42nd Street Blues: Waiting for the Second Revival

The “Grindhouse Review Fest” originally began back in 2007, when, to ring in the arrival of the much anticipated “Grind House,” we spent an entire month reviewing grindhouse flicks of old and new. And we had a blast. And so did our readers apparently, since the hits on Cinema Crazed jumped considerably around this period. So this year, we decided to do it again. With more movies, a small time crunch, and much better planning, we’ve gathered classic Grindhouse and Neo-Grindhouse from independent filmmakers, and brought to you the 2nd Annual Grindhouse Review Fest. And just to show you that we’re not fucking around with this occasion, we posed a survey to ourselves and to our gracious contributors to show that we absolutely adore grindhouse and all of its sub-genres from sexploitaiton, to nazisploitation. And we hope you love what contributors Lillian Patterson, William Garcia, and I, Felix Vasquez, have to say about Grindhouse movies, and why it’s one of our favorite hobbies as movie lovers.

So, why do you like Grindhouse flicks? What appeals to you about them?
I like the gritty nature of the films. I like pretty, slick movies, but something about violence when it’s done in a guerrilla filmmaking style is more appealing to me just because it looks more authentic and real. That gets under my skin, and I like that. I can forgive a lot of bad acting and threadbare plotting if a movie has images that stick in my mind and haunt my dreams. For me, that’s what it’s all about. I like my horror to really disturb me. When I was a kid, horror movies of all stripes got under my skin because I didn’t know any better. Now it’s like I’ve seen too much and it takes more to “get to me” than it used to. But even the cheesiest grindhouse flick played for laughs can have one violent shot that sticks in my head and won’t go away.

Even the ones that don’t qualify as horror are endearing because of their shaky camerawork, grainy appearance, exhausted actors looking like they’ve been up for days shooting the movie…so much in Hollywood these days is overproduced garbage that smacks of manufacturing. I crave something that looks authentic and real.

What are some of your favorites?
“I Spit on Your Grave” is a classic for me. I have to defend that movie so many times that I’ve come to know it inside and out. I heard that the rape scene was so disturbing that for years I wanted to watch it just for that, never dreaming that the movie would have anything else going for it. I was surprised when I actually saw it that Camille Keaton actually gives a devastating performance and Eron Tabor is slick and disturbing in a way that rivals David Hess. The movie isn’t perfect, but I love it for what it is and for what it accomplishes…a Hollywood movie about rape wouldn’t dare to show a rape victim showering off the blood and grime in the aftermath without drowning the scene in melodramatic music. This raw, gritty sequence is just one of the scenes that make “I Spit on Your Grave” so intriguing to me.

“Assault on Precinct 13” is a super violent, stylized cop-in-peril flick that I just love to pieces. We won’t speak of the remake here, but the original was stylish and nasty and gritty in a way movies these days almost always fail to deliver.

What did you think of the movie “Grindhouse,” honestly?
I loved “Planet Terror” in all its gooey glory. I expected to hate it, but it’s my favorite of the two by far. The only part I hated was that stupid “missing reel” bullshit. Yes, some grindhouse flicks “back in the day” had missing reels. We get it. But this isn’t “back in the day,” and we didn’t pay this much to see a movie with 20 minutes missing. It’s not cute, it’s annoying, and I almost walked out, I was so pissed. “Death Proof,” I love that movie too, but it’s boring as hell. Now people may wonder how those two statements could both be true, but they are.

The like, 30 minutes of action spread throughout the movie contains scenes that are truly awesome: the lap dance, the car torture/murder scenes in the first half, the climactic murder in the second half. It’s degenerate and sexy and cool. But the rest is vapid and it feels like Tarantino trying to remake “Reservoir Dogs” with women in place of the men, and it doesn’t feel cool and fresh like “Reservoir Dogs” did in all its derivative glory. I love and appreciate “Death Proof” for what it does right, but I can’t pretend I didn’t fall asleep THREE TIMES in the course of the movie because it was so long-winded and boring. Of course, this is like any grindhouse flick really, so it rings true. Even the best of them have their flaws and long, boring stretches that make you want to fast forward to the action. It’s all part of the experience I think.

If you weren’t around at that time, would you have loved to see 42nd street New York in the seventies, the age of the grindhouse movies?
Most definitely. But I almost think we have it better now, we who can go to revivals and scream at the screen, because we have a camaraderie among fans with a sense of nostalgia that was lost on the people who got to experience it the first time around.

What do you say to people who insist these movies have no value?
I tell them to go fuck themselves. Honestly, I spend hours trying to respond to these people, and they feel that they can dismiss my arguments by saying “whatever” at the end of my tirade, so I don’t try so much to defend the movies anymore. I just talk about why I love them. When the arguments come from a place of genuine enthusiasm and love of cinema, people don’t usually try to piss on my parade by bashing my little subversive classics.

