The True ABCs of Death: E is for Exploitation

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Of all the letters of the alphabet to explore, the letter E is undoubtedly one of the most troublesome. There are many different interpretations of the term exploitation and, moreover, numerous different guises and sub-genres under its vast umbrella. Blaxploitation, nunsploitation, ozploitation, naziploitation, canuxploitation, carsploitation, sexploitation, and women in prison films are just some of the mantras affiliated with being exploitative, so to speak. Many articles would be required in order to so much as scratch the surface therefore I shall be citing just a handful of films and noteworthy scenes which I believe fit this particular bill. So what is exploitation cinema?

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Its roots stem back as far as the 1920s and it generally represents low-budget productions which exploit a particular niche and typically feature some or all of the following: explicit sex, sensational violence, hard-line gore, the macabre, destruction, rebellion, and drug use. It’s a bit of a mind field to be honest, thus I prefer to regard an exploitation flick as one which leaves a sour tang in your palate. Whether right or wrong, it works for me and the following films offer examples of what I would interpret as exploitation, primarily relating to the horror genre.

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I shall begin by talking a little about the crassly named and over-saturated torture porn sub-genre which I regard as extreme exploitation. James Wan and Eli Roth led this particular charge in the mid-noughties with Saw and Hostel in turn. My first port of call is Hostel Part II as I make no secret of the fact that I consider one scene in particular as the crème de la crème of exploitative dispatches. It just has to be the bloodbath scene whereby Lorna dangled naked above a bathtub while a stunning brunette vixen disrobed and commenced soaking in her cruor. She was aided by an elongated sickle and, should you be familiar with my personal preference then you will be aware that I flat-out adore this underused instrument of evisceration. Despite its formidable appearance, it barely gets a look in, but here it was put to use exquisitely.

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As she pleasured herself beneath her hysterical tormentee she took regular swipes with her death bringer, slowly teasing it over the girl’s skin almost rhythmically with each convulsion. As she became wetter down below, the weapon became bloodier until climax became mere formality. At that point, and synchronized with her orgasm, she performed the conclusive slice on the throat of her quarry. A spray of deep red denoted the end of her pleasure-giving and she rubbed the excess fluid into her bare breasts and blood-smeared haunch. This scene impacted on two levels. Firstly it was sickening to the hilt and demonstrated her nonchalance to the vile act she had just performed. More critically though, it was beautifully shot and fiercely erotic.

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A glut of rape-revenge flicks raised their grimy heads in the seventies when exploitation was at its apex. Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left was top of the bill and was by no means a pleasurable experience. It featured the molestation and slaughter of two naive teenage girls on their way to a concert which they were ultimately never destined to arrive at. Mari and Phyllis were degraded and tormented by their captors, led by the late David Hess, and forced to strip naked and perform all manner of degrading antics before Krug and his similarly slimy pals commenced the real punishment. That included the ringleader’s name being carved into the front of one of the hapless sisters.

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The most notable moment in the entire film came when the older of the two, Mari, was coerced into wading out into the lake where she was cruelly executed with a handgun. Her limp body sinking sub aqua provided the most significant shot of the entire movie and also the most heart-breaking. Stunning cinematography reminded us that Craven was one to watch in the future although the scene left a decidedly bitter after-taste. The much deserved comeuppance of the depraved posse went some way towards providing gratification but couldn’t recuperate our lost innocence.

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Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave was a marginally more amateurish but similarly thought-provoking piece of filth. This time the victim, Jennifer, fled with her mortality intact but dignity in tatters. Repeatedly raped and left for dead, she stalked her aggressors one by one but one reprisal really made our eyes water. Johnny was outwitted into believing Jennifer had grown fond of being shafted and found himself in a bathtub where, with one meaningful slice, his tainted cock was replaced with a great bloody aperture. At first he laid back, eyes shut, and not yet aware of the subtraction. When the blood began to bubble up, the penny dropped as she nonchalantly cleaned the blade, stepped out of the crimson bath water, slipped into her night-gown, and strolled downstairs where she listened to Sola Perduta Abandonnato on her headphones.

