Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying how much influence Exploitation Cinema hs had in pop culture. While it may have had its heyday during the 70s, we still see it used today. Both I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left was both remade for wide audiences in the early ’00s.
The following are just a few of the hundreds of films that were made during this film fad boom. I’ve whittled it down, and lost hours of my life, to 7 of what I find to be the most influential of Exploitation Cinema. Each of these films inspired other underground filmmakers to come out of the woodwork to bring sleaze to the big screen.
So from the comfort of your own home you can safely read about this fringe movement in cinema and not wonder what the sticky substance on the armrest is.
7. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Just 2 years before Carpenter’s low-budget, genre game-changer Halloween was released he was presented with a deal. Producer J. Stein Kaplan came to Carpenter and asked for an exploitation movie made under $100,000, the deal being Carpenter could have complete creative control.
Assault on Precinct 13 is a simple story about a local deputy and a few civilians who find themselves under siege by the local riffraff. Carpenter wrote, scored, directed and edited (under the name of John T. Chance) the entire film and the result was a gritty, real-life look at crime. Precinct was almost the first film to receive an “X” rating for the infamous ice cream scene in which a little girl is maliciously gunned down by the local greaseballs. Carpenter edited the scene out of the copy he gave to censors but kept it in the copies being distributed.
6. Coffy (1973)
Blaxploitation was made widely popular with the release of Shaft in 1971, but Coffy is what really paved the way for female ass-kickers in blaxploitation. Pam Grier has become the “it” girl for this subgenre of exploitation and has gone on to star in Quentin Tarantino’s homage, Foxy Brown.
Coffy beat Cleopatra Jones (made first in 1973) to the box office and launched Grier’s reputation as the “Queen of Extreme”. Even by today’s standards, Coffy is still pretty violent and for that I’m thankful because without Coffy I probably would have never gotten one of my favorite genre flicks: Sugar Hill.
5. Mondo Cane (1962)
In 1962, we were just coming out of the Leave it to Beaver type life of the 1950s and slipping into the groovy pre-war time. Which makes the oldest film on this list even more of an enigma. How could such a ghoulishly realistic movie get made, let alone develop a following? However, its fame came to be it was here to stay and would lead to quite a few even more disturbing goodies.
Mondo Cane was basically the Grandfather of the “shockumentary” type of filmmaking. With the real killing of animals and the realistic killing of people, Mondo quickly became notorious. There had been a few short films done in a similar style from the 1930s and 40s, but nothing as graphic had been exposed before.
Filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi opened the doors for a river of cannibal and shockumentaries in years to come. Most notable are the Italian cannibal films like Man From Deep River, Cannibal Holocaust, and Make Them Die Slowly (aka Cannibal Ferox).
4. Mark of the Devil (1970)
Religion and exploitation go hand in hand in film, especially when you delve into the early witchhunts and crusades. Mark of the Devil wasn’t the first film to explore witch hunts, Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price came out 2 years prior, but it did surpass box office expectations beating out Witchfinder.
Mark of the Devil expertly used marketing to their benefit but executing it in a sensationalized way, some posters claimed a false rating of “V” FOR VIOLENCE!. The film itself stars Udo Kier as a young witchfinder’s apprentice who travel from town to town seeking out supposed witches. Of course, Kier falls for one of the accused witches and heinous acts ensue.
Naziploitation is probably the least favored of the genre and with good reason, Nazi’s are despicable. While it comes with the most backlash, Naziploitation was quite a saturated market when it was all said and done. I’ve seen far more of these than I probably should have but by far the best and most widely repeated is Ilsa She Wolf of the SS starring Dyane Thorne. For Thorne, this was her defining role but it cost her some personal and professional relationships. Despite the blow to her personal life, Thorne owned the titular role of Ilsa.
The plot revolves around Ilsa experimenting on her male prisoners to find one who can satisfy her carnally. For most of the movie, we are subjected to horrendous experiments on both male and female prisoners. In particular, a certain electrified object being placed inside of a rather unwilling female prisoner was exceptionally mind-bending for me.
2. The Street Fighter (1974)
Ashamedly, I’m not too familiar with the kung-fu/martial arts catalog in exploitation cinema but that doesn’t mean it should be missing from this list. Sonny Chiba starred in this 1974 flick about a rough and tumble guy just trying to save the girl while also annihilating everyone and everything in sight.
Street Fighter was given the first “X” rating for its exorbitant amount of violence. It was forced to cut down a majority of the gory bits and was cut down to an “R” rating. With it’s more acceptable rating, The Street Fighter ended up being a big success for the fledgling company, New Line Cinema. It was such a success that a Charles Bronson movie by the same name was forced to change to its better-known name, Hard Times.
1. Thriller: They Call Her One Eye (1973)
If there is a sub-genre of Exploitation that is more reviled than Naziploitation, it’s the “rape/revenge” films. Thriller is a Swedish flick that follows a mute girl named Madeline through her day to day life. One day while visiting the city she is kidnapped and forced into prostitution, but not before her captors hook her on heroine.
Tarantino’s Kill Bill character, Elle Driver is loosely based on the shotgun wielding Madeline. Thriller isn’t quite as graphic as I Spit on Your Grave, but there’s no denying the parallels in both films. This little-known Swedish flick opened the floodgates for the “rape/revenge” genre and though it’s not the best it did make way for one of my favorite genre films: Miss .45.