Tuesday, April 24, 2012
24 of the Most Influential Exploitation & Trash Movies Part 2
WARNING! The following motion pictures depict acts of an offensive and extreme nature. Because of the numerous scenes of unremitting savagery, violence and sexual depravity, absolutely no one under 18 will be permitted to view these pictures!
13. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 1974
"What happened was true...the most bizarre and brutal series of crimes in America."
If Tobe Hooper never made another good movie, he would always have one great one on his resume and that's this down home nightmare of backwoods Americana about meat, slaughterhouses, a boy, a girl and a chainsaw. TEXAS CHAINSAW was one of those movies where the ballyhoo matched what transpired onscreen. It also has one helluva title; possibly the single most exploitable of all time. Texas is BIG, Chainsaws are LOUD and a Massacre can get downright MESSY. Those reports of folks passing out, or having to walk out of the showings were true. My mom was one of them, in fact! After hearing and reading so many stories behind this movie, I just had to see it for myself. Wes Craven had put a chainsaw to vengeful use during the finale of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but Tobe Hooper made them ghoulishly fashionable.
I remember when this first hit videocassette, one of the local video stores had this huge ad from Media Entertainment heralding the films arrival on VHS with that classic blurb from Rex Reed at the top. Since my parents had recently divorced, I was free to see as many horrors as I could lay my hands on and having seen PIECES on tape around the same time (catching that films trailer on TV followed by incessant begging to see it at our local bijou was a futile attempt knowing how my mother felt about movies that starred loud power tools), sitting down to some TEXAS CHAINSAW mayhem was a no-brainer.
Strangely enough, my dad was curious as to why I would want to watch something like that. Hearing this, I remembered the scenes from PIECES of the chainsaw graphically severing a head, shredding a poor girl who's just pissed herself and the greatest moment of WTF? in trash film history wherein a stitched together corpse sits up and rips Ian Sera's extremities off. Surely, TCM couldn't be any more galvanizingly gruesome than that, could it? Well, while it didn't deliver the gore groceries, it did have more than its fair share of unsettling moments that I grew to appreciate even more with each subsequent viewing and videotape and DVD purchase.
The power of Hooper's movie relied not in its supposed gore quotient, but in its ability to get under your skin by what you don't see, enabling your mind to fill in the blanks. I remember my mom describing the scene where Leatherface supposedly severs William Vail's limbs with his chainsaw, the sight of which was never, ever shown. Itself influenced by real life psycho Ed Gein, TCM has bred a slew of movies in which a group of individuals take a wrong turn, or end up at some isolated location out in the middle of nowhere never to be seen again. DELIVERANCE (1972) made a dark, if glossy and polished version of this concept. TEXAS CHAINSAW was simply cheap, raw and dirty.
DERANGED from 1974 was an accurate account of ol' unhinged Ed and one of the more infamous movies to follow in the ferocious footsteps of Hooper's vision. It wasn't drenched in it, but there was a mild amount of gore (such as an eyeball scooping scene that was cut for its theatrical release), crude but effectively mounted by a very young Tom Savini.
Years later, Australian Peter Jackson, over a decade before helming the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, paid tribute to The Saw in his hilarious gore-comedy BAD TASTE (1987) with arguably the greatest in-joke in horror history.
The biggest foreign influence in recent years comes from the delightfully downbeat French Renaissance of Horror that emerged approximately ten years ago with a surge of movies with roots ripped straight from Hooper's film. It's interesting to note how these French filmmakers produce predominantly new product displaying their influences while the American companies are content with remaking the originals.
"This is the movie that is just as real...just as close...just as terrifying as being there. Even if one of them survives, what will be left? THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE...after you stop screaming, you'll start talking about it."
Tobe Hooper himself even followed up his exalted effort with the similar EATEN ALIVE in 1976. That film saw a crazed Neville Brand running a ramshackle motel slaughtering the occupants with a scythe and feeding the remains to a giant alligator next door! The film didn't perform well despite a stellar cast and the perfect atmosphere for the trash crowd.
