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Cinema and Media Studies Exploitation Film
by
Ernest Mathijs

Introduction

Exploitation film is a type of cinema, often cheaply produced, that is designed to create a fast profit by referring to, or exploiting, contemporary cultural anxieties. Examples include films about drug use, nudity and striptease, sexual deviance, rebellious youths or gangs, violence in society, xenophobia, and fear of terrorism or alien invasions. Ostensibly, exploitation films claim to warn viewers about the consequences of these problems, but in most cases their style, narrative, and inferences celebrate (or “exploit”) the problem as much as critiquing it. The low costs of production allow for quick turnarounds, enabling the exploitation film to address issues of high topicality. This also gives the films a ragged and rickety look that often fits the marginality of their topics. Within the exploitation film, numerous small and sub-genres operate, many of which are highly formulaic. To further complicate matters, the term “exploitation” is not uncontested. Terms such as “grindhouse,” “trash,” or “cult” (or “cinéma bis” in French) are often used to denote (largely) the same films. Because of the low reputation of the exploitation film, scholarship has long remained scarce. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a steady increase in attention, much of it propelled by fan scholarship from outside the academic world. Overall, the history of the exploitation film is divided into a “classical” period, which runs roughly until the 1960s, and a “modern” period. The classical period is characterized by production routines that mimic those of Hollywood, with the key figure that of the showman-producer, and by provocative marketing and advertising, renegade distribution, and scattershot reception patterns. The modern period is distinguished by a higher degree of explicit material in the films, as well as a larger sense of self-awareness in its presentation to viewers, meaning that exploitation films knowingly place themselves in an existing tradition, commenting on the very notion of “exploitation” and catering to audiences who know what they will be accessing. This self-awareness has led scholars to observe that the viewing tactics audiences employ for exploitation films simultaneously celebrate and ridicule the films, thus upsetting distinctions between highbrow and lowbrow culture. In the modern period the key figure is that of the auteur-director. The classical period of exploitation film is largely studied through a historical lens, whereas the modern period has led to extensive theorization of viewing practices. This focus on viewing practices is partly the result of the increased visibility of exploitation fandom, and of the wide variety of forms of exhibition (such as drive-ins, video, festivals, cable television, DVDs), through which modern exploitation films can be consumed. Because of this focus on viewing practices, it can be argued that the exploitation film is no longer a type of film, but rather a kind of film viewing.

General Overviews and Introductions

This heading collects writings that have argued for the exploitation film to be a research subject in its own right, and that offer an introduction into its most common practices, themes, and receptions. Definitive overviews of exploitation film are rare. Most studies limit their range to particular areas of the field, especially those covering the modern period. One reason for this is the unwieldy nature of the topic. As a phenomenon in the periphery of what cinema should be, the exploitation film resists easy categorization and definition, and as a result its scholarly study often finds itself on the defensive, arguing for even a reason to be considered a legitimate object of research. Two of the earliest attempts to overview exploitation films, Ferrer 1963 and Hitchens 1964, demonstrate this position, as well as trying to tackle the subject using an ironic approach. The very struggle for a definition is shared by most sources listed below, and this has led to a situation in which overviews of the exploitation film have had to devote a lot of energy discussing meta-definitions (definitions of definitions). They have also tried to connect the study of exploitation to other areas of film studies deemed more legitimate and functionalist, such as gender studies, censorship, or pedagogy (see the authoritative works Cook 2005, Schaefer 1994, and Schaefer 2007, respectively). Alternatively, this separation from the mainstream of film studies has led to overly celebratory overviews from—predominantly—fan-scholars (e.g., Stevenson 2003). Their importance and influence on the study of the exploitation film cannot be underestimated. If nothing else, their efforts have given research into exploitation films a grassroots base, a constituency of readers and commentators with whom academics find themselves in continued debate. Some of this debate centers around the necessity (or refusal of it) for theorizing exploitation film, and it is for this reason that most overviews of the field are light on theory (see Theories of Exploitation Film for more on this subject). Another common interest of overviews of exploitation films is a historical framework, or a desire to help write the history of the subject. Because of the historical tendency to present North American exploitation film as the exemplar, or even the model, for the genre, sources that present a wide overview of that region have been included under the general overview heading (see Schaefer 1999 for arguably the most commanding study of this kind). Preference has been given to concise introductory texts.

  • Cook, Pam. “The Pleasures and Perils of Exploitation Films.” In Screening the Past: Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema. By Pam Cook, 52–64. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    This is the most complete of three essays on the topic by the author. Cook 1976 (discussed under Theories of Exploitation) laid out a theoretical framework, while Cook 1985 (under Women Exploitation Auteurs) stresses an auteurist perspective. Cook’s core concern is the difficulty of defining exploitation cinema as a genre or a mode of filmmaking.

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  • Ferrer, Frank. “Exploitation Films.” Film Comment 2.6 (Fall 1963): 31–33.

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    Eccentric and idiosyncratic, but valuable because it is one of the earliest attempts to define exploitation film while it was at a crossroads—in between classical “moral danger” film and modern risqué film—and also because it highlights core industry practices.

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  • Hitchens, Gordon. “The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth About Exploitation Films.” Film Comment 3.2 (Spring 1964): 1–13.

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    In the form of an interview, this discussion covers the definition, industry practices, and the crossover between mainstream cinema and exploitation film (Errol Flynn is a case in point). Also notes the shift from classical to modern exploitation film (and names Blood Feast [1963] as key in that process). Partially refutes the claims of Ferrer 1963.

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  • Schaefer, Eric. “Resisting Refinement: the Exploitation Film and Self-Censorship.” In Special Issue: Exploitation Film. Film History 6.3 (Fall 1994): 293–313.

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    Part of a special issue on exploitation film. Highly valuable for its discussion of the relationship between exploitation film practices and institutions of censorship (such as the MPPDA). Focuses mostly on the classical exploitation film and the 1920s and 1930s. Mark Langer’s editorial introduction to this essay is also useful.

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  • Schaefer, Eric. Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919–1959. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    The most complete and thorough overview of early and classical exploitation film in the United States. Because of its scope and range, this is essential reading for any understanding of exploitation film. Schaefer covers the origins and history of exploitation and also offers a comprehensive definition and a good insight into industry practices. Types of exploitation films that receive particular attention include the drug film and the sexploitation film. Appendixes include an exhaustive filmography.

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  • Schaefer, Eric. “Exploitation Films: Teaching Sin in the Suburbs.” Cinema Journal 47.1 (2007): 94–97.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2007.0059Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A short, astute, and clearly voiced practical introduction to the status of exploitation film as a subject of pedagogy and academic research. Largely jargon-free, yet scholarly in its aims and approaches. Probably the ideal introduction to the topic for any student.

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  • Stevenson, Jack. Land of a Thousand Balconies: Discoveries and Confessions of a B-Movie Archaeologist. Manchester, UK: Headpress, 2003.

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    One of the most concise and easily accessible introductions to exploitation film, written by one of the leading fan-scholars active in the field. Stevenson introduces key features such as exploitation acting and stardom, cult cinema, the aesthetics of trash, and camp viewing. The tone is celebratory.

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Encyclopedic Overviews and Guides

There are no definitive or exhaustive encyclopedic overviews of exploitation film, although Aknin 2007 and Puchalski 2002 make valiant efforts toward that goal. Mostly, encyclopedic overviews in this field tend to be “guides,” or eclectic collections of reviews and commentary. This is largely due to the fact that there have been little or no institutional initiatives to catalogue exploitation films, a result of their marginal and contested position in culture as lowbrow, “dangerous,” or “sleazy.” Since the 1980s, however, some efforts have been made to construct an encyclopedia of exploitation film. Often, these efforts have been user-generated: video technology allowed viewers to start collecting and sharing films, and out of this grew the first encyclopedic catalogues, compiled by fan-scholars. Among the most notable early examples are Jaworzyn 1991, Weldon 1996, and Video Watchdog, edited by Tim Lucas, all of which started in the early 1980s as serial publications. Landis and Clifford 2002 is rooted in another user-based experience, that of New York’s Times Square grindhouse theaters. Because of the ongoing efforts of these individuals, Weldon 1996, Landis and Clifford 2002, and Video Watchdog remain the most frequently consulted sources for exploitation film. An ongoing issue with encyclopedic overviews of exploitation film has been that they tend to favor films and materials from or available in the United States and Europe (see Betrock 1986 for a representative example). In the 1990s, a tendency towards specialization occurred, and this has begun to correct this imbalance. Aknin and Baldo 2009 is a good example of this kind of effort. Still, exploitation films from Asia and Latin America remains underrepresented. It is noteworthy that the overall majority of these works continue to be published by commercial and fan presses (or through self-publication), not by public institutions or academic presses. Increasingly, websites and online catalogues and collections are taking over the function of the print encyclopedia. As a testament to the commercial origin of much exploitation film cataloguing, several of these sites are set up as online stores. Such connotations do not do much to help make the study of exploitation film more respectable.

  • Aknin, Laurent. Cinéma bis: 50 Ans de cinéma de quartier. Paris: Nouveau Monde, 2007.

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    A useful dictionary of key terms and figures. Presents itself as an anthology, but the scope is encyclopedic (with an evident preference for French film). The focus in on post-1950s exploitation films. Works very well when used in tandem with Aknin and Baldo 2009.

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  • Aknin, Laurent, and Lucas Baldo. Les classiques du cinéma bis. Paris: Nouveau Monde, 2009.

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    A highly useful general guide to the diversity of exploitation film. Attempts a balance between American films and movies from other regions. The volume is geared more toward people and trends than toward titles, but it covers more than 500 films. Works very well when used in combination with Aknin 2007. The focus is on post-1950 exploitation films.

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  • Betrock, Alan. The I Was a Teenage Juvenile Delinquent Rock ‘N’ Roll Horror Beach Party Movie Book: A Complete Guide to the Teen Exploitation Film, 1954–1969. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.

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    This is a valuable source for its focus on American exploitation film of the classical, postwar era. It claims to be complete but is mostly eclectic in its listings of films. The categorization into subgenres (listed in the subtitle of the book) is very helpful, though not always consistently followed.

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  • Jaworzyn, Stefan. Shock Xpress: the Essential Guide to Exploitation Cinema. London: Titan Books, 1991.

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    From the United Kingdom. Shock Xpress started as a magazine in 1985. There are three book editions, published in 1991, 1994, and 1996. The eclectic content combines interviews with criticism and ethnography. Jaworzyn eschews political and aesthetic configurations of exploitation film, and instead highlights the nonredemptive shock value of the films.

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  • Landis, Bill, and Michelle Clifford. Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

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    Like several other guides, Sleazoid Express started as a magazine and then gradually evolved into a series of publications, shows, and a guide. Originally started in 1980. Covers all of the world’s exploitation films, as long as they passed by New York’s grindhouse circuit. See also the Sleaziod Express website.

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  • Puchalski, Steven. Slimetime: A Guide to Sleazy, Mindless Movies. Rev. ed. Manchester, UK: Headpress, 2002.

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    Published in traditional encyclopedia format, this one-volume collection of capsule-sized critical commentaries covers all of the classics of exploitation film. Headpress is a publishing house with a long list of publications addressing exploitation film, and this volume summarizes much of their interests and coverage. First published in 1996.

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  • Video Watchdog: The Perfectionist’s Guide to Fantastic Video.

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    Video Watchdog is best described as an ongoing project of overviews. Through the years, however, Tim Lucas and his collaborators have amassed so many thorough comments and reviews that it de facto functions as an encyclopedia. It first appeared in 1985 as part of Video Times. It changed formats numerous times and is most recently available as a magazine with a dedicated website.

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  • Weldon, Michael J.. The Psychotronic Video Guide. New York: St. Martin’s, 1996.

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    Started as a small-circulation magazine called Psychotronic Video in 1980. The first book edition, titled The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, was published in 1983. The 1996 edition is arguably the most widely consulted single-volume source for exploitation film. The content is inclusive, covering experimental, independent, and underground cinema. The magazine, which became notorious as an example of what Jeffrey Sconce called Paracinema, ceased publication in 2007.

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Anthologies

There is an abundance of anthologies on exploitation film. It could even be said that the anthology is the preferred format for discussing this type of film. Many anthologies limit themselves to a specific region or period (see Overviews of Regions). The collections listed below offer a wide range of discussions, but they all aim to be inclusive in their study of exploitation film—even if inclusiveness is impossible to obtain, and even if they frequently resist calling the films “exploitation” (preferring more mobile and reception-dependent terms such as “cult,” “sleaze,” or “trash”). There is a balance between academic writings and fan scholarship. McCarthy 1995, Hunter 2002, and Fenton 2003 represent the fan-scholar perspective and offer detailed histories and discussions of films academics often shy away from. Cartmell, et al. 1997 is one of the earliest anthologies on exploitation film, and it is still widely cited. Mendik and Harper 2000 and Jancovich, et al. 2003 have been important in pushing exploitation cinema onto the academy’s agenda (not without obstruction). They both employ the term “cult,” but the majority of the essays in these volumes discuss exploitation films in one form or another. Sconce 2007 is significant for the way in which it interrogates the very foundation of “trash.” Mathijs and Mendik 2008 also preferences the term “cult”; it is included here because it reprints and contextualizes many essential essays theorizing exploitation and its reception.

  • Cartmell, Deborah, I. Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, eds. Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and its Audience. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

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    Collection of essays from a British perspective of cultural studies. The entries by Chibnall and Watson offer splendid theoretically and historically informed introductions to the whole field of exploitation film through the connection they make with cult cinema and paracinema. Case studies of The Tingler (1959), Tank Girl (1995), and the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

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  • Fenton, Harvey, ed. Flesh & Blood Compendium. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2003.

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    Voluminous collection of essays from Fenton’s Flesh and Blood (FAB) fanzine. Excellent samples of fan scholarship, ranging from sexploitation and horror to art-exploitation. Contains numerous interviews with filmmakers. Case studies include Coffin Joe, Jess Franco, Mario Bava, Michael Ninn, and the legendary short Aftermath (1994), directed by Nacho Cerdà.

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  • Hunter, Jack, ed. The Bad Mirror: A Creation Cinema Collection Reader. London: Creation Books, 2002.

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    Comprehensive reader that anthologizes the best essays from the 19-volume Creation Cinema Collection series of fan scholarship. Contains a wealth of information on a wide range of exploitation topics eschewed by more traditional scholarship (adult cinema, cannibal movies, satanic cinema, snuff, etc.). Interviews with Herschell Gordon Lewis and John Waters.

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  • Jancovich, Mark, Antonio Lázaro Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andrew Willis, eds. Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    The result of a conference on cult film in 2000, this study assembles a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives. The chapters on the masculinity of cult and exploitation fandom have become very influential. Case studies include giallo film, kung fu, Spanish horror, Shivers (1975), Maniac (1934), and midnight movies.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest, and Xavier Mendik, eds. The Cult Film Reader. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press, 2008.

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    Organized around the term “cult,” this voluminous work brings together many of the core academic texts that have influenced the study of exploitation film. It also contextualizes these sources, through abstracts, summaries, introductions, and an exhaustive bibliography. Also discusses exploitation and cult film outside the Western sphere. Foreword by Roger Corman.

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  • McCarty, John, ed. The Sleaze Merchants: Adventures in Exploitation Filmmaking. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.

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    Influential collection of essays and overviews. Not academic in tone, but well informed and balanced. Addresses the classical and modern periods of exploitation film equally well. Contains interviews with and biographical profiles of 15 exploitation filmmakers, including John Waters, Sam Katzman, Ed Wood, and Fred Olen Ray.

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  • Mendik, Xavier, and Graeme Harper, eds. Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2000.

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    Pioneering collection that bridges cult and exploitation film. Meticulously researched yet provocative in its assertions. Combines various methodologies (most notably psychoanalysis, textual analysis, and reception studies). Features I.Q. Hunter’s original essay on Showgirls (1995).

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  • Sconce, Jeffrey, ed. Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Collection of essays centered around a reevaluation of exploitation film as the “cultural other.” Sconce’s introduction questions the function of revalorizations and recuperations of lowbrow taste. Contains several excellent essays on the affective impact of watching exploitation (such as boredom), and case studies on underinvestigated areas of exploitation (Mexploitation, East Asian arthouse).

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Theories of Exploitation Film

Exploitation film has long been under-theorized. Much of the classical exploitation era remains void of theoretical scrutiny. In contrast, post-1970 exploitation is overly theorized. The theoretical study of exploitation film frequently takes its inspiration from theories from neighboring disciplines, such as the sociology of taste, popular culture theory, gender studies, and aesthetics. No one theory can be said to dominate understandings of exploitation film. Overall, the theorization of exploitation film has been cumulative, meaning that new theories are unlikely to fully refute or replace earlier ones, but instead take a place alongside them. There has been a slight historical shift, however. Prior to the late 1990s, theories of exploitation borrowed heavily from a variety of influences, without any sense of unified paradigm. The recurrent use of the concept of excess is perhaps the only exception to this. Since the late 1990s, much of the theoretical momentum has come from a few more closely intertwined perspectives, such as Paracinema and Reception and Fan Studies. Among the theories that have featured consistently over the last few decades are Freakery and Transgression. These four kinds of theories will be discussed under separate headings. Of this group, Paracinema and Transgression are arguably the most specific theories available for understanding exploitation film. Yet it is also necessary to acknowledge the significance of studies that, although influential, study exploitation as more of an example in their theoretical exploration of another element of film study (rather than seeing its study as an aim in itself). Cook 1976 is included because it is arguably the earliest attempt to include exploitation film in a theoretical exploration of representations of gender. Another early attempt to theorize exploitation, this time through the sociological perspective of deviance and subculture, is Marchetti 1985. For Studlar 1989 and Williams 1991, too, representations of gender are an important reason to look at exploitation film. These works also employ the concept of excess (fetishism or overindulgence) to look for understandings of gender representations. In Taylor 1999, exploitation film features as a tool for cultural distinction among professional critics (there is a link with Paracinema and affinity with Marchetti 1985). For Betz 2003, exploitation is a category of the management of films (in this case the marketing and distribution across art-house and grindhouse markets). Taylor’s and Betz’s studies exemplify a growing move towards explaining exploitation as a way of seeing films.

  • Betz, Mark. “Art, Exploitation, Underground.” In Defining Cult Movies; the Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Edited by Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro-Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andrew Willis, 202–222. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    This study sees exploitation film as a label that (just like “underground” or “art”) has been applied by marketers in the positioning of films within the American theatrical market. Examples range from European art cinema to American avant-garde. Covers mostly the 1950s to the 1970s.

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  • Cook, Pam. “Exploitation Films and Feminism.” Screen 17.2 (Summer 1976): 122–127.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/17.2.122Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tellingly, this early attempt to present a theoretical framework for exploitation film (feminist theory) is listed under the “other departments” headings in the journal that published it. Cook 1985 (cited under Women Exploitation Auteurs) and Cook 2005 (under General Overviews and Introductions) are revised versions of the same analysis.

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  • Marchetti, Gina. “Subcultural Studies and the Film Audience: Rethinking the Film Viewing Context.” In Current Research in Film: Audiences, Economics, and the Law. Vol. 2. Edited by Bruce Austin, 61–79. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1985.

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    Takes its cue from Dick Hebdige’s work on subculture. One of the first studies to make explicit the reception context of exploitation film, and, as such, a manifesto for methodological innovation. Proposes an ethnographic method of participant observation. Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Studlar, Gaylyn. “Midnight S/Excess: Cult Configurations of ‘Femininity’ and the Perverse.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 17.1 (1989): 2–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/01956051.1989.9943951Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first attempts to link theories of excess to representation of sexuality, and to see them as explanations for the cult receptions of exploitation films. Most examples analyzed here are “midnight movies.”

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  • Taylor, Greg. Artists in the Audience: Cults, Camp and American Film Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

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    Groundbreaking study of American film criticism that demonstrates how the interest in exploitation films (and in camp and cult films) is the result of film critics’ desire to create a cultural vanguard opposing established canons. One of the most widely referenced sources in the field.

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  • Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Film Quarterly 44.4 (1991): 2–13.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1991.44.4.04a00020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A highly influential study of the meanings of sensationalism and grossness, placed against the category of the body-genre (horror, pornography, melodrama). Williams’s methodological mix of genre studies, feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and reception study has proven to be very fertile for analyzing exploitation film.

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Freakery

The concept of “freakery” addresses the various ways in which human bodies deviating from normativity have been used in exploitation film, and it assesses their impact on viewers. Theoretically, freakery concerns the discussion of the cultural implications of the presence and display of people with bodily malformations, dysfunctions, or disabilities—so-called freaks. There is a close affiliation with Transgression. The best-known expression of freakery is the “freak show,” which involves the exploitation and performance of freaks through sensationalized and commercialized representations. Historically, exploitation film has had a longstanding relationship with the freak show, sharing strategies of production, distribution, and exhibition with it. The association with freaks shows, and the occasional display of freakery in films has been abundantly observed in the classical exploitation film period, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that freakery was being theorized profoundly. Fiedler 1978 is one of the earliest attempts. This work also introduces the notion of the “freaks in the audience,” a tag through which audiences could assign themselves cultural outsider status similar to that of the freaks as a sign of resistance against normalcy. Bogdan 1988 and Thomson 1996 expand on Fiedler’s ideas and broaden the scope of freakery by linking it to pathological and medical discourses (specifically disability studies). Each of these three sources makes explicit connections between freakery and exploitation films. In her overview of offensive films, Brottman 1997 (cited under Transgression) discusses freakery as an affective concept. Since 2000, freakery has also been used to discuss films whose exploitative nature can be regarded as the result of a kind of reception that celebrates ambivalence (see Church 2005 and Church 2011). The most important films discussed under the banner of freakery are Freaks (1932) and El Topo (1970). Analyses of El Topo can be found under the heading of Latsploitation. Hawkins 1996 and Herzogenrath 2002 are detailed studies of Freaks. Insightful analyses of the film also feature in Fiedler 1978, Brottman 1997 (cited under Transgression), and Church 2011, and in studies of its director, Tod Browning. Stevenson 2006, an examination of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), and Church 2005, on Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), demonstrate how widely applicable the concept of freakery has become.

  • Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    A sociological view of freakery, with an emphasis on the cultural frameworks and the commercial industries that sustained freak shows in the 19th and 20th centuries. Bogdan’s view of freakery is less empowering than that of Fiedler (see Fiedler 1978), and he refuses to draw too strong links between bodily deviance and cultural resistance.

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  • Church, David. “Examining the Role of Disability in Herzog’s Even Dwarves Started Small.” The Film Journal 13 (2005).

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    Intelligent analysis of legendary and controversial film with an all-dwarf cast. The essay interrogates the usefulness of rehabilitation models of disability (whereby it is seen as a disease in need of a cure) for analyzing film. Exploitation is mostly a mode of reception in this essay.

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  • Church, David. “Freakery, Cult Films, and the Problem of Ambivalence.” Journal of Film and Video 63.1 (2011): 3–17.

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    Already influential study of the appeal films with freaks have for cult audiences. Argues that this appeal is the result of the ambivalence of “dabbling in otherness” while still asserting “socially prescribed normalcy.” Points to essentialist perceptions of disability as a reason for this ambivalence. Builds on Church 2005.

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  • Fiedler, Leslie. Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.

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    Cultural history of “the freak” that helped define “freakery” and set the tone for most studies of freakery in film. The dichotomy between normalcy and the freak as the embodiment of the “absolute Other” has since been refined, but its basic assumptions remain, and the methodology of mixing textual analysis with psychoanalysis is still influential.

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  • Hawkins, Joan. “‘One of Us’: Tod Browning’s Freaks.” In Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Edited by Rosemarie Garland Thomson, 265–276. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

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    Thorough study of the representation of freakery in the film that helped establish the freak as a trope in exploitation film. Much of the cultural status of Freaks (1932) revolves around the ambivalent attitude of the film: does it exploit or warn against exploitation? Partially reprinted and revised in Hawkins 2000 (see Paracinema).

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  • Herzogenrath, Bernd. “Join the United Mutations: Tod Browning’s Freaks.” Post Script: Essays in Film & the Humanities 21.3 (2002): 8–19.

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    This study adopts a Freudian/Lacanian approach and eschews the disability studies framework most other discussions of freakery employ. Like Hawkins 1996, this essay highlights the parallel between characters’ childishness and their degree of freakishness. The author revisits his claims in The Cinema of Tod Browning: Essays of the Macabre and Grotesque (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008).

