Horror films I said I wouldn’t watch, but did.

Back in September of 2010, I wrote a blog entry entitled The horror films I probably won’t watch, and why in which I listed five films that, solely based on my knowledge of their content, I felt unlikely that I’d opt to view them. The five films were:

  1. Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980).
  2. Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
  3. The August Underground Trilogy (August Underground 2002, Mordum 2003, Penance 2007) created by the Pittsburgh-based film production/special effects/design company Toetag Pictures.
  4. The mondo-style films Faces of Death (1978), and it’s imitators Faces of Gore and Traces of Death.
  5. Irreversible (2002) directed by Gaspar Noé.

The main issue I had with the listed films were the common element of “cruelty for the sake of cruelty” — or, in other words, that the sadistic nature of their content existed only to titillate in the most exploitative manner possible. Of course, since I had not seen these films, I had only their reputation on which to base my decision.

In the six years since I originally wrote that post, curiosity has — perhaps, predictably –gotten the better of me. Of the five films on that list, I’ve watched two (and almost three) of them. Here are my thoughts on each, in the order in which they first appeared:

Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust is, without doubt, a nasty film. Every frame of film looks smeared in blood, grime and sweat, probably because it actually was. The animal deaths are brutal and very real, and the actors endured a great deal of hardship while filming in the Amazon. The film is so notorious for the animal deaths, in fact, that I felt little shock when they finally happened as I’d read a great deal about them already. I was not prepared, however, for the casual manner in which violent rape was thrown on the screen. Now, if you’ve watched any number of 70’s Italian exploitation films, you’ll already be aware that rape is depicted with a great deal of frequency. Cannibal Holocaust is no different in that regard, but it’s much more violent here. Then again, this is a brutally violent world that Deodato is creating for us, and he does this quite effectively. The first half of the film, with the rescue team heading into the Amazon to locate the missing filmmakers, is frankly a bit boring. Things improve considerably in the second half, with the executives in New York viewing the footage recovered by the rescue team. This is where the whole “found footage” conceit kicks in, and is without question the greatest contribution Cannibal Holocaust has made to the horror genre. We’d probably not have The Blair Witch Project without the shaky, hand-held camera and POV-style of this earlier film.

The gore is spectacular and reasonably well executed, with the iconic impalement scene standing out as an impressive achievement in practical special effects. Sure, all the blood looks like red paint but, hey, it’s 1979-80. By the end of the film-within-a-film, you’re basically cheering on the natives to take their bloody vengeance on the monstrous Euro-American filmmakers — and boy, do they ever. If you consider yourself more than a casual horror film fan, then you owe it to yourself to watch Cannibal Holocaust at least once. Of the Italian cannibal films, it’s probably the best (though I haven’t seen all of them).

Incidentally, Eli Roth’s 2013 offering The Green Inferno is basically a mash-up of this film with Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox (itself a complete retelling of the basic plot in Deodato’s film). Roth’s rehash pales in comparison to the brutality of the earlier films, partly owing to the fact that one simply couldn’t make those films nowadays (laws protecting animal rights in films were passed after the making of Cannibal Holocaust). The only change Roth makes to his film which I felt worked was the repositioning of the native tribe from “peaceful victims pushed to violence” to very purposeful and sadistic predators. The cheerfully privileged college student-activists in The Green Inferno die out of sheer First World naïveté which — aside from a problematic view of non-white “primitives” as the menacing Other — is an interesting re-contextualization of the traditional cannibal film narrative. 

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Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

 

I tried to watch Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, I really did. I only made it about 45-minutes into the film before I switched it off. Sure, the cinematography was fabulous and the acting seemed very competent … but, it was so fucking boring. Judging from the first 45-minutes only, it appeared that the sadistic fascists planned to bore their adolescent victims to death with all their incessant talking, talking, talking. One has to suppose that all the infamous rape, torture and shit-eating occurs much later in the film. Perhaps several cups of coffee are required to view this lengthy piece of arthouse-smut. I may follow-up with a films I said I wouldn’t watch because they were so boring, but I persevered anyway post at a future date.

