I wish I'd got to go to a grindhouse. Perhaps I’m romanticizing the idea. Perhaps if I’d been born early and American enough to actually spend an evening watching movies in one, or got stabbed in the face by a pimp or genital warts from the seat I was sitting on I wouldn’t be so keen.
But when I read about grindhouse – the now defunct burlesque theatres that once lined 42nd Street in New York and showed back-to-back exploitation cinema – I somehow think I’ve been missing out just watching movies at the Doncaster Odeon.
A quick and relatively sober history lesson; Grindhouse came to be as a response to the erosion of single cinema-going audiences during the television boom of the 50’s and 60’s. Theatres were forced to either close or offer something television didn’t. This meant stuffing their schedules with sleaze, slasher horror, dubbed martial arts films and old, long forgotten b-movies.
Double, triple and all night bills on a single admission charge encouraged people to spend long periods of time in the theaters – if you can find one, pick up a copy of Bill Landis’ excellent and much imitated Sleazoid Express magazine for an idea of what it must have been like.
Then the VHS and cable boom of the '80s came along and sort of rendered the whole movement pointless. But it sounds like it was fun (and sordid and exciting) while it lasted.
Grindhouse got a second wind in 2007 when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who’d basically spent their whole careers honing tributes to their genre in the shape of their own films anyway, teamed up to create a double feature consisting of two feature-length segments, bolted together under that very title.
Tarantino directed Death Proof, Rodriguez the marginally better Planet Terror, spliced in-between were faux trailers by other students of the genre (Edgar Wright’s Don’t, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women Of The SS).
Now the genre is getting a third wind, as one of those trailers has spawned a new full-length movie of its own, Rodriguez Machete, staring the ever-leathery Danny Trejo.
Go see it, it’s a fucking hoot.
In tribute, I thought it’d be fun to compile a list of my five favourite ever exploitation films that would comfortably sit on the bill of the scruffiest grindhouse. Sadly, I’ve only ever watched them from the comfort of my sofa, but why not pour some cigarette butts on the floor, slash the couch up and invite a stripper round while you check them out.
5. Please Don’t Eat My Mother! (1973)
A brain draining, shonky set spoof of Roger Corman’s 1960 classic Little Shop Of Horrors, staring a man sized lime green plastic venus flytrap puppet. Fun fact: Rick Moranis isn’t in it.
4. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
This film is still banned in many countries because of its graphic gore, even more graphic violence and the legitimate killing of animals. Fun fact: I showed it to my flatmate when I was at university and he cried.
3. Vanishing Point (1971)
A carsploitation flick staring Barry Newman as Kowalski, a delivery driver who goes nutzoid and leads police on a car chase, all the while guided by a blind radio DJ named Super Soul. Fun fact: In the early 90’s Primal Scream watched this movie up to twenty times a day.
2. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Directed by uber pervert Russ Meyer, this film is about three go-go dancers who go on the rampage and kill loads of people. As plots go, it’s threadbare. Fun fact: unlike most of Meyer’s movies, this contains virtually no nudity.
1. Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
This German movie is basically Dracula directed on 50p with loads of lesbians in it. Fun fact: the soundtrack, composed by director Jesus Franco but performed under the name David Khune is even better than the movie.