PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

The latest luxurious book from the wonderful publishers Fab Press is the perfect entry level to anyone looking to expand their viewing horizons from the mainstream as FrightFest co-director and all-around genre authority Alan Jones takes us through the murky world of exploitation films.

It’s a catch-all phrase used too often – a little like ‘cult’ – but Jones has selected a grand assortment of titles that cover all aspects of what we label exploitation, from the very early days of cinema to the heady days of the VHS revolution, the time Jones uses as a cut-off point due to the effect home entertainment was having on people actually leaving the house to see a film (thus causing closures of many if not all of the grindhouse-type venues that were these film’s bread and butter.

The first quarter of this stunningly illustrated tome is dedicated to a beginners’ A to Z of some of the things to know about exploitation cinema. This covers the history, some important titles, common themes and various sub-genres that the term covers. What some people often get confused about when thinking of exploitation is whether the movies are any good – there have been some genuine masterpieces that are pure exploitation, and it’s certainly not a label that anyone should be ashamed of. Remember, the very act of advertising something is exploiting it. But, of course, that isn’t the purpose of this work; oh no, we’re here to find out about those seedy and sordid flicks that often filled the screens on 42nd Street and played at drive-ins up and down the USA.

The bulk of the book is the joy for most fans who already know the difference between pinku and giallo. Here, we have a little more information (although by no means in depth) on a brilliant selection of films, many truly obscure. There are some proper gems to read about for true connoisseurs of sleaze and crazy cinema, which are nestled up against the more obvious entries such as I Spit on Your Grave or Maniac. This section is presented in chronological order, so one can really chart the progression of what was deemed exploitative, and ironically see that by the time we get to the mid-eighties, when we’re given relatively mainstream fare as Re-Animator and American Ninja, the power to shock has certainly diminished, despite the improved effects or moderately bigger budgets. The choices in the earlier years are perfect; a great mix of non-obvious movies that have rarely seen the inside of video player, let alone a cinema. There are a few oddities in the mix – whether Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf should qualify as exploitation is certainly open to debate, and there may be one or two too many women in prison flicks included (surely a couple is enough to show the variety?). These films are an acquired taste, though, and although many are not very well made, they all have something that makes them worth tracking down.

However, the real pleasure in the book is the illustrations. Each page is a visual treat, with vintage advertising posters, lobby cards (ask your parents), and stills that sell the films more than any words can do. The subject matter of the movies may have been there to shock and titillate audiences, but it’s these glorious images that made they pay their money at the box office and drew them in. And it continues to do so now, as once can’t help but be enraptured by the lurid artwork for the likes of From Ear to Ear or intrigued by Poor Albert and Little Annie. Not only do they not make them like that anymore, but they don’t advertise them that way, either.

A great introduction to a bygone age of filmmaking that leaves one longing for a time machine.



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