This months Triple Feature: Fight For Your Life, Thriller- A Cruel Picture, and I Spit On Your Grave.
Exploitation films have been with us since cinema’s infancy. Take for example this tag line from a poster, circa 1895, that is promoting their latest “Moving Picture”.
The Wonderful Mutoscope showing
MOVING PICURES PHOTGRAPHED FROM LIFE
Drop nickel in slot-Keep turning crank to the right,
And you will see
How the Porto Rican Girls Entertain Uncle Sam’s Soldiers.
Flash forward eighty five years and you see this tag line on a movie poster in front of a Grindhouse on 42nd St.
THIS WOMAN HAS JUST CHOPPED, CRIPPLED AND MUTILATED FOUR MEN BEYOND RECOGNITION….
BUT NO JURY IN AMERICA WOULD EVER CONVICT HER!
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE
DAY OF THE WOMAN
The term “Grindhouse”, is possibly culled from a myriad of sources. One being a term referring back to the theatres burlesque roots which typically ran “Bump and Grind” shows. Another refers to the Times Square movie houses of the 1970’s and 80”s, which would “Grind out” films 24/7, specifically, exploitations films. Exploitation films generally mined areas such as explicit sex and violence, and other taboo content that Hollywood was afraid to tackle.
The following is a typical triple feature that would have played around the clock at various 42nd St Grindhouses, such as The Rialto or the Empire. They are part of a subcategory of exploitation films called Shock Exploitation, or Rape & Revenge flicks.
All of these films are currently available on DVD. So now you can watch them from the safety of your own couch, without the worry of thrown beer bottles or chicken hawks lurking in the bathroom (unless you’re into that at home).
FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977)
AKA: Bloodbath at 1313 Fury Road, Getting Even, Held Hostage, I Hate Your Guts, Staying Alive, The Hostage’s Bloody Revenge.
Every actor has skeletons in his closet. Usually these skeletons manifest themselves as less than stellar projects that the actor did early on in his career. This particular film is the skeleton in William Sanderson’s closet. Sanderson is a law school graduate who makes a living playing Hillbilly rednecks and assorted “Common” folk. He is probably best known for the role of J.S. Sebastian in BLADE RUNNER.
In FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, Sanderson plays Jesse Lee Kane, Murderer and racist redneck cracker, who along with two cohorts, escape from a prison transport and make a run for the Canadian Border. Along the way they steal a pimp’s car, put a gun to a toddler’s head, take a black family hostage, rape a couple of women and crush a kid’s skull with a rock. Add to that, dialogue that includes every racial slur your can think of, and you have the most fucked up movie you’ve ever seen! This is one movie we won’t have to worry about Michael Bay re-making.
This film is all about Exploitation, and it wears its heart on its sleeve. Known as one of the most controversial films to ever play on 42nd St, this film caused near riots where ever it was shown. One reviewer at the time commented that he couldn’t have been paid enough money to have been the only white man in the theatre, when this film played in Harlem.
The film had an interesting run under a slew of titles. During the Disco era it was released as “Staying Alive”, for the Horror crowd it was called “Bloodbath at 1313 Fury Road”, and the southern fried chicken circuit saw it as “I Hate your Guts” or “Fury Road”. The black inner city market saw it titled “Held Hostage”, “Getting Even” or “The Hostage’s Bloody Revenge”. Usually the inner city tag line said something like this – It will make you want to get down and shout “I am proud to be a black man!”.
Banned in Britain and placed on the video nasties list, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE appeared on VHS very briefly in the early 80’s, before slowly fading into obscurity.
Fast forward to 2004 and the announcement from Blue Underground that they are fully restoring FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE from the original camera negative. Poor William Sanderson’s bowels must have turned to ice water at the news.
One other person was upset with the resurfacing of this exploitation classic- the director, Robert A. Endelson, who is now a Dentist on Long Island.
THRILLER – A CRUEL PICTURE (1974)
AKA: They Call Her One Eye, Hooker’s Revenge.
This is one of my personal favorites. I saw it for the first time at a shitty drive-in in Baltimore, under the title “They Call Her One Eye”. Watching this movie, you find yourself wondering “Is this an art film, or an exploitation film”. Well, it’s a little of both. Director Bo Arne Vibenius worked as an Assistant Director to Swedish Director Ingmar Bergman, and the master’s film esthetic definitely rubbed off on Bo.
The opening scene is very reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman. A little girl runs through the park, enjoying the fall weather. She stops, picks up a leaf and runs off to give it to an old man who we assume is her grandfather. He scoops her up in his arms and lifts her above his head and spins around in circles as the camera takes turns looking into their happy faces. But this idyllic autumn romp in the park is not what it seems. The scene now takes a sinister turn as the older gentleman turns out to not be a kindly Grandfather, but a Pedophile! We’ll call this “Fucked up Life Experience #1”.
We now meet the girl ten years later. Madeleine (or Frigga, in the English Dub version) is working on her family farm. She has been made mute (Fucked up Life Experience #2) due to her rape as a child, and spends her time milking cows and attending therapy sessions. On this particular day, Madeleine misses her bus into town and accepts a ride from Tony the Pimp. Tony wines, dines and drugs poor Madeleine, and then takes her prisoner (Fucked up Life Experience #3). You see, Tony needs prostitutes, and he has a sure fire way to keep them in line- Addict them to Heroin. And that’s exactly what he does to Madeleine (Fucked up Life Experience #4). Tony then sends a letter to Madeleine’s parents, signed by Madeleine, saying that she hates them and hates living on the farm, and that she’s never coming back. From that point on, Madeleine is a kept woman. Every morning, Tony gives her a list of all the men and woman she is to fuck that day. But Madeleine gets uppity and scratches a johns face, so what does Tony do? He blinds her in one eye and then charges more money for johns who want to have sex with “The Pirate”.
