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Exploitation film

A word of thanks to three books and their authors: Cult Movie Stars (1991), Incredibly Strange Films (1986) and Immoral Tales (1994).

They can keep their Bressons and their Cocteaus. The cinematic, modern marvelous is popular, and the best and most exciting films are, beginning with Méliès and Fantômas, the films shown in local fleapits, films which seem to have no place in the history of cinema. --Adonis Kyrou (1923 - 1985)

Classical exploitation films were disreputable when they were originally released, and the mainstream industry went to great lengths to stamp them out. Histories of the motion picture medium passed them by. Their current position is as part of the “bad film” cult. --"Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959 (1999) - Eric Schaefer, page 9

Often, of course, the films fail to live up to the expectations of the audience and the lurid promise of the trailers and garish posters that seduced them into the cinemas. But then, as memories of the actual film fade and its lingering images merge in the filmgoers' minds with other films and with their initial expectations, they recreate a new film in their imagination--far closer to the ideal of their unrealized expectations. --Tohill and Tombs in Immoral Tales

"I beg you, learn to see `bad' films; they are sometimes sublime". -- Ado Kyrou, Le Surrealisme au cinema, 276.

Preceded by: pulp fiction

Parent category: exploitation - film - paracinema

By era: early exploitation film

By region: American exploitation - British exploitation - European exploitation - French exploitation - German exploitation - Italian exploitation - Japanese exploitation

Titles: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - Ilsa series (1970s) -

Subgenres: blaxploitation - cannibal film - erotic horror - giallo films - gothic horror - mondo films - Nazi exploitation - nunsploitation - rape/revenge films - sex hygiene films - sexploitation - snuff film - video nasty - women in prison films

Related: B-movie - comics - cult films - gore - grindhouse theatres - horror film - nudie film (genre) - nudity in film - pornographic film - shock - slasher - transgressive films - trash - Troma - violent films

Connoisseurs: Mark Betz - Keith Brown - Jean-Pierre Bouyxou - Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford - Harvey Fenton - Andrea Juno - David Kerekes - Ado Kyrou - Craig Ledbetter - Tony Nourmand - Eddie Muller - Jack Sargeant - Jack Stevenson - Jack Hunter - the editors at Midi-Minuit Fantastique - Steven Puchalski - Eric Schaefer - Dan Taylor - Nathaniel Thompson - Stephen Thrower - Pete Tombs - V. Vale - Michael Weldon - Bret Wood -

Academic Connoisseurs: Mikita Brottman - Barbara Creed - Carol Clover - Joan Hawkins - Mark Jancovich - Xavier Mendik - Steven Jay Schneider - Donato Totaro - Linda Williams

Typical marquee for exploitation films at North side of 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, September 1942.


Exploitation cinema is the cinematic equivalent of exploitation fiction. Exploitation films have three main themes: sex, drugs and violence. Erotic horror is a subgenre of exploitation/horror.

These movies - from 1930s cautionary tales about venereal diseases to 1970s porno chic — were shown in so-called grindhouse theaters, until their death-by-video in the 1980s.

In recent years, these films have enjoyed quite some attention from primarily English-speaking academic circles, where the genre is called paracinema. [Nov 2005]


Exploitation is the name given to genre of films, extant since the earliest days of moviemaking, but popularized in the 1970s. Exploitation films typically sacrifice traditional notions of artistic merit for the sensational display of some topic about which the audience may be curious, or have some prurient interest. Thematically, exploitation films are influenced by other so-called exploitative media like pulp magazines. Evidence of exploitation films' influence on contemporary cinema is mirrored in films such as Kill Bill by director Quentin Tarantino, who is a declared lover of exploitation cinema. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_film [Aug 2005]

Problem of definition

A Brief History And Definition Of Exploitation Film
[A] lot of people have very different definitions of what constitutes an exploitation film and over the years there has been much debate on the subject. For some any film that is slightly out of the ordinary, or any film that deals with subjects rarely found in the mainstream would be considered exploitation. Others use the word to describe films that contain “an obvious cheap thrill, be it sex and nudity, violence or some other real life aberration – physical or sexual.” [2] Other’s still, such as Eric Schaefer, in his book “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!” only count those films made up to around 1959 as being true exploitation and classes those made after as “Hollywood B-Movies and low budget genre pictures” [3] . But exploitation films are no different from other, usually bigger budget films, as all have to appeal “to some desire or fear that the audience may have” [4] otherwise how could anyone sell them to an audience? Roger Corman, director and producer of over four hundred films, also comments on exploitation and big budget films saying, “ “Exploitation”, films were so named because you made a film with about something wild with a great deal of action, a little sex, and possibly some sort of strange gimmick; they often came out of the day’s headlines. It’s interesting how, decades later, when the majors saw they could have enormous commercial success with big-budget exploitation films, they gave them loftier terms – “genre” films or “high concept” films”. [5] --Matt Richardson http://www.troma.com/fansart/term/dissertation.htm [Nov 2005]