I haven’t watched any of the August Underground Trilogy yet, and I’m still on the fence about them. I may give-in to my curiosity late one night, when I’m feeling up to the challenge of a film that features a headless, maggoty toddler corpse. These films are not available (nor will ever be available) on streaming media like Netflix. One has to dig in the deeper, darker places of the Internet to unearth these atrocities.

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One version of artwork for the “Faces of Death” VHS case.

I have, however, watched the infamous Faces of Death (1978), and found the film completely hilarious. I recall closely studying the VHS case at my local Blockbuster Video when I was a teen in the 80’s, curious about the title but too intimidated to actually rent it. Banned in 46 countries! Depiction of actual death!

Lacking any sense of true narrative, the film is a cobbled-together series of newsreel and documentary footage showing fatal accidents, war photography, human autopsies, and animals being dispatched in slaughterhouses, all loosely connected by the authoritative voiceover of our death-tour guide, the fictitious Dr. Francis B. Gröss. Some of the footage is clearly (and, in some cases, laughably) staged reconstructions of reputedly real events. The segment featuring a group of American tourists supposedly eating monkey brains in some exotic locale is laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

The final film, the Gaspar Noé directed Irreversible (2002), I plan to watch at a future date. It’s such a seminal film within the framework of “New French Extremity” that I feel I should, though I seldom feel like settling-in to witness Monica Bellucci get violently raped for several, protracted minutes. Blech. Still, the time-reversal conceit seems like an interesting one.

Anyway, happy Halloween horror-viewing!

Lady Lazarus’s 2013 in review!

Was Jayne Mansfield a satanist? That, amongst other burning questions, is what drove the most traffic to my blog over 2013. View all the details in the 2013 annual report for this blog.

[For those of you not familiar with my blog, I don’t typically write on such heady topics as “was Jayne Mansfield a satanist?”. My blog features examples of my artwork from the past several years, as well as my musings about visual art and horror cinema, with a focus on art and film that evokes the bizarre, macabre and/or uncanny.]

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 47,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Lady Lazarus: 2012 in review.

Wow! This blog Lady Lazarus: dying is an art received exactly 47,512 visits in 2012. That’s pretty impressive for a personal blog fuelled by the writing powers of just one individual. Many thanks to those amongst you who “follow” me and add your comments to my posts. It takes at least two to make a conversation, so keep those comments coming in 2013. This blog is a pure labour of love, and I plan to keep it that way. The drive that keeps me researching and writing about all things dark and macabre is a genuine, unslakable curiosity. I’m just a big nerd that way.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 47,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Nostalgic for Sleaze, part VI: film review for ‘Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.’

Dyanne Thorne and her intimidating assets feature prominently on the film poster for ‘Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS’.

At last, we come to the final of the three exploitation films I planned to discuss for my Nostalgic for Sleaze series of blog posts.  In June, I offered my two-cents worth on Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979), and then earlier this month I discussed Women in Cages (1971). As promised, I reviewed each film in [quote] “descending order from “most enjoyable/least offensive” to “least enjoyable/completely offensive” [end quote]. And thus, we now arrive at that most notorious of naziploitation films Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974).

To begin, I’d like to get a few obvious points out of the way. Any film that hinges its plot — however threadbare this plot might be — on ‘dramatic recreations’ of actual Nazi atrocities is not going to be pleasant viewing. I understand that a subgenre of exploitation cinema exists that’s dedicated to detailed accounts of war atrocities — many of them focused on Japanese WWII war crimes, curiously enough — but I personally find these distasteful as forms of entertainment. Oh sure, Ilsa offers up topless Aryan babes in highly fetishized Nazi uniforms whose bodies glisten with sweat as they flog prisoners to death, but…Sweet Jesus, they just flogged those prisoners to death. And then hung them upside down, naked and bloodied, for the rest of the camp to admire. Sexualized violence reaches its most vile and maladjusted apex in this nasty piece of exploitation cinema. Even though Ilsa was filmed on the former set of Hogan’s Heroes, this definitely isn’t a fun film.

