Exploitation Videos 1

published in Video Age, July 1985, Melbourne

Upon-leaving the drive-in one night, the marquee advertising 'coming attractions' caught my attention: Revenge Of The Cycle Sluts & Dykes On Bikes. Now I don't know what your reaction would be, but mine was "I have to see movies with titles like that." Unfortunately, the drive-in was playing a practical joke, even though in reality similar titles do exist (Teenagers From Outer Space; I Eat Your Skin; Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixen; etc.). But what we're talking about here is EXPLOITATION: titillating titles which appeal to what some people refer to as our "base instincts, crude emotions and total absence of values". You betcha!

The term 'exploitation' describes what actually is a very broad and complex subject, considering that the greater bulk of movies made in the world are exploitative, and the greater mass of people in the world probably see more exploitation movies than any other. Exploitation films can be divided into a number of predominant and popular categories: sex, violence, horror, drugs, cars, rock'n'roll, action and gore. And if one film has all of the above, well, you've got a pretty good exploitation movie. One such film is The Terminator. The best film of 1985 in many people's opinion, it is a well-made exploitation movie that succeeds because it delivers. Like any good exploitation movie, it lives up to its trailer. In fact, The Terminator is worth at least five trailers.

Trailers (the short promotional advertisements which condense all the sex-action-violence-blood into two minutes) illustrate the basic workings of exploitation-in-film because they cut out all the unnecessary stuff (drama, script and other incidental cinematic elements) and get right to the heart — or guts — of the movie: action. Far be it from me to explain why people like chopped-limbs, loud-music, big-breasts and exploding cars, but such elements provide the basic iconography for exploitation movies. And even more so, a good exploitation movie must not waste time with touching romance, sensitive drama and social issues.

That, at least, is how the special requirements for a 'good' exploitation movie stack up. In other words, if it's on at the drive-in your hand should always be on the horn, and if it's on your video at home, your hand should never be on the fast-forward button.

But let's not caricature things too easily into high culture versus low culture or some similar us-them classification. All movies are exploitative because they are commercial products aimed at specific markets for optimum financial return. That mythical 'other half’ who patronise (I use the word ironically) the art-house cinemas - which screen French romances, Scandinavian dramas, Japanese documentaries and American box-office failures - complements the video addicts (ex-drive-in addicts) who wolf-down Italian westerns, Japanese monsters, Chinese kung-fu and American splatter.

Both audiences expect something, are promised or guaranteed something, and are either satisfied or ripped off. The Bergman devotee would be as annoyed or disgusted by Russ Meyer's artistry as the Corman fanatic would be by Truffaut's explorations. The point is that neither is better and no-one's opinion is the 'objective critical truth'. And most important of all: both are exploited because both pay money for something which is advertised in a way which would appeal to certain values, beliefs and likes.

Thus, exploitation movies are enjoyed by people who (a) know that they are being exploited, and (b) don't care — so long as the goods are delivered. At the very least, I'm sure that the 'art house crowd' would not so readily admit to being exploited, but that is their problem and not ours.

I say 'ours' because this column is for those who enjoy exploitation movies, even if you're still unsure as to what defines them. The aim of this column is to provide a critical consumer guide for the video addict who is looking for the wacky, the wild and the weird in films. Just think of all the times you have wandered into the local video store and have been confronted by hundreds of titles, most of which you know nothing about and some of which you were dying to check out — just like I was dying to see Revenge Of The Cycle Sluts & Dykes On Bikes.

Well, believe me: among those anonymous video covers there are some absolutely unbelievable films. Some of them are so perverse you'll have a seizure. Some are so gory you'll faint. Some are so off-beat you'll be confounded for days. And some are so bad you'll finally be able to prove to your friends that people do make worse movies than your home videos!

I'll be covering sex (some of the soft-porn films have things more interesting than bare flesh); horror (expanding in detail the Horror Index I did for the March issue of Video Age); youth subcultures (bikies, drugs, gangs, rock'n'roll, etc.): weirdo comedy (the kind that boring people think is definitely not amusing); violence (from Shao-lin priests to vigilantes to cannibals to maniacs); and just about anything worth checking out if it is in some perverted way 'entertaining' and something that no other film or video critic will touch even with a ten-foot pole.

People might often tell you to "grow up": parents, teachers, employers, or snotty liberal-minded jerks whom you have to work with everyday. Well I'm inviting you to grow down; to watch all those videos that others neglect, laugh at or attack. Mindless entertainment is everywhere — but we all know that. So let’s check out these movies for what they're worth. Once in a while you'll get ripped-off — but once in a while you'll see a movie that will explode your eyeballs!

Text © Philip Brophy 1985. Images © respective copyright holders