of a mute and unhinged sheepherder. There's barely a moment that goes by that some form of sex or act of violence isn't transpiring onscreen.

Killing in the name of God, the killer couple butcher some homosexuals

Made strictly as shock value for the sole purpose of making money, Mastorakis' movie succeeds on that level. The director also takes a role in his movie as a detective investigating the series of violent murders on the Greek island. Shot for $30,000, it's one of those endurance test movies that dares you to watch its lingering depraved acts of barbarity, each one more horrible than the last. Recommended strictly for 70's extreme horror enthusiasts and sadists.


Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini's most disgusting and controversial work is both a fascinating work of art and a true cinematic endurance test if there ever was one. Considering the rather trite and imperious term, "torture porn" becoming popular lately, the type of film this label purports to signify have been around since the late 60's including such films as Teruo Ishii's JOY OF TORTURE (1968) series.

This is just one of many humiliations and tortures a group of innocent young people are subjected to in Pasolini's seriously controversial, but classic production of SALO (1975)

Based on a book by the Marquis De Sade, his version took place in 18th century France while Pasolini takes the events and places them during the last days of WW2 in Italy. A group of 18 young men and women are captured by wealthy fascists and taken to an elaborate castle where the aristocratic tormentors, for amusement, proceed to brutalize, torture and sexually violate their captives. The film is detailed in sections such as 'The Circle of Manias', 'The Circle of Shit' and 'The Circle of Blood'.

It's one of the most vile movies you will ever lay your eyes on and the only film that I ever questioned my own self as to why I was watching it. Nonetheless, the film bears some excellent cinematography and contains much existential displays of debauchery and decadence prevalent among the human race. Pasolini's film is also an attack on modernity and his own views growing up in a cruel society. He was brutally murdered mere days before the film was released. Having many political enemies, the initial events surrounding his death caused the case to be reopened in 2005 and as yet, never officially closed.

The brain sucking scene from BLOODSUCKING FREAKS


Directed by Joel M. Reed

Don't you dare ruin my dinner!!: One of many humiliating scenes laced with grand guinol humor from BLOODSUCKING FREAKS

Joel M. Reed's offensively stupid and unbelievably misogynistic gore comedy is one of the most controversial motion pictures of all time. It's also one that's still capable of shocking an audience today despite its patently fake "special effects". Originally released as THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW, that title aptly describes what the viewer can expect from this nasty no budget number shot in a friends basement in ten days.

Women's groups picketed the film during its theatrical release demanding it be pulled. And as most often is the case, this kind of notoriety brings out the curious. There's relatively no plot whatsoever. Sadomasochistic theater owner, Sardu kidnaps women, tortures them, brainwashes them, kills them on stage and ships some overseas to supply white slavery rings. He accomplishes this with the help of his trusty midget aid, Ralphus.

FREAKS trots out about every demented and reprehensible act known to man and presents them as some sort of blood soaked live action cartoon. None of the women wear clothes and those that do, don't keep them on very long and scenes of torture most often mix with the nudity. Quite possibly the single most misogynistic movie ever made, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS is Reed's most notorious motion picture in addition to being his "best", and I use that term lightly. He also directed the demented laugh riot, BLOOD BATH (1975).


Directed by Roger Watkins

Terry Hawkins gets out of prison and decides to unleash his anger on the world by killing those that have wronged him. He gathers some like-minded individuals and the group of crazies set out to make snuff films. This thoroughly bizarre, amateurishly produced avant garde/porn hybrid is one of the strangest and downright depressing cinematic experiences of the 1970's. Another grimy NY movie, director Roger Watkins plays the lead psycho in what amounts to a retelling of the Manson murders.

Filmed in December of 1972 and the first part of January the following year, the original movie (a 3 hour version entitled THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL) sat on a shelf until 1977 where it was released in a seriously compromised version as THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. Marketed as a film in the style of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, that wouldn't be too far off actually. By 1977, it's easy to see just how influential and powerful Craven's movie really was. Both share the same gritty looking film stock, deranged characters and occasional moments of nausea inducing violence. Even containing some unsettling slaughterhouse footage, DEAD END STREET is a bit of chore to get through up until the last twenty minutes.

Those who make it through its torturous 78 minutes will bear witness to a gruesome finale wherein a group of people are forced into degrading acts of sexual humiliation, torture and brutally killed. The ending features a woman who is slowly butchered only to be revived to witness her legs having been sawn off. Then, the killers proceed to eviscerate her, removing her inner organs. Another victim is forced to fellate a deer hoof dangling from a woman's pants. The films main claim to fame is the controversy surrounding the film in that it was believed that actual murders were shot for the sake of the production. The look of the film and the numerous pseudonyms of the cast were another source of contention. While it's a terrible movie, it has its share of well known champions; namely the late Chas Balun and Steven Bissette.