One of the most popular distribution devices at the time for enterprising promoters saddled with a box office no-show was to re-release the same movie under different titles in the hopes of a film finding its audience. Hooper's Southern Gothic follow-up never found its audience despite siring multiple titles such as STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER, HORROR HOTEL and once more in 1983 with LEGEND OF THE BAYOU, the latter of which even experimented with some creative license with the poster imagery for Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE (1981). In all these examples, you will notice the mention of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE somewhere on the advertising.
It should be noted that prior to Hooper's seminal movie, there were some earlier, similar examples such as 1964's blackly comical SPIDER BABY from Jack Hill about the psychotic Merrye family who, when they're not murdering anyone who enters their house, feed their victims to their basement dwelling cannibalistic kin.
William Girdler's THREE ON A MEATHOOK from 1973 had a father and son living on an isolated farmhouse, the setting where a handful of beautiful girls disappeared. Dead girls dangling from meathooks, death by axe, shotgun and cannibalism are all on the menu in this cheap early 70s drive in flick. The former has acquired a healthy cult following over the years while the latter, while largely forgettable, has some trashy merits, but remains languishing in obscurity.
Hooper's original Meat Movie champion managed to accrue three sequels, a remake, a sequel to the remake and a proposed television series of all things. TCM is so deeply entrenched within America's pop culture lexicon, I don't think it's possible to see a movie with a chainsaw being used without an image of Leatherface doing his dance of death entering the mind. You don't just watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, you experience it. You'll never see the slamming of a metal door the same way again.
14. ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS 1974
"The ultimate in screen terror! Raw horror that was the Nazi nightmare explodes on the screen!"
Sleaze was re-defined when this gruesome, sex filled trash flick oozed onto silver screens around the world shocking audiences and critics alike. This picture more or less destroyed the career of its star, Dyanne Thorne; and according to Thorne, caused her to lose some friendships in the process. It's a shame, as she's incredible in the part. Her rapacious, sexually charged performance personified the dominating female in a jarringly explicit fashion that bordered dangerously close to the pornographic.
The high quotient of sex and nudity present in ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS (1974) didn't go unnoticed in such major publications as Playboy Magazine, which featured an image of a fully nude Peggy Sipots slowly hanging herself while standing atop a block of ice in the 'Sex In Cinema' article from the November 1975 issue.
Combined with a near endless array of startlingly repugnant scenes of brutality and appalling sadism, ILSA went on to shock and horrify millions of viewers in spite of widespread critical condemnation. It became the biggest independent effort up to that time solidifying the notion that more tortures were forthcoming. Director Don Edmonds had a similar style to Jack Hill and he delivered the gory goods once more with the even more trashy titled ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976).
Cinepix, the Canadian distribution company that handled the previous two ILSA's, got behind the third film in the series--ILSA, THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977)--which ended up being a radical departure from the dominatrix's previous installments. The first half is traditional Fraulein territory (this time set in the frozen Siberian wasteland), but the latter half takes on a spy style narrative that jumps ahead 24 years later to find Ilsa covertly running a prostitution ring in modern day Canada! What makes this entry of particular interest is the participation of Roger Corman, Ivan Reitman--who directed CANNIBAL GIRLS (1972) and GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)--and director Jean LeFleur, whose previous credits were handling less salacious fare.
"For some, there was death... slow... brutal... for others, the chosen few... there was only Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS!"