Quick Synopsis: A female Nazi Stalag Commandant performs gruesome ‘medical experiments’ on her female prisoners in an effort to demonstrate that women can endure more physical pain than men, and should therefore be allowed into combat. When she’s not torturing women, Ilsa amuses herself by forcing various male prisoners to satisfy her carnal urges. When these men disappoint her — as they invariably do since, in addition to being a sadist, she’s also an insatiable nymphomaniac — she has them castrated. Ilsa becomes flummoxed when she encounters Anna, a prisoner who seems capable of withstanding an enormous amount of pain. She also discovers a male prisoner — with the über-masculine name Wolfe — who possesses impressive porn-star talents that just may help him keep his, um, manhood.

Ilsa and her blonde henchwomen.

Though it would be impossible to deny the excessive sleaziness of this film, there are a few elements that make it almost watchable. The scenes between Wolfe and Ilsa are hilarious, as the ordinarily domineering Commandant coos and swoons like a schoolgirl before his cocksure male swagger. Are we to understand that Ilsa is a misunderstood sadist-Nazi who’s simply looking for the right fella to fawn over? The other amusing element is one of Ilsa’s implements of torture, which is an electrified dildo. While that does sound rather nasty, the image of Dyanne Thorne waggling this menacing black dildo under the nose of her victims is thoroughly giggle-inducing.

But then, there’s the rest of the film. Fans of this cult favourite argue that the gore and torture is so over-the-top that it’s cartoonish and silly. While I can agree with this to a point, I simply cannot defend the film’s continual coupling of naked titillation with extreme violence. Here’s a quick sampling of some of the unpleasant ways you could meet your end if you’re a woman in Ilsa’s prison camp:

1. Being flogged to death by topless Nazis.

2. Having your innards spew outwards inside a pressure chamber. Oh, and we get a good look at your tits while you’re spewing.

3. Being boiled alive till you’re red as a lobster.

4. Having some highly dubious gynaecological surgery performed on you, without anesthesia.

Admittedly, the many moments of high camp and pure, B-movie excess in Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS make it more ridiculous than truly sinister. That said, I still felt like having a shower after watching it. Yuck.

Can’t recommend it, but hey, it’s your party. Watch at your own risk.

Nostalgic for Sleaze, part V: film review for ‘Women in Cages’.

In August 2007, Grindhouse director Quentin Tarantino said of the film [Women in Cages], “I’m a huge, huge fan of Gerry de Leon…. [the film] is just harsh, harsh, harsh,” he said, and described the final shot as one of “devastating despair.” — from Wikipedia.

The unfortunate inmates of ‘Women in Cages’ (1971).

If you’ve ever viewed the trailer for the Roger Corman-coproduced Women-In-Prison (often abbreviated to WIP) film Women in Cages (1971) and heard the voiceover intone its famous tagline “white skin on the black market”, then you just know that what you’re about to encounter is a gloriously sleazy gem of 1970’s exploitation cinema. In this regard, Women in Cages doesn’t disappoint. Replete with the usual sex and sadism typical of this exploitation subgenre, this film also boasts Pam Grier as a cruel prison warden named Alabama who’s brimming with more racial hatred against ‘whitey’ than an entire Black Panther convention. While her anger may be somewhat justified, given the revelation of her abusive past, her constant and relentless viciousness makes Grier much less enjoyable to watch here than in her signature roles in the blaxploitation classics Coffy and Foxy Brown. That said, Grier still chews up the scenery and is easily the best thing about this picture. The weakest performance regrettably comes from the lead actress Jennifer Gan, who doesn’t even have the B-movie courtesy to become naked in lieu of being able to act. What I like about Women in Cages is the fact that it’s less about titillation and more about the sweaty grime of a Filipino jungle prison. Whereas Images in a Convent was essentially a soft-focus, nun-themed porno with good lighting and a melodramatic musical score, this film is pure B-movie sleaze with zero pretensions.

