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“Welcome to the Grindhouse—it’ll tear you in two!” screams the movie’s tagline. And you’ll die laughing from your split-down-the-middle head and your half-a-mouth. Deep down you wanna see a Slasher flick with a muscle car as the knife, driven by nice-guy-playing-psycho Kurt Russell, and hottie Rose McGowan obliterated, like a chainsaw through toilet paper, a zombie with a machine gun that’s been “righty tighty” locked onto her stump of a leg.

So says directors Quentin Tarantino (the slasher Death Proof), Robert Rodriquez (the zombie-hunt Planet Terror), about their “shared” exploitation opus, Grindhouse, two full-length genre films for the price of one, from the guy who Kill-ed Bill and the dude who architected >/I>Sin City respectively.

Their 50+ million dollar Grindhouse, opening nationwide April 6, stars (to name a few) Freddy Rodriguez, Naveen Andrews, Josh Brolin and (no foolin’) Geraldo Rivera. The two films are bookmarked by fake trailers for non-existent exploitation films.

The tagline does not lie. The Grindhouse will tear you in two. It knows because it tore your parents in two.

In the 60’s and through the 70’s, movie studios looked to prevent television—television that was producing socially relevant content weekly, that was reflecting cultural diversity, that was replacing newspapers and news-magazines as the source for world news—from stealing their audiences, and filmmakers sought an edge.

The big bad movies were losing to the B-Team and the world really didn’t care. Everybody hopeful and influential, from Martin to Malcolm X to brothers John then Robert Kennedy, were assassinated. The Vietnam War was running long. President “Tricky Dick” Nixon resigned before he was impeached over Watergate. Charles Manson tried to start a race war between the whites and the blacks, fresh from the Civil Rights Movement, when he ordered his minions to kill actress Sharon Tate and anyone else in the vicinity, which included the baby still growing inside her belly.

We were mad as hell and we weren’t going to take it anymore. The movies would provide the immediate and visceral revenge some craved. Inner-city theaters started showing non-stop, triple-bill screenings of B-movies, “grinding out” low-budget to no-budget Hollywood “orphans” and knock-offs. And thanks to the public mood, the initial violence that would instigate two-hours of bloody payback was not just amplified, it became so honest and raw that film makers competed over who’s was more sadistic. The fight began with their titles. One could spend all day watching films like I Drink Your Blood, The Great Hollywood Rape Slaughter and I Spit On Your Grave. And if your film just happened to get banned somewhere because way too much blood was spilled…JACKPOT!

The cheapness of their productions added to their appeal. Without the luxury of the typical Hollywood budget (like $ for…lighting), the films looked like cheap documentaries and we all know documentaries are real. The shock of seeing a murder through the “Grindhouse” filter freaked you out more.

The “Grindhouse” movement wasn’t just shock cinema. Black exploitation (“Blaxploitation”) films like Shaft and Superfly and sex exploitation (“Sexploitation”) films like Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!And The Supervixens, help ensured that every group and fetish was represented. Sometimes they would cross-over. The Kung-Fu films, another “Grindhouse” staple, would genre-mix with “Blaxploitation” and produce a Black-Power-through-karate hybrid that guaranteed black grandmothers across America (in the movies, at least) knew kung-fu.

Exploitation films existed before “Grindhouse”. The 1937 anti-drug film, Reefer Madness, has attained cult status for its laughable attempt to scare pot-heads straight by exploiting the dangers of marijuana. But “Grindhouse”-ers, capitalizing on a jaded public, made what was funny in 1937 profitable, for a time. The “Grindhouse” fad dwarfed into screening non-stop, triple-bill porno-movies; pornography in the theater would soon resign itself to the brown-bag shame of videotape.

Hollywood would recover, thanks a new wave of filmmakers embracing the more profitable aspects of the “Grindhouse” era, like Steven Spielberg who made Jaws and George Lucas who made Star Wars.

But “Grindhouse” has never really left; they just got bigger budgets. Post 911 and we are eerily in a similar state of mind that fueled “Grindhouse” and its success in the first place. We’re in another, seemingly, never-ending war, there has been talk of Presidential impeachment, Hurricane Katrina exposed one of our country’s failings and the Saw franchise, movies where rabid amputations dictate freedom from a sadistic captor, has been a surprise hit. The new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, another “Grindhouse”-esque horror film, has spawned numerous reiterations. Eli Roth’s Hostel, where tourists are butchered for sport, is a notable. Even the ultimate genre-mix exploitation film of late, Kill Bill, has bits of the Spaghetti Western, the Kung-Fu movie, The Did-Me-Wrong Bloody Revenge movie.

As one “Grindhouse” film once stated on its poster, words to live by then and perhaps words to live by now…to avoid fainting, keep repeating “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie!......”

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 69 - September 8242
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