Jess Franco, possibly the sloppiest director in history, was responsible for shackling Dyanne Thorne to the awful GRETA, THE MAD BUTCHER (1977); a boring, shoddily put together, but nonetheless sleazy movie. With negligible ties to the ILSA series outside of the participation of the voluptuous Thorne, this is standard and cheaply produced Women In Prison fare. This time our bosomy villainess runs a South American "clinic" where the tortures perpetrated on the female victims end up on camera and sold on the snuff film market! The "Lick my culo" scene isn't as nauseating as it could have been, but outside of a cannibal climax that's intercut with shots of tigers ripping an animal apart, the ass cleaning scene is as disturbing as this one gets. This clumsy, putrid mess was also released under the title of WANDA, THE WICKED WARDEN, and also as ILSA, ABSOLUTE POWER. You'll notice the GRETA artwork mimics the previous poster imagery of the two preceding films and even goes so far as to infer it's part of the ILSA series by stating, "That infamous Ilsa woman is back... this time she is... GRETA, THE MAD BUTCHER."
"Together with her Black Widows, she committed crimes so terrible, even the SS feared her!"
While OIL SHEIKS was in release, the July 1976 edition of the St. Petersburg Times reported on the announcement of another Ilsa adventure, an ambitious endeavor that ultimately never came to fruition. The unbelievably titled ILSA MEETS BRUCE LEE IN THE DEVIL'S TRIANGLE was the brainchild of ILSA financier and distributor, John Dunning. That this proposed picture would have Our Woman From Germany headquartered out in the middle of the Devil's Triangle responsible for ship disappearances and training killer dolphins is ludicrous in the extreme, not to mention how Bruce Lee was going to figure into this bizarre stew of ingredients.
With a budget allotted at $250,000, the plot would also have bore some resemblance to Don Edmond's earlier examples of Ilsa, but cutting back on the level of sexual shenanigans. Amazingly, Ilsa was to have fallen in love with Bruce Lee who would use his hold over her to bring about her demise; a story conceit which pretty much sealed her fate in the previous two movies. For whatever reason, this gem of an idea seemingly never got passed the idea stage. Incidentally, the enterprising Dunning also envisioned further adventures of the Nazi sex fiend such ILSA, SHE LION OF THE MAU MAU!
15. THE STREET FIGHTER 1974
"Terry Tsuguri... 6 foot 6 of half-breed fury! But he's got a little problem... he has a hard time making friends!"
Sonny Chiba got in everybody's face with this bone-breaking, testicle ripping Japanese Karate picture that was so raw in its violence and lead performance perpetrated by the one and only Chiba-san, that the MPAA gave the picture the first ever 'X' rating strictly for the films violent content. While movies from the Shaw Brothers had spilled gallons of red paint, THE STREET FIGHTER was a modern day gore drenched comic book that also dealt with drugs and prostitution among its sleazy potential. It's all backed by a groovy, rockin'-ass soundtrack, 'Music To Crack Skulls By' if you will, that you'll be humming for a while long after the flick has finished.
It's Chiba's performance that stands out above the generous amount of bright red gushing about. To call it over the top is an understatement. With Chiba's constant mugging, bizarre facial contortions and animal noises, it's impossible to take your eyes off him. The actor was graced with a uniquely intimidating face that spoke volumes without the use of dialog. His fists and feet did most of the talking anyways.
Cut down to an 'R' and losing most of its gory violence, THE STREET FIGHTER was still a success for then independent New Line Cinema. More Japanese style Karate pictures were imported by them including two STREET FIGHTER sequels and also a Tadashi Yamashita vehicle, the first of a trilogy, called simply THE KARATE (1973) in Japan. For its US debut in 1975, it was given the more palatable and exploitable title of BRONSON LEE, CHAMPION. Speaking of Bronson, it's worth mentioning that when Chiba's THE STREET FIGHTER was in release, the Charles Bronson bare-knuckle brawler, then titled THE STREET FIGHTER as well, had to change its nomenclature to HARD TIMES (1975).
Like its Japanese unveiling, RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1974) was rapidly released in America to maintain Chiba's momentum, itself riding the coattails of the Hong Kong kung fu wave. Yet again, the gore was drastically cut and it didn't help that the film contained a lot of stock footage from part one in flashback sequences. Terry Levene of Aquarius Releasing dusted off Chiba's BODYGUARD KIBA from 1973 and released it in 1976 as simply THE BODYGUARD (or, VIVA, CHIBA! THE BODYGUARD as is seen on the opening credits) and bearing one of the decades most outrageous trailers.
