Cinema #19: 1970s Grindhouse: You Can't Go Home Again
If, like me, you read horror blogs, listen to horror podcasts, and read horror magazines, you hear a lot of the same thing: namely, "we hate remakes and lightweight PG-13 horror movies". In other words, everyone in the horror community seems to be saying in unison that the horror movies released in mainstream theaters are sugary paint-by-numbers; they lack the raunch and nihilism of films from the seventies. Your average PG-13 horror movie is the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie; whereas, the exploitation films of the seventies are raw sinewy meat.
Well, I have bad news. It's over.... and it ain't coming back.
Why do I say this? The evidence. Any exploitation endeavor of late has failed miserably. For instance, Piranha 3D had all the elements of a good old fashioned grindhouse flick: tons of gore, a senseless plot, huge helpings of gratuitous nudity, and cheap 3D thrills. And yet, its box office gross was less than impressive.
Take another example: Machete. If ever there was a modern movie cut from the same cloth as seventies exploitation, this is it. Rodriguez followed every grindhouse trope imaginable, and yet it too tanked at the box office.
And my understanding is that Drive Angry starring Nicholas Cage is yet another faithful attempt at exploitation, with senseless violence and gratuitous nudity filled to the brim.... and this film is a disaster. I haven't seen it, but it's enough to sense a pattern here: exploitation cinema is fondly remembered by us geezers, and is worshiped by genre fans, but will never ever never be a box office success.
Before I end this post, let me counter one argument I can see coming. "Exploitation cinema has always been a fringe entertainment. Even in the seventies, the lines at I Spit on Your Grave were nothing compared to mainstream Hollywood." I call BS on that.
Many of the big box office hits of the seventies were every bit as brutal and exploitive as the gutter garbage shown on 42nd Street. The Exorcist, Deliverance, The Omen, White Lightning, Dirty Harry, etc. Also, given the sheer volume of cinematic trash spewed out during that decade, it's awfully hard to argue the point that exploitation cinema wasn't reaching a wide audience.
So, with Machete, Piranha 3D, and Drive Angry tanking at the box office, can anyone out there deny that the public at large does not want this kind of smut? Don't blame Hollywood. When it's offered in the theaters, no one goes to see it. It's a sad example of how you may want things to be as they were, but you can never go home again.
Well, I don't like to leave you on a down note. Let's have a glance at some good old fashioned grindhouse style adverts. Enjoy.