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  • Stevenson, Jack. Witchcraft through the Ages: The Story of Häxan, the World’s Strangest Film, and the Man Who Made It. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2006.

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    Meticulous study of Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (1922), a pseudo-documentary on superstition, that describes how the concept of freakery and its close relationship to grotesquerie and “raw realism” offers an explanation for the curious reception of this legendary film. Also discusses Christensen’s Seven Footprints of Satan (1929) which is similar in its attitude towards freaks.

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  • Thomson, Rosemary Garland, ed. Freakery: Cutural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

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    Comprehensive anthology that covers a wide range of areas upon which freakery touches. Includes numerous film analyses (such as Hawkins 1996), and contemporary expressions of exploitation of freaks (such as bodybuilder shows). Contains a useful chapter on “Teaching Freaks.” Introduction by Leslie Fiedler.

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Paracinema

The concept of “paracinema” is an intervention in the sociology of taste. Coined by Jeffrey Sconce (see Sconce 1995), the term was created specifically to theorize the appeal and cultural function of exploitation films. It refers to both a reading protocol and an elastic textual category. Intrinsically, paracinema is a reading protocol (or reception strategy). It is a kind of appreciation adopted by viewers who seek out films of low repute and assign to them characteristics of high taste. As such, paracinema is a tool not dissimilar to camp in that it implies savvy viewership and irony of appreciation. It is, however, not a queer appropriation or undermining of the mainstream, but rather an attack of educated yet disaffected factions of the film audience on mainstream and highbrow canons and taste patterns. In principle, each film can be “paracinema-d.” Sconce’s own list of types of films likely to receive a paracinema treatment is several lines long. It includes many of the kinds of films featured in Hoberman 1980 (an essay that covers much of the same ground as Sconce 1995, but which predates it), Weldon 1996 (under Encyclopedic Overviews and Guides), and most of the films highlighted in books that chronicle the worst films ever (such as Medved and Medved 1980 under Ed Wood Jr.). The exemplar most often employed is that of the 1959 Ed Wood Jr. film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Over time, this focus on the same groups of films has turned paracinema in a textual category, albeit an elastic one: the “so-bad-they’re-good movies.” Hawkins 2000 has broadened the concept of paracinema by arguing it is equally a reception component of several avant-garde and experimental films that are, in certain contexts, appreciated as exploitation films. There have been several refinings and criticisms of Sconce 1995: Watson 1997 argues paracinema is a symptom of postmodern exploitation; Jancovich 2002 isolates areas of privileged access and cultural status that allow paracinematic viewers to play with taste hierarchies (many viewers cannot afford the same freedom, he notes); and Hills 2007 observes how the concept of paracinema has become overly essentialized and over-reliant on the high-low distinction in taste, leaving no middle ground for films whose status is less easily fixed into that distinction.

  • Hawkins, Joan. Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

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    Important study of the ways in which both exploitation horror and experimental and avant-garde cinema share an affinity through paracinematic readings. Hawkins’s case studies, such as Freaks (1932) and the films of Jess Franco, have become exemplary studies for paracinema and exploitation film.

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  • Hills, Matt. “Para-Paracinema: The Friday the 13th Film Series as Other to Trash and Legitimate Film Culture.” In Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Edited by Jeffrey Sconce, 219–232. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Polemic and insightful. Uses the unintellectualizable status of the Friday the 13th (1980–) series as a case study to expose discursive implications of paracinema, as a tool that simultaneously deconstructs and resurrects cultural distinctions (or “authenticities”). Not all trash is recoverable as art-trash, Hills concludes.

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  • Hoberman, J. “Bad Movies.” Film Comment 16.4 (July–August 1980), 7–12.

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    A discussion of bad films, interesting because of its topicality at a time when bad films’ public presence was being appropriated for ironic viewing for the first time. Many of Hoberman’s examples became key to paracinema, most notably Ed Wood Jr.. Reprinted in Philip Lopate’s American Movie Critics (New York: The Library of America, 2006) 517–528.

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  • Jancovich, Mark. “Cult Fictions: Cult Movies, Subcultural Capital and the Production of Cultural Distinctions.” Cultural Studies 16.2 (2002): 306–322.

    DOI: 10.1080/09502380110107607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important critique of Sconce 1995. Focuses on the backgrounds from which viewers can engage in paracinematic readings. Connects paracinema and fandom of exploitation film to identity production, subcultural ideology, and the politics of cultural consumption. Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Sconce, Jeffrey. “Trashing the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style.” Screen 36.4 (1995): 371–393.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/36.4.371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most widely referenced source in exploitation film theory, and the essay that coined the term “paracinema.” Uses sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work on hierarchies of taste and cultural distinction to describe how exploitation film can be a tool for savvy audiences to “jockey for position.” Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Watson, Paul. “There’s No Accounting for Taste: Exploitation Cinema and the Limits of Film Theory.” In Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and Its Audience. Edited by Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, Heidi Kay, and Imelda Whelehan, 66–83. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

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    This essay places the theoretical discussion of exploitation film in a perspective of “postmodern recuperation,” or the “exploitation of exploitation.” The essay employs theories of the sociology of taste to argue for exploitation film’s function as a cultural marker.

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Reception and Fan Studies

Strictly speaking, reception and fan studies represent more of a methodological than a theoretical contribution to the study of exploitation film. However, such studies of exploitation film have had such a huge impact that they changed the course of exploitation historiography, as well as other forms of theorizing in the field (notably Paracinema). Reception and fan studies are considered in tandem here, because they have acted in unison when studying exploitation film (in other areas their differences may be big enough to separate them, but not here). The philosophical backbone of reception and fan studies is phenomenology, and this has had repercussions for how exploitation film is identified: a film is an exploitation film when it is seen, or shows itself, as such. When fans talk of a film as an exploitation film, when the “exploitation” tag is a factor of significance in a film’s negotiation of its public status, and when “exploitation” is a salient marker in a film’s reception trajectory (its marketing, distribution, and long-term sedimentation into culture), it is an exploitation film. This philosophy has influenced most profoundly studies of the modern period of exploitation film. Since the 1990s, reception and fan studies of exploitation film have been increasingly influential, especially in the wake of the increased significance of studies of audiences of popular culture in general, and of cult film in particular. Key figures are Janet Staiger and Martin Barker, who mentored many of the contemporary scholars active in studying exploitation film. Barker and Brooks 1997 is a milestone in the study of exploitation fandom, because it interrogates not just the celebration of certain forms of exploitation, but also the resistance against them. Staiger 2000 is an overview of techniques in reception study of great importance for its examination of exploitation receptions. Hills 2002 has taken the theorization of fandom the furthest. Mathijs 2005 uses Staiger’s and Barker’s ideas to argue for an overarching view on reception trajectories of exploitation film (long-term instead of snapshots). A similar view underlies Erb 1998, a study that covers a reception trajectory of several decades. Kermode 2001 is significant because it demonstrates the usefulness in tracing personal fan trajectories with a confessional angle. Church 2009 advances the analysis of the performativity of fandom (through a study of sick films). Finally, Barker 1997 is included for the attention it pays to the ethics of researching fans of exploitation film.

  • Barker, Martin. “Taking the Extreme Case: Understanding a Fascist Fan of Judge Dredd.” In Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and Its Audience. Edited by Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, 14–30. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

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    Important discussion of the ethics and politics of studying fandom of exploitation and lowbrow culture. Barker brings into perspective the implications of uses and abuses of fandom, including those of scholars’ agendas. Also addresses the important question of whether the “cultural place from which a fan speaks” can or should always be identified.

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  • Barker, Martin, and Kate Brooks. Knowing Audiences: Judge Dredd, Its Friends, Fans, and Foes. Luton, UK: University of Luton Press, 1997.

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    Groundbreaking study of (mostly) male fandom of lowbrow culture (in this case, the comic book and science-fiction film Judge Dredd [1994]). Demonstrates how degrees of fandom are both self-assigned and assigned by others. The most important part of the study is its analysis of fandom as one expression of a struggle with one’s own account of film viewing.

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  • Church, David. “Of Manias, Shit, and Blood: The Reception of Salò as a ‘Sick Film.’Participations 6.2 (2009).

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    Innovative study of online fandom. Because sick films are beyond “liking,” their appreciation takes on a distinct performative component. That observation lies at the heart of this discussion of how affective tags give certain forms of fan discourse subcultural capital. Appendix lists the 55 sickest films ever.

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  • Erb, Cynthia. Tracking King Kong: a Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998.

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    Thorough study of the sustained presence of one film across decades and cultural boundaries. King Kong (1933) is not regarded as exploitation, but many of its ancillary contexts are, and that crossover makes this study very useful. Along with King Kong, Godzilla’s (1954) reception is also analyzed.

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  • Hills, Matt. Fan Cultures. Sussex Studies in Culture and Communication. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Addresses exploitation film culture only briefly, but of great value for its theoretical breadth and insights in the study of fandom. Contains superb introductions to the seminal work of Pierre Bourdieu and fan scholarship, and contains a marvelously candid discussion of Psychotronic Video.

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  • Kermode, Mark. “I was a Teenage Horror Fan: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Linda Blair.” In Ill Effects; the Media/Violence Debate. 2d ed. Edited by Martin Barker and Julian Petley, 126–134. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    Very good introduction into self-ethnography of fandom, and a benchmark text for anyone interested in confessional fandom. Excellent sketch of the contexts of lowbrow film viewing. Horror here equals horror exploitation. References a wide range of examples. First published in 1997.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “Bad Reputations: The Reception of ‘Trash’ Cinema.” Screen 46.4 (2005): 451–472.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/46.4.451Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a theoretical framework for methodologies for studying ambiguous receptions of exploitation and cult films as they evolve over time. Concentrates on “cues” and “quotes” in the kinds of talk that receptions produce. Prominent case study of Daughters of Darkness (1971).

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  • Staiger, Janet. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

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    This collection of essays from the 1990s on the reception of popular film presents the study of exploitation audiences with a range of pragmatic points of attention (such as particular audience reactions) and a solid unit of measurement (“talk”). Among the examples are midnight movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Flaming Creatures (1963).

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Transgression

In essence, transgression is any act that violates law or morality. With regard to film studies, and exploitation film in particular, it refers to the act of passing beyond limits and boundaries. Informally, it is used to discuss the themes and styles of films that set out to shock. There are two major applications of transgression in exploitation film. A narrow application was introduced in 1985 by filmmaker Nick Zedd, who—according to some sources—coined the term to describe a group of filmmakers using shock value in their work. Zedd publicized these films in the Underground Film Bulletin. Sargeant 1999 is a study of this understanding of transgression. A more wide application sees it as a concept that is equally a function of a filmmaker’s intention and a characteristic of a kind of cultural reception, one that builds on an audience’s impression of disruptions of boundaries of morality and good taste. This understanding is most prominently advocated in Stallybrass and White 1986, and also in Grant 1991, which also addresses ways in which transgression can be recuperated by mainstream culture. Mathijs and Sexton 2011 connects transgression to freakery, thus offering a theoretical perspective that highlights both of these concepts’ relationship to taboo. There have been numerous case studies of transgression through exploitation film, or exploitation through transgression—the categories are often used in mobile ways, resisting, as they do, fixed cultural placement. Listed here are sources that overview transgression’s uses (an early example is Brottman 1997, while Cline and Weiner 2010 and Weiner and Cline 2010 are more recent). Beugnet 2007 is included because of the way it represents how attempts to apply theories of transgression to art cinema seem unable to escape theorizing exploitation itself.

  • Beugnet, Martine. Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

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    Focuses on the “sensational” aspect of transgression—how it affects the senses. Transgression is pulled away from its link with exploitation in this thorough textual analysis. Yet the receptions of films such as Baise-moi (2000), Demonlover (2002), and Trouble Every Day (2001) make addressing the link between exploitation and transgression inevitable.

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  • Brottman, Mikita. Offensive Films: Towards an Anthropology of Cinema Vomitif. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

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    A study of landmark horror exploitation films that approaches them as pathologies of culture and regards their “offensiveness” as the consequence of transgression—a concept that is here understood as linked to de-narrativization. Reissued by Vanderbilt University Press in 2005.

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  • Cline, John, and Robert G. Weiner, eds. From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow and Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema’s First Century. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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    Comprehensive collection of essays on films with transgressive reputations, pairing undisputed exploitation filmmakers (Esper) with respectable auteurs (Von Stroheim). In doing so, it builds equally on theories of paracinema (especially Hawkins 2000, cited under Paracinema). Case studies include Tod Browning, Peter Watkins, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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  • Grant, Barry Keith. “Science Fiction Double Feature: Ideology in the Cult Film.” In The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason. Edited by J. P. Telotte, 122–137. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

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    Most widely quoted source on transgression. Distinguishes between transgressive content, attitude, and style. Separates recuperative from subversive transgression; notes that subversive transgression is usually kept away from regular exhibition. Revised for Mendik and Harper 2000, cited under Anthologies, with case studies of Paul Verhoeven and Peter Jackson. Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Mathijs, Ernest, and Jamie Sexton. “Transgression and Freakery.” In Cult Cinema. By Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, 97–107. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

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    Part of a general introduction to cult cinema that discusses exploitation in detail. This chapter connects transgression to Freakery through their mutual dependence on affectivity as a mode of reception, and on abjection and taboo breaking as cultural practices. Emphasizes the bodily component of transgression (with a case study of “licking”).

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  • Sargeant, Jack. Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression. London: Creation Books, 1999.

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    Partly a study of the transgressive films and products of Nick Zedd and his affiliates, and partly an overview of the importance of transgression for the New York underground cinema since the 1960s (especially for George Kuchar and Jack Smith). Contains rare photographs and features interviews with key figures.

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  • Stallybrass, Peter, and Allon White. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Metheun, 1986.

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    One of the earliest and most historically informed studies of transgression. Only tangentially concerned with film, but of great significance for its framing of transgression as a successor of the carnivalesque (as theorized by Mikhail Bakhtin). Uses post-structuralism as a methodological background.

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  • Weiner, Robert G., and John Cline, eds. Cinema Inferno: Celluloid Explosions from the Cultural Margins. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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    A companion volume to Cline and Weiner 2010, this collection of academic essays aims to update scholarship on exploitation film and transgression of the modern period. Both the high end and low end of the cultural spectrum are represented (from Joe D’Amato to Peter Greenaway and “Christian Exploitation”).

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Overview of Regions

There are three main reasons to study exploitation film through the perspective of national or regional cinema, and to treat it as a kind of cinema specific to a country or continent. The first reason is that many exploitation films are small in scale. They are produced cheaply and distributed to a circuit limited in exposure. It is likely that, for a while at least, an exploitation film might not make it out of the region in which it was first produced and screened. That said, there is a significant difference between classical exploitation film, which definitely saw its visibility restricted to mostly regional exhibition (especially in the case of American exploitation film), and films of the modern period, which benefited from the development of portable exhibition platforms such as VHS and DVD, and of an accelerated circuit of distribution that, in many cases, obliterates the distinction between national and international releases. The second reason to use a national cinema perspective for exploitation film is that the desire of exploitation filmmakers to insert sensationalist topical themes into their films has meant that the films often latch onto local and regional sensitivities and controversies. Put bluntly, a Mexican exploitation film might have more meaning if one considers it in the context of the cultural sensitivities of Mexico. The third reason is that in several high-profile cases, specific generic templates seem to develop in tandem with (or because of) unique production contexts typical to a nation’s or continent’s film culture and economy. Studies on American exploitation film, from both academic and fan-scholarship origin, dominated the field during the classical period of exploitation film, but in the modern period, there has been no limit on exploitation films from all corners of the world. Italosploitation, Britsploitation, and Eurotrash, in particular, have attracted scholarship; in more recent years, Latsploitation and Asian exploitation film (often known as Asia Extreme) have received a lot of attention as well. As is always the case, some discussions of exploitation film under a particular nation’s or continent’s banner contain gross generalizations on the different cultures it captures. The following regional contexts for exploitation film not covered in this article deserve a special mention: J-horror (Japan), heroic bloodshed film (Hong Kong), Canuxploitation (Canada), and Ozploitation (Australia). As (more) scholarship on these contexts becomes available, it will be included in future editions.

American Exploitation

Historically, American exploitation film has dominated the scholarship in this field, for the simple reason that for many scholars it is largely a phenomenon of the American marketplace. Clark 1995 is an excellent indication of how vast a research terrain American exploitation film is. Quarles 1993 offers a more eclectic overview that focuses on a range of auteurs/producers. With regard to the classical era, studies of films from the United States cover the vast majority of the research, to the point where overviews of the classical period can, with reason, pose for global overviews (see Schaefer 1999 under General Overviews and Introductions). Included here are studies of the classical era that concentrate on two of the pressure moments: the early 1930s (Doherty 1999) and the mid- to late 1950s (Doherty 2002). Schaefer 1997 covers the immediate postwar period. Doherty 1984 offers a good analysis of American exploitation film at a crossroads in 1968. With regard to the modern era, American exploitation film takes up less of a majority in the field, and much of the scholarship is fragmented across studies of particular auteurs (see Exploitation Film Auteurs). Overviews of American exploitation film in the modern era also tend to specify particular contexts of reception, such as the drive-in theatre or the underground scene (Mendik and Schneider 2002), though there is a vast overlap between these categories, and they are used as mobile parameters rather than fixed templates. Sconce 2003 offers a self-reflective consideration of the pedagogical challenges of teaching classical American exploitation film.

  • Clarke, Randall. At a Theatre or Drive-In Near You: The History, Culture and Politics of the American Exploitation Film. New York: Garland, 1995.

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    Meticulously structured overview of the history of American exploitation. The definition and the chapter overviewing the literature are invaluable. The conclusion is priority reading for anyone. Case studies discuss blaxploitation, teen films, sexploitation, and American martial arts films.

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  • Doherty, Thomas. “The Exploitation Film as History: Wild in the Streets.” Literature/Film Quarterly 12.3 (1984): 186–194.

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    Early contribution to American exploitation film study. The case study of the AIP youthpic in function of its address of the teen zeitgeist is used here to sketch the significant components (youths, music, drugs) of exploitation film as it moved from the classical to the modern era.

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  • Doherty, Thomas. Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

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    Excellent study of the brief period in between the introduction of sound and the installation of Hollywood’s strict self-censorship, in which Hollywood and exploitation were almost synonymous. Case studies include Freaks (1932), the first two Tarzan films (1932 and 1934), and King Kong (1933). Appendix includes documents of the “Hollywood Code” of self-censorship.

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  • Doherty, Thomas. Teenagers and Teenpics: The Juvenilization of American Movies in the 1950s, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.

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    Superb study of the role of exploitation practices in the presentation and reception of 1950s teenpics. At the heart lies the decade’s change in the status of “exploitation” as industry term: from “nonthreatening” to a “cultural danger,” associated with the “danger of youth.” First published in 1988.

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  • Mendik, Xavier, and Steven Jay Schneider, eds. Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon. London: Wallflower, 2002.

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    Excellent overview of the modern period in American exploitation film by a range of established scholars and critics. Emphasis is on horror and sexploitation. Stresses the “maverick” procedures of filmmaking. Case studies include Curtis Harrington, John Waters, Abel Ferrara, and an essay by Nick Zedd. Foreword by Lloyd Kaufman.

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  • Quarles, Mike. Down and Dirty: Hollywood’s Exploitation Filmmakers and their Movies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1993.

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    The title word “Hollywood” functions more as aspiration for the filmmakers discussed here, not as a form of industrial praxis. Discusses the very underbelly of exploitation production (Dwain Esper, Larry Buchanan, David Friedman, and Hershell Gordon Lewis). Excellent chapter on the quality and price of film stock as a factor influencing exploitation film.

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  • Schaefer, Eric. “The Obscene Seen: Spectacle and Transgression in Postwar Burlesque Films.” Cinema Journal 36.2 (Winter 1997): 41–66.

    DOI: 10.2307/1225774Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed overview of a period of which the first part is often overlooked, and the second part dominated by attention for teen-movies (1945–1960). Focus is on striptease routines and stars such as Betty Page. The theoretical framework is that of representations of gender. Reprinted and annotated in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Sconce, Jeffrey. “Esper, the Renunciator: Teaching ‘Bad’ Movies to Good Students.” In Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Edited by Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro-Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andrew Willis, 14–34. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    Intelligent analysis of Dwain Esper’s Maniac (1934), which is used here as part of a rationale for teaching exploitation film in higher education, and as a means to make explicit the key cultural and aesthetic positions at stake in studying film. This is equally a policy and pedagogical document of strategic importance for exploitation film study.

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Asia Extreme

The term Asia Extreme was introduced, in the 1990s, as a colloquial term (and also as the tag of a distribution label) to denote a wave of films from Asia that caused furor on the North American and European markets. As such, there is an inference of Orientalism to its use by viewers and critics. Since then, the term has been used increasingly by scholars looking to identify a commonality in the receptions of Asian films as exploitation. Gradually, the term has enveloped most of Asian exploitation film, bringing under its umbrella the monster movie (usually arranged around Godzilla [1954]), the martial arts film (where Bruce Lee remains the central figure), anime (with Legend of the Overfiend [1989] and Ghost in the Shell [1995] as pivotal films), and, most recently, contemporary Korean and Japanese horror cinema (the latter is often referred to as J-horror). As this summary suggests, Asian exploitation film has often been associated with certain cycles and nations, and it is only recently that there has been an effort to look at exploitation film from the entire continent. Historically, the regions of Japan and Hong Kong have received the most attention, but South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, and Indonesia are now receiving attention as well. Weisser 1997 and Tombs 1998 are exponents of that development. Priority is given here to studies that offer a perspective on how Asian films were labeled as “extreme” exploitation. Examples are Davis and Yueh-yu 2001, Choi and Wada-Marciano 2009, and Rawle 2009. Chung 2010 applies the label “extreme” to Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk. The still dominant position of Japanese exploitation film is addressed in Noriega 1987, Macias 2002, and McRoy 2005. Excluded from this overview are studies listed under Martial Arts Film. Additional material on Asian exploitation can be found under Horror Exploitation (especially Schneider 2003) and Sexploitation (especially Hunter 1999).

  • Choi, Jinhee, and Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, eds. Horror to the Extreme: Changing Boundaries in Asian Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

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    This anthology is devoted to the shift from J-horror to Asia Extreme, two tags used to denote the receptions of Asian exploitation film. Excellent essays on Thai, Japanese, and Korean films. Also discusses the branding of “Asia Extreme” as a distribution label, and the issue of “Pan-Asian” film identity.

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  • Chung, Hye Seung. “Beyond “Extreme”: Rereading Kim Ki-duk’s Cinema of Ressentiment.” Journal of Film and Video 62.1–2 (Spring/Summer 2010): 96–111.

    DOI: 10.1353/jfv.0.0054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent summary of the ongoing debate and controversy that accompanies the films of Kim Ki-Duk, with a reassessment of “extreme cinema” through the history of Asian cinema’s Western reception, and a plea for a more discriminate discussion of Ki-Duk’s films as a form of ressentiment (political anger) to be understood in a national context.

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  • Davis, Darrell, and Yeh Yueh-yu. “Warning! Category III: The Other Hong Kong Cinema.” Film Quarterly 54.4 (2001): 12–26.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.2001.54.4.12Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the Hong Kong Category III classification that affected exploitation, horror, and arthouse films in the 1990s, and that enabled the broadening of Asian exploitation as a label for distribution (especially rental and retail). Specific attention goes to sexploitation (Sex and Zen [1991]), camp (Naked Killer [1992]), and “pornoviolence” (true crime films).

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  • Macias, Patrick. Tokyoscope: the Japanese Cult Film Companion. San Francisco: Viz Media, LLC, 2001.

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    Comprehensive overview of Japanese exploitation film from the 1950s to 2001. Covers monster movies (Godzilla [1954]), J-horror, sexploitation (pink movies), martial arts (ninjas and Sonny Chiba) and yakuza thrillers. Contains several interviews and rare illustrations. Foreword by Kinji Fukasaku; afterword by Takahi Miike. Ideal entry point into the phenomenon.

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  • McRoy, Jay, ed. Japanese Horror Cinema. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    Wide-ranging anthology of essays that interrogate the themes and receptions of Japanese horror film of today, mostly from the late 1990s onwards. Case studies of Tetsuo (1989), Ringu (1998), Battle Royale (2000), Audition (2000), The Grudge (2002), and horror anime (Vampire Princess Miyu[1988]). Excellent introduction to the J-horror phenomenon.