[2] The Incredibly Strange Film Book: An Alternative History Of Cinema, Jonathan Ross, London: Simon and Schuster Ltd, 1993
[3] Bold, Daring, Shocking, True: A History Of Exploitation Films, 1919 – 1959, Eric Schaefer, Durham And London: Duke University Press, 1999
[4] Down And Dirty: Hollywood’s Exploitation Filmmakers And Their Movies, Mike Quarles, London: McFarland, 1993
[5] How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime, Roger Corman with Jim Jerome, 1990, New York: Random House

"Bold! Daring! Shocking! True: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959 (1999) - Eric Schaefer

(1999) - Eric Schaefer [FR] [DE] [UK]

Eric Schaefer's readable history of exploitation movies begins with a description of what the genre ain't--the rabid "nudie pics" of Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill!) and the drecky, knowing arthouse flicks made by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey (Andy Warhol's Dracula). Though these camp movies are sometimes labeled "exploitation," they do not exactly fit Schaefer's definition. For him, exploitation is the brand of movie that puts nudity and antisocial behavior up on the screen in the name of civic-mindedness and healthy social conscience--and with a wink. Between 1919 and 1959, sexual hygiene and antidrug movies with kicky, lascivious titles such as No Greater Sin (1939), Call Girls (1959), Nudist Land (1937), and Paroled from the Big House (1938) traveled through the country outside regular theater chains, advertising themselves as "shocking" yet educational. The posters didn't slouch either. No Greater Sin promised viewers, "You'll gasp, you'll wince, you'll shudder... so powerful, many will faint!" Schaefer argues that studying the films tells us cartloads about the way Puritanical America grappled with complex issues like premarital sex, drugs, infidelity, and alternative lifestyles. And he may be right: by 1959, audiences had begun turning to European films like And God Created Woman, films that treated exploitation movie subjects legitimately. The story of a lost culture, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! is finally an archaeology of the immediate past that throws our present incoherence about sex, public-mindedness, virtue, and immediate gratification into high and sometimes hilarious relief. With priceless historical black-and-white photographs. --Lyall Bush, Amazon.com

Exploitation film posters

Sex, drugs, violence - and exploitation. A collection of 300 lurid film posters that exploit the seamy side of life while pretending to deplore it will be auctioned at Christie's South Kensington in London on 8 December. A book illustrating the collection, to be published on 15 October, will help make exploitation film posters as collectable as established film poster genres such as horror and science fiction. The auction is expected to total more than £200,000. Exploitation film poster art spans more than 90 years and is one of the quirkier products of Western culture, full of doubles takes, double standards - and downright hypocrisy. The eye-catching artwork and clever text not only exploit, in a titillating way, genuine social problems such as prostitution or teenage violence, but also exploit the sensitivities of sensation-hungry filmgoers seeking an excuse to see nudity or bloodshed.

Quintessential example: a poster for Dwain Esper's 1938 film Human Wreckage, showing a recumbent, scantily clad young woman, with the straplines 'A timely warning to parents of today', 'Sex ignorance', 'It shows and tells all' and 'Adults only!'. It is estimated £600-£900 in the sale.

Judging by the illustrations in the book, co-authored by the collection's vendor, Tony Nourmand, co-founder of The Reel Poster Gallery in London, exploitation is a psychological ploy deeply ingrained in film poster art as a whole, even today. After all, how many films live up to their posters?

The book - the first to pick out and examine the exploitation theme in film poster art - is a dipstick into past generations' fears and prejudices, real and imagined, that were exploited by the film industry: the myth and menace of immigration and miscegenation (in the United States), vice-ridden cities, white slavery, unmarried motherhood, sexually transmitted disease, marijuana, teenage delinquency, beatniks, nudism, wanton women, rape by gorillas ... --http://observer.guardian.co.uk/cash/story/0,6903,1567009,00.html [Nov 2005]

Subcategories of exploitation films

--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_film [Oct 2004]

Immoral Tales: Sex And Horror Cinema In Europe 1956-1984 (1994) - Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs

Immoral Tales: Sex And Horror Cinema In Europe 1956-1984 (1994) - Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Originally self-published by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs through Primitive Press in 1994, this new Titan edition is roughly A4 size and again offers a rare opportunity to investigate the clandestine world of European sex and horror films - but not, I suspect, in your local mainstream bookshop. There are just too many photos and illustrations likely to cause 'offence' or moral panic in the mind of the general browsing bookworm. Yes, this is controversial subject matter, but the authors write level-headedly, adopting a thoughtful combination of historical, biographical, technical and synoptic approaches. Early chapters rightly suggest the primary influence of 18th/19th century Gothic literature, Byron, Swinburne (incidentally, some of his pseudonymous lewd stories are now available) and, of course, de Sade. Seminal European silent directors like Feuillade and the German expressionists Weine, Lang and Murnau are also cited; Franju's Eyes Without A Face (1959) is regarded as the beginning of the later European erotic-horror genre here known as the fantastique where "the pictorial, the excessive and the irrational are privileged factors the repressed takes centre stage." Chapters outlining the growth, censorship and ultimate ghettoisation of the fantastique as it speedily splinters into crass profit-seeking S&M and hardcore porn in the Italian, German, French and Spanish film industries, are well researched. The bulk of the book is then profiles of key directors: Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, José Larraz, José Bénazéraf, Walerian Borowczyk and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

The central problem with Immoral Tales lies in its authorial tone. Level-headed and unsensationalist yes, but outrageous sadism and misogyny (e.g. lesbians = satanic possession) which appear to have been defining characteristics of the fantastique, are either forgiven or side-stepped when 'artistic merit' is perceived in a film's pictorial composition or idiosyncratic editing style. Complex images and ideas are described not discussed. Sadly, the authors appear unwilling to take on any of the contentious moral issues around 'erotica', 'pornography' and 'sadomasochism' and their relationship to 'cinematic art', that are all inextricably linked to the films of the fantastique. It's not surprising that few are seen outside specialist film clubs (like London's NFT which ran a mini-season in January 1994 to promote the original publication of Immoral Tales; Redemption is the principal video outlet in the UK for this material) and even then often in mutilated versions. The book's lack of moral discussion is possibly a concession to the cult horror movie fan who may well be the prime consumer target, and who is not normally known for his discursive capabilities; if so, then it's rather disappointing given the laudable attention to detail that exists elsewhere in the text. Still, Tohill and Tombs have done a superb job in bringing to light the work of some extraordinary, yet neglected film-makers: the next step is to fuel the critical debate that should be taking place around their films. (Chris Blackford)

This review was first published in Rubberneck 20, December 1995 http://www.btinternet.com/~rubberneck/immoral.html

Incredibly Strange Films (1986) - V. Vale , Andrea Juno

Incredibly Strange Films (1986) - V. Vale , Andrea Juno [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Re/Search #10: Incredibly Strange Films is a functional guide to important territory neglected by the film-criticism establishment, spotlighting unhailed directors--Herschell Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, Larry Cohen and others--who have been critically consigned to the ghettos of gore and sexploitation films. In-depth interviews focus on philosophy, while anecdotes entertain as well as illuminate theory, Includes biographies, genre overviews, filmographies, bibliography, and A-Z of film...

I Bought this book in Miami in the early nineties, part of a series, by RE/Search. This is still the best movie on this kind of cinema, whether you like to call it cult, exploitation, underground or alternative. It was published in October 1986 and as such it is one of the first books on this subject.

Excerpt from the introduction
The following is an excerpt from the introduction of the RE/Search book entitled Incredibly Strange Movies by V. Vale and Andera Juno.

This is a functional guide to territory largely neglected by the film-criticism establishment--encompassing tens of thousands of films. Most of the films discussed test the limits of contemporary (middle class) cultural acceptability, mainly because in varying ways they don't meet certain "standards" utilized in evaluating direction, acting, dialogue, sets, continuity, technical cinematography, etc. Many of the films are overtly "lower class" or "low brow" in content and art direction. However, a high percentage of these works disdained by the would-be dictators of public opinion are sources of pure enjoyment and delight, despite improbable plots, "bad" acting, or ragged film technique. At issue is the notion of "good taste," which functions as a filter to block out entire areas of experience judged--and damned--as unworthy of investigation.

The concepts of "good taste" are intricately woven into society's control process and class structure. Aesthetics are not an objective body of laws suspended above us like Plato's supreme "Ideas"; they are rooted in the fundamental mechanics of how to control the population and maintain the status quo.

Our sophisticated, "democratic" Western civilization regulates the population's access to information, as well as its innermost attitudes, through media--particularly film and video. The power to literally create desire, fashion, consumer trends, opinions, aspirations and even one's very identity is expressed through film and video. This force--power through persuasion--reaches deep into the backbrain, rendering more brutal, physical control tactics obsolete. Since the '60s, film has ceased being a popular creative medium.

