Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Welcome To The Grindhouse

Once the multiplex concept exploded in the '70s, bookers hungry for product began to rely on off-market indies to fill up the extra screens, because in the pre-Internet era, many suburbanites checking out the movie ads on Friday had trouble telling the difference between The Empire Strikes Back and, say, Battle Beyond The Stars. These were the glory years for Crown International, an exploitation clearinghouse that picked up hundreds of horror and nudie pictures, and has been packaging and re-packaging them for home video ever since—lately under its new name, BCI. The company's new "Welcome To The Grindhouse" series, in an old-school exploitation ploy, uses the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez non-blockbuster as a hook for a series of cheapie double-feature DVDs.

The first two "Grindhouse" discs hang out at the intersection between sex and horror. A double feature of Euro-goth—1982's Black Candles and 1974's Evil Eye—combines surprisingly explicit bumping and grinding with hokey Satanic ritual, as unwitting protagonists get lured by their own horniness toward devilish fates. (Typical Black Candles scene: A woman repeatedly rubs another woman's crotch to make sure she'll be properly lubricated when the dark priest brings in the goat.) The other disc in the first "Grindhouse" wave pairs the 1974 young-love/revenge saga The Teacher with the trippy, faintly mystical road picture Pick-Up. (Typical scene from Pick-Up: Two hippies make love on a stone slab in a swamp; behind them dance a baggy-pants clown and a politician sporting a ludicrously oversized campaign button.)

None of these films are exactly exploitation classics—though Evil Eye has a nice giallo flavor—but in a way, their anonymity makes them fascinating. Given marketable elements, from sex to Satanism (more popular than sex in the '70s), filmmakers could do more or less as they pleased, from satirizing European decadence to exploring American suburban ennui. The result: foggy narratives like The Teacher, which, intentionally or not, is structured like a dream, as recent high-school grad Jay North (yes, Dennis The Menace) has an affair with one of his teachers, accidentally kills his best friend, and pisses off a psychotic Vietnam vet. One minute, North watches foxy Angel Tompkins seductively hosing off her legs; the next, he's being led by a dog collar to an abandoned warehouse. Meanwhile, an audience on the prowl for cheap thrills wonders, "How did exactly did we get here?"


Key features: A "Grindhouse Experience" option plays two movies back to back, with exploitation trailers before and between.

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