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  • Noriega, Chon. “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When Them is U.S.” Cinema Journal 27.1 (1987): 63–77.

    DOI: 10.2307/1225324Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Godzilla had been around for decades before it received scholarly interest. This essay summarizes the themes of “otherness,” “destruction,” and “alienation” (including opposition to the United States), the franchise is best known for, and it discusses them for each decade. Reprinted in Dimitris Eleftheriotis and Gary Needham’s Asian Cinemas: a Reader and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006).

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  • Rawle, Steven. “From The Black Society to The Isle: Miike Takashi and Kim Ki-Duk at the Intersection of Asia Extreme.” Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema 1.2 (December 2009): 167–184.

    DOI: 10.1386/jjkc.1.2.167/1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Insightful analysis of the “pan-Asian faux genre of extreme cinema.” Ostensibly an attempt to look beyond the exploitation label but equally an investigation of the processes through which “exploitation” tags are accorded to films. Contrasts international and regional contexts to offer a look at how cultural identity is represented in these films.

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  • Tombs, Pete. Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.

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    Collection of overview essays and critical commentaries that offers one of the best entries into non-Western exploitation film. Covers Turkish, Indonesian, Philippines, Hong Kong, and India. (The website Mondo Macabre: The Wild Side of World Cinema contains a newsletter, numerous reviews, and functions as depository and retail shop.)

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  • Weisser, Thomas. Asian Cult Cinema. New York: Boulevard Books, 1997.

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    Originally entitled Asian Trash Cinema (1991). Weisser, and his collaborators Archie Cole and Yuko Mihara, can be credited with spearheading the Western interest in Asian exploitation film. The book’s reviews of martial arts, J-horror, and heroic bloodshed film (a term used for Hong Kong exploitation action films) are invaluable. The online edition is mostly a retail site.

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Britsploitation

Exploitation film from the United Kingdom has developed as a quite unique type of film, one that is distinct because it has “traveled quite badly,” as Upton 2001 observes. Less concerned with aesthetics and realism than Eurotrash, and less bothered by marketplace anxieties that dominate American Exploitation, it is also often seen as more muted in its imagery because of the historically tight censorship regulations. Among the unique characteristics are a fascination with vulgar comedy and science fiction (and their combination), and an exclusive brand of horror (of which Hammer Horror is the most visible exponent). Much of the terminology of Britsploitation references the emotive mobility of the spectator’s position through a self-mocking deprecation. Hunt 1998 is arguable the most comprehensive overview of Britsploitation, even though it focuses on the 1970s. Upton 2001 is a good summary. Chibnall 1999 focuses on sci-fi exploitation. Sheridan 2001 covers the erotic film and vulgar sex comedies. Hutchings 1993 gives a historical overview of British horror exploitation. Hunt 2002 explores one of the darker components of British horror: occult exploitation, a subgenre with a particular temporary appeal (late 1960s and early 1970), and as such a historically totemic moment in Britsploitation. Halligan 2003 is an exemplary study of one of Britsploitation’s most legendary auteurs of that moment. Hunter 2004 is an excellent case study of British exploitation in the 1970s. Finally, Wimmer 2009 offers a unique view on the cross-border reception of Britsploitation.

  • Chibnall, Steve. “Alien Women: the Politics of Sexual Difference in British SF Pulp Cinema.” In British Science Fiction Cinema. Edited by I. Q. Hunter, 57–74. London: Routledge, 1999.

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    Insightful discussion of the representation of female characters in science-fiction exploitation (dubbed “pulp” here): as an “other” against which the male world is defined. Concentrates on the 1940s to 1980s, with emphasis on the 1940s–1960s.

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  • Halligan, Ben. Michael Reeves. British Film Makers. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    Excellent study of Britsploitation’s most contested figure. Covers Reeves’s personal life (and the rumors around his early death, before he was 30), and examines in detail his films of the late 1960s: Revenge of the Blood Beast (1966) with Barbara Steele, and The Witchfinder General (1968, US title: The Conqueror Worm), with Vincent Price.

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  • Hunt, Leon. British Low Culture: From Safari Suits to Sexploitation. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    Concise, excellent overview, by an authority in the field, of British exploitation film in the 1970s. Discusses “low comedy,” youthsploitation, sexploitation, filmmakers (Robin Askwith), and British horror of the time. Useful postscript asks where the responsibilities (and pitfalls) of academic research into the area lie.

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  • Hunt, Leon. “Necromancy in the UK: Witchcraft and the Occult in British Horror.” In British Horror Cinema. Edited by Steve Chibnall and Julian Petley, 82–98. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    “One thing is clear,” writes Hunt, “occult = sex.” This case study stresses the late 1960s as a key moment in British occultism (when Aleister Crowley’s “Sex Magick,” Wicca, and folk paganism were key influences). Case studies of The Wicker Man (1973) and Hellraiser (1987), and discussions of numerous other British horrorsploitation films.

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  • Hunter, I. Q. “Deep Inside Queen Kong: Anatomy of an Extremely Bad Film.” In Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945. Edited by Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, 32–38. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Short but important study of a notorious case of “bad cinema,” and a good example of how exploitation film study can aid the unearthing of otherwise neglected or unavailable material. Hunter’s discussion places Queen Kong (1976) in the social and cultural context of the 1970s, and in the English camp tradition in particular.

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  • Hutchings, Peter. Hammer and Beyond: the British Horror Film. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1993.

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    One of the first studies to look seriously at Britsploitation. Careful not to equate horror with exploitation, Hutchings’s excellent discussions exemplify the close connection between the two, in production and reception, especially during the latter days of Hammer, a production company whose crossover franchises are rightfully at the center of this book.

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  • Sheridan, Simon. Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. London: Reynolds & Hearn, 2001.

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    Popular but insightful historical introduction to British sexploitation film. Covers mostly soft porn and naughty comedy, such as the Carry On series and the Confessions films, and stars such as Robin Askwith and Mary Millington. Contains an exhaustive filmography and interviews with key figures of sexploitation film.

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  • Upton, Julian. “Poverty Row, Wardour Street: The Last Years of British Exploitation Cinema”. Bright Lights Film Journal 33 (July 2001).

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    Cursory overview of Britsploitation that charts its development across the 1960s and 1970s, stressing the connection with American exploitation. The focus is on three figures: Lindsay Shonteff, Pete Walker, and Stanley Long. Probably the most undergraduate-friendly entry to their films.

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  • Wimmer, Leila. “The Creation of an Alternative Canon: Positif, Midi-Minuit fantastique, British Horror and the Fantastic.” In Cross-Channel Perspectives: The French Reception of British Cinema. By Leila Wimmer, 149–196. New Studies in European Cinema 8. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.

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    Unique view on the international reception of Britsploitation, especially the horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. Equally, an intriguing study of the ways in which Britsploitation’s reputation was dependent on changes in the film-cultural climate in France. Most attention goes to Hammer horror films.

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Eurotrash

European exploitation film is often nicknamed “Eurotrash,” and though this tag does not exactly cover all of European exploitation, it has become such a much-used shorthand synonym for it that we adopt it here. Perhaps a rationale for the radical and dismissive tone of this label lies in the contrast it provides with the kind of film Europe is traditionally associated with: state-subsidized art and auteur cinema. Dyer and Vincendeau 1992 and Eleftheriotis 2001 offer well-informed views on the gap between the two perspectives. Even to this day, the dichotomy influences debate on European exploitation. This is acutely the case in writings on contemporary French film, as Harris 2011, a study of the 1970s’ most successful exploitation film, Emmanuelle (1974) testifies, and on German film scholarship, as Hantke 2007 demonstrates. Most of the scholarship on Eurotrash is situated in the modern period, predominantly of the 1970s onwards, with some material covering the 1950s and 1960s. Tohill and Tombs 1995 is an example that covers this early period. Shipka 2007 gives a broad overview of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Mathijs and Mendik 2004 emphasize the 1970s and beyond, with a strong emphasis on central Europe. Unlike American exploitation, the focus in Eurotrash scholarship is less on routines and practices of production and distribution (European producers remain acutely under-researched), and more on the social positioning of film as lowbrow, the textual aesthetics of realism, and on auteurist oeuvres. Hawkins 1999 is a welcome exception. A few articulations of Eurotrash are not included because they merit exclusive attention: Italosploitation is discussed separately because of its prolific presence in academic scholarship (especially with regard to the Giallo). Britsploitation is also considered separate from continental European exploitation film. The section on Mondo and Snuff Film is also dominated by European films. And the films of auteurs Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Jess Franco, Lucio Fulci and Paul Verhoeven are also discussed separately.

  • Dyer, Richard, and Ginette Vincendeau. Popular European Cinema. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Though not uniquely addressing exploitation film, this anthology had a decided impact on how it framed non-art cinema of Europe, seeking to present “popular” as a term to avoid “exploitation.” Case studies of the French music hall tradition, the peplum, Spanish queer film, Barbara Steele, and spaghetti westerns.

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  • Eleftheriotis, Dimitris. Popular Cinemas of Europe: Studies of Texts, Contexts, and Frameworks. London & New York: Continuum, 2001.

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    Like Dyer and Vincendeau 1992, this study problematizes the artificial distinction between art-auteurs and “Eurotrash kitsch” (p. 136). As such, this is more of a para-exploitation study. Insightful analyses of spaghetti westerns, Greek open-air cinema, the films of Lina Wertmüller, and French “vulgar” comedy.

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  • Hantke, Steffen, ed. Caligari’s Heirs: the German Cinema of Fear After 1945. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

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    This thoroughly researched anthology covers much of German horror-exploitation film. Wide range of case studies, including 1980s sexploitation, the films of Klaus Kinski, and a section on Germany’s “king of trash,” Jörg Buttgereit. Interviews with Buttgereit, Robert Sigl, and Nico Hoffmann.

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  • Harris, Sue. “Sex, Comedy, and Sexy Comedy at the French Box Office in the 1970s: Rethinking Emmanuelle and Les Valseuses.” Contemporary French Civilization 35.1 (Winter/Spring 2011): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.3828/cfc.2011.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent essay on how the exploitative nature of much of French film (called “lightweight and aberrant” films here) of the 1970s remains overlooked by most scholarship. Also significant for its analysis of the reception of Emmanuelle (1974), the decade’s most successful European exploitation film.

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  • Hawkins, Joan. “Sleaze Mania, Euro-Trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture.” Film Quarterly 53.2 (Winter 1999): 14–29.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1999.53.2.04a00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Enlightening discussion of how the tags “exploitation” and “Eurotrash” are used as attractors for sales and distribution overseas, even when they are employed for art films. Hawkins uses theories of “affect” to argue for a consideration of films that are “simultaneously challenging and titillating.” Precursor to Hawkins 2000 (see Paracinema). Reprinted in several anthologies.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest, and Xavier Mendik, eds. Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Widely referenced anthology of (mostly) continental European exploitation; resists what it calls the “high white tradition” of Dyer and Vincendeau 1992. Case studies of the Emmanuelle series (1974–); Belgian, Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian exploitation; and the function of genre festivals. Interviews with Brian Yuzna and Jörg Buttgereit. Foreword by Jean Rollin.

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  • Shipka, Daniel G. “Perverse Titillation: A History of European Exploitation Films 1960–1980.” PhD diss., University of Florida, 2007.

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    Generalist overview of Eurotrash in the light of its contemporary availability on DVD and other platforms (the document makes heavy use of DVD liner notes). The most attention is accorded to France (case study: Jean Rollin), Spain (case studies: Paul Naschy and Jess Franco), and Italy (case studies of giallo film, mondo film, and Nunsploitation)

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  • Tohill, Cathal, and Pete Tombs. Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies, 1956–1984. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.

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    Widely acknowledged overview of sleaze, sexploitation, and lowbrow horror cinema of continental Europe. Features analyses of Italian, German, French, and Spanish films, and case studies of Jess Franco (should there be a reference to the Franco entry here?), Jean Rollin, José Larraz, José Bénazéraf, Walerian Borowczyk, and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

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Italosploitation

Italian exploitation film, or Italosploitation, is one of the most globally recognized kinds of regional exploitation cinema. That is mostly the result of the international appeal of two of its representatives, the spaghetti western and the giallo. Because it is not unique to Italy, nor to exploitation film, the spaghetti western is not discussed here. The giallo, quite typical to Italy, and indeed in some cases almost regarded as synonymous with Italosploitation, is a hybrid of horror, crime, mystery, and surrealism that has become very successful in overseas markets (more so than in Italy). Guins 2005 gives a solid account of this international popularity. The most iconic exponent of giallo film, Dario Argento is also discussed under separate heading. The elusiveness of the giallo has led scholars to problematize it. For Bruschini and Tentori 1992, it is Hitchcockian; Needham 2002 offers it as pseudo-horror; Koven 2006 suggests it is a form of vernacular film culture that invalidates generic tropes; and Edmondstone 2010 even proposes to stop using the term in favor of the term “filone,” a term akin to serials and franchises that better describes the loose generic affiliations. Aside from the giallo, Italosploitation is characterized by a myriad number of cycles and waves of films, a few of which have developed into subgenres. Among the most notable are the peplum (especially the Maciste and Hercules films), nunsploitation film (sexploitation in the context of the religious order of the Catholic Church), poliziottesschi (crime films with rogue cops), Nazisploitation, mondo film, and cannibal and zombie films, but there are many more. The majority of these subgenres and cycles come from the 1970s, and while some run deep into the 1980s and 1990s, their dominance lies in the 1970s. Newman 1986 is an early attempt to present a summary overview. Luther-Smith 1997 offers an exhaustive guide. Nakahara 2004 is an excellent overview of nunsploitation; Lagny 1992 discusses the peplum; while Mendik 2010 discusses the unique figure of Joe D’Amato (1936–1999), who was active in nearly all of the above-mentioned cycles, and hard-core pornography on top of it. In spite of all this scholarship, a recurrent factor of attempts to culturally place Italosploitation remains the lack of a robust tool for identifying and categorizing these films.

  • Bruschini, Antonio, and Antonio Tentori. Profonde tenebre: Il cinema thrilling italiano, 1962–1982. Bologna, Italy: Granata, 1992.

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    Authoritative and widely referenced study of the early period of the giallo. Discusses the giallo as a specific type of thriller, and minimizes the horror elements. Out of print, with limited availability, and thus coveted by collectors.

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  • Edmondstone, Robbie. “Beyond ‘Brutality’: Understanding the Italian Filone’s Violent Excesses.” PhD diss., University of Glasgow, 2010.

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    First explicit articulation of the term filone (“thread”) as a tool around which understandings of Italosploitation (and horror and giallo in particular) can be arranged. Speaks to elements of repetition, serialization, and market saturation. Concentrates on horror, mondo, and giallo.

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  • Guins, Raiford. “Blood and Black Gloves on Shiny Discs: New Media, Old Tastes, and the Remediation of Italian Horror Films in the United States.” In Horror International. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider and Tony Williams, 15–32. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

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    Study of the overseas distribution and home-viewing reception of Italian horror, mondo, and giallo in particular. Concentrates on the 1990s. Assesses the impact of cut and uncut versions, dubbing, cover art, and fan discourse in sustaining Italosploitation’s reputation.

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  • Koven, Mikel. La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006.

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    Employs the theoretical perspective of “vernacular cinema” to approach the giallo as a cycle with a fixed market position (third-run theatres). Excellent analytic descriptions of stylistic intertextuality. Surveys more than fifty films. Next to Argento, Bava, and Fulci, this book discusses otherwise under-researched directors such as Umberto Lenzi and Pupi Avati.

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  • Lagny, Michèle. “Popular Taste: The Peplum.” In Popular European Cinema. Edited by Richard Dyer and Ginette Vincendeau, 163–180. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Excellent introduction to the postwar peplum (or sword-and-sandal film). Case study of The Giant of Marathon (1959), Jacques Tourneur and Mario Bava, dirs. Isolates themes such as virility, the valorization of the body, nationalism, and spectacle.

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  • Luther-Smith, Adrian. Delirium: A Guide to Italian Exploitation Cinema: 1975–1979. London: Media Publications, 1997.

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    An exhaustive, serialized guide to Italian exploitation films of the 1970s. Offers short overviews of individual films. Available in different editions, covering different years within the 1970s. The 1975–1979 edition is the most widely cited. Later editions are published by FAB Press.

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  • Mendik, Xavier. “Body in a Bed, Body Growing Dead: Uncanny Women in Joe D’Amato’s Italian Exploitation Cinema.” In Cinema Inferno: Celluloid Explosions from the Cultural Margins. Edited by Robert Weiner and John Cline, 124–141. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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    D’Amato’s oeuvre stretches numerous cycles in Italosploitation (mondo and sexploitation chief among them). His films have long been shunned by scholars. This largely Freudian analysis of the representation of women in his early films is therefore a welcome exception.

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  • Nakahara, Tamao. “Barred Nuns: Italian Nunsploitation Films.” In Alternative Europe; Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945. Edited by Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, 124–133. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Probably the definitive essay on nunsploitation. This cycle purposefully oversaturated the market through the 1970s and early 1980s. Explains the appeal of the cycle as a mix of erotica with pseudo-ethnography. Sources include medieval narratives, the Decameron, and the scandal of the Nun of Monza.

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  • Needham, Gary. “Playing with Genre: An Introduction to the Italian Giallo.” Kinoeye: New Perspectives on European Film 2.11 (2002).

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    Most widely referenced introduction to the giallo genre. Offers a definition and emphasizes detective and travel motifs as key to the narratives. Distinguishes between two dominant periods: 1962–1966 and 1970–1977. Excerpted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies), with detailed annotation.

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  • Newman, Kim. “Thirty Years in Another Town: The History of Italian Exploitation.” Monthly Film Bulletin 53.624 (1986): 20–24.

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    Brief, solid introduction to the diversity of films that make up Italosploitation. Argues that the value of Italian exploitation cycles lies in how they parody, deconstruct, and inflate generic clichés. Most attention goes to the peplum, giallo, mondo, literary horror, and the spaghetti western. Ideal for anyone new to the phenomenon.

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Latsploitation

Attention for the exploitation film of Latin America is fairly new. Before the 21st century, most if not all discussion was centered around a few key figures, especially Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chilean, but mostly active in Mexico), José Mojica Marins (aka Coffin Joe, from Brazil), and Luis Buñuel (his Mexican films). Jodorowsky and Buñuel were usually discussed as “international” directors, laying claim to “arthouse” labels. Barcinski and Finotti 1998 is a welcome exception to this tendency. More recently, that “art” tag has gradually been removed from some discussions. For an exploration of Jodorowsky, who remains the seminal figure of Latsploitation, see Greene 2007. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the 21st century has seen a new direction in Latsploitation studies: conceptualizations of region and nation have become more important (usually influenced by a postcolonial theoretical perspective). This perspective is most prominently advocated in Tierney 2004. It has enabled the reassessment of exploitation film in most countries of Latin America, as evidenced in Ruétalo and Tierney 2009. Overall, the dominant region in Latsploitation has been Mexico (Mexploitation). Mexploitaton distinguishes itself through its emphasis on generic markers (e.g., wrestling and stunt narratives, franchise horror characters such as vampires or werewolves). To this day, Mexico dominates scholarly attention for Latsploitation. Among the most authoritative studies are Greene 2005, Syder and Tierney 2005, and Gunckel 2007.

  • Barcinski, André, and Ivan Finotti. Maldito: A vida e o cinema de José Mojica Marins, o Zé do Caixão. São Paulo, Brazil: Editora 34, 1998.

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    Widely referenced as one of the best, early studies of the films of Coffin Joe (José Mojica Marins). Barcinski summarizes many of the arguments in an English-language chapter in the anthology Schneider 2003 (see Horror Exploitation).

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  • Greene, Doyle. Mexploitation Cinema: A Critical History of Mexican Vampire, Wrestler, Ape-Man and Similar Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.

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    Authoritative overview of the golden age of Mexploitation film. Covers 1957–1977, and follows a historical trajectory. Most attention goes to the El Santo/Lucha Libre and Las Luchadoras films (wrestling films). Also addresses horror films such as The Brainiac (El Barón del terror, 1962) and Night of the Bloody Apes (La Horripilante bestia humana, 1972). Claims that the Tlatelolco massacre (1968) meant the end of Mexploitation film’s boom period.

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  • Greene, Doyle. The Mexican Cinema of Darkness. A Critical Study of Six Landmark Horror and Exploitation Films, 1969–1988. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

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    Nearly half of this book is devoted to two films of Jodorowsky: El Topo (1970) and Santa Sangre (1989), arguably among the most significant exploitation films (a label the director protests) from Latin America. Other directors covered are Lopez Moctezuma, and René Cardona Jr. (Guyana: Crime of the Century [1979]). Covers mostly the 1970s and 1980s.

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  • Gunckel, Colin. “El Signo de la muerte and the Birth of a Genre: Origins and Anatomy of the Aztec Horror Film.” In Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Edited by Jeffrey Sconce, 121–143. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Case study of Chano Urueta’s 1939 film, which is presented as the precursor of a prolific cycle of Aztec mummy films (and a general boom in Mexican film). Excellent discussion of the representation of Mexico’s indigenous people in this model film for local exploitation cinema.

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  • Ruétalo, Victoria, and Dolores Tierney, eds. Latsploitation, Exploitation Cinemas, and Latin America. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    Probably the best anthology of writings on Latsploitation in English. Wide range of topics, including Jodorowsky and Coffin Joe, as well as numerous lesser-known filmmakers: Emilio Vieyra, Juan Orol, and Leon Klimovsky. Overviews cover Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Argentine, and Peru. Genres include spaghetti western, vampire and wrestling films, sexploitation, and cult film.

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  • Syder, Andrew, and Dolores Tierney. “Importation/Mexploitation, or, How a Crime-Fighting, Vampire-Slaying Mexican Wrestler Almost Found Himself in an Italian Sword-and-Sandals Epic.” In Horror International. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider and Tony Williams, 33–55. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

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    Important essay because of the way it brings the distribution and reception trajectories of Mexploitation in the United States into view, as a form of transcultural movement locked into a particular mode of exhibition (art-house and late-night TV). Focuses on the Mexican horror-wrestling films distributed by K. Gordon Murray.

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  • Tierney, Dolores. “José Mojica Marins and the Cultural Politics of Marginality in Third World Film Criticism.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13.1 (2004): 63–78.

    DOI: 10.1080/1356932042000186497Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paradigm-setting essay. Argues that because of academic preferences for New Cinema, “popular horror and exploitation cinemas” from Latin America have remained under-investigated. Argues for a reassessment of this “submerged” cinema. Case study of Coffin Joe. Also introduces numerous other figures of Latsploitation film. Reprinted in Ruétalo and Tierney 2009.

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Exploitation Film Auteurs

As in virtually every field within film studies, exploitation film has its celebrated filmmakers, whose oeuvres and careers are approached as objects of study in their own right, almost independent of the genres or contexts they belong to, and whose films are studied in terms of their overarching themes, styles, and coherences. The challenge with exploitation film auteurs is that there is often hardly any cohesion in their careers. At the same time, there is a lack of theoretical perspective—it is almost as if theory fails when faced with the forthrightness, brashness, and industriousness of many exploitation auteurs. Discussion is limited to filmmakers whose work has become the subject of consistent scholarship, whose careers are primarily discussed through the lens of exploitation film, and whose films cannot be primarily situated within one generic template (thus, filmmakers such as Tod Browning, David Cronenberg, or Wes Craven are excised). The following filmmakers, whose works have not been detailed, deserve mention, and as scholarship on their work emerges, they can hopefully be included in future updates: José Bénazéraf, Tinto Brass, Jörg Buttgereit, Joe D’Amato, Ruggero Deodato, Dwain Esper, Abel Ferrara, David Friedman, Lloyd Kaufman, Antonio Margheriti, Ted V. Mikels, Fred Olen Ray.

Dario Argento

Dario Argento (b. 1940) is easily the most commonly recognized exploitation filmmaker from Italy. For many critics, Argento is not a pure exploitationist. Rather, he is seen as a crossover figure, whose contributions to the giallo and horror genres, and whose stubborn dedication to a small set of themes, have given him the status of an auteur, both in his native Italy (where the stardom of his daughter Asia has made him a star too), and abroad, especially in western Europe and the United States. Most studies of Argento are textual analyses that concentrate on the themes, styles, and worldviews of his films. Because of the perceived misogyny of his films (in which a lot of violence and torture is directed towards women), gender is a recurrent topic. Examples are Knee 1996 and Cooper 2005. Career overviews such as McDonagh 1991, Cozzi 2001, or Jones 2004 tend to emphasize the 1970s (and to a somewhat lesser extent the 1980s) as the key period in Argento’s career. Studies of individual films of Argento are often a combination of textual analysis and theoretical exploration, with psychoanalysis and post-structuralism among the chief methodologies. Mendik 2000 is a good example. As a public figure, Argento’s own voice has been of some significance in the scholarly debate. Maiello 2007 is a book-length interview. A fairly recent addition to Argento scholarship is the study of the receptions of his films. Hutchings 2003 and Hunter 2010 offer fascinating insights into the social construction of his cultural status.