Mars gets hungry and bites the head off of a little bird in the original HILLS HAVE EYES


Directed by Wes Craven

Baaaaby fat...fat and juuuuicy!

Papa Jupiter (James Whitworth) gives instructions to "Kill the baby!"

Wes Craven heads for the HILLS to mine similar territory from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The conceit that normal folks can become just as savage as their attackers to survive a life threatening situation gets fleshed out a bit more this time out. Here, it's a family on vacation and stranded near an Army testing site that runs afoul of a feral family of cannibalistic killers and must fight for their lives to escape. Craven's modern retelling of the gruesome Sawney Bean murders in 15th century Scotland is one of the quintessential drive in/grindhouse horror movies. Far from a great film, it does contain several well done sequences.

The attack on the camper is one of the most harrowing in all of 70's exploitation and also very controversial. This one scene involves rape, misogyny and also attempted violence towards an infant. Craven yet again shows a knack for creating a good deal of suspense before hammering the viewer with a continuous explosion of extreme violence. It's not a particularly good movie (it's remake is actually better), but it has an undeniable raw power that is sustained once the trapped family is under siege by the cannibals.

Robert Burns, the Art Director who created the incredibly ghoulish decor in TEXAS CHAINSAW, did a similar job here creating the world of the cannibalistic family. Michael Berryman became a cult fan favorite with his role as Pluto, one of the demented cannibal clan. Dee Wallace Stone, future actress of both THE HOWLING (1981) and E.T. (1982) features as a doomed housewife. Craven directed his own sequel in 1985, but production problems led to the frustrated director regretting his involvement with it. It's an inferior affair that mirrors the 2007 sequel to the remake.

One of several gruesome effects scenes from splatter master, Tom Savini

MANIAC (1980)

Directed by William Lustig

Bill Lustig's gloomy, depressing and downright sadistic slasher movie is one cold hearted celluloid bastard. This repugnant, misogynistic gut puncher caused a firestorm of controversy during its theatrical release by feminist groups. The plot, like some of the films on this list, is minimalist concerning a madman with a mother complex who goes about butchering women then scalping them and nailing the hair atop mannequins kept in his apartment.

Even a MANIAC can score a date with a hottie like Caroline Munro

There's relatively little one can say about this movie other than it's simply a series of stalking scenes that end with the ultimate and sometimes slow destruction of the victims. The most spectacular death scene is a point blank shotgun blast to the head of Tom Savini, the special effects artist on the picture. The film slows down a bit during the middle wherein the title Maniac befriends Caroline Munro allowing for some semblance of characterization outside of Spinell's serial killer. Even then, the film retains its dirty, grimy atmosphere.

Joe Spinell's performance is nothing short of incredible and he is in nearly every scene of the movie. Reviled for years, the film has since become a cult favorite and Tom Savini's grotesquely realistic gore effects being cause for much of the films lasting power. A sequel was announced with some promo footage shot, but the film never materialized. Spinell and Munro were reunited for the 1982 production, THE LAST HORROR FILM aka THE FANATIC.


Directed by Sam Raimi

One by one we will take you!

Bruce Campbell gets immersed in gallons of red goo throughout the running time of THE EVIL DEAD

Sam Raimi's wildly kinetic, outrageously gory $350,000+ wonder about demonic possession is one of the most celebrated horror films of all time. Featuring the flimsiest of plot lines, the film deals with five friends on a weekend vacation in the woods. Staying in a creaky old cabin, the group stumbles upon an old tape recorder that tells of demonic forces entering our world. Playing the tape for kicks, the group unintentionally unleash a terrible presence that takes their souls one at the time. The only way to stop the foul monsters is through complete body dismemberment.

Raimi pours on the horror and gore at a rapid pace foreshadowing his later penchant for Hong Kong styled hyper action and violence. It doesn't take long for the film to kick into gear, and when it does, it's one gore drenched sequence after another. Raimi utilized ideas from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW, THE HILLS HAVE EYES and a short story he wrote in college for the script. The short film, WITHIN THE WOODS attracted enough investors to allow Raimi and company to shoot the ferocity that began with the title, BOOK OF THE DEAD.

Stephen King adamantly promoted the movie (after seeing it at Cannes while promoting CREEPSHOW) and it was quick to gain notoriety of one sort or another both here and abroad. The film caused a degree of controversy being banned in some territories overseas (prints were seized in Germany). It also found itself among the long list of 'Video Nasties' in Great Britain and also gaining an 'X' rating in America. Still, it became a huge cult phenomenon and led to a fervent and profitable career for director Sam Raimi, all due to the spectacular ferocity of THE EVIL DEAD.