"I'll kill Tsurugi now, I owe it to him!"
Chiba was a hot commodity for trash peddlers during the late 70s. Cinema Shares, which handled predominantly foreign product from Italy and Asia (their release in 1977 of the 1974 GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA under the title of GODZILLA VS. THE BIONIC MONSTER garnered them a lawsuit from Universal who felt the moniker infringed on their SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and BIONIC WOMAN television shows), handled Toei's Chiba hit, SHAOLIN KARATE (1975), unleashing it here as THE KILLING MACHINE in 1976.
Technically not an exploitation movie, it did frequently wallow in extreme violence such as geysers of blood, broken bones and a show-stopping sequence where a gangster has his penis severed and fed to a dog! And this picture is based on a true story(!) regarding the Japanese martial arts master, Doshin So, who brought Chinese martial arts to Japan. Notice the poster artwork manages to squeeze in a mention of 'STREETFIGHTER' between the actors name.
"You beat a man they call you tough! You beat an army they call you... THE STREET FIGHTER!"
United Artists, enjoying their time as a major studio before collapsing mightily under the weight of massive losses resulting from the box office bomb, HEAVEN'S GATE in 1980, secured the rights to two Chiba movies. One of these became one of the actors most fondly remembered pictures. Released in 1977, CHAMPION OF DEATH was the US re-titling of Toei's KARATE BULLFIGHTER (1975), the first in a trilogy of films based on the life of world renowned martial artist, and Chiba's instructor, Masutatsu Oyama.
Hoping to ride the STAR WARS wave with their acquisition of Toei's elaborately gaudy imitation, Kenji Fukasaku's MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978)--at one time the most expensive Japanese production up to that time--United Artists discovered too late that the Force wasn't with them. Chiba was merely a co-star here, but the film is indeed a lot of fun, and Lucas would seem to have borrowed elements from Fukasaku's film for his later science fiction epics.
By 1979, Sonny Chiba's reign of the American exploitation circuit was all but evaporated after the embarrassment that was THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE (1974). It made a mockery of the Takuma Tsurugi (Terry in the English prints; the trailer erroneously refers to him as Terry Tsuguri likely because it rhymed with 'fury') character and lacked the extreme gore of the previous entries. The alarmingly busy actor re-visited his most famous character in the similar EXECUTIONER series in 1974.
Chiba's legacy lived on in the minds of those who witnessed his special brand of brutality and even led to a handful of co-starring roles in low budget American actioners during the 1990s. Airings of his hit Japanese ninja show, SHADOW WARRIORS, kept him in the public eye particularly for those on the west coast. Regardless of what some may think of of him, Quentin Tarantino was instrumental in getting the uncut version of THE STREET FIGHTER out on VHS and laserdisc and re-familiarizing the western world with the Incredible Sonny Chiba.
16. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 1975
"Hold onto your heads!"
Everybody was still 'Kung Fu Fighting' in '75 and Warner Brothers maintained their partnership with the Shaw Brothers (at the time, both studios had co-produced the lavish CLEOPATRA JONES & THE CASINO OF GOLD) since first acquiring their kung fu movies three years earlier with FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (1972), the first kung fu extravaganza before Bruce Lee hit the big screen. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE was a different sort of animal entirely. With relatively little in the way of martial arts fighting, this picture focused more on this historical head cleaver allegedly used during the Qing Dynasty to quell hostilities against the Emperor and subjugate local provincial dwellers.
Bordering on horror movie conventions, Ho Meng Hua's classic film was a hit in Asia and America. So much so, that a whole sub genre of guillotine movies began flying out of nowhere ready to snatch the money from the hands of eager patrons. Warner's handled North American distribution and at one point, the film played a double bill with the notorious SNUFF (1976). You'll notice from the artwork above that Warner's accurately conveyed the cast and director credits. Out of the numerous knock-offs, an official FG sequel, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 2 (1978) also played American theaters. A modern remake is currently in production. Also, the title cutlery was recently the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary series.