  • Cooper, L. Andrew. “The Indulgence of Critique: Relocating the Sadistic Voyeur in Dario Argento’s Opera.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 22.1 (2005): 63–72.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200590450190Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Argento’s films are “metacritical” and “self-conscious” in mixing the perceptions about horror into narratives and themes. For Cooper, this function redefines the role of the “sadistic voyeur” in Argento’s films. Using the work of Michel Foucault, this function is explained as an interrogation of power.

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  • Cozzi, Luigi. Giallo Argento: All About Dario Argento’s Movies. Rome: Profondo Rosso, 2001.

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    This is simultaneously an example of fan scholarship and insider observation. Cozzi collaborated with Argento for many years (and also directed giallo films himself). Generalist overview without theoretical perspective, but with sharp observations on the productions. Published by a press/company set up by Cozzi and Argento.

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  • Hunter, Russ. “‘Didn’t You Used to Be Dario Argento?’: The Cult Reception of Dario Argento.” In Italian Film Directors in the New Millennium. Edited by William Hope, 63–74. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.

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    Study of the reception of Argento in the UK and Italy. Argues that after the success of his 1970s films, Argento’s status was so entrenched that subsequent failures and flops failed to change his reputation. Proposes that this “inoculation” is a key element in the receptions of exploitation filmmakers.

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  • Hutchings, Peter. “The Argento Effect.” In Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Edited by Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andrew Willis, 127–141. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    Study of the reception of Argento amongst fans and critics. Argues that the prevalent frameworks through which Argento’s films are discussed indicate a dedication and seriousness that is at odds with the more ironic tone of much other exploitation fandom. Focuses mainly on discussions of Argento’s overall career.

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  • Jones, Alan. Profondo Argento: The Man, the Myths and the Magic. London: FAB Press, 2004.

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    Invaluable fan-scholar study, the result of Jones’ numerous magazine articles on Argento. Based on, and featuring, a range of interviews with Argento collaborators. Also features interviews with Argento’s peers (George Romero, Sergio Stivaletti). Makes a good effort to include analyses of the most recent films.

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  • Knee, Adam. “Gender, Genre, Argento.” In The Dread of Difference: Gender and The Horror Film. Edited by Barry Keith Grant, 213–230. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

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    Groundbreaking essay that argues that Argento’s films’ preoccupation with perceptions of gender should be seen as an attempt to ask viewers to reassess conceptualizations of identification and challenge theories of gender representation in horror exploitation film (especially Clover 1992, cited under Slasher Film).

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  • Maiello, Fabio. Dario Argento: Confessioni di un maestro dell’horror. Milan: Alacrán, 2007.

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    An extended book length interview that offers a wealth of insights into the logistics of Argento’s productions. Emphasis is fairly evenly spread across the oeuvre, with a little bit more attention than usual for the more recent films.

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  • McDonagh, Maitland. Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento. London: Sun Tavern Fields, 1991.

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    For a long time this was the only authoritative English-language study on Argento. It remains one of the best book-length, generalist overviews. McDonagh had earlier published an essay in Film Quarterly under the same title, which can be read as a summary of the book.

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  • Mendik, Xavier. Tenebre/Tenebrae. Trowbridge, UK: Flicks Books, 2000.

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    Detailed study of one of the most notorious Argento films, one of two of his films that were seen as part of the Video Nasties (the other was Inferno [1980]). Concentrates mostly on the narrative drive and the aesthetic style of the film. Employs a psychoanalytic and poststructuralist perspective.

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Mario Bava

Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava (b. 1914–d. 1980) are probably the most frequently cited directors of Italian exploitation film. Compared to the other two, Bava is the elder, a forerunner of Italosploitation. He started his career as cinematographer, and as a codirector of peplum films (for an account of that part of his oeuvre, see Lagny 1992 under Italosploitation). He became most noted in the 1960s, with his film Black Sunday (1960), starring Barbara Steele. Jenks 1992 is a solid account of the importance of that film for his career, and for European exploitation and genre film in general. Over the years, Bava has attracted some scholarly attention, especially in recent times, when his films have become more easily available (and in much improved quality). One of the earliest comprehensive studies is Leutrat 1994. The most elaborate study is Lucas 2007. Since 2000, Bava’s oeuvre has been approached from a wide variety of angles. Balmain 2002 and Heffernan 2007 present diverse cultural contexts for understanding Bava’s work: post-structuralist theory and Italian realism for Balmain, and Italian and North American reception contexts for Heffernan. Dewaele 2003 is an exemplary case of fan scholarship, and Karola 2003 presents a crossover between fan scholarship and theoretical analysis.

  • Balmain, Colette. “Mario Bava’s The Evil Eye: Realism and the Italian Horror Film.” Post Script 21.3 (2002): 20–31.

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    Theoretical discussion of Bava’s The Evil Eye (1962), which set the standard for the giallo film (see Italosploitation). Observes interconnections between neorealism, Giles Deleuze’s “action-image,” and the giallo. Uses psychoanalysis and post-structuralism as methodology. Part of a special issue on realist horror, edited by Steven Jay Schneider.

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  • Dewaele, Alwin. “Mario Bava’s Bleak World View: The Nihilism of Rabid Dogs.” In Flesh & Blood Compendium. Edited by Harvey Fenton, 208–212. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2003.

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    Short but insightful essay on Bava’s long-unreleased film, Semaforo Ross (aka Rabid Dogs[1974]). Useful for its analysis of the production and release problems, including copyright and re-release/restoration issues—problems typical for Bava’s late films.

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  • Heffernan, Kevin. “Art House or House of Exorcism? The Changing Distribution and Reception Contexts of Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil.” In Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Edited by Jeffrey Sconce, 144–163. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Case study of Lisa and the Devil (1974), part of the later career of Bava (and a collaboration with Sergio Leone), and a film whose reception trajectory went from “cursed production” via Eurotrash to “lost masterpiece.” Concentrates on the film’s hybridity (“Bava’s Marienbad”), and its American release as “art-horror-exploitation.”

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  • Jenks, Carol. “The Other Face of Death: Barbara Steele and La maschera del Demonio.” In Popular European Cinema. Edited by Richard Dyer and Ginette Vincendeau, 149–162. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Study of the career of Barbara Steele through her key performance in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), the film credited with starting the cult around her roles in exploitation films. Bava is presented here as the master-crafter of the female image as a fetish.

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  • Karola. “Italian Cinema Goes to the Drive-In: The Intercultural Horrors of Mario Bava.” In Horror at the Drive-In: Essays in Popular Americana. Edited by Gary D. Rhodes, 211–237. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

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    Theoretically informed discussion of Bava’s horror films, in the light of their heterogeneity and cross-cultural appeal. Frames Bava’s oeuvre as an intersection between cultures and traditions, partly formulaic and partly transcendental. Focuses on the “excessiveness” of his style, and stresses the pathos and Catholicism of the films.

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  • Leutrat, Jean-Louis, ed. Mario Bava. Liege, Belgium: Editions du Céfal, 1994.

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    Anthology that concentrates on the versatility of Bava’s career. Some essays tackle his entire oeuvre (and are excellent introductions for class use); most essays discuss specific films. Excellent example of the rise in scholarly interest in Bava’s work in the early 1990s, especially in Europe. Published in collaboration with the Cinématheque française.

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  • Lucas, Tim. Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. New York: Video Watchdog, 2007.

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    Inclusive and complete study of the films of Bava; likely the definitive word on the films. Partly based on previously published materials by Lucas. Contains interviews with crew and cast, storyboards, and a complete filmography (including the uncredited work Bava did). Introduction by Martin Scorsese. Self-published through Video Watchdog.

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William Castle

One of the legendary showmen of the classical era of exploitation film, the producer, distributor, and director William Castle (b. 1914–d. 1977) is better known for his stunts to get his films noticed than for the films themselves. His position as exploitation icon is undisputed, as demonstrated by the numerous endorsements and celebrations of his work by exploitation filmmakers from the modern generation. Waters 2003 is a good case in point. Yet scholarly work on Castle remains scarce. One reason is the methodological problem Castle poses for auteurist perspectives, textual analyses, and reception analyses: Castle was known for manipulating releases thoroughly. Camp and paracinematic methods often prefer to concentrate on more consciously ironic modern exploitation film, or on films that are more easily derided as bad (many of Castle films were not objectively “bad”). The highpoint of Castle’s career is situated in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with films such as House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), and Homicidal (1961). He later also produced Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Most scholars focus on Castle’s individual films and stunts, and less on his oeuvre or the themes it addressed. Brottman 1997 and Sanjek 2003 are exemplary in their efforts to marry traditional methods of study (textual analysis in this case) with observations of the “eventfulness” of Castle’s films. Heffernan 2004 places Castle’s most renowned films in the context of American horror exploitation of the time. Strawn 1975 offers a summary overview of Castle’s career. The autobiography, Castle 2010 (first published in 1976, a year before his death), offers an inside look into traditional exploitation showmanship, and can easily be considered a stunt in its own right.

  • Brottman, Mikita. “Faecal Phantoms: Oral and Anal Tensions in The Tingler.” In Trash Aesthetics: Popular Culture and Its Audience. Edited by Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, 103–117. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

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    Case study of Castle’s most (in)famous film, whose release was accompanied by an electronic shock system. First half of the essay overviews the strategies for publicizing and releasing the film, while the latter half turns to a Freudian analysis of themes in The Tingler (1959). Reprinted in Offensive Films: Towards an Anthropology of Cinema Vomitif (Brottman 1997, cited under Transgression).

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  • Castle, William. Step Right Up!: I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul. New York: Putnam, 2010.

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    Part autobiography, part stunt. Self-serving and boastful at points but interesting for the insights into the logistics of exploitation film production. Also looks beyond the 1950s–1960s era. Includes a filmography and a list of stage plays. Preface by John Waters. Originally published in 1976.

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  • Heffernan, Kevin. “A Sysified Bela Lugosi: Vincent Price, William Castle, and AIP’s Poe Adaptations.” In Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953–1968. By Kevin Heffernan, 90–112. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    The actual focus of this chapter is the actor Vincent Price, whose work in Castle’s films House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959) is highlighted here. Argues that Price’s hammed-up acting style fits the “event-style” of presentation of Castle’s films.

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  • Sanjek, David. “The Doll and The Whip: Pathos and Ballyhoo in William Castle’s Homicidal.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 20.4 (2003): 247–263.

    DOI: 10.80/10509200390224355Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent overview of Castle’s methods during the highpoint of his career. Focus is on marketing techniques for Macabre (1958) and Homicidal (1961). Argues that Homidical’s representation of monstrosity—a transvestite murder(ess)—is actually very innovative. Likely the best scholarly essay on Castle.

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  • Strawn, Linda May. “William Castle.” In King of the B’s: Working Wiithin the Hollywod System; An Anthology of Film History and Criticism. Edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, 286–298. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975.

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    Introductory summary of Castle’s career and most significant films. Useful because it is an early fan-scholar effort to recognize Castle’s work as important in the exploitation film genre. Part of a generalist, widely quoted overview of exploitation film.

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  • Waters, John. “Whatever Happened to Showmanship?” In Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters. By John Waters, 13–23. New York: Scribner, 2003.

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    Endorsement in the form of a celebration by a valued peer. Unscholarly, and slightly ironic in its language, but the facts are correct, and the enthusiastic tone conveys the kind of status Castle holds in the exploitation business. Good introduction to the meaning of the term “showmanship.”

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Roger Corman

The King of the B’s, the emperor of exploitation film, Roger Corman (b. 1926) has received several coronations as the most significant filmmaker in the genre, someone whose image spans both the classical period (as a producer/showman) and the modern period (as a self-conscious auteur). With a career that has run from the 1950s into the 21st century, and with more than 100 films as producer and/or director, there is certainly a quantitative wealth of material available. Scholarly consideration for Corman grew in the early 1970s, when his production companies were given extra attention through the mainstream success of directors he’d been the first to give a chance in the craft. Willemen, et al. 1970 and Dixon 1976 are among the earliest examples. Since then there has been a steady stream of studies. Overall, there have emerged three kinds of scholarship on Corman. The first kind focuses on his oeuvre, from an auteurist perspective. Willemen, et al. 1970, Dixon 1976, and Morris 2010 are examples of this. While there is a certain degree of auteur-celebration in these studies, they are also characterized by an unusual attention on the logistics of filmmaking (instead of aesthetics). The second kind concentrates on Corman’s efforts as a producer, with American International Pictures (AIP), New World Pictures, Aries Films (in Latin America), and others. Examples are Osgerby 2003 (on AIP’s biker films), Hillier and Lipstadt 1981 (on New World Pictures), and Falicov 2004 (on Aries Films). The emphasis in these studies lies on the political economy, topicality, and reception of the films. The third kind of scholarship, or commentary, involves the publications by Corman himself, or to which Corman has contributed. Examples are Corman and Jerome 1990, Gray 2004 (at least in part), and Silver and Ursini 2006. These are significant for the candid way in which they discuss the practices and logistics of exploitation filmmaking. Finally, in spite of the global recognition for Corman’s contribution to American film in general, it is still indicative of the status of exploitation film that the majority of studies on Corman openly celebrate his achievements as a business person and mentor, and yet remain cool when discussing the aesthetics and values of the films.

  • Corman, Roger, with Jim Jerome. How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. New York: Random House, 1990.

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    Autobiographical overview. Focus is on the business achievement and the importance of production continuity. One-sided, but still a significant and interesting account because of the insight into the logistics of making topical headlines (to which Corman often refers) into exploitation films.

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  • Dixon, Wheeler Winston. “In Defense of Roger Corman.” Velvet Light Trap 16 (Fall 1976): 11–14.

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    One of the early scholarly attempts to assess the work (and critical reputation) of Corman’s films. Discusses the films he directed from the 1960s onward (especially the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations). Focuses on the production practices of Corman, and argues that his low reputation keeps him from directing more films.

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  • Falicov, Tamara L. “U.S.-Argentine Co-productions, 1982–1990: Roger Corman, Aries Productions, ‘Schlockbuster Movies,’ and the International Market.” Film and History 34.1 (2004): 31–39.

    DOI: 10.1353/flm.2004.0015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of two kinds of co-productions between Corman and Héctor Olivera: sword-and-scorcery films and “Argentine locale” films. Argues that in spite of the gains these coproductions brought financially, they “worked counter” to the Argentine spirit of filmmaking. Corman is regarded here as emulating Hollywood practices rather than subverting them. Available online.

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  • Gray, Beverley. Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2004.

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    Written by a former story editor and assistant for Corman. Generalist yet candid overview of Corman’s career, in four parts (early years, AIP years, New World years, and Concorde years). Focus lies on demonstrating Corman’s industriousness. Extensive filmography. Also contains list of “Corman alumni”: notable filmmakers he mentored.

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  • Hillier, Jim, and Aaron Lipstadt, eds. Roger Corman’s New World. BFI Dossier 7. London: British Film Institute, 1981.

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    Study of Corman as the leading figure at New World Pictures in the1970s. Focuses on the convergence between progressive aesthetics and themes (akin to the underground), and the commercialism of exploitation (sex, violence, topicality). Some essays stress the role of Corman as mentor for the movie brats. Summarized in a 1986 issue of Movie.

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  • Morris, Gary. “From the House to the Tomb: Exploring the Corman/Poe Films.” Bright Lights Film Journal 70 (November 2010).

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    Long and detailed textual analysis of Corman’s Poe adaptations for AIP—six films between 1960 and 1964. It is argued here that these films are in fact one unity. Focuses on the production values (cinematography, set design, color photography), which were unusually lush compared to Corman’s others films.

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  • Osgerby, Bill. “Sleazy Riders: Exploitation, “Otherness,” and Transgression in the 1960s Biker Movie.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 31.3 (Fall 2003): 98–108.

    DOI: 10.1080/01956050309603671Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the production, and cultural context, of the outlaw biker movies of the 1960s. Case study of The Wild Angels (1966), and of Corman’s and AIP’s involvement in the proliferation of the subgenre. Focus is on production history, appeal to topicality and subculture, and reception.

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  • Silver, Alain, and James Ursini. Roger Corman: Metaphysics on a Shoestring. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 2006.

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    Comprehensive, generalist chronicle of Corman’s films, title by title. Each listing gives detailed production information, an analysis of the film, and commentary by Corman. Two introductory essays give an overview of the oeuvre. Includes section on Corman’s work as writer and producer.

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  • Willemen, Paul, David Pirie, David Will, and Lynda Myles, ed. Roger Corman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Film Festival, 1970.

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    Most widely quoted academic study of Corman. It was part of a dossier accompanying a Corman-retrospective at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where Corman’s films found their academic niche. Mostly textual analyses, influenced by structuralist, post-structuralist, and auteurist perspectives.

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Jess Franco

For someone as prolific and integral to exploitation film as Jess Franco (b. 1930; aka Jesus Franco, aka Jésus Franco Manera [his real name]), there are surprisingly few scholarly studies available. English-language scholarship in particular has been rather mute on his films. Much of this has to do with the volatile reputation of Franco, who has been active since the 1960s and moved through different phases of productivity. While some of his earlier films are horror-exploitation, several of his subsequent films include hard-core pornographic material. Another part of the explanation is the unstable status of the films. Some are cult favorites, while many others (of an estimated nearly a hundred films) are hardly available at all, which makes research on the films difficult to tackle. Some of the earliest efforts in discussing Franco’s films come from fan-scholars. Balbo, et al. 1993 and Tohill and Tombs 1995 are good examples. Aguilar 1999 is a comprehensive overview. Mesnildot 2004 is a more recent overview, with a more reflective perspective. Hawkins 2000 is one of the first studies to bring a theoretical perspective to Franco’s work. Dion 2009 is a case study of one of Franco’s best-known films, Vampyros Lesbos (1971).

  • Aguilar, Carlos. Jess Franco, El Sexo del Horror. Florence, Italy: Glittering Images, 1999.

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    Thorough overview of Franco’s oeuvre, heavily illustrated (given the elusiveness of his film, this is quite a feat). Informative, yet under-theorized. Contains an interview with Franco, a preface by one of his actors, a filmography, and a discography of the soundtracks. Text is presented in both English and Italian.

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  • Balbo, Lucas, Peter Blumenstock, and Christian Kessler, with additional material by Tim Lucas. Obsession: The Films of Jess Franco. New York: Graf Haufen and Frank Trebbin, 1993.

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    In the late 1980s, early 1990s, several fanzines started publishing essays on Franco’s films, as they were being released on video. This book is the first exponent of that fan-scholar effort. Released through Tim Lucas’ ongoing encyclopedia of exploitation film, Video Watchdog (see Encyclopedic Overviews and Guides)

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  • Dion, Elise. “Vampyros Lesbos de Jess Franco: Voyeurisme Baroque.” In Les Œuvres cultes: Entre la transgression et la transtextualité. Edited by Danielle Aubry and Gilles Visy, 161–174. Paris: Editions Publibook Université, 2009.

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    Detailed study of Franco’s quintessential cult film, Vampyros Lesbos (1971), as one whose status oscillates continuously between art-horror and sexploitation. As a theoretical framework, Dion adopts Linda Williams’s argument on the body as a site of excess. Actress Soledad Miranda died before the film’s release, which created a legend around the film.

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  • Hawkins, Joan. “The Anxiety of Influence: Georges Franju and the Medical Horrorshows of Jess Franco.” In Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde. By Joan Hawkins, 87–113. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

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    Excellent study of the reception contexts of Franco’s films of the 1960s to 1980s. Through a comparison with the films of Georges Franju, a view is offered of Franco’s unique place in the exploitation market. Superb discussion of Franco’s notorious film Faceless (1987). Reprinted in Hawkins 2000 (see Paracinema) and Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Mesnildot, Stéphane du. Jess Franco: Energies du fantasme. Pertuis, France: Rouge Profond, 2004.

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    Balanced overview of Franco’s career. Most attention goes to Franco’s films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the canonization of Franco in France is also discussed in detail. Mesnildot is editor of Écran fantastique, and an authority of exploitation film in Europe.

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  • Tohill, Cathal, and Pete Tombs. “The Labyrinth of Sex: The Films of Jesus Franco.” In Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies, 1956–1984. By Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, 77–134. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.

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    Early, fan-scholar attempt to offer a comprehensive overview. Placing Franco’s films in a context of Eurotrash works well here. Probably the most accessible introductory study to Franco’s oeuvre. Ideal for undergraduate seminars.

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Lucio Fulci

The work of Lucio Fulci (b. 1927–d. 1996) is situated in the area in between the giallo, the horror film, and the supernatural thriller. Fulci’s career runs from the 1950s to the early 1990, but most discussions only concentrate on the films from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The presence of Fucli’s films in the video nasties controversy (see Video Nasties) and the international cult reputation of the giallo film are the most prominent reasons for this focus. For some scholars, such as Michael Grant (see Grant 2004), Fulci only accidentally belongs to the Italosploitation genre (should a reference to Italosploitation be added here, and below?. For others, such as Chas Balun (see Balun 1997), his films are an integral part ofItalosploitation. There exists a wealth of European scholarship on Fulci, most of which acknowledges the crossover position of his films. Albiero and Cacciatore 2004 is a good example of this focus. By and large, studies of Fulci’s films fall into two categories. Most scholarly sources discuss Fulci’s themes as political allegories, devoting much attention to analyses of style (employing tools such as excessiveness and and styles such as Grand Guignol to create a context for appreciation). A second category stresses a context that sets Fulci apart from his compatriots Dario Argento and Mario Bava, namely that of Splatter and Gore (one of Fulci’s nicknames is the “Godfather of Gore,” a title he inherited from Hershell Gordon Lewis). Several of Fulci’s films of the late 1970s and early 1980s capitalize on the then popularity of this subset of horror exploitation (most notably Zombi 2 [1979, aka Zombie, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters], City of the Living Dead [1980], and The Beyond [1981]). Thrower 1999 and Slater 2002 are good examples of this concentration of attention, as is Balun 1997. Baschiera and Di Chiara 2010, a discussion of the landscapes in Fulci’s films (through a case study of Zombi), attempts to combine both categories.

  • Albiero, Paolo, and Giacomo Cacciatore. Il terrorista dei generi: Tutto il cinema di Lucio Fulci. Rome: Mondo a Parte, 2004.

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    Of the many Italian-language studies of Fulci’s films, this is one of the most comprehensive. Includes exhaustive analyses of all of Fulci’s films, interviews with several of Fulci’s collaborators, and numerous illustrations, as well as reprints of parts of manuscripts.

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  • Balun, Chas. Lucio Fulci: Beyond the Gates. 2d ed. Key West, FL: Fantasma Books, 1997.

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    Eclectic, interview-based, fan-scholar survey of Fulci’s most significant films. Excellent materials from special effects creator Gianetto De Rossi. Contains filmography. Heavily illustrated, including rare stills and lobby cards. First published 1996. This edition has a special introduction by Antonella Fulci.

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  • Baschiera, Stefano, and Francesco Di Chiara. “A Postcard from the Grindhouse: Exotic Landscapes and Italian Holidays in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and Sergio Martino’s Torso.” In Cinema Inferno: Celluloid Explosions from the Cultural Margins. Edited by Robert G. Weinerand John Cline, 101–123. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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    Aesthetic analysis, triggered by the cult reception of Zombie and Torso (1973), and their revival at the South by Southwest Festival. Argues that Fulci’s represenation of exotic spaces as monstrous makes explicit a latent trend in Italosploitation film. Briefly discusses the impact of this on more recent horror cinema.

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  • Grant, Michael. “Fulci’s Waste Land: Cinema, Horror and the Abominations of Hell.” Film Studies 5 (Winter 2004): 30–38.

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    Analysis of The Beyond (1981) in terms of its affinity with post-symbolist modernism. Argues that the film is an expression of horror as self-interrogation (an interrogation of horror through horror). Employs aesthetic theory of R.G. Collingwood. Earlier version of this essay was published in Crane 2000 (cited under Russ Meyer). Available online.