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She may have been oblivious to the vain attempts of the prickless prick to plead for her sympathy as he slowly bled out, but we were made privy to every one of Johnny’s sorry cries and felt true merriment, meshed with an uncomfortable twinge in our groins. The Europeans got in on the act also with Aldo Lado’s Late Night Trains in 1975. None of these grim features were what you would call Saturday night date flicks and moreover, none were particularly memorable but will be remembered forevermore for running into strife with the DPP, who prosecuted all three.

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The video nasties list comprised many other examples of exploitation, many with Nazi themes and all with charges of misogyny leveled against them. Amongst them were Love Camp 7, SS Experiment Camp, Killer Nun and Don Edmonds’ Ilsa She Wolf of the SS which was arguably the strongest. Audiences weren’t prepared for their apparent glorification of the atrocities and, to this day, the censors still regard them as repugnant. In truth, inept was more accurate for most of the accused and the content wasn’t that outrageous, all things considered.

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One film which courted controversy far and wide was Robert A. Endelson’s Fight For Your Life. Promptly refused a certificate by the BBFC in 1981 and later banned outright, Endelson’s mean-spirited action flick is still hard to obtain over three decades on. It told the story of an escaped convict and his personal entourage as they relocated to the house of a black minister and his family and made their lives a living hell. Cries of racism rang out and admittedly Jessie Lee Kane was hateful through to his core, but I disagree with this viewpoint, particularly given that their victims fight back in some style. By no means a dreadful film, Fight For Your Life is hardly remarkable either, outside of a couple of shocking scenes and some delightfully black comedy. Alas, the original film negative was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so don’t go expecting a glossy two-disc director’s cut anytime soon.

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It may surprise you to learn that A Nightmare on Elm Street is considered by many as an exploitation movie and, while I disagree, I feel light something a tad lighter after all this talk of molestation, prejudice, and Nazi war crime. Again Craven took great pleasure from showcasing the anguish of a female protagonist but this time in the leafy suburbs he has revisited countless times since. The scene was quite possibly his crowning moment as thuggish lover Rod watched on helplessly while his beloved Tina was dragged up the bedroom wall and along the ceiling, by an imperceptible Fred Krueger while kicking and screaming the whole time. After being taken from pillar to post, she plopped lifelessly into a bed of fresh crimson like a discarded tampon soaked through to capacity. Krueger may well have ended up something of a laughing-stock but he sure started with a splash.

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Zombie Flesh Eaters is considered a true exploitation masterpiece and, any excuse to make mention of Lucio Fulci’s magnum opus, I’ll take willingly. Of course, there is only one scene to adorn this article and it has to be that glorious eye splinter, although there are many other fine instances of expert grue.Nothing makes me wretch more than a good old-fashioned optical dissection and, over the years, I’ve been treated to numerous instances of peeper pillaging, with standouts being another Fulci film The New York Ripper, Bigas Luna’s superior Anguish, and Toshiharu Ikeda’s ludicrously entertaining oddity Evil Dead Trap. The sight of Paola being painfully slowly pulled toward that broken piece of lumber will forever fill me with the most gruesome glee. The agonizing build up, initial incision, subsequent puncture and ultimate eye split still makes me wince…and there’s nothing more enticing to Keeper than a good wince at the end of a long day’s grind.

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Lamberto Bava’s 1980 first full-length feature, Macabre, showed glimpses of his great father’s eye for the grotesque and very much lived up to its name. The peculiarly alluring Bernice Stegers played Jane, a middle-aged woman suffering from deep-rooted trauma following the death of her duplicitous other in a road accident. Jane clearly had mixed feelings about her loss and wasn’t ready to cut the ties just yet so decided the best course of action was to continue their affair and see where it led. Unfortunately, she only managed to hang onto one part of her adulterous lover, that being his disembodied head, which she stored in her refrigerator. If Bava’s film skirted with the taboo of necrophilia, then the next film downright shattered it.

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Nekromantik and its equally repulsive sequel went one step beyond exploitative dealing with the same topic without a solitary dash of restraint. It dumbfounds me how this even got made in the eighties as it dealt so openly with such a prohibited topic but, nearly thirty years on, it still upholds the same notoriety as it took the sickness to a whole new level. Where the fuck do I possibly begin? If Macabre was a bout of common influenza then Jörg Buttgereit’s double bill would class as full-blown leprosy.