SEX & THE KUNG FU CONNECTION!
In the previous article the rising mainstream popularity of porno films and kung fu movies--both having exploded the same year with DEEP THROAT and FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH--was covered. Particularly striking was the poster for DEEP THRUST (1973) which seemed to take advantage of the porn industry's pop culture invasion in its advertising. Here, you'll see another instance of the cross pollination of sex and kung fu from the cover (and the accompanying article) of the September 1974 issue of Stag Magazine.
Inside, you'll discover the ancient secrets of the 'Love Making Techniques From the Kung Fu Sex Manual'! This article, illustrated with a topless man and woman wearing martial arts pants, are depicted "psyching up sexually" prior to the act itself. Said to be translated from an old silk scroll residing in a Hangchow museum put in book form by Chinese sexologists, variables of foreplay are explored-- "he who will take pleasure from sex must first give pleasure in sex; and he who will give pleasure in sex must first prepare his mind to meet that of his mate." An interesting read, it's also an early example wherein kung fu and karate are discussed as if they are the same thing.
17. MANDINGO 1975
"All the shocking realism! All the magnificence and depravity!"
Not really an exploitation movie in the literal sense, this Paramount production based on Kyle Onstott's novel was of the 'Race Hate' school of trash peddling, but on a much bigger scale; and just as shocking that this Southern Gothic attracted some notable actors and also Richard Fleischer, the director of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) and TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970)
At the time this was widely considered cinematic garbage by most critics who were only too eager to pan the film for its barrage of interracial sexual content and racially incendiary scenes and dialog. As is often the case, condemning a movie for its offensiveness only acts to increase ticket sales resulting in MANDINGO being a resounding success story.
On a number of occasions, major studios had attempted to steal a huge chunk of the smaller guys exploitation pie, but never had a big budget picture depicted such scenes of shocking depravity and taboo barriers broken; even the trailer was an incredible display of offending imagery and dialog. The films poster artwork even goes so far as to imitate the famous pose of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh on the promotional materials for GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) by showcasing Ken Norton and Susan George in a passionate embrace and also Perry King carrying off a swooning Brenda Sykes.
An even bigger sequel appeared the following year, but problems plaguing the production left it more or less an embarrassment for most involved. Still, the poster tagline for DRUM (1976) is wholly accurate; where MANDINGO lit the fuse, DRUM was the resulting explosion. The sequel erupted in unintentional comedy theatrics, drowned in a sea of racist dialog and a lot of foul language culminating in a gory finale that is vastly different from what came before it. Heaps of fun, DRUM succeeds in being blazingly offensive where MANDINGO ultimately treats the subject matter respectfully. There were movies before it (QUADROON from '72) and after (SLAVERS from '77) that tread similar territory, but MANDINGO was an instance of a big studio producing an expensive version of an exploitation picture. The success of MANDINGO was likely instrumental in the wildly successful television mini-series, ROOTS from 1977.
"MANDINGO! The pride of his masters! MANDINGO! The strongest and the bravest! MANDINGO is the first true motion picture epic of the old South!"
1977's FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE was a modern day 'Race Hate' extravaganza about three racially mixed convicts escaping prison and holing up in the house of a black family whom they subject to all manner of degradation and humiliation. William Sanderson was the redneck sum-bitch who spouts off the most fire branding slurs and hate speech to ever be uttered by any actor.
Like UNCLE TOM before it, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE had a spotty release that also yielded a myriad of alternate titles including I HATE YOUR GUTS and STAYIN' ALIVE, the latter of which was geared towards black audiences. Sometime this year, the cruel vices of slavery will once again be explored, this time by America's celebrated, if highly unoriginal film director, Quentin Tarantino. His film, DJANGO UNCHAINED, is no doubt another mishmash of assorted genre conventions. The plot involves revenge and slaves in what has more in common with Fred Williamson's THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY (1972) than it does Sergio Corbucci's genre defining Euro western, DJANGO (1966).