Quick Synopsis: A naïve American woman learns the hard way that her Filipino gangster boyfriend isn’t actually a nice guy when he sets her up as a drug mule. Thrown into an exceptionally harsh prison in the Philippines, she endures hardship at the hands of the sadistic warden Alabama, who alternately seduces and tortures her inmates. She plots her escape, all while her boyfriend enlists some ‘inside help’ to have her dispatched before she can implicate him as a drug lord.

Production: In contrast D’Amato’s Images in a Convent, the film quality here is very low. Like many of the exploitation films shot on location in the Philippines, this was done cheaply and with no attention to things such as, oh, camera work and lighting.

A visit to Alabama’s torture chamber can potentially singe that abundant 70’s bush in “Women in Cages.” Ouch.

Sin Factor: The prerequisite nude shower scenes and inferences of lesbian sex, though much less explicit than Images in a Convent. Drugs, several catfights, an oceangoing brothel and a roving gang of male bounty hunters/rapists. The most disturbing element is Alabama’s personal torture chamber, in which uppity inmates get whipped, burned, and electrocuted. On the whole, nastier and more violent than Images in a Convent, even when you factor in the troublesome rape scene of the nunploitation film. I’d still recommend this film, but understand what you’re getting into.

Nostalgic for sleaze, part IV: film review for ‘Images in a Convent.’

Back in March 2012, I began a series of blog posts entitled Nostaglic for Sleaze, in which I pondered over the sexualized violence present in certain subgenres of exploitation cinema. These posts made reference to three specific films — Images in a Convent (1979), Women in Cages (1971), and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) — each an example of the exploitation subgenre nunsploitation, WIP (Women in Prison) films, and naziploitation, respectively. I will now offer, for your reading pleasure, my review of each of these films in descending order from “most enjoyable/least offensive” to “least enjoyable/completely offensive.” SPOILER ALERT: while these films are over 30 years old, I’m willing to bet that many of you haven’t seen any or all of these films. Be warned that, in order to adequately discuss them, I have to reveal plot, etc. — insomuch as there is plot in these films.

Nuns behaving badly in Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979).

1. Nunsploitation developed and thrived in countries such as Spain and Italy where deeply-entrenched Catholicism presided over strict moral codes that controlled sexual behaviour. The revolutionary spirit of the 1960’s lingered in the cinema of the decade that followed, and Spanish and Italian filmmakers of the 1970’s collectively thumbed their nose at the repressive regime of the Catholic Church. While Jess (Jesus) Franco is perhaps the best known filmmaker working within this subgenre, my favourite amongst the nunsploitation catalog is Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979). D’Amato’s late entry into the “naughty nun” pantheon has all the requisite elements of the subgenre — nudity, heterosexual couplings, lesbianism, and floggings — all propelled forward by the presence of a demonic being that forces the Sisters to contravene their vows of chastity. A mysterious, wounded man discovered on the convent grounds is brought inside for medical treatment, and then the sexy hijinks ensue. It’s all good, naughty, and surprisingly hardcore fun for the time period  — and then, BAM! — out of nowhere comes a brutal and completely offensive rape scene that kills the naughty-fun buzz. Many fans of this film have advised skipping over this scene in subsequent viewings, and I would recommend the same. While certainly not the most horrific rape scene I’ve ever viewed in a film (though they all are, really), it simply doesn’t belong in this otherwise sexy-campy-romp film. The film concludes with an all-out, no-holds, pulling-out-all-the-stops climactic frenzy (pun intended), in which a convent of writhing nuns mount a formidable resistance against a priest performing an exorcism in an effort to banish the evil, carnal forces.