So, why do you like Grindhouse flicks? What appeals to you about them?
Despite most of current popular culture getting the actual element of this new “Grindhouse” fascination completely wrong, REAL “Grindhouse” movies were not movies that were intentionally bad but movies that actually either strived to turn a cheap quick buck appealing to the lowest masses’ most primal instincts of sex and violence or movies that tried to shock or entertain an audience despite small hurdles such as budget or talent.

What I like about these movies is not their so called bad reputations or cheap look, but their usually child-like wonderment. No matter how outlandish or depraved, the movies were made with the innocent assumption that there was actually an audience out there for them.

Even foreign movies which were cut, re-dubbed or altered were done so to make money with the belief that someone wanted to see “The New Barbarians.” These were not movies made with the “look at me, I’m so bad so notice me!” stigma that people today have given them, but films that hoped to entertain and turn a profit. There’s a bit of innocence about them, no matter how depraved, that people of today will never capture or appreciate.

The sideshow like promotion of the films promising thrills that may have never came is a distant reminder of an era long gone. An era where a television commercial could seem more frightening that the actual movie, or a radio commercial could disturb you enough to spin the dial.

They were not just movies. They were an experience.

What are some of your favorites?
I was always partial to blaxploitation movies and Italian zombie and cannibal films. Blaxploitation movies showed urban landscapes and scenarios that I’d never even dreamed of. Everyone was always so hip and bad ass, they just were cool and didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Underneath many of these films were relevant social issues, mainly addressed to the primary Black audience… but then again, sometimes it was just two with it cats getting one over on some jive white cops.

A few of my personal favorites in blaxploitation are: “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” “Welcome Home Brother Charles,” “The Mack,” “Black Ceaser,” “Foxy Brown” and “Blacula.”

The Pastaland zombie movies were like uncharted waters for me. That love developed into an almost fanatical following that consumes me to this day. Seeing a print of Bruno Mattei’s “Hell of the Living Dead” under the alternate title of “Virus” is something I will always remember. I’ll never forget seeing the nasty animal cruelty in various cannibal movies or Ivan Rassimov mugging it up among a bunch of bored Phillapinos in mop-top wigs pretending to be jungle savages.

One of my regrets is that I never got to see one of my favorite movies “Nightmare City” on the big screen.

Zombies, bikers, Women in Prison…you name it it was there. You even saw those movies on regular TV, but in cut form. I remember many Saturday afternoons watching Chiller Theatre or Channel Five’s Million Dollar Movie and seeing movies like “Shriek of the Mutilated” and Al Adamson’s “Dracula vs. Frankenstein.”

What did you think of the movie “Grindhouse,” honestly?
I loved “Planet Terror” as a goofy, fun movie that was a blast to watch. Current events aside, the movie could have easily existed in the era it champions. “Death Proof” was a self referential, over blown mess populated by unappealing characters that tried way too hard and missed the very essence of what it was claiming to be. Tarantino needed to be reigned in. The act is getting old, and its not counter culture to actually proclaim yourself to be so.

Where “Planet Terror” invoked a fun era and was a loving tribute “Death Proof” used the trappings in a “Love me, Daddy” desperate play for attention. By naming specific films and basically holding a cinematic sign up to tell the audience what to look for it bacame a sub par imitation of what it claimed to be adoring.

The faux trailers were uneven, but all stood out for their own reasons. “Thanksgiving” could have easily been a VHS tape coming out on Vestron Video and “Don’t” was a glorious send up of English movies imported to American shores, who’s trailers never even showed any of their characters speaking to hide the fact that it was a movie from England. “Machete” was a “Mr. Majestyk” for our neighbors to the South but just felt a little too forced. It tried very hard to tell us we had to like it. Finally “Werewolf Women of the S.S.” looked to be a riot and an off the wall homage to Ilsa movies and such Naziploitation movies such as “The Beast in Heat.” Rob Zombie missed the ultimate goal by self promoting himself and his guest actors. Movies of this type really just let their wild images promote themselves and not the filmmaker. By declaring it to be “a Rob Zombie movie” he firmly ended any illusion of reality.

If you weren’t around at that time, would you have loved to see 42nd street New York in the seventies, the age of the grindhouse movies?
I was around as a young kid in the last days of it, but the actual feeling and ambiance was there for years. I have vivid memories of my late aunt taking me to see any number of Charles Bronson films in theaters that probably should have been condemned.

As I learned to buy tickets to teen friendly movies and then just walk into more adult fare, an unsupervised trip to the movies usually ended up in Umberto Lenzi cannibal movies, Euro-trash epics or badly dubbed chopsockey flicks.

The age of video brought many of these movies into own my home when bored video store workers would let anything but hard sex movies go home with anyone of apparently any age. In those days, many of the oversized clamshell video boxes were more exciting than many of the movies within, but mostly promised and delivered thrills from all over the globe.