18. BLOODSUCKING FREAKS 1976
"A show that will make anyone RETCH!"
Movies from the 70s have a stigma of being graphically misogynistic. Never is that more apparent than in Joel M. Reed's blackly comical sex and gore flick, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. Originally released as THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW, the film magnanimously lived up to that title with an endless stream of offensive imagery the likes of which redefine revolting.
While it's essentially played for kicks, the all powerful Women Against Pornography weren't laughing resulting in that group relentlessly protesting the picture. Women seen in the film are constantly naked, tortured, maimed and killed in the most demeaning, sadistic ways imaginable. It's all supposedly a fake Grand Guignol styled theatrical display, but it turns out the stage shows run by Sardu and his maniac midget partner are all too real. Women are used as dart boards, dinner tables (complete with candles with hot wax spilling onto their naked backs), decapitated, dismembered and one poor lady has all her teeth removed, her head shaved, a hole drilled through her skull and her brain sucked out through a straw!
"Sardu... Evil genius of pain with the most bizarre machines and tools ever created to torture the body of woman!"
There's also two naked Nubian assistants for Sardu who occasionally lash him with a whip and a cage full of naked and wild cannibal women, and that's barely scratching the surface of the overall cess pool this film wallows in. Troma picked up the putrid picture for re-release in 1980 awarding it with its more well known title of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.
This film is special to me as I first became aware of through a review from famed cult film critic, Joe Bob Briggs, who saw it under its original TORTURE SHOW title. Discovering VHS mail order outlets in the late 80s was a goldmine of grotesqueries for this now damaged brained youth. I secretly spent $20 of my allowance on the Vestron tape of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS from Video Mania. Unfortunately, during this time, VHS tapes were terribly expensive, so many times, the closest I got to owning some of these (outside of renting) were these mail order catalogs.
19. SNUFF 1976
"The film that could only be made in South America...where life is CHEAP!"
Porn and trash filmmakers, Michael and Roberta Findlay originally shot this movie about a crazed Manson style cult in Argentina in 1971 under the title of SLAUGHTER. In 1976, it was re-released with an all new ending and re-christened with the far more disturbing moniker of SNUFF. The ending featured a much ballyhooed sequence of an actress being killed for real onscreen. It was all a hoax, of course, but this didn't stop a wave of protests from the then recently formed WAP--Women Against Pornography, a highly publicized group of radical feminists at war against the exploitation of, and the violence towards women. This all worked in the films favor, naturally, with the production making the profit that eluded it earlier in the decade.
This classick of the historical 70s exploitation canon is among the group of pictures whose reputation far exceeds the product itself. Strictly of curiosity value, it's still an important, and influential piece of trash filmmaking that only fueled the supposed existence of snuff movies, despite one of them never being uncovered.
The furor surrounding the tacked on ending of the Findlay film mirrored a later, similar incident when Charlie Sheen assumed he had a bonafide snuff film with what turned out to be a Japanese entry in the notorious GUINEA PIG series, FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD (1985). It's also interesting to note that the plot of the cult movie LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977) revolved around an ex-con who decides to break into the snuff film business. Also, with the original version of SNUFF from '71 taking its cue from the '69 Manson Family massacre, the re-worked version from '76 was let loose within months of the two part television movie, HELTER SKELTER (1976) also about the Manson murders. The legend of Snuff movies continued to be a popular attraction in both lowbrow and mainstream entertainment including movies like Ruggero Deodato's groundbreakingly offensive CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), David Cronenberg's perversely subversive VIDEODROME (1983), 8MM (1999) and the controversial AUGUST UNDERGROUND series from the early 2000s.
* Most of the poster images are from Wrong Side of the Art.*
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3...