Production: One of the advantages that European exploitation filmmakers possessed over their North American compatriots was access to beautiful historic locations. This film appears to have been shot within an actual convent, though the precise location in Italy is not given (though the Cardinal who visits at the beginning of the film reveals that he’s journeying to Milan, so one assumes that the convent is located not too far from there). The images are all soft-focus, and the camera work reasonably accomplished for a B-movie.

Sin factor: Let’s not be coy here. This is, for all intents and purposes, a pornographic film with costumes and production value. Unlike other ‘sexploitation’ films of the era, Images in a Convent includes both female and male frontal nudity — the latter particularly uncommon — and explicit sex, including penetration. That being said, the graphic sexuality is much tamer than material you’d see in contemporary pornography. There are two notably violent scenes: the repellent rape scene, and a flogging scene. Other films of this ilk, however, such as the Japanese  School of the Holy Beast, are considerably more violent.

Recommended, with slight reservation. Rated UR/NC-17. Incidentally, I’ve discovered a link to the entire film here — NSFW, obviously.

Next review, Women in Cages (1971).

Nostalgic for sleaze, part III: more grisly than ever in Blood Color!

Print advertisement for Herschell Gordon Lewis’s splatter-gore classic, “Blood Feast.” (1963).

Sex sells. So, evidently, does violence. When the two are paired together and offered up as a form of “extreme” entertainment, the results can be problematic. Throughout the horror genre, as well as within exploitation cinema, the naked bodies of young women are displayed, initially to arouse, and then to be victimized by violence. But why? Granted, there is a small segment of any population that are sexual sadists, and by which I mean truly pathological individuals and not your garden-variety, suburban married couple who dabble in spanking and other types of weekend sadomasochism. But this type of individual is not the norm, and is certainly not indicative of the fan base for horror & exploitation cinema. Most horror geeks — and I include myself in this grouping — are people who have a taste for that which is not typically found in mainstream, non-genre entertainment: the shocking, the trashy, the absurd and the downright nasty. These are also the mainstays of that close relative to horror, the exploitation film. Exploitation films of the 1970’s competed with each other over an ever-shrinking audience at drive-ins and grindhouse theatres, and this competition resulted in a kind of oneupmanship in terms of sex, violence and gore. Advertisements tantalized by promising the most shocking, the most sickening, and the most racy content available at a cinema.

The average consumer of horror and exploitation films in the 1970’s was young and male. The majority of men like to view attractive women in states of undress, and if they are horror/exploitation fans, they also have a taste for gore and violence. Hence, sexualized violence towards women — like the naked torture victims in nunsploitation, naziploitation, and WIP (Women in Prison) films —  became an accepted, and even expected, feature in these films. I rather suspect, though, that the male audience that flocked to see Pam Grier play a sadistic lesbian prison warden in Women in Cages were more interested in the physical attributes of Grier and her onscreen cohorts than the plights of the prison inmates.

However, this “boys will be boys” explanation doesn’t let either the filmmakers, the producers, nor it’s audience off the hook that easily. One can’t help but draw a parallel between the social changes propelled forward by Second Wave Feminism of the late-1960’s and 1970’s and the corresponding cinematic “backlash” against women in exploitation films. The same could be argued for the equally controversial blaxploitation film for its reinforcing of negative racial stereotypes at a time in history when the civil rights movement had advanced equality for African-Americans. Do I think there was some organized conspiracy against gender equality amongst B-movie filmmakers? No, of course not. The Roger Cormans of the world cared about bums-in-seats in movie theatres, not sociopolitical agendas. One thing that exploitation cinema has certainly never promised to be is politically-correct or enlightened — in fact, the inverse is often true. However, there is an undeniably strong anti-feminist ethic to many of the aforementioned films, best characterized as a “who the hell does she think she is? Let’s teach her a lesson” response to the burgeoning political power of women in the 1970’s.

“Tokyo Gore Police” stars Eihi Shiina as a member of Tokyo Police who exterminates creepy mutants, ninja-style.