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In the second film Monika missed her deceased ex so much that she decided to remove her new lover Mark’s head (not before tying up his Johnson mind) and placed his decomposed bonce on Mark’s still twitching cadaver and carried on with coitus. Words fail me when it comes to the Nekromantik films. To think they were made nearly three decades back shows just how far ahead of the pack Buttgereit actually was. Needless to say, enjoyment was limited but then if you hankered after some light-hearted shenanigans you would surely watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure instead.

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Abel Ferrara’s 1979 film, The Driller Killer, was one of the more infamous video nasties doing the rounds in the early eighties and I find it ludicrous that this dour affair warranted special attention. It focused on Reno, a struggling artist being steadily driven way beyond the brink of sanity as he found it increasingly troublesome grabbing a little quiet time to work on his art. Add a growing pile of unpaid bills and a punk rock band whose incessant rehearsals threatened to take even my hinges off their bearings and you had yourself a driller killer. Armed with his cordless power drill, Reno took the streets searching for vagrants to perforate and worked through his frustrations. As a portrait of declining mental health, it worked rather well. As a popcorn movie, however, less well.

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Maybe someone should have introduced Reno Miller to Frank Zito as I’m assured the two would have become thick as thieves. Zito’s wheels were even more precariously close to falling off the wagon and, where Reno still endeavored to interact with real people, Frank was more than content with his extensive collection of mannequins. William Lustig’s Maniac is the better film, in my opinion, and the late Joe Spinell’s turn as the psychopath in question was so authentic that you could practically smell his body odor. While The Driller Killer was caught up in the whole video nasty debacle, Maniac was never officially named and shamed, although police did seize copies whenever it reared its butt ugly head.

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There were numerous other movies surfacing around the time which dealt with mental health in rapid decline and Romano Scavolini’s Nightmares in A Damaged Brain and Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock were both worthy of mention. Joseph Ellison’s Don’t Go In The House was perhaps the most interesting as Quentin Tarantino has publicly listed it as one of his all-time favorite exploitation flicks, gifting it a fresh following in the process. In truth, it’s nothing to write home about although Donald Kohler is a far more agreeable protagonist than the Millers and Zitos of this world and, dare I say it, you kind of want it all to work out for him.

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Sure, he strips women naked, shackles them in his basement, and torches them with his flamethrower from time to time, but we can’t be too hard on him after having to endure his mother’s constant mental torture throughout his entire childhood.

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John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was the last of the breed to emerge and certainly the most accomplished and critically revered. Henry and pal Otis’ tomfoolery earned the film a certain level of infamy with one lingering shot of a female victim with a broken bottle forced in her gaping mouth provoking a less than favorable reaction and consequently being removed from the VHS cut when it was finally passed for classification. Another scene featuring the slaughter of an entire family also stoked the censor’s fires. Despite this, Michael Rooker’s committed portrayal of Henry Lee Lucas was praised unanimously and the film has gained a sizable following over the years.

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Man, I feel grimy right now. I could continue but, considering my own mental health is slipping fast, I think it’s time to wrap things up. None of the above, with the exception of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hostel Part II, are what I would call movies to make love to unless you’re a necrophiliac, in which case, knock yourselves out. As for me, I was always more of The Burning and Tenebrae kind of fellow when looking to scour the dark recesses and still haven’t plucked up the courage to view Srđan Spasojević’s A Serbian Film despite being vaguely curious. To give you an idea, after watching The Last House on The Left for the first time, I followed up with Serendipity, just to cleanse my pores some. Please never repeat that nugget of shame to a living soul. I just hate being exploited.

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Click here to read F is for Firearm

 

Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Director’s Cut 2015)

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VIXEN: A Tribute to Russ Meyer

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Fuck it, I’m done with all this sombre shit. Let’s enjoy some ridiculously oversized titties shall we? It just so happens that sexploitation is a valid sub-genre to explore and the late Russ Meyer proved himself the sugar daddy on many an occasion. Films such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Super Vixens, Beneath The Valley of The Ultra-Vixens, and Up!, formed a large part of my sexual revolution and his unique style of filmmaking and deliciously indulgent monologues have still never been bettered. If you’ve never had the pleasure, then allow the following gallery to enlighten you some. Russ Meyer = Golden God. It really is that simple.

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