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  • Slater, Jay. Eaten Alive!: Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies. London: Plexus, 2002.

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    Fulci is a prominent case study in this overview of a popular cycle of Italosploitation films. Fulci’s zombie films—Zombi 2 (1979, aka Zombie; Zombie Flesh Eaters), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981)—are considered the pinnacle of Italosploitation, and the “eyeball stabbing” has become a special effects legend.

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  • Thrower, Stephen. Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci. Guildford, UK: FAB Press, 1999.

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    Fan-scholar study of Fulci’s films from the perspective of the UK market, where his films are discussed through the lenses of genre cinema (horror mostly) and the video nasties controversy (see Video Nasties). Good summary introduction, with most attention on the key films of the 1970s and early 1980s.

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Herschell Gordon Lewis

It has taken decades for film scholars to move towards studying the oeuvre and career of Herschell Gordon Lewis (b. 1929), nicknamed the “Godfather of Gore.” As has been the custom in exploitation film study, fan-scholarship has been the first to analyze Lewis’s films. The earliest book-length example is Krogh and McCarthy 1983, which places Lewis within the context of splatter horror (see Splatter and Gore). Splatter (or gore) has remained the dominant context for studying Lewis’s films, though most overviews also offer accounts of his sexploitation films, biker movies, and juvenile delinquent films. Gross 2001 is a good example. Arguably the best fan-scholarship overviews of Lewis’s oeuvre are published by established fan presses (an indication of Lewis’ deep cult following): Curry 1999 is from Creation Books, and Palmer 2000 is issued by McFarland. Lewis’s best-known film, and a surprise box-office success, was the result of a collaboration with the producer David Friedman: Blood Feast, from 1963. It has received the most scholarly attention, as is testified by Brottman 1996 and Crane 2004. After decades outside the business, Lewis returned with a sequel, Blood Feast II (2002). An analysis of that film is offered by Grossman 2004. Mendik 2002 offers a long interview with Lewis. Finally, not included here are the more than a dozen works Lewis himself published on direct marketing and advertising.

  • Brottman, Mikita. “‘There Never Was a Party Like This!’: Blood Feast and the Primal Act of Cannibalism.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 9.1 (1996): 25–45.

    DOI: 10.1080/10304319609365689Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the trope of abjection and the consumption of the human body in Blood Feast. Informed by anthropological theories on taboo and carnival (Kristeva, Douglas). Partially revisited and reprinted in Brottman 1997 (cited under Transgression).

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  • Crane, Jonathan. “Scraping Bottom: Splatter and the Herschell Gordon Lewis Oeuvre.” In The Horror Film. Edited by Stephen Prince, 150–166. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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    Argues that Lewis’s films were the first to make the demonstration of the bloodied, open body a common discursive element of the narrative/spectacle, and that his films are therefore the forerunner of Splatter and Gore. Most attention goes to Blood Feast (1963).

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  • Curry, Christopher Wayne. A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. London: Creation Books, 1999.

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    Fan-scholar book-length study. Solid overview of the best-known part of Lewis’s career, but also useful for its focus on the latter part of his career. Contains interviews with Lewis, producer Friedman, and several actors. Edited with the collaboration of Daniel Krogh (see Krogh and McCarthy 1983). Numerous illustrations, including publicity materials.

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  • Gross, G. Noel. “H.G. Lewis Goreography.” CineSchlock-O-Rama (April 2001).

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    Fanzine publication with in-depth interview and overview of most of Lewis’s films (including some early sexploitation films). Ideal for a concise and easily accessible overview of the oeuvre. Contains some rare pictures, including one of Lewis and Doris Wishman (see Women Exploitation Auteurs). Also contains an addendum on Blood Feast II (2002).

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  • Grossman, Andrew “Blood Feast Revisited, or, H. G. Lewis, Keeper of the Key to All Erotic Mystery.” Bright Lights Film Journal 44 (May 2004).

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    Discusses Blood Feast as “unintentional camp.” Argues that this film is camp because their history is eroticized through the sequel, forty years belated. This eroticization prevents the pornographic degree of the violence of the original from remaining powerful for today’s viewers. Uses theories of Gilles Deleuze to back up claims.

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  • Krogh, Daniel, and John McCarthy. The Amazing Hershell Gordon Lewis and His World of Exploitation Films. Albany, NY: FantaCo, 1983.

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    Earliest book-length fan-scholar study of Lewis’s films. Combination of textual analysis and biography, with numerous illustrations. Has been long out of print, but partially replaced by Curry 1999. Part of a series of publications by McCarthy on splatter movies issued by comic book publisher FantaCo.

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  • Mendik, Xavier. “‘Gouts of Blood’: The Colourful Underground Universe of Herschell Gordon Lewis.” In Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Steven Schneider, 188–197. London: Wallflower Press, 2002.

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    Feature interview with Lewis, preceded by a concise introduction to his career. Among the most salient themes discussed are the relationship between horror exploitation and realism, the aesthetics of color photography, and the use of “amateur” actors and rural locations.

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  • Palmer, Randy. Herschell Gordon Lewis, Godfather of Gore: The Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.

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    Excellent, introductory fan-scholar overview of Lewis’s career. Part textual analysis of Lewis’s best-known films, with detailed production histories, and part biography. Contains many anecdotes. Also contains rare photographs and an extensive filmography.

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Radley Metzger

The name of Radley Metzger (b. 1929) is often coupled with that of Russ Meyer: both have had parallel careers, starting in the late 1950s with nudie pictures, and gradually moving into bigger-budget R-rated soft-core extravaganzas by the late 1960s. Like Meyer, Metzger also received some respect form the critical establishment in the early 1970s. Corliss 1973 is one of the best demonstrations of that canonization. Unlike Meyer, however, Metzger has been unable to sustain that reception, at least partly because of his move towards hard-core pornography. Under the pseudonym Henri Paris, Metzger directed a handful of the most elaborately designed and narratively sophisticated hard-core porn films. Servois 2009 discusses one of Metzger’s most famous hard-core films, The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976). Metzger’s career is also widely diverse. He was first and foremost a distributor, next a producer, and then a director. This has made scholars more reluctant to study his oeuvre through the lens of auteurism. Paracinematic methods, such as camp, kitsch, and “taste” have been used more frequently (see Paracinema). Testa 1999 and Gorfinkel 2002 are excellent examples. Morris 1998 offers an analysis that concentrates more on the stand-alone aesthetics of Metzger (called “Euro-chic”). These three studies are also indicative of a wave of scholarly interest in Metzger’s work (occasionally called a “revival”).

  • Corliss, Richard. “Radley Metzger: Aristocrat of the Erotic.” Film Comment 9.1 (January–February 1973): 18–29.

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    Interview with Metzger, in which he discusses his own films and the genres of the soft-core and hard-core sexploitation film. Useful because it is one of the earliest discussions of Metzger’s career, and because of the candid tone of the conversation. See Ebert 1973 on Russ Meyer in the same special issue.

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  • Gorfinkel, Elena. “Radley Metzger’s “Elegant Arousal”: Taste, Aesthetic Distinction, and Sexploitation.” In Underground U.S.A.: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Steven Jay Schneider, 26–39. London: Wallflower Press, 2002.

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    Excellent discussion of the aesthetics of Metzger’s soft-core films for the middle class. Argues that the “predicament” of the soft-core film (the absence of sexual penetration) is turned into an asset by making the entire narrative and style one of anticipation and prolonged desire.

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  • Morris, Gary. “Seduction Is Universal: Thoughts on Radley Metzger.” Bright Lights Film Journal 21 (1998).

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    Intelligent analysis of the style of Metzger’s films from the late 1960s and early 1970s (Euro-sophistication, psychedelic music, homosexuality, S&M, and haute couture). The first of a series of essays by Morris on Metzger (others can be accessed through the links to Gary Morris on the Bright Lights site).

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  • Servois, Julien. “La pornographie comme genre cinematographique: De quoi le porno est-il l’histoire.” In Le cinéma pornographique: Un genre dans tous ses états. By Julien Servois, 47–77. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2009.

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    Includes a study of Metzger’s most famous hardcore film, The Opening of Misty Beethoven, as an illustration of the narrative structures (in this case modeled on Pygmalion and the musical) and utopian promises of the pornographic feature film of the 1970s. Other examples include Behind the Green Door (1973) and Café Flesh (1982).

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  • Testa, Bart. “Soft-shaft Opportunism: Radley Metzger’s Erotic Kitsch.” Spectator: The University of Southern California Journal of Film and Television 19.2 (Spring/Summer 1999): 40–57.

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    Insightful discussion of the revived interest in Metzger’s films in the late 1999. Argues this revival was part of a larger wave (which also includes Mario Bava and Jess Franco). Case studies of Carmen Baby (1967), Therese and Isabelle (1968), Camille 2000 (1969) and The Lickerish Quartet (1970). Part of a special issue on the legacy of the sexual revolution.

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Russ Meyer

Arguably the most respectable of sexploitation filmmakers, in particular because of the parodic tone of his later films (notably Beyond the Valley of the Dolls [1970]henceforth Dolls), as well as the respect he has been shown by mainstream critics, Russ Meyer’s career is generally regarded as the pinnacle of the R-rated, soft-core sexual drama, straddling the shift from the classical to the modern era of exploitation through the 1960s and early 1970s. Several of Meyer’s films, such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Dolls have received mainstream receptions, and even canonizations. As a result there is a lot of scholarship and critical discussion of Meyer’s oeuvre available. Ebert 1973 is one of the earliest efforts to study the career of Meyer (Ebert also co-wrote the screenplay for Dolls). Frasier 1990 is the most exhaustive overview of Meyer’s career, and it functions as an excellent guide to further sources. McDonough 2005 is a comprehensive biography. Greene 2004 is an introductory, and celebratory, fan study. Stringer 1997 offers a good discussion of the “gothic” phase in Meyer’s career. Fisher 1992 is an excellent case study of Meyer’s best-known film, Dolls. A specific point of attention in Meyer scholarship is the discussion of the hyperbolic representation of womanhood. Two strands exist here: an early feminist strand criticizes Meyer’s films as symptoms of sexploitation’s imaging of the woman as a satyr (a claim made by Pauline Kael). A second, more recent strand considers the hyperbolic and saturated presentation of women to be a form of parody, not just of women but of representations of women, thereby achieving a self-reflexivity that turns the films into criticisms of their own subjects. This strand has largely won the argument. It is reflected in Crane 2000 and Hatch 2004.

  • Crane, Jonathan. “A Lust For Life: The Cult Films of Russ Meyer.” In Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, 87–101. Guilford: FAB Press, 2000.

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    Astute analysis of representations of women (called “titan”) and men (“square jawed working men”) in their settings (“rural white trash”) in Meyer’s films. Argues that Meyer’s films were an exception in the sexploitation film because of their saturated style.

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  • Ebert, Roger. “Russ Meyer: King of the Nudies.” Film Comment 9.1 (January–February 1973): 34–45.

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    Early survey of Meyer’s career by his screenwriter for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Contains filmography. One of several essays in mainstream cinephile magazines that helped Meyer achieve respectability. Useful as introduction to Meyer’s themes and styles. Corliss 1973 (cited under Radley Metzger) discusses Radley Metzger in the same special issue.

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  • Fischer, Craig. “Beyond The Valley of the Dolls and the Exploitation Genre.” Velvet Light Trap 30 (Fall 1992): 18–33.

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    In-depth analysis of the production and themes of Meyer’s best-known film. Argues that the status of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) as satire and the involvement of the major studio Fox make it an exception, a “hybrid of exploitation and Hollywood modes of production and narration.” Part of a special issue on horror and exploitation.

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  • Frasier, David K. Russ Meyer: The Life and Films; A Biography and a Comprehensive, Illustrated and Annotated Filmography and Bibliography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1990.

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    Impressive anthology of writings on Meyer, including biographical sketches, festival entries, reviews and production notes, and notes on his actresses. Offers the most generally accepted breakdown of Meyer’s oeuvre into four periods. More than a thousand entries, with a full, annotated filmography. Second edition published in 1997.

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  • Greene, Doyle. Lips Hips Tits Power: The Films of Russ Meyer. Persistence of Vision 4. London: Creation Books, 2004.

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    UK-based fan study of Meyer’s career. Focuses not on the less respectable components of Meyer’s oeuvre. Presents the oeuvre as a continuous development from lowbrow “nudies” to pulp satires endorsed by mainstream culture. Heavily illustrated.

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  • Hatch, Kristen. “The Sweeter the Kitten the Sharper the Claws: Russ Meyer’s Bad Girls.” In Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen. Edited by Murray Pomerance, 143–156. Albany: SUNY Press, 2004.

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    Analysis of the representation of women in Meyer’s fiLms (and their “bitchy voraciousness”). Argues that a newfound appreciation of Meyer’s films is partly the result of changes in feminist politics since the 1960s and 1970s. Case studies of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Motor Psycho (1965).

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  • McDonough, Jimmy. Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film. New York: Crown, 2005.

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    Populist biography of Meyer’s life, with a focus on his family and private life (much of which worked its way into his films). Useful for anecdotes and insight into the psyche of the auteur. Ideal first introduction to Meyer’s oeuvre.

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  • Stringer, Julian. “Exposing Intimacy in Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho! and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” In The Road Movie Book. Edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark, 165–178. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    Brilliant analysis of the mood in Meyer’s so-called gothic films. Regards the act/feeling of intimacy in a road movie as an indication of the politics of a culture, and sees the case studies as a crossroads between progressive and conservative attitudes. Underplays the sexploitation element of the films.

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Paul Verhoeven

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (b. 1938) can be argued to belong to many genres and niches in film, and exploitation film is certainly key among them, as his nickname, “Sultan of Shock,” testifies. Critical consensus has it that one prime way to study his films is to see them as high-budget, Hollywood-approved exploitation films. Added to that is a prevalence among scholars to discuss Verhoeven’s oeuvre as self-reflexive commentary on crossovers between Hollywood and exploitation film: crossovers commenting ironically and hyperbolically on crossovers while continuing to serve high amounts of exploitative material (sex, nudity, violence, off-hand comments on contemporary anxieties, etc.). On a broader scale, this perspective can be regarded as part of the temporary, parodic mainstreaming of exploitation in the 1990s, a development that Verhoeven, along with Quentin Tarantino, is at the forefront of. This framework for studying Verhoeven’s films has become dominant since Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997), two films whose controversies have led to a wealth of scholarship, and to ongoing academic polemics. The most exploitative of his films, and the one with the most vocal cult following, Showgirls, has attracted a wide range of opinions. The most provocative study is Hunter 2000, the most complete overview is Lippit, et al. 2003. Sandler 2001 studies how Showgirls challenged the rating systems. So dominant is the Showgirls perspective that it has overtaken even the discourse surrounding Verhoeven’s earlier career, both in Europe and his native country, the Netherlands (see Mendik 2004). The ultraviolent satire Starship Troopers has also attracted a lot of scholarship, mostly through the lens of genre studies (as a science-fiction film). An excellent example is Telotte 1999. In addition, the film’s references to fascism have caused a lot of attention. Crim 2009 summarizes the controversy around this aspect of the film. At several moments, Verhoeven has added his own voice to the debates. Van Scheers 1997, an authorized biography, offers a complete overview of Verhoeven’s career. Bouineau 2001 is a collection of interviews. Austin 1999 offers a well-grounded analysis of the reception of Basic Instinct (1992), Verhoeven’s biggest commercial success.

  • Austin, Thomas. “‘Desperate to See It’: Straight Men Watching Basic Instinct.” In Identifying Hollywood’s Audiences: Cultural Identity and the Movies. Edited by Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby, 147–161. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

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    One of the few audience studies of Verhoeven’s films. Interrogates presumptions about the reception of the on-screen representations of sexuality in Basic Instinct. Includes a discussion of the film’s marketing campaign. Revised version appears in Austin’s Hollywood, Hype, and Audiences: Selling and Watching Popular Film in the 1990s (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2002).

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  • Bouineau, Jean-Marc. Paul Verhoeven: Beyond Flesh and Blood. Paris: Editions Cinéphage, 2001.

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    Collection of interviews with Verhoeven, in which he speaks candidly about his views on filmmaking and provocation. Balances much of the scholarship in which the voice of the director remains absent or ambivalent. Originally published in French.

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  • Crim, Brian E. “‘A World That Works’: Fascism and Media Globalization in Starship Troopers.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 39.2 (Fall 2009): 17–25.

    DOI: 10.1353/flm.0.0105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Summary of the controversy and ongoing debate surrounding Starship Troopers (1997). Encapsulates a wide range of earlier assertions and tests them for their contemporary validity. Well-informed, concise and to the point, yet also slightly polemical (like most studies of Troopers).

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  • Hunter, I. Q. “Beaver Las Vegas: A Fan-Boy’s Defence of Showgirls.” In Unruly Pleasures; The Cult Film and Its Critics. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, 189–201. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2000.

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    Widely quoted, and also fiercely attacked, this is the most provocative study of Showgirls (1995). Hyperbolic, like the film, this essay argues that Showgirls solicits not only an ironic viewing strategy, but also an earnest admiration. Questions the rationale of the engagement of critics, scholars, and fan-boys with the film. Reprinted in The Cult Film Reader (Mathijs and Mendik 2008, cited under Anthologies).

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  • Lippit, Akira Mizuta, Noël Burch, Chon Noriega, Ara Osterweil, Linda Williams, Eric Shaefer, and Jeffrey Sconce. “Round Table: Showgirls.” Film Quarterly 56.3 (2003): 32–46.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.2003.56.3.32Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A roundtable of opinions from eminent scholars in exploitation film (Schaefer, Sconce, Williams) and others, who discuss the function of Showgirls (1995) as a camp film, as sexploitation, and as a film that mainstreams and interrogates (yet is also accused of reinforcing) exploitation. Introductory note by John Waters. Perfectly suited for class discussions.

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  • Mendik, Xavier. “Turks Fruit/Turkish Delight.” In The Cinema of the Low Countries. Edited by Ernest Mathijs, 109–118. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Insightful analysis of Verhoeven’s early European film Turkish Delight (1973), which was both scandalous and successful. Places the film in the context of the early 1970s crossover between arthouse cinema and sexploitation, through a comparison with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). Useful for a view of Verhoeven’s early career.

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  • Sandler, Kevin S. “The Naked Truth: Showgirls and the Fate of the X/NC-17 Rating.” Cinema Journal 40.3 (2001): 69–93.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2001.0010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent study of how the mainstreaming of exploitation film in the 1990s, spearheaded by Showgirls (1995), created a challenge for Hollywood’s rating system, and for the NC-17 rating in particular. Discusses the volatile relationship between considerations of morality and considerations of economics.

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  • Telotte, J. P. “Verhoeven, Virilio and ‘Cinematic Derealization.’” Film Quarterly 53.2 (1999): 30–38.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1999.53.2.04a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent overview of the political ramifications of Verhoeven’s science-fiction narratives. Ties these to Verhoeven’s career through links with Showgirls (1995) and his Dutch films. Theoretical framework (Paul Virilio) deemphasizes the exploitation components of Verhoeven’s films. A similar essay, focused more singularly on Starship Troopers (1997) and titled “Heinlein, Verhoeven, and the Problem of the Real: Starship Troopers,” appeared in Literature/Film Quarterly 29.3 (2001): 196–202.

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  • Van Scheers, Rob. Paul Verhoeven. Translated from the Dutch by Aletta Stevens. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.

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    Authoritative and comprehensive, and fully authorized, biography of Verhoeven. Useful for its discussion of the earlier part of Verhoeven’s career (including his experience of World War II).

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John Waters

A master of trash cinema, “Prince of Puke” John Waters (b. 1946) has made a career out of offending audiences with cheap, smutty, yet highly self-referential and inventive exploitation films. His trademark characteristic has been to depict situations and actions guaranteed to be bordering on the obscene, and coat them in a general tone of witty yet naughty humor and self-declared queer excess. Waters’s ironic attitude, and his films’ self-reflexive challenge to “good taste” has made him one of the pioneers and one of the most important modern exploitation filmmakers. Waters often performs the role of “prime commentator” on his films, and on popular culture in general. His widely quoted comments on taste (see Waters 2005) and censorship (Kermode 1995) are perfect examples of this function. For a long time, however, his self-assigned connoisseurship deterred scholars from engaging with his oeuvre. Chute 1981 is one of the earliest attempts to discuss Waters’s films as more than outrageous exercises in shock. Graham 1991 is one of the first attempts to place Waters’s oeuvre in a theoretical context—that of cult film and the conflation of art and trash. Mendik and Schneider 2002 uses the same perspective but in a context of underground film. Stevenson 1996 is an authoritative fan-scholar study, and probably the best introduction to Waters’s oeuvre, and to insights into his “project” (the sum of his films and comments). More recently, there have been numerous attempts to theorize the unique appeal of Waters’s films, especially his classic Pink Flamingos (1972). Hallam 2010 offers a case study of the film, and of its star, Divine, using theories of transgression. Metz 2003 applies an auteurist perspective to Waters’s films. Publications that discuss the photos and artworks of Waters have not been included in this bibliography. The archives and personal papers of Waters are held at Wesleyan University.

  • Chute, David. “Still Waters.” Film Comment 17.3 (1981): 26–32.

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    One of the earliest efforts to critically discuss Waters’s films. Chute used an analysis of Polyester (1981) to argue that Waters’s career was at a turning point, moving away from earlier underground status and toward the mainstream.

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  • Graham, Allison. “Journey to the Center of the Fifties: The Cult of Banality.” In The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason. Edited by J. P. Telotte, 107–121. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

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    Extensive analysis of the films of Waters as objects of cult. Argues that Waters’s deep knowledge of American lowbrow and popular culture of the 1950s, and his celebration of “bad taste,” offers an ironic anthropology of contemporary America and its attitude towards art as commodity.

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  • Hallam, Lindsay. “Monster Queen: the Transgressive Body of Divine in Pink Flamingos.” Bright Lights Film Journal 67 (2010).

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    Analysis of Waters’s most (in)famous film, and its star Divine, as an exemplar of an application of a kind of transgression that is seen as “joyful celebrations of childlike revelry.” Argues that the continuous transgressions of Divine constitute a satire of both popular culture and of transgression.

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  • Kermode, Mark. “Out on the Edge: Interview with John Waters.” Index on Censorship 6 (June 1995): 8–19.

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    Extensive discussion of the ways in which Waters sees his films as provocative, obscene, and outrageous. Concentrates on Waters’s conflicts with censors, and on his style of “primitivity.” Partly focuses on more recent films (Cecil B. Demented [2000], Serial Mom [1994]), and also comments on others’ films (Pulp Fiction [1994], Deep Throat [1972]).

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  • Mendik, Xavier, and Steven Jay Schneider. “A Tasteless Art: Waters, Kaufman and the Pursuit of ‘Pure’ Gross-Out.” In Underground USA: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Steven Jay Schneider, 204–220. London: Wallflower Press, 2002.

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    Analysis of two oeuvres (Waters and Lloyd Kaufman) whose characteristics are analyzed as examples of the breaking of taboos regarding “impurity” (theorized via the work of Mary Douglas). Argues that the underground status of Waters and Kaufman and their perceived “obscenity” is owed to a series of trangressions of the human body.

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  • Metz, Walter. “John Waters Goes to Hollywood: A Poststructuralist Authorship Study.” In Authorship and Film. Edited by David Gerstner and Janet Staiger, 157–174. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    Discussion of the latter part of Waters’s career. Argues against the method of auteurism (often applied to Waters post-Polyester [1981]). Case studies of Pecker (1998) and Cecil B. Demented (2000). The post-structuralist methodology refers to a model of “negotiation authorship” that is partly a “nodal point” in a career, and partly a “social construction.”

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  • Stevenson, Jack. Desperate Visions: The Films of John Waters and the Kuchar Brothers. London: Creation Books, 1996.

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    Fan-scholar study of Waters’s entire career. Argues Waters combines classic showmanship and modern self-referentiality. Claims that the local flavor of Waters’s films (all are made in Baltimore) adds to their outsider status. Contains interviews with Waters, and with the actors Divine, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Jean Hill.

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  • Waters, John. Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005.

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    First published in 1981, this semi-autobiography and part-manifesto of bad taste contains Water’s motto: “To understand bad taste one must have very good taste.” Useful for insights into the personal philosophy of Waters and the logistics of producing underground exploitation film.

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Ed Wood Jr.