You might now be asking yourself the question: why does Lady Lazarus, a woman and professed feminist, enjoy watching exploitation films? Well, apart from enjoying the trashy, campy fun of it all, it is only in the speculative fiction of horror, science fiction & fantasy that women can truly stand in equal footing with men — and by “equal footing”, I mean in terms of physical strength and prowess. Female characters can be imbued with superhuman strength, have magical powers, be kick-ass ninjas or fight off the zombie hordes. For every repellently misogynistic film like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974), you have the blood-drenched, splatter-gore lunacy of Tokyo Gore Police (2008), a contemporary Japanese horror-exploitation film with a sword-wielding female protagonist. While this film is replete with very disturbing and sexually-charged body horror imagery — most notable being a headless ‘human chair‘ — I did not sense the same level of sadism targeted specifically at women as I did in the Ilsa film. Everyone in Tokyo Gore Police — men, women, chairs — gets the slice ‘n’ dice treatment.

Take that, Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Nostalgic for sleaze, part II: Nazis, nuns, and wicked prison wardens.

In my previous blog post, I waxed nostalgic over the print advertisements for grindhouse theatres that appeared in the newspapers back in the 1970’s, the heyday of exploitation cinema. I felt the need to establish my long-term relationship with these films, in order to provide context for the discussion that follows. As you’ll soon read, the relationship I have with exploitation cinema is a conflicted one. It’s highly reminiscent of those teenage Bad Boys I yearned for in high school: appealing in their dangerous good-looks and rule-breaking nonconformity, but essentially all abusive jerks. Simply put, exploitation cinema isn’t always kind in its treatment of women.

But before we delve too much further, let’s trot out the standard definition of ‘exploitation film‘ as offered up by Wikipedia:

Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by “exploiting” often lurid subject matter. The term exploitation is common in film marketing, used for all types of films to mean promotion or advertising. These films then need something to exploit, such as a big star, special effects, sex, violence, romance, etc. […] The audiences of art and exploitation film are both considered to have tastes that reject the mainstream Hollywood offerings. […] Exploitation films may adopt the subject matter and styling of regular film genres, particularly horror films and documentary films, and their themes are sometimes influenced by other so-called exploitative media, such as pulp magazines.

Typically, the exploitation film was a low-budget B-movie, created as cheap, double-feature fodder for drive-in theatres. In order to attract audiences, they promised risqué content not offered by mainstream Hollywood productions. Sex and violence frequently intermingled, and were served up as an intoxicating cocktail of naughtiness. Hence, many of the exploitation subgenres — including the three I’ll examine here — contain copious amounts of nudity and sexualized violence.

As mentioned in my previous post, I shall focus my discussion on three subgenres of exploitation cinema: nunsploitation, WIP (Women in Prison) films, and Naziploitation. Apart from the fact that I typically write about depictions of gender in film, I wanted to address these particular subgenres for the simple reason that they are variations on the exact same narrative. And this narrative runs as follows:

A sadistic lesbian [Mother Superior/prison warden/Nazi Stalag Commandant] oversees the naked torture and general abuse of her attractive female wards. A young ingénue enters the [convent/prison/concentration camp] and must overcome great obstacles. She ultimately escapes, and her tormentor/s receive their final comeuppance.

Now, let’s parse this narrative. The variable same-sex settings — convent, prison or concentration camp (essentially another form of prison) — provide the excuse and opportunity for lesbian sex. This is the same sort of lipstick-lesbian fantasy that frequents pornography produced for heterosexual men. Presumably, the buxom women that populate these films are (mostly) lesbian by circumstance, rather than true sexual preference. This detail maintains the fantasy element for its predominantly male audience, who can enjoy the lesbian spectacle onscreen, while their belief in the inherent heterosexuality of these female characters remains intact.