Directed by Lucio Fulci

Lucio Fulci's most mean spirited and overbearingly misogynistic hard gore giallo movie is one of the outright most dirty horror films you're ever likely to see. The atmosphere is akin to Lustig's MANIAC, although the point of view in Fulci's movie doesn't rely exclusively from the killers perspective. The murder sequences are some of the most brutal celluloid crimes and Fulci guides his cameraman in close up covering every sadistic second. It truly skirts the line between horror and pornography.

Director, Lucio Fulci (right) often times put in cameos in his movies

There's not a lot of plot other than a policeman struggling to capture a vicious murderer of women who enjoys quacking like a duck(!) as he kills. The New York setting adds to the grimy atmosphere in this film that drives home the notion that Fulci didn't think too highly of the fairer sex. Despite some women that worked with him stating he was very pleasant, this film would have you think otherwise in conjunction with the many rumors that have spread over the years.

Fulci's return to the giallo arena has been banned in numerous European countries and even when it managed to make its way to DVD outside the US, it was in a slightly cut version. Definitely a movie for die hard sleaze hounds, it truly captures the mythic status that so many grindhouse movies failed to capitalize on; it delivered on its promise. Zora Kerova (CANNIBAL FEROX, ANTHROPOPHAGUS) features here as well the gorgeous Alexandra Delli Colli (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST).


Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr.

You see Santa Claus tonight, you better run, boy. You better run for your life!

This infamous 1984 slasher film caused an enormous amount of controversy upon its original theatrical release. It was only in general release for a couple weeks before outraged parents caused a nervous Tri Star pictures to yank the film from theaters. Considering there had been prior movies that featured a psycho Santa Claus, you would wonder why people made such a fuss about this one. The tone is generally harsh and much is made to showcase Santa as a psychotic murderer. The opening is especially grim. The downbeat atmosphere continues with the way the film depicts private schools and there is a plethora of nudity and sexual situations throughout.

The film deals with a small boy named Billy who witnesses his parents slaughtered by a killer decked out in a Santa Claus costume. He and his younger brother are taken to St. Mary's orphanage where the traumatized boy finds even more trouble at the hands of the callous Mother Superior. Years later Billy gets back out into the world and gets a job at a toy shop. He is asked to dress up as Santa and Billy goes off the deep end killing anyone that gets in his way, including former Scream Queen sensation, Linnea Quigley.

Charles Sellier Jr. keeps the film distasteful enough and it has gathered quite a cult following over the years. All the picketing and vociferous parental groups did little to quell interest in the movie. If only it could have halted the handful of atrocious sequels that came in its wake. Tara Buckman, who plays Billy's mother during the opening sequence, was Adrienne Barbeau's driving partner in THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981).



Darius Whiteplume said...

I have bought Salo twice. I got a bootleg (by accident) on eBay, then got the rereleased Criterion version, passing my bootleg on to a real aficionado.

I have read 120 Days of Sodom, and the movie really catches the [ahem] flavor of the book. Much of what goes on was only left as notes by Sade, as his original manuscript was lost. He only rewrote the first 30 days, then outlined the rest.

Some of Pasolini's changes are superior to the original, like the collaboratori being armed thugs rather than just male prostitues. I also liked the way the libertines were acting as voyeurs in the end scenes. That was definitely one of their things to do.

It is awfully disturbing. I dare anyone to eat a bag of Tootsie Rolls while watching it. :-D

venoms5 said...

Interesting info regarding the De Sade original, Darius! The movie is quite extraordinary. The ending was incredibly disturbing what with the libertines watching the violence from afar. The subtle music, which sounded almost like a sinister wind blowing in the background added a lot to this sequence.

I didn't get the Criterion edition, I have the BFI uncut version distributed by MGM of all companies. It's not 16x9 enhanced.

Lol, @ the tootsie rolls!

R.D. Penning said...

Sadly, I have only managed to see a handful of these movies. Thanks for the list to help me out. I shall be watching all of them, soon enough.

venoms5 said...

Cool, RD. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what you haven't seen!

Darius Whiteplume said...

Sodom is not a great introduction to Sade. It is interesting in many ways, and tedious in many more. "The Misfortunes of Virtue" is a good short intro to Sade, if you are interested in such things.

I did a comparison of the book and film on one of my forgotten blogs here.

venoms5 said...

Wow. That's an awesome comparison between the book and film, Darius. Excellent read!

Darius Whiteplume said...

Glad you liked it. I really should post on that blog more.

crazycanuck said...

Check Ebert's review of chaos-he hated it...!

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