Universally hailed as the worst film director ever, Ed Wood Jr. (b. 1924–d. 1978) fits the exploitation film genre as no other. Much of Wood’s career falls in the classical era of exploitation film, but most of its reception belongs to the modern period. The reason for this dichotomy is that Wood’s films went virtually unnoticed at the time they were made. Only after paracinematic methods helped establish an ironic mode of appreciation for films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) and Glen or Glenda (1953) did Wood fully become part of exploitation film history. Hoberman 1980 (cited under Paracinema) and ironic fan-scholar surveys such as Medved and Medved 1980 have been instrumental in channeling the attention for Wood’s films through a paracinematic lens. This attention led to a few fan-scholar publications, mostly in fanzines. Grey 1992 is probably the earliest book-length survey of Wood’s career. One of the rare scholarly efforts of this early wave of attention is Graham 1991 (cited under John Waters). An acceleration in attention for the oeuvre of Wood occurred in the mid-1990s, as the result of Tim Burton’s homage to the director (a film entitled Ed Wood, released in 1994), and the significance of an attempt to theorize paracinema (see Sconce 1995 and other works cited under Paracinema). Birchard 1995 queries the suitability of Wood as a subject of scholarly attention. Benshoff 1997 is a good example of how theories of gender, queerness, and “excess” have been used to investigate themes in Wood’s films. Cooling 2003 is representative of more recent attempts to theorize the cultural status of Wood’s films. Craig 2009 offers a thoughtful, theoretically informed textual analysis of Wood’s best-known films.

  • Benshoff, Harry M. “Perverts: Ed Wood and the ‘Twilight People’.” In Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film. By Harry Benshoff, 157–168. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

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    Excellent study of the place of Wood’s films, especially the cross-dressing drama Glen or Glenda (1953) and the monster-movie Orgy of the Dead (1959, a novel and screenplay written by Wood, but a film directed by Stephen Apostolof) within the context of the queer subtexts in alien invasion films of the 1950s. Argues that Wood’s films simultaneously reinforce and challenge the link between queerness and monstrosity.

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  • Birchard, Robert S. “Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Some Notes on a Subject for Further Research.” Film History 7.4 (1995): 450–455.

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    Highly insightful essay on the difficulty of studying Wood’s films because they challenge methodologies of scholarship, particularly auteurism. Birchard sums up a number of reasons why Wood cannot be considered an auteur. He also points to the many inconsistencies in summary reviews of Wood’s films.

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  • Cooling, Chris. “Ed Wood, Glen or Glenda and the limits of Foucauldian Discourse.” In Horror at the Drive-in: Essays in Popular Americana. Edited by Gary D. Rhodes, 141–154. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2003.

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    Theoretical reinvestigation of the “competence” of Wood’s films, and a challenge to the notion of formal analysis (such as: what is a “theme”?). Case study of Glen or Glenda (1953), which the author claims “exposes the codified nature of discourses.” Equally an interrogation of the work of Michel Foucault.

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  • Craig, Rob. Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    Comprehensive overview of Ed Wood Jr.’s career. Less preoccupied with ironic, paracinematic reading, and genuinely interested in the films themselves, Wood is painted as an outsider artist, whose films contain more depth than is generally assumed. Theoretical perspectives employed include Berthold Brecht’s “epic theatre.”

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  • Graham, Allison. “Journey to the Center of the Fifties: the Cult of Banality.” In The Cult Film Experience: Beyond All Reason. Edited by J. P. Telotte, 107–121. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.

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    Although the bulk of this essay discusses the films of John Waters, the opening pages give a splendid insight into the historical place of Wood’s oeuvre. It also features one of the only discussions of The Sinister Urge (1960), Wood’s self-reflexive “antipornography film.”

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  • Grey, Rudolph. Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House, 1992.

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    Fan-scholar study of life and career of Wood. Perpetuates some of the myths of the “ironic” celebration of Wood, but shifts attention away from the films and toward the tragic figure of Wood. Useful for its personalized recollection of the 1950s context of alien invasion films in which several of Wood’s films were released.

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  • Medved, Harry, and Michael Medved. The Golden Turkey Awards: Nominees and Winners, The Worst Achievements in Hollywood History. New York: Perigee Books, 1980.

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    The result of a “vote” on the worst achievements in film history, this book instigated the mock celebration of “bad cinema” (see Paracinema) and the ironic celebration of Wood’s films in the 1980s. For the Medveds, Wood wins the worst director award, and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) wins the worst film award.

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Women Exploitation Auteurs

Often derided as a masculinist enterprise, exploitation film nevertheless has some notable female auteurs. Scholarship on these filmmakers has been scarce, but since the 2000s there has been an increase in attention. As with other studies of exploitation film auteurs, much of the argument centers on the quest for a redeemable quality of an oeuvre. As such, much of the work listed here attempts to recognize both the exploitation film context and the nonexploitation components of the films. The result is an ambiguity that is typical for auteur studies. In the case of female exploitation filmmakers, this ambiguity is compounded by several other factors. Often, it seems, discussions of women exploitation filmmakers suffer from short spans of attention and from being pressed into frameworks that see their work as symptomatic of political developments in cinema, thus denying them a specific identity within exploitation film. This has been particularly the case with the films of Ulrike Ottinger (see White 1987 for an excellent study of her films). In addition, the comparatively short careers of women exploitation directors have made the adoption of auteurist approaches difficult. This factor has impacted, for instance, on the scholarship on Stephanie Rothman’s work (see Cook 1985, Jenkins 2006). Probably the most visible and consistently referenced female exploitation filmmaker is Doris Wishman, whose films with Chesty Morgan are frequently touted as exemplary of the ambiguities involved in women filming the exploitation of women. Gorfinkel 2000, Luckett 2003, and Modleski 2007 exemplify the status of Wishman as exploitation’s main female auteur.

  • Cook, Pam. “The Art of Exploitation, or How to Get Into the Movies.” Monthly Film Bulletin 52 (December 1985): 367–369.

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    Within the constraints of a short overview, this essay discusses the careers of Stephanie Rothman and Penelope Spheeris in some detail. See also Cook 1976 (cited under Theories of Exploitation Film) and Cook 2005 (under General Overviews and Introductions), which discuss theoretical frameworks for placing these filmmakers in context.

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  • Gorfinkel, Elena. “The Body as Apparatus: Chesty Morgan Takes on the Academy’.” In Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, 155–170. Guilford: FAB Press, 2000.

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    Excellent discussion of the films of Doris Wishman made with sex-film star Chesty Morgan in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of the discussion focuses on the contested place of female filmmakers in scholarly debates on the exploitation film.

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  • Luckett, Moya. “Sexploitation as Feminine Territory: The Films of Doris Wishman.” In Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste. Edited by Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lazaro-Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andrew Willis, 142–156. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

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    An introductory overview of the career of Doris Wishman, and perhaps the best point of entry into the scholarship on this filmmaker. The essay also discusses how the theoretical framework of feminist film studies complicates any debate around sexploitation cinema.

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  • Modleski, Tania. “Women’s Cinema as Counterphobic Cinema: Doris Wishman as the Last Auteur.” In Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Edited by Jeffrey Sconce, 47–70. Durham, NC: Duke University Pres, 2007.

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    A thorough study of the oeuvre of Doris Wishman by a prominent feminist theorist. Modleski’s focus on the problems of discussing exploitation film through an auteurist lens also illuminates, and problematizes, the very notion of “authorship.”

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  • Jenkins, Henry. “Exploiting Feminism and Stephanie Rothman’s Terminal Island.” In The Wow Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture. By Henry Jenkins, 102–124. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

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    Examines Rothman’s 1973 film as a case study of the convergence, at least in filmmaking practice, between feminism and exploitation film in the early 1970s, when both were involved in subverting dominant ideologies. Concentrates on representations of utopian fantasy. Available online.

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  • White, Patricia. “Madame X of the China Seas.” Screen 28.4 (1987): 80–95.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/28.4.80Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Of the many studies of the films of Ulrike Ottinger, this one provides perhaps the best discussion of the components that make her films objects of exploitation consumption by fans, even though they are intended to be feminist critiques of consumption itself.

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Exploitation Film Genres

One of the most effective ways of discussing exploitation film is by distinguishing various genres (or subgenres, if one chooses to see exploitation film itself as a genre). Traditionally, this occurs through methods of textual analysis: the salient forms, styles, and themes of films are analyzed, and those films that share many components are grouped together and labeled as a genre. Often, contextual information, such as the film’s place in history, its production history, and its director (and their intentions) are also used to arrive at such groupings. In the case of the exploitation film, where labeling a film as a certain kind of experience is important for marketing campaigns, and as a function of controversies and censorship, a myriad number of genre labels exist. Many of them overlap. In fact, for some genres (or subgenres) there exist so many different names that a categorical overview is nearly impossible. This complexity is further complicated by the fact that several genres actually only existed as cycles or waves. However, though they only occupied a place as a genre for a limited period, the particular genre label continues to be used. Only the genres for which there is a high degree of consensus (both on their name and on their template) are surveyed here. The majority of these genres are the result of textual analysis. Martial Arts refers to the dominant trope of representing types of fights, locales, and ethnicities. Blaxploitation, Nazisploitation and Mondo and Snuff Film, too, are the result of a grouping of modes of representation. Occasionally, however, contextual factors, such as a genre’s cultural impact, have made a significant difference in the usage of a label (Blaxploitation is a good example). In the case of one genre, the Video Nasties, context has virtually been the only factor in labeling (that is also why there is overlap here with the Mondo and Snuff Film label). Additional complications arise when the terminology to denote exploitation genres is akin to labels used for mainstream and normative cinema. Martial Arts, for instance, refers to a form of exploitation film here, but it can also refer to a genre separated from the exploitation context (though this is less likely). Finally, Horror Exploitation and Sexploitation contain so many films (strictly quantitatively speaking) and have been so overused as tags for exploitation genres that subdivisions have been designed to speak more specifically about the kind of exploitation these labels cover.

Blaxploitation

The term “blaxploitation film” refers to a cycle of American films made between 1971 and 1975 that used traditional exploitation themes such as sex, prostitution, drugs, and violence (especially violence against state authorities) in the context of race politics. The term “blaxploitation” emerged when the unexpected box office success of the independently produced African American film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971, dir. Melvin Van Peebles) was attributed to its popularity with inner-city African American audiences. The urban appeal appeared to be reflected in the story of crime, white police corruption, and hip music (soul, rhythm and blues, funk), and it instantly equipped the blaxploitation film with both a radical attitude and political significance. The cycle itself lasted only a few years. Generally, the first period of the cycle is regarded as the more innovating and pure (with African American filmmakers at the helm), and the latter part is often derided for its reaffirmation and reappropriation (by mostly white filmmakers) of masculinist generic exploitation templates (the figure of the pimp who brims with attitude is its most prominent articulation). This element of reaffirmation has given the blaxploitation film a curious reputation, as it can be regarded as both progressive and reactionary. In spite of its short lifespan, the cycle has become a solid part of exploitation film history, and there exists a considerable amount of scholarship on the blaxploitation film. One of the first scholarly attempts to cover the cycle is Wander 1975, which immediately distinguishes between genuine and disguised blaxploitation films. The cycle has been covered from a wide diversity of angles, especially that of the genre film. One of the most complete overviews in this respect is Novotny 2008. Benshoff 2000 specifically discusses the crossover between blaxploitation and horror films; Schneider 2002 is a response to this argument. Reading the two in tandem offers a good insight into the genre dynamics of blaxploitation. Sims 2006looks at the representation of women, including stars such as Pam Grier. Wlodarz 2004 widens the gender-perspective by also looking at queer blaxploitation. Walker, et al. 2009 present an overview through interviews with talent involved in the production of blaxploitation film. Kraszewski 2002 interrogates the mechanisms through which the blaxploitation film became such a highly visible phenomenon, while Hartmann 1994 explains how the success of the film that started the cycle, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), owes much to the exploitation of cultural taboos.

  • Benshoff, Harry. “Blaxploitation Horror Films: Generic Reappropriation or Reinscription?” Cinema Journal 39.2 (2000): 31–50.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2000.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Often-cited analysis of the crossover between early 1970s horror and the blaxploitation films. Credits the blaxploitation elements with revealing some of the underlying “racist structuring principles” of the horror film. Case studies of Blacula (1972) and Ganja and Hess (1972). Excerpted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Hartmann, Jon. “The Trope of Blaxploitation in Critical Responses to Sweetback.” In Special Issue: Exploitation Film. Film History 6.3 (1994): 382–404.

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    Insightful, detailed analysis of the marketing, controversy, and critical reception of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Argues that a lot of the adversity can be regarded as the result of the unconventional ways through which director/producer Melvin Van Peebles used “Friedmann-like business techniques.”

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  • Kraszewski, Jon. “Recontextualizing the Historical Reception of Blaxploitation: Articulations of Class, Black Nationalism, and Anxiety in the Genre’s Advertisements.” The Velvet Light Trap 50 (2002): 48–61.

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    Excellent study of the advertisement campaigns that accompanied blaxploitation films (and that circulated in African-American culture), and that helped structure the ways in which audiences gave meaning (political and otherwise) to the cycle of films. Uses articulation theory (the study of connections that form unities), with case studies of Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976) and Slaughter (1972).

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  • Novotny, Lawrence. Blaxploitation Films of the 1970s: Blackness and Genre. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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    Short, solid overview of the cycle, from a historical perspective. Pays attention to the labeling of blackness, and to the generic frameworks within which blaxploitation functioned. Case studies include Blacula (1972) and horror, The Mack (1973) and gangster film, and Cleopatra Jones (1973) and cop action film.

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  • Schneider, Steven Jay. “Possessed by Soul: Generic (Dis)Continuity in the Blaxploitation Horror Film.” In Shocking Cinema of the Seventies. Edited by Xavier Mendik, 106–120. Hereford, UK: Noir Publishing, 2002.

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    Response to Benshoff 2000. Takes issue with the distinction between reactionary and progressive tropes in blaxploitation horror. Argues that blaxploitation is less progressive and horror less reactionary than thought, and that both are equally contradictory in their racial representations. Extends the analysis to include 1980s and 1990s horror films with black-white relationships.

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  • Sims, Yvonne. Women of Blaxploitation: How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

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    Survey of key heroines of blaxploitation film that argues that female characters in the cycle are both maintaining the masculinist status quo and challenging it. Combines historical, textual analysis with feminist film theory. Case studies of Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson, Teresa Graves, and Jeannie Bell, several of whom are also interviewed.

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  • Walker, David, Andrew Rausch, and Chris Watson. Reflections on Blaxploitation: Actors and Directors Speak. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

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    Fan-scholar survey of key figures in blaxploitation through interviews. Case studies (and interviews) include: Jim Brown, Ron O’Neal, Fred Williamson, Melvin Van Peebles, Jim Kelly, and Larry Cohen. Contains comprehensive filmography. Insightful and easily accessible.

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  • Wander, Brandon. “Black Dreams: The Fantasy and Ritual of Black Films.” Film Quarterly 29.1 (1975): 2–11.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1975.29.1.04a00050Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent early discussion of the issues at stake in the blaxploitation film. Highlights the activist opportunity of blaxploitation films to liberate African American audiences by creating a “cinematic myth” separate from that of white cinema. Uses the term “blaxploitation” in a negative connotation and preferences the term “black cinema.”

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  • Wlodarz, Joe. “Beyond the Black Macho: Queer Blaxploitation.” The Velvet Light Trap 53 (2004): 10–25.

    DOI: 10.1353/vlt.2004.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Novel take on the blaxploitation film that problematizes the idea of invulnerable black masculinity in blaxploitation. Argues that tropes such as dress comments challenge black masculine heteronormativity and present a complex view on gender deviance and queerness. Case studies include Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1971), and Blacula (1972).

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Horror Exploitation

With the exception of sex, horror is quantitatively the most common discursive feature and generic template for exploitation film. This is particularly the case in the period of the modern exploitation film, after the late 1960s. As the “cult of horror” grew exponentially, from a subculture into a sizeable cultural industry, so did the horror exploitation film. Even before the 1970s, directors such as Mario Bava and Hershell Gordon Lewis were noted. Heffernan 2004 offers a study of horror exploitation’s business practices and reception trajectories in these early years. Rubin 1992 discusses the case study of the psycho killer film at the intersection of the classical and modern periods. The 1970s saw several horror exploitation filmmakers crowned as auteurs (including Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, as well as filmmakers less consistently associated with exploitation, such as George Romero, David Cronenberg, and Wes Craven). Academic interest in this accelerated development started almost immediately, stimulated by a very active fan press. Among the most prevalent perspectives used to theorize this wave of horror exploitation was a combination of psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, neo-Marxism, identity politics, and gender studies. Britton, et al. 1979 is the first and most prominent example of this perspective. For many years this assessment of films as subversive or reactionary (and occasionally films were found to be both) remained the dominant method for assessing horror exploitation. The 1980s video market saw horror exploitation further diversify, a phenomenon that led to a discursive terminology of its own. The two most visible components of this diversification are discussed under the headings of Mondo and Snuff, Splatter and Gore (occasionally referred to as “schlock”) and Slasher. Attempts to theorize these emergent discourses concentrated on their self-reflexivity (Brophy 1986), or on the appeal of these films as Paracinema (Everman 1993, Hentzi 1993). Since then, there has been a steady stream of studies of horror exploitation. The focus here is on works that address horror exploitation from an international perspective. Schneider 2003 and Schneider and Williams 2005 offer excellent overviews of the globalization of horror exploitation—both books stem from the same core project to chart horror exploitation film globally. Finally, Hunt 1992 offers an overview of the contested field of Italian horror exploitation. Several other studies of Italian horror are presented under the headings of Italosploitation, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. British horror exploitation is discussed under Britsploitation. Also see William Castle, Roger Corman, and Jess Franco.

  • Britton, Andrew, Robin Wood, Richard Lippe, and Tony Williams, eds. The American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film. Toronto: Festival of Festivals, 1979.

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    Surely the most widely quoted source on horror exploitation film. Proposes a mix of Marxist analysis and Freudian psychoanalysis as a method to study monstrosity as a “return” of what is repressed in society. Essays on Sisters (1973), the films of Larry Cohen, and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

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  • Brophy, Philip. “Horrality; The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films.” Screen 27.1 (1986): 2–13.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/27.1.2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Paradigm-setting discussion of a new “tonality of genre” in horror, exemplified by 1980s horror exploitation films. “Horrality” mainly refers to self-conscious intertextuality of these films. Makes a direct link between “new” auteurs (David Cronenberg, Wes Craven, George Romero), and predecessors such as Hershell Gordon Lewis. Earlier version appeared in Art & Text.

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  • Everman, Welch. Cult Horror Films: From Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Zombies of Mora Tau. New York: Citadel Press, 1993.

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    Encyclopedic overview of 83 classical horror exploitation films from 1932 to 1985. Emphasis is on the 1970s. Uses Walter Benjamin’s theory of “aura” (as a sense of uniqueness) to explain the appeal of these films. Introduction is reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Heffernan, Kevin. Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953–1968. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Thorough overview of the period during which the exploitation film moved from its classical to its modern period. Emphasizes business practices and reception trajectories, and offers a historical narrative. Chapters discuss horror exploitation on television, Hammer horror (see Britsploitation), William Castle, Roger Corman, Mario Bava, and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

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  • Hentzi, Gary. “Little Cinema of Horrors.” Film Quarterly 46.3 (1993): 22–27.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1993.46.3.04a00040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Short but insightful introduction to horror exploitation as a form of Paracinema, or as it is referred to here, “psychotronics phenomenon,” meaning films that are both aesthetic failures and camp pleasures. Case studies include The Killer Shrews (1959), Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) and Spider Baby (1968). Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Hunt, Leon. “A (Sadistic) Night at the Opera: Notes on the Italian Horror Film.” Velvet Light Trap 30 (1992): 65–75.

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    Excellent introduction to one of the most important regions in horror exploitation. Focus is on the representation of violence as spectacle. Discusses cycles of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, especially films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. Reprinted in Ken Gelder’s The Horror Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 324–348.

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  • Rubin, Martin “The Grayness of Darkness: The Honeymoon Killers and Its Impact on Psychokiller Cinema.” Velvet Light Trap 30 (Fall 1992): 48–64.

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    Excellent introduction to the motive/cycle of the serial killer film, and the figure of the psychopathic murderer, via a case study of The Honeymoon Killers (1970) as horror exploitation. Sees the film’s cult status as a consequence of its “nay-saying blackness,” an indication of its time’s “ideological violence.”

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  • Schneider, Steven Jay, ed. Fear Without Frontiers: Horror Cinema Across the Globe. Godalming, UK: FAB Press, 2003.

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    Widely referenced, comprehensive, introductory overview of horror exploitation from a variety of regions, mostly non-Western. Specific attention given to continental European, Asian, and Latin American films. Stresses the modern era (though some essays discuss pre-WW II films). Companion to Schneider and Williams 2005.

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  • Schneider, Steven Jay, and Tony Williams, eds. Horror International. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

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    Important collection of essays on horror films from underrepresented regions (Ireland, Romania, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Canada, etc.). Contains several reception studies of high significance for the methodological development of scholarship on horror exploitation. More theoretically inspired than its companion volume, Schneider 2003.

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Splatter and Gore

The terms “splatter” and “gore” have been used interchangeably to describe what is partly a subgenre and partly a cycle within horror exploitation film. As a cycle, the terms refer to a string of films from the 1960s onwards (usually starting with the films of Hershell Gordon Lewis) that shifted the emphasis from atmospheric threats and fears to explicit depictions of blood, mutilation, and wounds. The cycle reached its highpoint in the 1970s and 1980s, parallel with the Slasher Film with which it is often compared (and occasionally confused). As a tag, the term “gore” was introduced as a result of the titles of Lewis’s films (The Wizard of Gore [1970] and The Gore Gore Girls [1972]). The term “splatter” was introduced later, by the most prominent critic of the cycle, John McCarty. According to McCarty, splatter is a form of horror exploitation in which it is the intention not to scare viewers, but “to mortify them with scenes of explicit gore. In splatter movies, mutilation is indeed the message—many times the only one” (McCarty 1981, p. 8). Of his numerous publications, McCarty 1981 is the most significant because it is the first attempt to overview the cycle. The most common metaphor to describe splatter and gore films offer is “Grand Guignol”: the hyperbolic and baroque use of shock and disgust, at the expense of suspense and atmosphere. Among the most celebrated filmmakers is Peter Jackson, especially his debut film, Bad Taste (1987, see Barratt 2008). As a subgenre, the terms “splatter” and “gore” refer to horror exploitation films that have been applying this kind of style outside the lifespan of the cycle, mostly in more contemporary waves. Some of these waves have also been given alternative names, such as neo-splatter, splatterpunk, or more recently, torture porn and “gorno” (gore and porno). Halberstam 2005 prefers the term “neo-splatter”; Kern 1996 employs the term “splatterpunk”; and Middleton 2010 uses the term “torture porn.” The films from the Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) franchises are among the most visible examples of this wave. In contrast with the slasher film, the splatter film has received most of its attention from fan-scholars. Balun 1987 and Godin 1994 are excellent examples, from the American and European fan traditions, respectively. Stine 2001 offers an overview of the earlier period. Köhne, et al. 2005 offers a generalist overview, and a good introduction into both the cycle and the subgenre in its totality.

  • Balun, Chas. The Gore Score. Rev. ed. Albany, NY: FantaCo, 1987.

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    One of the most popular fan-scholar overviews of the 1970s and the earlier part of the 1980s. Light on theory, but great for researching individual titles, which are discussed chronologically. Had two sequels, More Gore Score (1995), and Gore Score 2001 (2000).

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  • Barratt, Jim. Bad Taste. Cultographies. London: Wallflower Press, 2008.

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    Thorough case study of one of the most infamous splatter films, a legend in the cheap use of special effects and the debut of Peter Jackson. Also contains useful information on Jackson’s Braindead. Part of a series on cult films called Cultographies.

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  • Godin, Marc. Gore: Autopise d’un Cinéma. Paris: Editions du collectionneur, 1994.

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    Solid fan-scholar overview of the 1970s and 1980s, from a European perspective. Offers good insights into the films of directors such as Jorg Buttgereitt, Ruggero Deodato, and David Cronenberg.

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  • Halberstam, Judith. “NeoSplatter. Bride of Chucky and the Horror of Heteronormativity.” Film International 3.15 (May 2005): 32–41.