The same-sex settings also provide opportunity for a second, considerably more sinister element: violence perpetrated on women by other women. Given the context of the various scenarios, this violence takes the form of ritualized or systematic abuse and torture. The cruel prison warden portrayed by Pam Grier in Women in Cages (1971) derives sadistic pleasure from the physical punishment of her female wards. Similarly, the Mother Superior from Joe D’Amato’s Images in a Convent (1979) vents her sexual frustration on one of her nuns through ritualistic flogging. The Nazi Stalag Commandant from Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) tortures her female prisoners with the curiously-misguided goal of proving female superiority over men. Is all this girl-on-girl violence merely the cinematic equivalent of a catfight, or is there something more menacing at play here?

Flogging constitutes a form of foreplay in Joe D’Amato’s raunchy “Images in a Convent” (1979).

One possible theory I have is that girl-on-girl violence seems less sinister and realistic than violence perpetrated on women by men, and thus more palatable to an audience in the context of an exploitation film. It can argued that the poorly-written scripts, implausible scenarios and less-than-stellar acting commonly found in these films tends to undercut any convincing menace in a torture scene. When you also factor in the high camp of a Nazi Commandant whose ample bosom threatens to burst out from her fetishistic SS uniform — well, it all seems more absurd than truly sinister.

But none of this answers the question “why is sex and violence so often paired together in these films?” I’ll attempt to tackle this big question in my next blog post.

Nostalgic for sleaze, part I: sex, violence and newspaper movie listings.

“Who has not a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not?”
– Edgar Allan Poe.

The impossibly busty Chesty Morgan was a grindhouse fixture in the 1970s.

I may be dating myself here, but I am a child of the 1970’s. One of my favourite childhood activities involved sprawling across the living room floor with the newspaper, closely studying the movie listings in the Entertainment section. Why, do you ask, was a young child so thoroughly fascinated by the listings in the movie section? Simple. The latter two pages of the movie section were customarily reserved for advertisements for the drive-in theatres and the smaller, single-screen (and second-tier) movie houses, typically referred to as the grindhouse theatres. And these theatres promised that which you could not readily access anywhere else: the sleazy, the pornographic, the violent, the gory, and the shocking. In short, the lurid subject matter of the exploitation film. The hardworking Ontario Censor Board had effectively shielded my innocent eyes from viewing such troubling content on TV and in the movie theatres, but their efforts did not prevent me from finding it elsewhere. In fact, as the above quote from Edgar Allan Poe suggests, it was precisely due to the forbidden nature of this content that I felt compelled to seek it out. And so, my preadolescent self scrutinized those back pages of the movie section, trying to imagine — unsuccessfully, no doubt — just how “the vampires do it”, or marveling at the intimidating assets of Chesty Morgan. After all, it was the latter part of the 1970’s and the heyday of schlock and exploitation cinema.

A movie print advertisement for “4 orgies of evil”, as it would’ve appeared in the newspaper.

Now, for the benefit of my younger readers, allow me to place these grindhouse movie listings in the proper context. These listings served as my only window onto a dark, seedy and alternate world, one that ran parallel to the family-friendly bright lights of the local cineplex. While I was far too young to view these films, simply the knowledge of their existence thrilled me. This was the era that predated the proliferation of videotape, and was several years before the DVD or, yes kids, even the Internet. If, for instance, you wanted to view what a human being might look like after being turned inside out, you’d have to trek from the cozy comfort of your suburban home into the inner city and plunk your money down at the kiosk of a grimy grindhouse theatre. In stark contrast, in this digital age of the 21st-century, you would simply Google “horror movie in which people are turned inside out,” and discover that Roger Corman’s Screamers is the cinematic gem you seek, then set about finding a copy online*.

This preamble about nostalgia and 1970’s movie listings is my long-winded way of introducing a new series of blog posts on the exploitation film. As the topics I tend to fixate on typically involve gender, sex and violence, I plan to focus my discussion on exploitation films that most clearly address these subjects: nunsploitation, WIP (Women in Prison) films, and naziploitation.

Next up, flogging as a form of foreplay in the nunsploitation film.

*Here’s some fun facts about Corman’s Screamers, a re-released US version of Sergio Martino’s The Island of the Fishmen (1979)