Exploitation films. It’s a very broad term that basically boils down to a movie that takes advantage of something in the film to get people to watch it. Most people immediately think of explicit blood spurting violence, or nudity for nudity’s sake, but it also could be as simple as emphasizing African American culture during the 70s, or showing actual births back in the 50s. Kino Lorber’s second doc of its double feature takes a look at the history of exploitation films with nearly the same style as Nightmares, but lacks a little in depth. American Grindhouse has a host full of key players to fill out the story, but at only 82 minutes, the film doesn’t have time to dawdle on each interesting individual.
Like its sister picture, the film begins with Thomas Edison, and his horror filled film company. From there, it works its way through carnival roadshow distribution and the development of slimy bargain theaters operating outside of the studio system, all the way up to today with the reemergence of grindhouse cinema through homages like the Tarantino/Rodriguez project of the same title. Chronologically brought into focus, each genre within exploitation features are spoken on by prominent filmmakers and historians of grindhouse. The list includes John Landis, Larry Cohen, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Joe Dante, Fred Williamson, and the list goes on.
Despite the variety of odd ball genre know it alls, the film doesn’t do a great job of introducing them, though name and title overlays are present, they often change to different movies the speakers may have worked on. Uncensored clips highlighting what made their films exploitation staples are a plenty, and work well with the interviews and Robert Forster’s narration. With such a genre that really covers a wide variety of topics and characters, the film feels a bit rushed at only 82 minutes. Topics often feel breezed over, many of which could have been investigated quite a bit more.
Though director Elijah Drenner’s first docu full length feature is an entertaining and historically enlightening film on often forgotten genre, its topic is too broad to cover in such a short length of time. A film focusing on the antiquities of exploitation cinema, American Grindhouse packs just the nuts and bolts, leaving the coveted nitty-gritty on the cutting room floor.
Lucky for us, Kino Lorber may have realized this lack of details within the film, and packed their DVD release full of extended interviews and bonuses to make up for it. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1, and looks quite good for the films it is pulling from to fill the screen. Many of these low budget films looks quite grainy, and contain some film damage, but I wouldn’t expect much more than this. The interviews on the other hand look quite crisp and clean. Its stereo track is adequate, reproducing the talking heads and film clips without distortion or extraneous noise. The disc comes packaged in a standard DVD case.
Grind The Wheel
This short featurette tells the story of how director Elijah Drenner and producer Dan Greene started working on the film back in film school as a project, and how it shifted into a feature length film.
Rather than a gag reel of wacky events that occurred in the making of the film, this outtake reel features people from the film telling a series of humorous, or plain old bizarre stories from experiences of making exploitation films or watching them in their local grindhouses.
While the idea of extended interviews sounds like we’d get the interviews from the film in full, instead we are given interesting interview slices from the likes of Landis, Edmonds, Brown, Anders, Hill and more. Outtakes and Interviews could have been combined into one feature, rather than puffing up the product.
Two more interviews featuring Joe Ellison and Ray Dennis Steckler that didn’t make the film. Again, these probably could have been rolled in with the other interview segments that were cut.
From The Vaults
Here we have four segments not produced by the filmmakers, but unearthed while researching the film. Leading these is an interview from Roger Corman that was shot in 2000 for an abandoned Jack Hill documentary. There is an interview with Herchell Gordon Lewis and Dave Friedman from 1987 discussing their film careers. Following that is a clip of Larry Cohen introducing his film God Told Me To to an enthusiastic crowd, and closing this section is a Q & A with Jonathan Kaplan and Bob Minor at a screening of Truck Turner from 2008.
The Amazing Colossal Trailer Collection!
One of the more interesting features of the disc is this collection of trailers from twelve different films featured in the doc, as well as the trailer for the doc itself. These include Teenage Mother, Satan’s Sadists, Olga’s Girls, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Bonnie’s Kids, Blood Spattered Bride + I Dismember Mama, God Told Me To, The Big Dollhouse, The Beach Girls and The Monster, The Alley Tramp, Snuff, and Black Shampoo.
Vintage Radio Spots & Theater Annoucements
This is a series of vintage audio ads for a long list of films touched on in American Grindhouse. These, as well as the included trailers, really give a sense of what it must have been like to hear about these over the top films for the first time.
Old Photos You Actually Want To Look At!
In this menu there are two different series of photographs, one is a collection of grindhouse marquees from back in their heyday, while the other is a collection of behind-the-scenes photos from on the set of exploitation classics.
Hidden Easter Egg below menu button
Secretly placed in the special features screen, this is a Q & A with Drenner, Green and film historian Eddie Muller at a screening of the film at the 2010 Another Hole in the Head Film Fest.
While the film does give some adequate background on the development of the exploitation film business, it really just skims the surface of the topic. Kino Lorber’s release packs quite the selection of special features, many of which are just as interesting as the film itself. If you are a fan of grindhouse cinema, this is well worth your time for the interviews alone, and for newcomers it serves as a satisfactory introduction to the genre.