Slide Shows

Sex! Drugs! Violence! Great moments in exploitation cinema

Slide show: From Russ Meyer to "Reefer Madness," the movies that bust taboos and scandalized the masses

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    “The May Irwin Kiss,” (aka “The Kiss,” 1896)

    Thomas Edison’s pioneering motion picture company enlisted two actors from a hit Broadway play, “The Widow Jones,” to reenact a kiss for a kinetoscope. Like most early attempts at fixing life on celluloid, this is less a bona-fide movie than a fragment (watch a clip on YouTube). The kiss is preceded by cuddling, cooing and the man ceremoniously patting down his bushy mustache; it lasts about two seconds and is not remotely lurid. But that didn’t stop the Edison company from promoting “The May Irwin Kiss” as a taboo-shattering event (“The Mysteries of the Kiss Revealed!”) or morals watchdogs from denouncing it as proof of America’s sickening fall into depravity.

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    “Le Coucher de la Marie” (aka “Bedtime for the Bride,” 1896)

    This three-minute record of cabaret performer Louise Willy re-creating a striptease from her stage act was produced by French photographer Eugene Pirou. The Paris premiere was such a success that it led to the creation of a new genre, the “risque film,” and inspired other pioneering picture-makers to film women taking off their clothes. This almost certainly isn’t the first-ever erotic film, however; experts believe that pimps, brothel owners, photographers and artists had been admiring the unclothed female form through movie camera viewfinders for years before Pirou did it. This is another reminder that whenever a new medium is invented, pornographers are right there, waiting to take it for a test run.

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    “Traffic in Souls” (1913)

    Believed to be the first feature-length exploitation film, this 1913 melodrama tells of a young Swedish immigrant who enlists a police officer to comb Manhattan in search of her sister, who has been kidnapped and sold into “white slavery” (then the preferred euphemism for forced prostitution). The leader of the slave ring turns out to be the leader of the “International Reform League,” an organization that pretends to be fighting the very scourge from which it profits. The first release by Carl Laemmle’s newly formed Independent Motion Picture Co. (IMP), “Traffic in Souls” boasts many characteristics that would become hallmarks of exploitation cinema, including sensational but misleading P.R. (the newspaper ads falsely promised loads of gratuitous sex) and a phony posture of moral indignation that gave sheepish voyeurs moral cover for buying a ticket (although the script was total fiction, the movie was promoted as a documentary, or “photo-expose,” of a supposedly pervasive social problem). There’s one incidental source of non-prurient interest, though: the long sequence of the sisters arriving at Ellis Island. As film historian Lee Grieverson pointed out in a 1997 article, the scene is so long that it “exceeds any narratively functional significance” and was probably dwelled on because so many early filmgoers were immigrants themselves.

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    “Freaks” (1932)

    A rare Hollywood studio production with scuzz-pit sideshow mentality, Tod Browning’s follow-up to his smash hit “Dracula” is one of the most disturbing movies ever made. Partly inspired by Browning’s own experience as a young circus performer, the film’s rather slim story told of a gorgeous female trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who marries a midget performer named Hans (Hans Estes). Their union drives Hans’ colleagues — many of whom are little people, deformed or some combination — to suspect that she’s only with Hans because he stands to inherit a fortune. Over time, their suspicions prove correct: Olga is secretly sleeping with a handsome, “normal” strongman, and concocts a plan to murder her husband so that they can elope. The freaks don’t take kindly to that plan, and their revenge is truly the stuff of nightmares. Browning’s movie was a controversial hit, often playing to sellout crowds and inspiring angry editorials denouncing the director, the film’s releasing studio, MGM, and Hollywood itself for trying to make a buck on lurid, depraved subject matter and lowering everyone’s collective standards. The movie’s dark power never ebbed, though; every couple of decades it becomes a cult sensation all over again. Morbid, corny, politically incorrect and often appalling cruel, “Freaks” is a rare exploitation movie that has never seemed tame — and probably never will.