    DOI: 10.1386/fiin.3.3.32Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the Child’s Play (1993–) franchise that gained notoriety in the 1990s. Case study of the fourth installment of the franchise, Bride of Chucky (1998). Argues that neo-splatter film comments upon traditional heteronormativity through the presentation of gender flexibility, thereby updating the “final girl” theory of the Slasher Film.

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  • Kern, Luis J. American “Grand Guignol”: Splatterpunk Gore, Sadean Morality and Socially Redemptive Violence.” Journal of American Culture 19.2 (Summer 1996): 47–59.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1542-734X.1996.1902_47.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent essay on the splatter film of the 1980s, here termed “splatterpunk” because of its anti-establishment attitude and the underground affiliation. Emphasizes the role of “explicity” in its aesthetics. Describes the “transgression” that is splatterpunk as a subcultural phenomenon that rejects classical assumptions of horror (evil is anomalous, benevolent forces will prevail).

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  • Köhne, Julia, Ralph Kuschke, and Arno Meteling, eds. Splatter Movies: Essays zum Modernen Horrorfilm. Berlin: Bertz + Fischer, 2005.

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    Useful overview of the splatter film as a discursive feature within the horror genre. Contributors are noteworthy German scholars and critics of horror film. Case studies include Shivers (1975), Braindead (1992), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), and The Evil Dead (1981). Contains a splatter canon of 50 films.

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  • McCarty, John. Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo: A Critical Survey of the Wildly Demented Sub-Genre of the Horror Film That is Changing the Face of Film Realism Forever. Albany: FantaCo, 1981.

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    One of the first, and most widely referenced, fan-scholar overviews. Set the tone for the critical discussion of the cycle (the terms “cycle” and “subgenre” are used interchangeably here). Defines splatter as “gore” in a “gleefully extended form,” with the aim to “mortify the audience.” Editions from 1984 and 1989 are slightly updated.

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  • Middleton, Jason. “The Subject of Torture: Regarding the Pain of Americans in Hostel.” Cinema Journal 49.4 (Summer 2010): 1–24.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2010.0013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the Hostel (2005–) franchise that is essential to the current wave of splatter film, often labeled “torture porn.” Introduction offers solid description and definition of the term, and also links it to topical events (the “war on terror”). Informed by horror film theory.

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  • Stine, Scott Aaron. The Gorehound’s Guide to Splatter Films of the 1960s and 1970s. Jefferson: McFarland, 2001.

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    Encyclopedic and very inclusive guide to the earlier years of the subgenre by a prominent fan-scholar. Preface offers a useful definition of splatter. Stresses the importance of special effects, and includes a short case study of Snuff (1976). Employs a funny rating system.

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Slasher Film

This subgenre of horror exploitation, occasionally also called “stalker,” originated as a cycle in the 1970s, with—depending on the source—The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), or Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) as the film that kick-started it. Essentially, these narratives of teens threatened, stalked, and murdered (usually with a big sharp tool, hence “slasher”), cashed in on contemporary anxieties for serial killers and psychopaths, which were widely reported and speculated on at the time. The serialization of the cycle in the 1980s gave the slasher increased visibility and led to an unusually high degree of scholarly scrutiny. Four traditions of scholarship emerged. The first is the fan-scholarship analysis (and celebration) of the emergent subgenre. Schoell 1985 is one of the earliest incarnations of this tradition. A more recent exponent is Rockoff 2002. A second tradition is rooted in mass communications and media-effects research. It emerged in the early 1990s, after a few publications attempted to draw an analogy, or indeed a causal relationship, between real-life violence against women and the violence against women in slasher films (the cycle was often loosely defined in these projects). These attempts, which most often concluded there was no correlation, and that indeed males were subjected to as many violent acts as women in the films, have become a tradition. Weaver 1991 is an early example, while Sapolsky, et al. 2003 is a more recent reassessment. A third tradition is rooted within film studies and concerns textual analyses and historical overview of the slasher as a kind of generic template. Dika 1990 and Nowell 2010 offer a historical overview; Koven 2003 offers an analysis of the generic inspirations for the slasher film. The fourth, and most widely referenced tradition is that of feminist textual and psychoanalytic analysis of slasher films. These works emphasize the gender relationships within the films, as well as the consequences this has for the ways in which audiences (men and women) watch the films. Clover 1992 and Gill 2002 are the two most noteworthy examples of this tradition.

  • Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself.” In Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. By Carol J. Clover, 20–64. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Most widely referenced text on slasher films. Combination of textual analysis and psychoanalytic theory (Laura Mulvey’s concept of the “male gaze”). Proposes that slasher films address deep anxieties and desires of male spectators/fans, and that spectators identify with the masculinized “Final Girl” (the surviving, virginal character of the narrative).

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  • Dika, Vera. Games of Terror: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and the Films of the Stalker Cycle. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

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    Treats the stalker film as a narrow understanding of the slasher film. Situates the beginning with Halloween (1978), and regards the Friday the 13th series (1980–) as the most prominent exemplar. Useful methodological preface discusses problems of identifying cycles and formulas. Conclusion speculates on the psychology of “obliterating the human face,” and on the adolescence of the audience.

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  • Gill, Pat. “The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family.” Journal of Film and Video 54.4 (Winter 2002): 16–30.

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    Situates the beginning with Halloween (1978). Identifies the roots of the cycle in gothic literature’s sense of despair, and relates this to teen’s anxieties of broken families, and to the slasher killer’s “emotional detachment.” Updates Clover’s theory of the Final Girl.

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  • Koven, Mikel J. “The Terror Tale: Urban Legends and the Slasher Film.” Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies (May 2003).

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    Reevaluates the term “slasher” by insisting on a number of categories that exclude films often lumped under the same heading. Interesting for its discussion of the influence of urban legends on the narratives of slasher films.

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  • Nowell, Richard. Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle. New York: Continuum, 2010.

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    Breaks new ground by studying the production contexts of the slasher film. Places the origin of the cycle with Black Christmas (1974), and asserts that a lot of scholarship unjustly overlooks Canadian slashers such as Prom Night (1980), and their Canadian production contexts.

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  • Rockoff, Adam. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978–1986. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002.

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    Self-declared attempt to write a book for the fans. Places the slasher film in a “netherworld between popular and counterculture.” Emphasizes only a small period of the cycle’s lifespan (1978–1986). Offers a clear and unambiguous definition, with most attention given to the Halloween (1978–) and Friday the 13th (1980–) series.

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  • Sapolsky, Barry, Fred Molitor, and Sarah Luque. “Sex and Violence in Slasher Films: Reexamining the Assumptions.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 80.1 (2003): 28–38.

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    Distinguishing between “fear” and “violence,” this reassessment of the cycle in the light of its representations of violence concludes that males and females experience different threats in slasher films. Debunks the argument that slasher films contain “eroticized violence.” .

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  • Schoell, William. Stay out of the Shower: Twenty-Five Years of the Shocker Films, Beginning With Psycho. New York: Dembner, 1985.

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    Earliest attempt to produce on overview of the slasher film. Preference goes to the term “shocker,” probably because “slasher” was not yet embedded into scholarly parlance. Good overview of the earlier years, and preceding trends of this form of horror exploitation.

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  • Weaver, J. B., III. “Are ‘Slasher’ Horror Films Sexually Violent? A Content Analysis.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 35.3 (Summer 1991): 385–392.

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    Widely quoted study of popular slasher films of (mostly) the 1980s. Films analyzed are: Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Prom Night (1980), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), Maniac (1980), Nightmare (1981), The House on Sorority Row (1983), and Drive-In Massacre (1977). Finds no discernable difference in violence to males or females.

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Martial Arts

The fight film or martial arts movie has been predominantly associated with Asian cinema. This is largely the result of the appeal of Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong’s kung-fu films—of the 1950s/1960s and 1960/1970s, respectively. West 2006 is a welcome exception in that it identifies three major territories, Japan, Hong Kong/China and the United States. Martial arts exploitation is usually confined to a few areas of interest, of which the Hong Kong martial arts film continues to command the most attention. International cult star Bruce Lee has attracted a good deal of scholarly interest (see Hunt 2000, Bowman 2010), as has Hong Kong’s martial arts exploitation (Teo 1997, Bordwell 2000). Hunt 2003 is particularly useful for its study of post-Lee exploitation. Next to Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973), the one film to attract a lot of critical discussion is the 1971 A Touch of Zen (see Teo 2007). Teo 2009 expands the scope to include most if not all of Hong Kong martial arts cinema into the Chinese wuxia tradition. Clarke 1995 is included because of its focus on America’s contribution to the martial arts film. In spite of the proliferation of scholarship on the martial arts film, there remains a lot of research to be done on the martial arts films of Southeast Asia, and on martial arts fandom.

  • Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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    Enthusiastic and detailed analysis of the history of the Hong Kong martial arts film from the 1960s to the present day. Makes a useful connection with heroic bloodshed films. Treads carefully on the distinctions between mainstream, exploitation, and arthouse films. Likely the most insightful textual analysis of several key films in the genre.

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  • Bowman, Paul. Theorizing Bruce Lee: Film-Fighting-Fantasy-Philosophy. New York and Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2010.

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    The most profound study of Bruce Lee. Analysis of the cultural status of Lee as exploitation icon, popular culture celebrity, and artistic and athletic phenomenon. Traces the influence of the iconography and pop philosophy of Lee, and of many areas of the modern exploitation film (fights, sexuality, orientalism) across several decades, into the 21st century.

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  • Clarke, Randall. “The Martial Arts Film.” In At a Theatre or Drive-In Near You: the History, Culture and Politics of the American Exploitation Film. By Randall Clarke, 129–147. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

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    Important because of its focus on American martial arts. Starts with Bruce Lee’s coproductions of the early 1970s, and discusses the careers of Chuck Norris, Cynthia Rothrock, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Insightful analysis of ninja-films.

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  • Hunt, Leon. “Han’s Island Revisited: Enter the Dragon as a Transnational Cult Film.” In Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and Its Critics. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, 75–85. Guilford, UK: FAB Press, 2000.

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    Brilliant study of the global reception and impact of Bruce Lee’s seminal film. Interrogates the usefulness of labeling the film as belonging to one nationality (or even as a crossover between two or more territories). Revised for Hunt 2003. Reprinted in Mathijs and Mendik 2008 (see Anthologies).

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  • Hunt, Leon. Kung Fu Cult Masters. London: Wallflower Press, 2003.

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    Terrific introduction to martial arts exploitation film. Concentrates on the 1970s, with particular attention to Bruce Lee and the many Lee imitators. Lucid combination of textual analysis and insights into the receptions of the films.

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  • Teo, Stephen. “Martial Artists.” In Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. By Stephen Teo, 87–135. London: British Film Institute, 1997.

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    A thorough overview of the Hong Kong martial arts film from the 1960s to the late 1980s. Particularly useful for its discussions of the films of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and King Hu. Teo avoids distinguishing between legitimate and exploitation martial arts.

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  • Teo, Stephen. King Hu’s A Touch of Zen. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007.

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    Case study of what is, next to Enter the Dragon (1973) arguably the most famous martial arts film. Contains useful insights on the film’s European reception, which help explain the spectacular burst of popularity of martial arts—a burst that complicates its position within exploitation film.

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  • Teo, Stephen. Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: the Wuxia Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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    Intelligent analysis of martial arts film history situated within, or linked to, the Chinese wuxia tradition. Pays attention to the recent rise in big-budget martial arts film from mainland China. A welcome companion to studies that overstress the regional specificity of Hong Kong’s martial arts films. Excellent chapter on transnationalism.

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  • West, David. Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

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    Very useful introduction to martial arts, with a broad historical overview. The analyses of the Japanese Blind Swordsman series, the Chinese One-Armed Swordsman series, and of the comedic Shaolin exploitation films are very useful for understanding the far-reaching scope of the martial arts film.

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Mondo and Snuff Film

“Mondo” and “snuff” are terms that denote a close relationship between representations of horror and sex on screen and claims of verisimilitude, veracity, and documentary truth. Strictly speaking, mondo and snuff concern two different typos of exploitation film, but they are paired frequently because they invite similar methodologies for analysis. The most important such methodology is the analysis of documentary realism (how “real” are the images, the commentaries, the claims and assertions). The best example of this perspective is Goodall 2006. A second prevalent methodology is the study of the controversial reception of mondo and snuff. A third methodology, inspired by philosophical questions, involves the theorization of “death” as a challenge to forms of representation. Good examples are Johnson and Schaefer 1993 and Kerekes and Slater 1995. A fourth methodology is inspired by anthropology and concerns the study of rites, rituals, and taboos involving the encultured human body. Brottman 2004 is a good example. Because of these shared methodologies for study, mondo and snuff are dealt with together here. Let us briefly discuss the differences as well. The term “mondo” is the older of the two. In the wake of the release of the Italian film Mondo Cane, in 1962, it became shorthand for exploitation films purporting to be documentaries showcasing (often under the guise of anthropological debate) forms of shocking behavior such as cannibalism, sexual deviancy, cruelty, self-mutilation, and torture. For a study of Mondo Cane, see Castiel 1998. In most cases, the communities represented concerned so-called uncivilized tribes from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Gooodall 2010 describes an exception. “Snuff” entered film parlance roughly a decade later, as a result of the wide controversy surrounding Snuff (1976), a film claiming to contain a report of a sexualized murder staged in front of the camera. Because of the connotation of sex, snuff became closely associated with pornography, especially after the term was picked up by activists, feminists, and anti-pornography campaigners. Contrary to mondo, snuff is mostly a matter of urban legend, as the first real commercially produced snuff film is still to be found. The most noteworthy auteur of mondo films is the Italian Ruggero Deodato, director of the infamous Cannibal Holocaust (1980). A representative study of his films is Fenton, et al. 1999. Petley 2005 is a study of Cannibal Holocaust in light of its status as semi-snuff film. The most noteworthy snuff-related auteur (though that term is best used with caution here) is Roberta Findlay, the director of Snuff. Peary 1978 is an interview with the director. Also see Video Nasties and Sexual Violence.

  • Brottman, Mikita. “Mondo Horror: Carnivalizing the Taboo.” In The Horror Film. Edited by Stephen Prince, 167–188. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

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    Discussion of various cycles and historical developments of the mondo film. Emphasizes the ways in which representations of bodies in distress form the core of mondo film’s obsession with the unedited “real.” Essay exists in various versions. First published in CineAction 38, (September 1995); also a chapter in Brottman 1997, cited under Transgression.

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  • Castiel, Élie. “Le mondo: Rites insolites et nuits chaudes du monde.” Séquences:La revue de cinema 197 (July–August 1998): 27–30.

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    A history of the mondo genre, with notes on the film that started the craze: Mondo Cane, from 1962. Short, but insightful. Ideal for in-class discussions.

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  • Fenton, Harvey, Julian Grainger, and Gian Luca Castoldi. Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato. Guildford: FAB Press, 1999.

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    Influential case study of one of mondo and snuff’s most notorious directors, Deodato. Detailed study of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and House on the Edge of the Park (1980), Deodato’s most notorious films. Also pays attention to the director’s more obscure films, such as Washing Machine (1993) or Cut and Run (1985).

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  • Goodall, Mark. Sweet and Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens. Manchester: Headpress, 2006.

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    Important scholarly study of the mondo film, emphasizing the genre’s regimes of realistic representation (Goodall prefers to use the term “schockumentary”). Includes interview with author (and fan) J.G. Ballard. Case studies include Mondo Cane (1962) and the Shocking Asia and Shocking Africa series.

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  • Goodall, Mark. “The Real Faces of Death: Art Shock in Des Morts.” In From the Arthouse to the Grindhouse: Highbrow and Lowbrow Transgression in Cinema’s First Century. Edited by John Cline and Robert G. Weiner, 244–263. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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    Innovative and intelligent study of a Belgian mondo film that chronicles rituals of dying and is usually overlooked in the canon. Argues that the exploitative element is consciously downplayed in this film, to present a more observationalist argument. Offers a solid definition of mondo film.

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  • Johnson, Eithne, and Eric Schaefer. “Soft Core/Hard Gore: Snuff as a Crisis in Meaning.” Journal of Film and Video 45.2–3 (Summer–Fall 1993): 40–59.

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    Excellent survey of the historical and political contexts surrounding the most famous case study of pseudo-snuff, Snuff (1976). Argues that this film exemplifies a shift in understanding sexually explicit materials and the theorizing of victimization. Also gives a thorough overview of the film’s reception. Part of a special issue on pornography and sexual representation.

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  • Kerekes, David, and David Slater. Killing for Culture: An Illustrated History of Death Film from Mondo to Snuff. London: Creation, 1995.

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    Widely referenced, solid overview of the mondo film and its reputation. The section on snuff only deals with fictional films. Case studies include Snuff (1976), Emanuelle in America (1977), and Peeping Tom (1960). Also important as one of the first issues of fan-scholar publisher Creation.

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  • Peary, Gerald. “Woman in Porn: How Young Roberta Findlay Grew Up and Made Snuff.” Take One 6.10 (August–September 1978): 28–32.

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    Unique insight into the production of mondo and snuff exploitation. Interview with one of the few women porn directors. Findlay directed both Snuff (1976, uncredited) and Angel Number Nine (1974).

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  • Petley, Julian. “Cannibal Holocaust and the Pornography of Death.” In The Spectacle of the Real: From Hollywood to “Reality” TV and Beyond. Edited by Geoff King, 173–186. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books, 2005.

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    Analysis of the myth of the commercially produced snuff film, framed here in the light of the rise of reality TV. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is chosen as a case study because it is a “cinematic mock-documentary avant la lettre.” Uses a combination of reception study and analysis of textual strategies.

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Nazisploitation

This is arguably the most radical form of exploitation film, and the one with the most disreputable standing, because of its semi-explicit depictions of coerced sexual activity within the concentration camps during the Holocaust (mostly sadomasochistic practices). This subgenre (or cycle as some call it) merits attention for the way it poses a challenge to theorizing the exploitation of historical fact and the sensationalizing of deep trauma. Very few works discuss the most explicit Nazisploitation films directly (see Koven 2004, Krautheim 2009). Most scholars use Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), a crossover between arthouse and exploitation, as a central node in the discussion (Houston and Kinder 1975, but also Koven 2004 and Krautheim 2009). Other scholars approach Nazisploitation through other, more acceptable cultural products and discussions, such as Georges Bataille’s writings on nihilism, histories of sadomasochism, or comparisons with legitimate film culture and documentary and testimonial representations of the concentration camps. Geuens 1996 and Rapaport 2003 are good examples of the latter. Some scholars employ a framework of genre study, largely avoiding the historical background or the concept of realism (of which most agree there is very little). Koven 2004 stresses the generic volatility of the Nazisploitation film and discusses it as a localized form of exploitation film (part of 1970s Italosploitation); Schubart 2007 focuses on the female action heroines featured in Nazisploitation. A recurrent trope in studies of Nazisploitation is the distinction between European treatments (especially from Italy; see Koven 2004 and Hake 2010), and North American films (Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS [1974] is the key example here). All scholars agree that the difficulties posed by studying the receptions of Nazisploitation are linked to the problems of finding a place from which to speak about audiences whose reasons and actual practices remain elusive.

  • Geuens, Jean-Pierre. “Pornography and the Holocaust: The Last Transgression.” Film Criticism 20.1/2 (Fall 1995/Winter 1996): 114–130.

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    Fierce criticism of nazisploitation and similar films on the “Euro sleaze market.” Employs theories of transgression (mostly Bataille) and modernist representation (Adorno) to argue against free associations of sexual power and genocide. Holds that the trauma of the Holocaust defeats representation. Discusses The Night Porter (1974), and mentions more controversial nazisploitation in passing only.

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  • Hake, Sabine. “Art and Exploitation: On the Fascist Imaginary in 1970s Italian Cinema.” Studies in European Cinema 7.1 (2010): 11–19.

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    Argues for a reassessment of the distinction between art and exploitation, based on the cycle of Nazisploitation films from Italy in the wake of The Night Porter (1974). Locates much of the appeal of the cycle in a post-1968 zeitgeist.

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  • Houston, Beverle and Marsha Kinder “The Night Porter as Daydream.” Literature and Film Quarterly 3.4 (1975): 363-370.

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    Excellent textual analysis of The Night Porter (1974). The authors discuss the film as an artful interrogation of masochism (which they connect to the role women play in films generally). Emphasis is on the films’ romanticism, and on the clash between a “daydream” mode (the relationship between the protagonists) and a “realist” mode (much of the rest of the story).

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  • Koven, Mikel. “The Film You Are About To See Is Based On Documented Fact: Italian Nazi Sexploitation Cinema.” In Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945. Edited by Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, 19–31. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Study of Nazisploitation as a generic construct that consists of two continuously cycles sliding between arthouse and exploitation: films on the decadence of the Third Reich, and films based on the sexual humiliation of concentration camp inmates. Comparative cases include The Night Porter (1974), Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1976), and SS Experiment Camp (1976).

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  • Krautheim, Graeme. “Masquerades of Self-Erasure: Pornography and Corporeal Memory in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter.” MA diss., University of British Columbia, 2009.

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    Views the presence of pornography in Nazisploitation as a tool that disrupts “redemptive” explanations of culture. Assesses the reception of The Night Porter (1974) and compares it to a score of disreputable Italian Nazispolitation films. Argues that these do not achieve the audience gratification they aim for because of their ineptness to effectively disrupt culture.

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  • Rapaport, Lynn. “Holocaust Pornography: Profaning the Sacred in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 22.1 (Fall 2003): 53–79.

    DOI: 10.1353/sho.2003.0100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thorough study of Ilsa, and its cultural status as Nazisploitation film, based on extensive reception research and interviews with cast and crew. Identifies the film as a horror movie, and eschews polemic in favor of description.

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  • Schubart, Rikke. “A Pure Dominatrix: Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS.” In Super Bitches and Action Babes: The Female Hero in Popular Cinema 1970–2006. By Rikke Schubart, 65–82. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

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    Study of the ambiguities of the presence of an active heroine in a genre whose every narrative move is seen as indefensible. Ilsa’s sexuality and power are starting points for an exploration of how active heroines upset traditional hierarchies, and therefore are sanctioned for being “immoral” or “sensationalist.” Draws comparisons with rape-revenge characters.

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Sexploitation

Sexploitation is a bit of a cargo term, covering many diverse kinds of films that are motivated by a commercial interest in the exploitation of topical anxieties over sexuality, and that contain, as a result, overt representations of sexuality and sexual activity. Anything from sensual, lurid, and soliciting behavior to rape and on-screen sex would qualify. The terminology under which sexploitation has been marketed, received, and publicly discussed is incredibly diverse too: terms such as smut, porn, porn chic, soft-porn, erotica, sleaze, skinflicks, nudies, stag films, rape-revenge, WIP (women-in-prison) films, and many others indicate how certain tropes and themes have become entrenched as cycles and subgenres. Sexploitation is not limited to any particular region or period in film history. The 1970s are often seen as the most prominent period, mostly because of the high visibility of the porn chic and rape-revenge cycles, two particularly contentious yet popular kinds of sexploitation, propelled by films such as Deep Throat (1972) and Last House on the Left (1972). Durgnat 1972 conceptualizes this acceleration as a symptom of sexual alienation. Turan and Zito 1974 provides a generalist overview with material from first-hand sources. Jouffa and Crawley 2003 adds an internationalist perspective. The decades since the 1970s, too, are regarded as prominent. Muller and Faris 1996 offers an eclectic but insightful overview. The 1990s in particular stand out because of the perception that sexploitation, at moments, moved into the mainstream, specifically via its more ironic and hyperbolic renditions. Probably the most infamous case study in this kind of sexploitation cinema is Showgirls (see Paul Verhoeven). Included here are sources that discuss both soft-core and hard-core representations of sex, and studies that do not fit larger cycles or trends. Mathijs 1998 discusses the sexploitation cartoon. Hunter 1999 reviews Japanese sexploitation. Stevenson 2000 studies curious examples of European sexploitation. Scholarship on soft-core pornography only is discussed under R-Rated (Soft-Core), scholarship on hard-core pornography is reviewed under X-Rated (Pornography and Porn Chic). The heading Erotic thriller covers a particularly visible phenomenon in sexploitation. Sexual Violence reviews the crossover between sexploitation and violent exploitation. Scholarship on the British sexploitation film is included under Britsploitation. Also see the entries on Jess Franco, Radley Metzger, Russ Meyer, and Women Exploitation Auteurs (especially Doris Wishman). Also see Nazisploitation.