A couple more Fucked up Life Experiences happen and Madeleine starts saving her money for revenge. Even prostitute’s get days off, so during her free time Madeleine starts training in hand to hand combat, firearms and car handling skills. When Graduation Day arrives, Madeleine goes Postal! It is at the point that the movie becomes less Bergman and more Peckinpah.
There are a lot of interesting directorial choices in this movie, including the inserting of hardcore sex scenes. Christina Lindberg, who played Madeleine, had no qualms about being naked in the film, but balked at really banging the actors. So Bo brought in some XXX performers and shot a bunch of insert shots of balls slapping against ass during the old in out, followed by a money shot. What was Bo thinking? I think it was a combination of shock value and his wanting to graphically show the degradation that Madeleine was going through. My opinion is that it was unnecessary. Those inserts disrupt the flow of the film and probably could have been left out.
The other interesting directorial choice was made during the blinding of Madeleine. Bo, for the sake of realism, used an actual corpse’s eye in the blinding sequence. Christine Lindberg said that they went to a local hospital and were able to use the body of a young girl that had recently committed suicide. They added some eyeliner and then shot a close-up of a scalpel actually penetrating a real eye. Bo, you’re a wild man!
I can only think of one other time that actual corpses were used in a feature film, and that was H.G. Lewis’s “WIZARD OF GORE”. In that particular film, Herschell had a scene that took place in a mortuary and the bodies you see in the background covered by sheets, were actual corpses!
In case you don’t already know, Quentin Tarantino “Loves” this movie. In fact, this film was the direct inspiration for the Elle Driver character in KILL BILL. And as much as I enjoy Daryl Hannah, nobody can hold a candle to Christina Lindberg’s shotgun wielding killing machine.
For those of you wanting to go out and purchase this film, you have two choices- the uncut version (THRILLER – A CRUEL PICTURE Special Edition) or the edited version that has had the hardcore sex and eye gouging removed (THRILLER – THEY CALL HER ONE EYE Vengeance Edition). But be warned, both titles are limited editions. Buy now or be sorry!
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978)
AKA: Day of the Woman, I Hate Your Guts, The Rape and Revenge of Jennifer Hill.
This film is another anomaly of exploitation film history. It seems that Director Meir Zarchi set out to make a serious film exploring rape and its aftermath. His unflinching approach to the subject matter makes it uncomfortable to watch, which is both its greatest accomplishment and its downfall.
In 1974, Meir Zarchi came across a woman who had just been savagely beaten and raped by two men at a park near his home. Those images would haunt him for years and provided the impetus for a film about the rape of a young woman and her quest for vengeance.
Filmed under the title of Day of the Woman, it can almost be seen as a Greek Tragedy. No interesting plot twists, no character revealing dialogue, just a bare bones revenge story.
Camille Keaton (Granddaughter of Silent Film star Buster Keaton) stars as Jennifer Hill, a writer who has gone to the country for the summer in order to write her first novel. Once there, she is gang raped by four men who don’t have anything better to do, and then, once healed, she gets medieval on their asses.
The rape scenes hit you like a punch to the stomach and stand in sharp contrast to the often confusing and hokey revenge sequences.
Meir Zarchi took his film to the Cannes Film Festival and tried to line up a distribution agreement. He succeeded for Europe, but not North America, no one on this side of the Atlantic would touch it. He decided to try to distribute it himself, but it ended up being a financial disaster. Then in March of 1980, Jerry Gross stepped in and bought the distribution rights with the stipulation that he could change the title to what ever he wanted. Meir agreed, and Day of the Woman became I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE!
So how did Meir Zarchi’s serious picture become the most vilified film in cinema history?
Siskel and Ebert.
In July of 1980, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert attended a screening of “I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE”. What people didn’t realize at the time was that the R rated version of the film (which was trimmed by17 minutes) was secretly switched with the unrated version, and that was the version that was showing in Chicago that evening.
All Hell broke loose at that point. Siskel and Ebert got on their television show and called I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE the most disgusting movie ever made. They called for a boycott of the film and even showed up at theaters trying to turn people away from seeing it. Their hard work paid off. Theaters started folding to the pressure and began to drop the film. Even Jerry Gross, the films distributor, dropped it.
Siskel and Ebert had won… or had they?
A funny thing happened. Video tapes were just starting to reach their stride in the market place. Consumers could now buy their favorite movies and watch them in the comfort of their own home. It was at this strategic time that I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE was released on Home Video.
And sales went through the roof! I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE became the #1 video seller of 1981, and fully cemented the film’s place in history as the most popular exploitation film of all time.
If you have never seen it before, now is the time to check it out. It’s available through Elite Entertainment as part of their Millennium Editions. Here you can see it in its uncut glory, along with two separate audio commentaries, one with Director Meir Zarchi and the other with Cult Film Guru Joe Bob Briggs.
That’s it for now folks. I hope you enjoyed your little visit to the Grindhouse. We’ll see you next month with another Triple Feature. – Kevin Klemm