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    “Reefer Madness” (1938)

    Although its title has become a synonym for “overwrought cautionary tale that nobody takes seriously,” this movie by Louis Gasnier caused such a stir in its day that it’s a wonder neighborhood hopheads weren’t strung up by lampposts with roach clips jammed into their eye sockets. “The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you,” the opening crawl promised, and it wasn’t kidding. “Reefer Madness” depicted cannabis not just as a giggle-inducing recreational substance, or even as a stepping stone to harder stuff, but as a prelude to reckless driving, thievery, adultery and murder. (“Just a young boy … under the influence of drugs … who killed his entire family with an ax !”) When “Reefer Madness” was rereleased three decades later it was a sensation all over again, but this time viewers treated it as an unintentional comedy and enhanced their appreciation with the very substance the filmmakers were warning them about. The movie was remade in the 21st century as a campy stage musical, which in turn inspired a made-for-Showtime production starring Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars.”

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    “Mom and Dad” (1945)

    The alleged purpose of “Mom and Dad” (released in the United Kingdom as “The Family Story”) is to lecture parents and children on “social hygiene,” a vague euphemism for sex education. But the earnest moralizing and the wraparound story about a teenage girl’s unplanned pregnancy was cover for the film’s true identity as an exploitation picture par excellence. The movie was mainly an excuse for otherwise repressed viewers to sit in the dark and stare at graphic anatomical and gynecological imagery, including close-up images of childbirth and a Caesarian section. (In some venues, “Mom and Dad” was double billed with an equally graphic film about the perils of venereal disease.) Directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine, “Mom and Dad” faced moral and legal challenges due to its graphic footage, but went on to become one of the top-grossing movies of the 1940s.

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    “The Outlaw” (1946)

    Howard Hughes liked everything big: his business, his planes, his movies and, um … Jane Russell’s spectacular accessories (pictured). Hughes was determined to make a star of his girlfriend Russell, so he shoehorned her into “The Outlaw,” a western potboiler about Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel) and Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell). Although it was written by ace scriptwriter Jules Furthman (“The Big Sleep,” “To Have and Have Not”), and was supposed to be directed by Howard Hawks until he either quit or was fired by the meddling Hughes, “The Outlaw” was a dull affair, enlivened mainly by the regular appearance of what drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs would call Russell’s two enormous assets. Hughes was such an incorrigible breast man that he designed a special bra for Russell to wear in the movie, but she didn’t wear it on camera because she said it was too uncomfortable. Because “The Outlaw” was shot around 1940 but not officially released until 1946, it has developed a reputation as a film too hot for distributors to handle. But most of the delays were the result of Hughes’ obsessive-compulsive mentality and the myopic arrogance with which he mishandled … uh, grappled with … Sorry, I looked at that image again and lost my train of thought.

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    “The Fast and the Furious” (1954)

    This film about a wrongly accused murderer (John Ireland) who busts out of the joint, kidnaps a sexy dame (Dorothy Malone) and tries to escape to Mexico driving in a long-distance auto race was a damned fine B-movie and a vivid example of the auto-mania that engulfed the U.S. after World War II. It was also Roger Corman’s first film as producer for the independent American Releasing Corp., which would later change its name to American International Pictures and become one of the dominant forces in exploitation cinema for over two decades. One of the company’s key figures was screenwriter-producer Corman, who came up with the story for “The Fast and the Furious” and would go on to direct 56 films, including “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Intruder.” He also founded New World Pictures and other releasing companies and mentored a number of hungry young actors and filmmakers who would become significant pop culture figures in the ’70s and beyond (Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, Joe Dante, Francis Coppola, James Cameron and Sandra Bullock are but a few). Corman also used New World as a U.S. distribution platform for international cinema legends, including Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini, and wrote a marvelous memoir titled “How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.”

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    “Macabre” (1958)

    William Castle, a producer notorious (or beloved) for his promotional gimmicks, debuted his peppy brand of shamelessness with this 1958 thriller about a man trying to locate his daughter, who has been abducted and buried alive. Castle, who had mortgaged his house to finance the picture, amped up the “must-see” factor by stationing ambulances outside theaters and handing out $1,000 Lloyd’s of London life insurance policies to every ticket buyer in the event that they died of fright. (Nobody did.) Castle’s future gimmicks included “Emergo” (sending a skeleton flying out over the audience on wires during showings of “The House on Haunted Hill”); “Percepto” (joy buzzers delivering tiny electric shocks to certain viewers of “The Tingler”); and “Fright Break” (superimposing a 45-second timer over a scary scene from “Homicidal” to give patrons time to leave the theater before they were scared out of their minds! Oooo-EEEE–ooooooo!) Dante paid tribute to the shlock master in his 1993 film “Matinee,” which starred John Goodman as a gimmick-crazed indie filmmaker modeled on Castle.