  • Durgnat, Raymond. Sexual Alienation in the Cinema: The Dynamics of Sexual Freedom. London: Studio Vista, 1972.

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    Discussion of European and American features made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focusing on new sexual theses. Chapter 10, “Skinemantics and the Sadistic Vision,” is devoted to hard-core pornographic films.

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  • Hunter, Jack. Eros in Hell: Sex, Blood and Madness in Japanese Cinema. London: Creation Books, 1999.

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    Unique example of fan scholarship that concentrates solely on Asian sexploitation (see Asia Extreme). Concentrates on the 1960s and onwards. Interviews with video-auteurs, as well as discussions of arthouse/sexploitation crossovers (In the Realm of the Senses [1976]). Numerous explicit illustrations give a sensationalist look.

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  • Jouffa, François, and Tony Crawley. L’Âge d’or du cinéma érotique et pornographique. Paris: Editions Ramsay, 2003.

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    Overview of the golden period of sexploitation, the 1970s. Covers hard-core pornography, porn chic—see X-Rated (Pornography and Porn Chic)—and soft-core erotica. Case studies of Emmanuelle and Sylvia Kristel. Argues the popularity of sexploitation is the result of the 1968 sexual revolution. Internationalist perspective.

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  • Mathijs, Ernest. “Surrealism, Jazz and the Pornographic Cartoon: An Interview with Dennis Nyback.” Plateau: International Quarterly Bulletin on Animated Film 20.3 (1998): 6–8.

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    Summary study, mostly through an interview with exploitation curator Nyback, of the origins of pornographic cartoons (e.g., Ever Ready, Horton, Adventures of Super Screw). Argues the context of the late 1920s and early 1930s is essential for the pornographic cartoon’s rise.

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  • Muller, Eddie, and Daniel Faris. Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of “Adults Only” Cinema. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996.

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    Excellent fan-scholar overview on the American sexploitation scene (mainly that of New York), from the 1930s to 1970s. Eclectic and personal in tone. Numerous illustrations (which won it awards as an art book). British edition, from 1997 (Titan Books), is titled That’s Sexploitation!!.

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  • Stevenson, Jack, ed. Fleshpot: Cinema’s Sexual Myth Makers and Taboo Breakers. Manchester, UK: Headpress, 2000.

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    Highly informed fan-scholar study of “taboo” and sexploitation and how sexploitation can be politicized. Covers queer sexploitation, gay sex film, sex-education cinema. Essay on Bodil Joensen (and bestiality) is particularly poignant. Interviews with Linda Lovelace and Udo Kier; essays by Kenneth Anger and George Kuchar. Concentrates on European sexploitation.

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  • Turan, Kenneth, and Stephen F. Zito. Sinema: American Pornographic Film and the People Who Make Them. New York: Praeger, 1974.

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    Comprehensive survey of US sexploitation. Includes interviews with soft-core and hard-core pornographic filmmakers and stars (Russ Meyer, Radley Metzger, and Marilyn Chambers). Includes information on the industry and the production of sexploitation films. Coined the term “sinema” as a shorthand for sexploitation.

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R-Rated (Soft-Core)

Linda Williams famously called soft-core porn the “Cinderella of sexual theory.” The crux of the soft-core genre is its structuring absence: the “money shot,” the ultimate evidence of the visible act of sexuality, namely genital representation (often combined with penetration) is absent from the soft-core sexploitation film, and therefore everything is constructed around what is implied but not present. The majority of studies argue that the viewer is compensated through a number of other presences, mostly stylistic interventions and self-reflexive techniques. The combination of the soft-core sexploitation film and the thriller genre, particularly popular in the 1990s, is dealt with in a separate section, under Erotic thriller. An often-used device is the introduction of humor in the narrative, as a compensation for not delivering full-on sex. Waller 1983 is one of the first scholarly attempts to tackle this form of sexploitation. Hunter 2006 zooms in on a particularly prolific case, namely erotic spoofs. An overview of the entire market of soft-core sexploitaton is offered in Andrews 2006, which employs a transnational perspective, and Freixas and Bassa 2000, which discusses particular regions. One of the earliest attempts to overview soft-core porn is Film Comment’s 1973 Special Issue: Cinema Sex. Since the 2000s, scholarship has also embraced specific case studies that interrogate the link between cultural politics and soft-core sexploitation. Fay 2004 does this for German cinema.

  • Andrews, David. Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Context. Bowling Green: Ohio State University Press, 2006.

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    Excellent study of the soft-core sexploitation film, with a focus on the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Case studies include the Emmanuelle (1974–) franchise, Zalman King, and Greg Darke. Introduction is probably the best theorization of soft-core film available. Contains a fascinating chapter on the elusive public of sexploitation films (labeled a “cult of bad faith” here).

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  • Fay, Jennifer. “The Schoolgirl Reports and the Guilty Pleasure of History.” In Alternative Europe: Eurotrash and Exploitation Cinema Since 1945. Edited by Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, 39–52. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

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    Uses a largely historical framework to place Ernst Hofbauer’s 1970s Schoolgirl cycle of sexploitation films in the context of postwar German cinema. Observes how sexuality and freedom are treated as cautionary tales in these films.

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  • Freixas, Ramon, and Joan Bassa. El sexo en el cine y el cine de sexo. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 2000.

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    Excellent overview of sexploitation film, within the context of a history of the genre. Useful overviews of national production contexts (Spain, The Netherlands, the US, Sweden, Italy). Case studies include Jess Franco, Russ Meyer, Tinto Brass, Walerian Borowczyk, Radley Metzger, and Greg Darke.

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  • Hunter, I. Q. “Tolkien Dirty.” In The Lord of the Rings: Popular Culture in Global Context. Edited by Ernest Mathijs, 317–333. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

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    Insightful study of a cycle of sexploitation video films from the early 2000s that spoofed well-known Hollywood franchises, including a study of Seduction Cinema’s spoof of Lord of the Rings (Lord of the G-Strings [2002], starring Misty Mundae). Links the cycle of blockbuster spoofs to the theoretical perspective of Paracinema.

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  • Special Issue: Cinema Sex. Film Comment 9.1 (January–February 1973).

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    Special issue on cinema sexuality. Includes articles on the history of sexuality in the cinema, film censorship, and soft-core pornography film directors Russ Meyer, Radley Metzger, and Massimo Dallemano.

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  • Waller, Gregory. “Auto-Erotica: Some Notes on Comic Softcore Films for the Drive-In Circuit.” Journal of Popular Culture 17 (Fall 1983): 135–141.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.1983.1702_135.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Impressive survey of 400 R-rated sexploitation films in the American drive-in circuit in the 1970s. Stresses the elastic structure, and low production values of these films.Covers pin-up films, schoolgirl and stewardess films, women in prison (WIP) films, and cheerleaders films. Discusses German sexploitation, Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) and Cherry Hill High (1977) in some detail.

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X-Rated (Pornography and Porn Chic)

It is difficult to assess hardcore sexploitation film without addressing studies of the “problem” of pornographic material in culture. Without wanting to ignore these very useful contributions, this short review does not aim to contribute to the study of porn in society, although inevitably a few influential publications are referenced (Williams 1999, Church Gibson and Gibson 1993). The debate this review does aim to contribute to is that of hard-core sexploitation film within the context of all of exploitation cinema. Most scholarly efforts concentrate on the 1970s and onwards. The study of pornography as a “kind of film” was given a boost by the publication of Williams 1999 (originally 1989), the first of a series of studies that included evidence from textual analysis in their assertions on the function of hard-core sexploitation. Church Gibson and Gibson 1993 added momentum, and in the 1990s there emerged a small tradition of film-studies scholarship on pornography (evidenced by special issues of journals such as Wide Angle and The Velvet Light Trap). This dispersed into studies of a wide variety of porn-carrying platforms in the early 2000s (propelled by the popularity of the Internet). Williams 2004 is a good example of this trend. The majority of scholarship focuses on the genre’s “golden period”: the 1970s and early 1980s. Particularly, there is an emphasis on “porn chic,” or hard-core pornography within the context of a narrative, and with attention for production values (albeit minimally). The films of this wave, most notably Deep Throat (1972) and Behind the Green Door (1973), enabled a discourse in which film critics felt encouraged to use film studies’ methodologies for what had hitherto been an ignored form of cinema. Paasonen and Saarenmaa 2008 give a solid overview of porn chic that also debunks many of the myths circulating around it. Smith 2007 discusses a filmmaker whose career is usually seen as an epilogue to this golden period. Zimmer 2002 also spends a lot of its discussion on the porn chic era. Scholarship on hard-core sexploitation outside the “golden period” remains scattered. Schaefer 2002 analyzes the 16mm porn film of the late 1960s as a predecessor to porn chic. Beggan and Allison 2003 presents a case study of the impact of reflexivity on the viewing of hard-core sexploitation in 1980s and 1990s pornography. Slade 1997 concentrates on the 1990s.

  • Beggan, James K., and Scott T. Allison. “Reflexivity in the Pornographic Films of Candida Royalle.” Sexualities 6.3–4 (2003): 301–324.

    DOI: 10.1177/136346070363003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In-depth qualitative analysis of 14 films by one female filmmaker. Argues that the perceived accessibility of Royalle’s films for women viewers is due to their use of and inferences to reflexivity (making explicit the structure of the narrative). Concludes that the sexploitation component of these films needs to be weighed against their supposed political function.

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  • Church Gibson, Pamela, and Roma Gibson, eds. Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power. London: British Film Institute, 1993.

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    Trendsetting anthology that proposes a feminist conceptualization of hard-core sexploitation from an anti-censorship perspective. Contributions by key feminist film scholars. Contains an important essay on the erotic in Asian cinema. Introduction by Carol Clover.

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  • Paasonen, Susanna, and Laura Saarenmaa. “The Golden Age of Porn: Nostalgia and History in Cinema.” In Pornification: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture. Edited by Kaarina Nikunen, Susanna Paasonen, and Laura Saarenmaa, 23–32. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2008.

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    Thorough historical analysis of the “golden period” of porn chic in the 1970s and early 1980s. Argues that many of this periods’ films’ profits, values, and success have been exaggerated. Points to a feeling of nostalgia for the early 1970s’ sexual liberation as cause for myth-building of porn chic.

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  • Schaefer, Eric. “Gauging a Revolution: 16mm Film and the Rise of the Pornographic Feature.” Cinema Journal 41.3 (2002): 3–26.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2002.0010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important historical study of a short period near the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, just before porn chic burst onto the scene, when the combination of increased nudity and sexual activity in “beaver films,” along with the availability of 16mm film stock, enabled a rise in pornographic filmmaking. Reprinted in Williams 2004.

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  • Slade, Joseph W. “Pornography in the Late Nineties.” In Special Issue: Pornography. Wide Angle 19.3 (1997): 1–12.

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    Good overview of the industry and its business in the 1990s, based on a solid comparison with the 1970s and 1980s, and carried across various territories (France, Hungary, the US). This essay is also an introduction to the entire special issue.

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  • Smith, Jacob. “Sound and Performance in Stephen Sayadian’s Night Dreams and Café Flesh.” The Velvet Light Trap 59 (2007): 15–29.

    DOI: 10.1353/vlt.2007.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed study of the aesthetics of an important auteur (and former illustrator with Hustler), who works in the area between hard-core exploitation and experimental cinema. Significant for its focus on the changing styles of pornography in the early 1980s (under the influence of the video and magazine markets). Part of an issue devoted to pornography.

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  • Williams, Linda. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

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    Classic study. Moves beyond the impasse of the 1980s anti-porn/anti-censorship debate to analyze what hard-core film pornography is and does—as a genre, a cinematic form, and a discourse on sexuality. First edition is from 1989. For this edition, Williams wrote a new preface and a new epilogue. With supplementary bibliography.

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  • Williams, Linda, ed. Porn Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

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    Excellent anthology of the wide contexts of contemporary pornography. Discusses reality-tape porn, interracial pornography, 16mm vintage adult film, pornographic comics (yet overlooks hentai), and the crossover between avant-garde and sexploitation. Contains exhaustive annotated bibliography.

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  • Zimmer, Jacques, ed. Le Cinéma X. Paris: La muscardine, 2002.

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    Exhaustive overview of the history of the hard-core sexploitation film, with vignette reviews of most important films, and of key directors, producers, and stars. Short additional essays offer insight into often contentious areas, such as pornographic freak shows, bestiality, the impact of AIDS. Expansive bibliography, lavish illustrations, and helpful timeline.

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Erotic thriller

The erotic thriller is a mostly American phenomenon within the soft-core exploitation film. It is specific to the 1990s, with antecedents in the 1980s. Its ascension is largely thanks to a combination of factors. In Basic Instinct (1992), it had a famous and controversial catalyst (see Paul Verhoeven). The rapid expansion of the VHS market and cable television (especially in Europe, where the American erotic thriller became a cult phenomenon), lax censorship laws, especially for soft-core sexploitation, and an increased interest in soft-core (as opposed to hard-core) film as a result of the AIDS crisis helped the erotic thriller become a highly prolific cycle. Andrews 2006 gives an overview of these contextual factors. One of the core characteristics of the erotic thriller is the motive of betrayal and revenge —both exercised through sex—and topically there is an implied link with an emergent 1990s culture of “scandals.” The subgenre is also known for its self-reflexive treatment of voyeurism (there is surveillance technology in virtually all of the films), its interest in sadomasochism (most often bondage and blindfolding), and for presenting sex as a business. Stylistically, the erotic thriller is obsessed with newness: postmodern architecture, new technology, hip cars, novel and exotic tastes, and modern professions. Williams 2005 is an excellent overview of these features. Among the best-known creative talent are director/producers Zalman King and Greg Dark (aka Gregory Hyppolite), and actresses Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed. One of the first scholarly attempts to analyze the erotic thriller is Eberwein 1998. Martin 2007 adds to that a focus on the crossover between video- and television-targeted outputs, from a feminist perspective.

  • Andrews, David. “Sex is Dangerous, So Satisfy Your Wife: The Softcore Thriller in Its Contexts.” Cinema Journal 45.3 (2006): 59–89.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.2006.0024Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Insightful analysis of the generic properties of the low-profile erotic thriller genre (in particular the films of Axis Films and the Mainline Releasing Group). Compares the reputation of the soft-core thriller as akin to that of the slasher film: while being about “threats” and “violence,” it is equally regarded as a violent threat itself.

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  • Eberwein, Robert. “The Erotic Thriller.” Post Script 17.3 (1998): 25–33.

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    Essentially, this is an inventory of the American erotic thriller during its hey days. Discussion is based on theories of genre, formula, and cycle, isolating the most characteristic textual elements of the erotic thriller. Also contains brief discussion of franchises and actors.

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  • Martin, Nina. Sexy Thrills: Undressing the Erotic Thriller. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

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    Feminist analysis of the direct-to-video soft-core thriller as a “women’s genre.” Argues that the erotic thriller both produces yet also critiques female empowerment. Sections on the “therapeutic” erotic thriller and the “instructional” erotic thriller reveal that “learning about sex” is a core component of the genre.

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  • Williams, Linda Ruth. The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

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    Influential study of the high-profile as well as the direct-to-video erotic thriller, from the 1970s through the 1990s. Contains interviews with key talent (Brian De Palma, Joe Eszterhas, Gerg Darke, Jag Mundhra, Katt Shea). Final chapter discusses Asian erotic thrillers.

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Sexual Violence

Sexual violence has been a prominent characteristic of the exploitation film, and of sexploitation in particular. The term “sexual violence” includes a range of activities, such as violation, assault, murder, BDSM. Krzywinska 2006 demonstrates that the designation “sexual violence” can depend on the kind of diversity (or deviance) from a perceived normativity of the sexual act. Needless to say, many representations of sexual violence in exploitation film have been subject to censorship. In many of these cases, feminist responses to sexual violence have played a crucial role in influencing these kinds of censorship (both pro and con). MacKenzie 2002 presents a recent example of this debate. As evidenced by MacKenzie’s case study, Baise-moi (2000), the most visible trope of sexual violence in exploitation film is the rape-revenge motive. This trope had been around for a while before it entered public discourse in the early 1970s, mostly thanks to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). Barker 2005 is an analysis of that film’s controversy and long-term reputation. Since then, rape-revenge has dominated much of the discourse on sexual violence in the sexploitation film. Slade 1984 offers a concise overview of sexual violence from the early 1910s to the 1980s, singling out “rape” and “fetish films” as the only instances when such a connection is sustained. More recently, Barker, et al. 2008 provides an empirical study of the receptions of cut and uncut versions of sexual violence (not all of them of exploitation films), and of perceptions of censorship. Several studies are influenced by feminist or postfeminist perspectives. Projansky 2001 frames sexual violence in sexploitation as part of a much larger issue. Franco 2004 discusses the significance of the rape-revenge motive for feminist scholarship. Finally, Lehman 1993 is one of only a few studies employing an auteurist perspective on sexual violence and sexploitation.

  • Barker, Martin. “Loving and Hating Straw Dogs: The Meanings of Audience Responses to a Controversial Film.” Participations 2.2 (2005).

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    Thorough study of the production, themes, styles, and receptions (then and now) of Straw Dogs (1971), the film that made rape-revenge a part of public debate in the early 1970s. Argues that the film’s reputation has disabled any form of appreciation from new generations of viewers.

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  • Barker, Martin, Ernest Mathijs, Jamie Sexton, Kate Egan, Russ Hunter, and Melanie Selfe. Audiences and Reception of Sexual Violence in Contemporary Cinema. London: British Board of Film Classification, 2008.

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    Detailed report of a large study of UK audiences of films with sexual violence (mostly rape), most of which had been censored, but which were still available uncut on DVD. Concentrates on the discourses around “purist” and “completist” viewing experiences. The case studies: House on the Edge of the Park (1980) Baise-moi (2000), Ichi the Killer (2001) Irreversible (2002), and Á ma soeur (2001).

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  • Franco, Judith. “Gender, Genre and Female Pleasure in the Contemporary Revenge Narrative: Baise moi and What It Feels Like for a Girl.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21.1 (2004): 1–10.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509200490262415Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay argues that the contemporary rape-revenge narrative sees women as agents in an alliance with violence, engaged in a violent confrontation with patriarchic symbols. Case studies of Baise-moi (2000), and the Madonna video What It Feels Like for a Girl (directed by Guy Ritchie).

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  • Krzywinska, Tania. Sex and the Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

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    Theoretical study of unusual occurrences of cinematic sex. The philosophical framework is that of transgression (see Transgression). Topics range from bestiality to incest and BDSM. Case studies include Emmanuelle (1974), Baise-moi (2000), Secretary (2002), Zandalee (1991), History of O (1975), and Ginger Snaps (2000).

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  • Lehman, Peter. “The Male Body Within the Excesses of Exploitation and Art: Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, Cat Chaser, and Bad Lieutenant.” Velvet Light Trap 32 (Fall 1993): 23–29.

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    Overivew of the films of Abel Ferrara, whose rape-revenge narratives (in Ms. 45 [1981, aka Angel of Vengeance], Cat Chaser (1981), and Bad Lieutenant [1993]) have attracted wide controversy yet also admiration. Argues that much of the violence in Ferrara’s films is directed, excessively so, toward the male body as much as to the female body.

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  • MacKenzie, Scott. “Baise-moi, Feminist Cinemas and the Censorship Controversy.” Screen 43.3 (2002): 315–324.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/43.3.315Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of the widely diverse reactions to the French activist sexploitation rape-revenge film Baise-moi (2000), which is studied here as part of a larger trend of films that reignite debates about censorship and sexuality. Covers the French, British, and Canadian controversies around the film.

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  • Projansky, Sarah. Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

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    Sexual violence in sexploitation films (here reduced to rape) is only a small part of this wide-ranging discussion of the ubiquitousness of the “rape” motive, and of the presence of a “rape discourse” (called a “rape experience” here) in contemporary culture. Significant for the way in which rape is presented as a problem of all of cinema.

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  • Slade, Joseph W. “Violence in the Hard-Core Pornographic Film: A Historical Survey.” Journal of Communication 34.3 (1984): 148–163.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1984.tb02181.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that there is less violence in the hardcore sexploitation film than is usually assumed. Through case studies of works such as Snuff (1976) (see Mondo and Snuff) and the 1913 rape film El Satario, and of the fetish film and the stag film, it is asserted that most sexploitation shies away from strong and sustained connections between sex and violence.

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Video Nasties

Neither a genre, a cycle, nor a franchise, the “video nasties” are probably the best possible example of how, since the advent of the modern era of exploitation film, the definition of a film as “exploitation” has depended more on its reception than on its inception. In this particular case, it was a very localized mode of reception: in 1982, a list of 74 titles of films available for video rental in the United Kingdom that had, at one point or another, been the subject of local police investigations, was published by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The majority of these films were horror films that had benefited from a loophole in the UK’s regulation of the video rental business to bypass otherwise strict censorship rules. The press labeled these films the “video nasties,” and a moral panic made them infamous. They were promptly banned, or severely cut for release. While a majority of the video nasties had their origin in traditions of exploitation film (the mondo film, the giallo, Nazisploitation), it was only after their prosecution that they became tagged as exploitation and found fan followers. At the time, few scholars dared discuss the films’ themes, let alone defend them against the press’s crusade. Barker 1984 is the best example of a study that showed the hysteria unfounded (fabricated as part of a conservative campaign on popular culture) and the films themselves quite critical of society. In 1994, when the video nasties were named as the source of yet another moral panic, Petley 1994 demonstrated how similar mechanisms of moral anxiety underpinned the controversy. Since then, most of the once-banned video nasties have been re-released, uncut, without much uproar. As the last few were being reinstated, more studies on the phenomenon appeared. Kerekes and Slater 2000 discusses the films themselves, as narratives preoccupied with imaginings of death and nihilism. Petley 2000 recounts the troubles of finding a legal system for their distribution. Likely the most profound discussion is Egan 2007, a detailed look at the films’ long-term reception and fandom. Dickinson 2007 is a case study of the exceptional soundscapes of the video nasties, a first sign of their aesthetic rehabilitation.

  • Barker, Martin, ed. The Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media. London: Pluto Press, 1984.

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    Polemic yet thorough, and passionate in its attack on politically motivated censorship, this is the first, and most widely quoted, study of the video nasties. Gives an overview of the controversy, and discusses some of the films in detail, especially I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Last House on the Left (1972).

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  • Dickinson, Kay. “Troubling Synthesis: The Horrific Sights and Incompatible Sounds of Video Nasties.” In Sleaze Artists: Cinema at the Margins of Taste, Style, and Politics. Edited by Jeffrey Sconce, 167–189. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    Case study of the unusual uses of sound and music in the video nasties. Argues that these uses help create (perhaps more than the shocking images) a feeling of unease for the spectator. Focuses on the Italian video nasties: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Inferno (1980), Tenebrae (1982), Cannibal Ferox (1981), and The Beyond (1981).

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  • Egan, Kate. Trash or Treasure? Censorship and the Changing Meanings of Video Nasties. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2007.

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    Probably the definitive word on the reception and fandom of the video nasties, and an intelligent analysis of how these films have acquired cultural status and impacted upon culture at large. Reassesses the original controversy, and studies the numerous re-releases and re-evaluations. Excellent chapter on “collecting” as a mode of reception.

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  • Kerekes, David, and David Slater. See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy. Manchester, UK: Critical Vision, 2000.

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    Widely respected study by fan-scholars of the themes and styles of many of the films caught up in the video nasties controversy. The actual scope of this work is wider: analyzing a range of films that challenge understandings of culture at large. Builds on Kerekes and Slater 1995.

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  • Petley, Julian. “In Defence of Video Nasties.” British Journalism Review 5.3 (1994): 52–57.

    DOI: 10.1177/095647489400500312Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Short but sharp critique of the ways in which the video nasties are being constructed, by the mainstream printed press in the UK, as a group of films that form a fundamental danger to society. Discusses in particular the attitude of academics towards this phenomenon (and how that attitude has been misreported).

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  • Petley, Julian. “‘Snuffed Out’: Nightmares in a Trading Standards Officer’s Brain.” In Unruly Pleasures, the Cult Film and Its Critics. Edited by Xavier Mendik and Graeme Harper, 205–219. Guilford: FABPress, 2000.

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    Study of the trope of “snuff” (see Mondo and Snuff Film) in the video nasties controversy. Debunks most myths held by the press and popular opinion about the snuff content of films such as Snuff (1976) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Concludes that the hysteria around these films takes place against a growing intolerance for sexual diversity.

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LAST MODIFIED: 10/28/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0096

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