What do you say to people who insist these movies have no value?
I would say that back before everyone became such self proclaimed experts, people actually watched movies to be entertained. Going to school or worrying about a job or bills could be forgotten for a while. We didn’t crave movies that made us “think” because back in the days before the internet, people didn’t need to posture and think themselves to be the next Socrates just because they typed in caps on the computer about a movie that they think they should like because everyone else is proclaiming to like it. Movies could be smart and entertaining, or just plain old fun.

Many people put their hearts, soul and money into making these movies no matter what their intentions or what they hoped to gain. Many of these movies defined cinema for years to come. Many elements were copied and passed off as original years later and budgets higher.

If people can’t look at these movies with an air of understanding and realize that there are much more important things in life to worry about than what movies other people like, then I pity them more than anything. Because their priorities are very skewed, and are probably being very pretentious. I can not be interested in a movie without criticizing it or its viewers, sadly many can not.

So, why do you like Grindhouse flicks? What appeals to you about them?
I think it’s the whole free spiritin’, reckless abandon that filmmakers approached them with that appeals to me. I won’t lie here, “Grindhouse” helped me to realize how great the whole era of Grindhouse flicks are, and how the movie paled in comparison to stuff like “Foxy Brown” and “Ilsa-She-Wolf of the SS,” but I do appreciate that the combined efforts of once revolutionary directors brought me into this love for grindhouse and all of its bastard children like Nazisploitation, Blaxploitation, and (my favorite) exploitation. I’ve always been more drawn to films that were made before my time, and in spite of the inherent dangers that lurked in movie theaters in the seventies, I’d have liked to see what treasures we held in 42nd Street in that decade. The 42nd street of my day feels like an amusement park. It’s Utopian, irritating, and represents a time of people who just aren’t aware of history, and the city has taken great pains in hiding the roots of 42nd Street. Which is a shame. History should be embracing the good and bad times, and going down the street today, you’d never know it was a cesspool, but an artistic cesspool. Grindhouse movies are fantastic, even the bad ones.
They’re movies that were so adventurous. They were then, and they are now. And there’s just something about revenge stories, bad acting, and gore that appeals to me in that niche.

What are some of your favorites?
I have many cult favorites, but I dig films like “The Warriors” for its glimpse at the Bronx in that era and incredible story, “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” is one of my favorite action thrillers of all time, “Thriller” is an unadulterated and gruesome revenge film, “Cannibal Holocaust” is beyond what a movie typically is; it’s an experience that every movie buff worth their weight in gold should have, and “Switchblade Sisters” is a wonderful antithesis to “The Warriors” with just as excellent a storyline as the aforementioned film and incredible characters. There are just so many other titles I have in mind, but you need to look no further than the review archive. Randomly chucking titles there’s “Coffy,” “Spider-Baby,” “Cannibal Ferox,” “Ilsa,” and “Vanishing Point.” There are just so many!

What did you think of the movie “Grindhouse,” honestly?
I think if Tarantino and Rodriguez were really intent on bringing us the genuine Grindhouse experience, they would have filmed low budget movies with no name casts, on aged 35mm, and 8mm cameras and tried to see how far they could stretch their abilities while implementing classic trailers and theater ads. The initial product they fed us was horribly disingenuous. Let’s give people an experience based around badly made, low budget movies with a bloated budget, big stars, and top notch special effects. That makes sense, doesn’t it?! It’s pretty clear to even fans of “Grindhouse,” that the duo who masterminded this event are about as far from indie directors these days as Michael Bay.

That being said: It was a great time, with two really good movies. Because I’m so big on the decade, I think it would be the closest we ever got to that type of experience, with parts of the whole much better than the sum. The fake trailers were wonderful, the buffer commercials were funny, and the movies were very good. “Planet Terror” is a fun zombie flick that loses some quality on repeated viewings, but is still a barrel of laughs. “Death Proof” however is a self important and utterly self aware Tarantino film that I can’t help but love. It’s a great concept, has some great acting, with a dynamite soundtrack, and an incredible car chase. For an obscured look at that genre, you could go there, but I’d suggest looking for actual titles from that decade, first.

If you weren’t around at that time, would you have loved to see 42nd street New York in the seventies, the age of the grindhouse movies?
Sure, but I’d be a bit cautious. All the stories I’ve read about the time now makes me hesitant to say “sure,” now. A few weeks ago I’d have said “God yes,” but now I’m on the “Maybe” category. I would have loved ot see what the entire base of Manhattan was like, though.

What do you say to people who insist these movies have no value?
I’d say theirs is a subjective opinion not based around any sort of fact, and should really stop taking themselves so seriously. All film has intrinsic value, whether it’s porn, snuff, or horror. Film is art, and Film can change the world, regardless of what the naysayers may have you believe. Film was used for propaganda by many countries, it helped inspire during the war effort, and yes, it’s a time capsule. There’s no better insight into the seventies than the grindhouse and arthouse flicks, that’s for sure.