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    “The Immoral Mr. Teas” (1959)

    Boobsploitation master Russ Meyer’s breakthrough movie is less a story than a collection of sketches — softcore fantasy projections that happen to take place in the mind of the title character, who’s like a mammary-obsessed cousin of James Thurber’s daydreaming Walter Mitty. “The Immoral Mr. Teas” was notable for exhibiting 1) copious amounts of female nudity and 2) absolutely no shame about displaying said nudity and 3) no inclination to “justify the skin by offering a story, a moral, an anthropological or sociological thesis, etc. It cost about $24,000 and made over $1 million during its initial theatrical run, a staggering return for what was essentially a stag movie with a prankish sense of humor. Meyer would go on to direct many more films that were — well, maybe not groundbreaking. Is “bra-breaking” a word? It isn’t? All right, then: Sexy. Silly. And truly auteurist, in the sense that each new effort was a snapshot of the director’s personality and the contents of his imagination. Think Hugh Hefner, only funny. (He did some photography for Playboy, in fact.) For further research, see “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”

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    “Psycho” (1960)

    “We all go a little mad sometimes,” says Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), the shy hotel keeper who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but has no compunction about … Seriously, do we even need to say it? Just look at the still accompanying this text, and consider two things. First, most viewers had never experienced this level of violence in a Hollywood film. And I’m not just referring to the visceral assault of Norman jabbing a butcher knife into Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Detective Abrogast (Martin Balsam) while Bernard Herrmann’s violins shriek in panic and black blood slashes across Alfred Hitchcock’s monochrome compositions. There was also the narrative assault: Marion getting hacked up 40 minutes into the picture, after fooling anybody that hadn’t read Robert Bloch’s source novel into thinking she was the heroine, the audience surrogate, the character who would live to tell the tale. And on top of all that, there was an aspect of sociological assault. Hollywood movies didn’t show a lonely secretary having an afternoon tryst with a bored hunk, or impulsively stealing the boss’s money, or reacting with terror when a cop pulled her over and assume you’d care about her anyway just because she was a human being — and they damn sure didn’t make the same assumption vis-

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    “I Am Curious (Yellow)” (1967)

    Hey, honey, wanna go to the movies? You do? Fantastic. Hey, let’s see that Swedish film, what is it called? “Curious Yellow” or something? It’s a documentary. Or maybe it just looks like a documentary. It’s about this chick who’s really politically aware. She’s got photos of Francisco Franco and concentration camps on her walls, and there’s this one scene where Martin Luther King talks about the civil rights movement, and another scene where you get to see people trying to pass a law that would make Sweden the first country with a nonviolent national defense policy or something. I know. Crazy, right? But it’s also a love story and a movie about relationships. Like “Breathless,” kind of. It’s a little racy, from what I hear. Some skin, yeah. A lot of skin. But it’s all very artistic. I think there’s a scene where she kisses her boyfriend’s thing and it looks like she’s about to do — what do they call that? Horatio? You’re up for it? Great. Maybe afterward we can go back to my place.

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    “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

    A black-and-white cheapie shot on the fly near Pittsburgh, Pa., George A. Romero’s debut feature inaugurated a new subgenre of horror and single-handedly redefined the popular image of the zombie from a voodoo-enchanted sleepwalking servant to a flesh-craving ghoul. But the movie was significant for other reasons as well. It was produced for about $114,000 and has grossed $42 million to date, making it one of the most profitable movies ever produced outside of mainstream Hollywood. And its matter-of-fact images of zombies feasting on meat and innards raised (or lowered) the bar for representations of graphic violence.

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    “Easy Rider” (1969)

    On paper, “Easy Rider” looked like just another cash-in — a hybrid of the youth-pandering melodrama and the biker flick. But the creative team behind the movie — Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern — pulled a classic bait-and-switch. The film’s synopsis and ad campaign enticed young viewers with the promise of profanity, nudity, violence, unsimulated drug use, and inventively photographed photos of Harley-Davidsons tear-assing through gorgeous American landscapes; Hopper and company delivered all those elements, plus something more surprising and powerful: sincerity. A trippy, rueful portrait of a nation divided against itself, “Easy Rider” was written, acted and directed with such passion that it became a zeitgeist movie, winning the best first film award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and going on to outgross all but a handful of Hollywood blockbusters. The film’s critical and financial triumph set the stage for the year’s other gritty, sensitive, low-budget sleeper, John Schlesinger’s sexually frank “Midnight Cowboy,” to be a comparably big hit, then go on to become the first and only X-rated movie to win an Oscar for best picture. The history of modern American independent cinema began with these two films.

