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Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Lucky 13: Week One: Exploitation and Grindhouse

Greetings and welcome to the momentous kick-off of The Lucky 13, a summer-long conspiracy of terror between The Vault of Horror and Brutal as Hell. Over the next 13 weeks, we will be waxing rhapsodic on our very favorite horror movies, broken up into, you guessed it, 13 specially selected subgenres.

To begin things, this week we take a guilty peek at horror's seedy, rank underbelly with a look at exploitation and grindhouse cinema. Whether they're from those unapologetically grimy 42nd Street days, or movies of today that carry on the tradition, these are the flicks that give us a sick little thrill, and make our non-horror-fan friends question our moral upbringing for watching...

B-Sol on The House by the Cemetery

I love Lucio Fulci. Not everyone does. This is an argument that can never be won one way or another. Some love him, some hate him. But there can be no question that Fulci was one of the true kings of the grindhouse--hell, Quentin Tarantino himself counts The Beyond as one of his favorite films. But it's The House by the Cemetery that does it for me. It's my favorite Fulci film, and my favorite grindhouse film of any kind. One of the most underrated of the films of Lucio Fulci, it's part haunted house movie, part gore flick, and all Italian horror.

Maybe I enjoy it because it's one the more conventional, linear and plot-oriented of Fulci's works, since the Italian director is not typically known for the coherency of his narratives. The might make me a "conventional" filmgoer, but I can't help getting a major kick out of seeing Fulci's take on the traditional haunted house movie--I've always seen the movie as his take-off on The Shining. Of course, with healthy doses of shocking gore and gross-out gags added, because, well, he's Lucio Fulci.

It's got the finest of all the scores for Fulci's films, and that's saying quite a bit. The excellent performance of Catriona MacColl conveys so much of the horror. And what a monster we have in Dr. Freudstein (great name!!), the bizarre, ghoulish undead basement-dweller. And despite its more linear nature, the film certainly has its fair share of surreal Fulci-ness, all playing into his ultimate goal of throwing you off your guard in his not-quite-right version of reality. Few brought the grue like Senior Fulci, and for some reason, I care more about the victims this time around than in most of Fulci's other movies, which makes it all the more harrowing to sit through.

Gothic Beauty Magazine's Jessie "Nos" Seitz on Ms. 45

Ms. 45 was first brought to my attention when I was 17 years old. I had just begun to embrace the exploitation genre and had already seen Nekromantik, Cannibal Holocaust, and Last House on the Left. A friend of mine handed me a VHS bootleg of Ms. 45, which turned out to be the coveted unrated version of the film. I couldn’t believe my eyes… this film was so beautiful and so true to my own heart. The revenge exorcised in this story still satisfies me every time I watch it.

Set in NYC during the early '80s, Ms .45 follows the story of a mute seamstress named Thana. After being raped twice in a single day, Thana decides to take revenge on a perverted world. This film’s climax is truly one for the history books. If you haven’t seen this one yet, I highly recommend you seek out the unrated copy, which still floats around on VHS but has not made it to DVD. The DVD version put out by Image Entertainment is a censored version, or such was the case last time I checked. This picture still holds so much relevance that it’s a shame it doesn’t get brought up more in film conversation.

Cinema Suicide's Bryan White on The Exterminator

I feel like when it comes to the grindhouse, you have a real narrow band of about 20 years between 1960 and 1980 to pick a favorite, and narrowing that spectrum down to one movie is tough business because grindhouse is a sort of exploitation umbrella term. Are we talking sexploitation? Car chases? Good ol' boy movies? Kung fu? How do you make your decision? I'll tell you. Pick your favorite genre. Pick your favorite movie in that genre. Easy peasy. For me, there is no contest. The only answer is The Exterminator.

Revenge movies, for reasons that I suspect are strongly unhealthy from a mental health point of view, appeal to me like few others. Why is that? I don't know. If there's one thing I'm not, it's violent, so I don't know where my love affair with revenge movies comes from. In particular, I love vigilante movies, and The Exterminator used to call to me from the video store shelves. A rugged dude in a motorcycle helmet wielding a flamethrower caught my eye like nothing else in the store and, man, was I happy to finally catch up with this nasty piece of cinema.

James Glickenhaus directs Robert "The Paperchase Guy" Ginty in one of his better trashy flicks. Ginty plays John Eastland, a vietnam vet living the blue-collar life, working in a beer cannery. When thugs attack and cripple his war buddy-turned-BFF, he loads up on arms and hits the street for revenge. After a couple of hits on small-time crooks puts him in the paper, he buffs his game and takes on bigger crooks while the NYPD searches high and low for him.

Death Wish made a huge cultural impact in 1974 when it was released, and the Bernie Goetz murder that mirrored the Paul Kersey subway attack in Death Wish only cemented its place in the public consciousness. People feeling powerless in the city were empowered by vigilante movies and it took no time for exploitation filmmakers to latch on to the public sentiment. What came of that was a wave of vigilante flicks, some good, some not so good. At the top of the heap is the criminally unseen picture, The Exterminator, which plays out a lot like Death Wish with strong overtones from Taxi Driver thrown in for good measure. It is a nasty, angry movie full of murder and torture. The overall narrative is fragmented and doesn't exactly fit together at times, as most of Eastland's killings share no common thread and seem like filler. But obvious grindhouse flaws aside, it's among the top vigilante pictures out there, easily edging out William Lustig's nasty street justice picture, Vigilante.

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Head over to Brutal as Hell to see what Marc Patterson and his crew have come up with. And if you're interested in taking part in the future, just give Marc or myself a holler.

Join us next week for The Lucky 13, as we cast our gaze upon Creature Features and Monster Movies...


Chuck Conry said...

As I said over there..

I’m a bit shocked at the fact Thriller doesn’t make the list but Death Proof does. :-/

B-Sol said...

AAHHHH!! Cyber-Horror Elite flashbacks!

Christine Hadden said...

I can tell already that I'm going to love this 13 weeks thing - superb!
I'm a huge Fulci fan as well, so you had me at hello on this one.
Can't wait to see what else is in store, and I'd love to get in on the action at some point.
Great post!

the jaded viewer said...

All good picks. I'm fond of Ms.45 as a mute women dressed as a nun blasting people away is just the definition of exploitation.

RayRay said...

Great post to all contributers. One, annoying nit picky point: Bernie Goetz was not murdered, nor did any of the alleged attackers die. Goetz used an unlicensed pistol to shoot several youths, allegedly brandishing sharpened screwdrivers in an attempt to mug him.

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