The whole '60s avant-garde filmmaking, from Brakhage to [Bruce] Connor [Conner?], was based on the cheap availability of 16mm film, cameras, etc; many of the films in this book were originally shot in 16mm. After this became too expensive, Super-8 became the medium of choice. Several years ago, the major manufacturers began de-emphasizing professional-quality Super-8 cameras, film stocks, etc, saying, "People don't really want it. Editing is too hard for most people, and everyone's switching to video, anyway." The result: the number of low-budget films being produced has dropped drastically.

The value of low-budget films is: they can be transcendent of expressions of a single person's individual vision and quirky originality. When a corporation decides to invest $20 million in a film, a chain of command regulates each step, and no one person is allowed free rein. Meeting with lawyers, accountants, and corporate boards are what films in Hollywood are all about.

So what makes films like Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Wizard of Gore or Ray Dennis Steckler's The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies worthwhile? First of all: unfettered creativity. Often the films are eccentric--even extreme--presentations by individuals freely expressing their imaginations, who throughout the filmmaking process improvise creative solutions to problems posed either by circumstance or budget--mostly the latter. Secondly, they often present unpopular--even radical--views addressing social, political, racial or sexual inequities, hypocrisy in religion or government; or, in other ways they assault taboos related to the presentation of sexuality, violence, and other mores. (Cf. George Romero's Dead trilogy which features intelligent, problem-solving black heroes, or Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! which showcases tough girls outwitting--and even physically outdoing--sexist men.) Thirdly, occasionally films are made of such unique stature (Cf. Daughter of Horror) as to stand virtually outside any genre or classification, thus extending the boundaries of what has been done in the medium, as well as providing--at best--inexplicably marvelous experiences.

--Vale and Juno, 1985 via http://www.geocities.com/aychepling/movie.html [Apr 2005]

Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters (2002) - Jacques Boyreau

Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters (2002) - Jacques Boyreau [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

About the author: Jacques Boyreau co-founded the half-bar, half-underground cinema known as the Werepad. His archive, Cosmic Hex, contains hundreds of cult, horror, and sci-fi films, as well as thousands of movie posters. This is his first book. He lives in San Francisco.

Trash proudly assembles more than 150 masterpieces of twisted brilliance: lowbrow graphic poster art from the sickest, sleaziest, sexiest, and weirdest films from the 1950s through the 1980s. A feast for the eyes and other visceral zones, Trash rolls in the mud with graphic art of such questionable aesthetic quality and social worth that it practically redefines the poster as advertising medium. Chapters each define a key Trash topic (Sex Trash, Action Trash, Sick Trash, Race Trash, Groovy Trash, Docu Trash), collecting the most zombified, oversexed, lethal pest-infested, and tasteless posters from each genre. With plagues of frogs, meteors headed straight for earth, sex-starved zombies, and explosion after glorious explosion, Trash gleefully crawls across the underbelly of both the cinematic and poster arts. --Book Description

X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s (2004)

The Pleasure Machines (1967) - Ronald Víctor García
image sourced here.


X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s (2004) - Tony Nourmand (Editor), Graham Marsh (Editor) [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This site is dedicated to the art of X-rated movie posters from the 1960s and 1970s. Considered by most to be the Golden Age of the pornographic movie, the period's rising production budgets generated a dramatic improvement in film quality and plot. Several all-time classics emerged. Deep Throat (1972), Behind The Green Door (1972), The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976) and Debbie Does Dallas (1978) were among the many box-office hits – films even the critics admired. The success of two French-produced movies, Emmanuelle (1974) and The Story Of O (1975), also helped introduce the porno movie to the mass market.

Tony Nourmand and Bruce Marchant of The Reel Poster Gallery in London have compiled a collection of original X-rated movie posters. With their amusing images and taglines, they all have a kitsch appeal. However, a large number of the posters are actually very sleek and stylish. Even today, these designs provide a rich source of inspiration and reference for creatives and social scientists.

Over 150 poster images have been taken from this collection to form the basis of a new book, X-rated Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s (Volume One). This title is available from September 2003 and is edited by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh. It is the first time that a book on X-rated movie posters has been published and only a couple of the images have ever been reproduced before.

For the experts, these posters provide a new and enlightening insight, not only into the sex industry, but also into the more liberal society of the 1960s and 1970s. For the rest of us, they simply serve to amuse and excite. --http://www.xratedcollection.com/index.html [Jul 2005]

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