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    Report of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (1970)

    In 1969, after two-plus decades of increasingly provocative movies, music, novels and magazines, the U.S. Supreme Court shocked many citizens with its verdict in Stanley v. Georgia, which declared that American citizens had a right to read or watch whatever they wished in the privacy of their own homes. The U.S. Congress responded by funding the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, a project of outgoing president Lyndon Johnson. One year and $2 million worth of public funding later, the commission released a report that validated the court’s decision and then some. Among other things, the report recommended extensive study of sex and sexual habits and sex education in schools and said laws intended to restrict speech or imagery in order to protect the innocence of children were themselves “inappropriate.” The Supreme Court concurred with the report, and with the tacit approval of three branches of government, artists, showmen and boundary-pushers of every stripe felt empowered to go forth and do whatever the hell they pleased. The new occupant of the Oval Office, Richard M. Nixon, was not happy with the commission’s findings, and promised, “So long as I am in the White House, there will be no relaxation of the national effort to control and eliminate smut from our national life.” We know how that turned out.

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    “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971)

    No, not “Badass.” “Baadasssss.” One extra vowel, four extra consonants. Why? Because the correct spelling isn’t badass enough to describe the hero of writer-director-star Melvin van Peebles’ breakthrough feature. Shot for a half-million dollars, and looking as if it cost at least a tenth of that, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” is a cynical urban folk tale about a young black man (Van Peebles) who foolishly lets a couple of affable white cops take him down to the local precinct house to make their bosses think they’re actively looking for suspects in a murder, then intervenes to stop those same cops from groundlessly assaulting another brother and has to go on the run. The bulk of the film is a long (and rather poky) chase, interrupted by some of the hottest sex this side of a stag film. “Sweetback” is no great shakes technically; it has a punch-drunk rhythm and amateurish photography, and the mannered jump-cuts and acid-trip colors often make it seem less like a contemporary underground art film than an energetically nasty B-picture that was left to molder in someone’s basement, then got chewed up in a projector. But none of that mattered because Van Peebles was the most charismatic example of a relatively new kind of African-American movie character: not a sidekick, a clown or a Sidney Poitier-style assimilationist figure, but an anti-establishment trickster with balls and brains. Sweetback saw through the lies of America, capitalism and whitey in general, and devoted himself to getting over (and getting off) any way he could. The movie made a fortune, and almost every dollar came from black viewers starved to see a sleepy-eyed, barrel-chested macho man translate their own alienation and anger into fantastic big-screen action. As the poster proclaimed, “You bled my momma …You bled my poppa … But you won’t bleed me!” The director’s son, Mario van Peebles, played his pop in a 2003 biopic about the making of “Sweetback.” It was originally titled, “Gettin’ the Man’s Foot Outta Your Baadasssss!,” but after distributors worried that the title was too unwieldy, the filmmaker shortened it to “Baadasssss.” Yeah, see? See what The Man does? See how he operates?

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    “Deep Throat” (1973)

    The signature porn picture of ’70s America was this movie by director Jerry Gerard (aka Gerard Damiano), starring Linda Lovelace (aka Linda Boreman) as a woman with a unique physiology that basically makes her the ultimate Hollywood producer fantasy: a woman whose clitoris is located in the back of her throat, and who can therefore only derive full sexual pleasure from giving blow job after blow job after blow job. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?” asked the poster. Pretty freakin’ far, as it turns out. “Deep Throat” supposedly grossed somewhere between $30 million and $50 million, though it’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure because the participants have been haggling over compensation for decades, and because the production money allegedly came from organized crime figures that exaggerated box office receipts and skimmed the take like the hoods in “Casino.” Despite its marketplace positioning as the ultimate in sexual liberation, Lovelace said the production was anything but pleasurable for her. In 1986, she told the Meese Commission on Pornography that when viewers watch “Deep Throat,” “they’re watching me being raped.” Filmmaker Matthew Wilder is currently in preproduction on a movie about Lovelace that’s supposed to star another famous L.L., Lindsay Lohan.

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    “Enter the Dragon” (1973)

    The international mania for kung fu action started here. Essentially a modestly budgeted chopsocky version of a James Bond movie, with Bruce Lee, John Saxon and Jim Kelly infiltrating an opium dealer’s island compound during one of the martial arts tournaments he regularly sponsors (way to go with the evil secrecy, there, buddy), “Enter the Dragon” perfected the format of violent spectacle-as-modern-musical, liberally sprinkling plot (and a splash of sex) amid intricately choreographed fight sequences. Unfortunately, the deeper drama happened off-screen. Lee died unexpectedly six days before “Enter the Dragon” opened in Hong Kong. The film might have been a hit anyway; Lee was, and remains, the most intensely charismatic action star in film history, a man whose icily confident demeanor terrifies opponents before a fight has even started. But his demise pushed “Enter the Dragon” past luck-of-the-zeitgeist popularity, birthing a seemingly indestructible cult of personality. It also emboldened would-be successors (including Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and U.S. karate master Chuck Norris, Lee’s opponent in “Return of the Dragon”) and unleashed a small army of homegrown impostors saddled with such distributor-mandated screen names as Bruce Le, Bruce Li and Bruce Ly. To Lee’s credit, none of this bustle and nonsense quite managed to eclipse his fighting prowess or his classical attitude about how best to present screen action. “A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously,” says the hero of “Enter the Dragon,” in a scene that doubles as a summary of everything he stood for. “A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come.”

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    “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)

    “Rocky Horror” has been regarded with such affection for so long that it takes an imaginative leap to realize what it seemed like in 1975: a campy, freakish curiosity. A low-budget film adaptation of a minor stage musical that was more lively than well-made, “Rocky” came out (yeah, I typed it!) during an especially macho and gay-hating period in American cinema — an era in which even lighthearted comedies and goofy action pictures included limp-wristed stereotypes and casual talk of “fags.” Yet “Rocky” dared to present a goofy utopian vision of a world in which the usual categories and prohibitions meant nothing. The on-screen frolics suggested Andy Warhol’s factory crossed with a network TV variety show: clumsy high-kicking chorus lines, Meat Loaf riding a motorcycle around the set. But the silliness had a revolutionary spirit. “Rocky” presented sex and music as the great equalizers. Once the characters (and the viewers) entered the decadent orbit of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), transsexual cult figure, doe-eyed seducer and world-class showman, they weren’t straight, gay, lesbian or transgendered anymore, just horny. “Don’t dream it,” proclaimed the chorus of the same-named showstopper. “Be it.” The film was not a hit on first release, but its phoenix-like reemergence on the midnight movie circuit a few years later made it a cult classic, a landmark in audience participation, and perhaps in pop culture’s acceptance of non-straight culture. There’s a light over at the Frankenstein place.

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    “The Terminator” (1984)

    Writer-director James Cameron wasn’t the first successful auteur to apprentice with Roger Corman (he worked in Corman’s special effects department in the ’70s and ’80s). But he was the most financially successful. The road to “Titanic” and “Avatar” started with this relentless action thriller about a cyborg from the future sent into the past to kill a woman who would one day give birth to humanity’s savior. It was a modestly budgeted film that substituted ingenuity and energy for production values, making liberal use of stop-motion puppets, rear screen projection and miniature vehicles and cityscapes. But its sheer ferocity made the year’s more lavish, studio-financed sci-fi pictures (including “Dune” and “2010″) seem overscaled, muddled and tedious. Hemdale, the scrappy indie that released “The Terminator,” plowed its profits from this film into an ambitious slate of arty auteurist statements that made it one of 1980s cinema’s most unpredictable and fascinating distributors. Hemdale’s peak was Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” which swept the Oscars a little over two years after “The Terminator” exploded onto screens. The star of Cameron’s film, a gap-toothed, pot-smoking ex-bodybuilder from Austria, did pretty well for himself.

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    “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986)

    Spike Lee’s debut feature about a voluptuous, sex-loving black woman (Tracy Camilla-Johns) fused elements from two exploitation film pioneers, sex romp impresario Russ Meyer and blaxploitation folk hero Melvin van Peebles. Freely mixing French New Wave editing, improvised chatter about sexual politics, modern jazz by Lee’s father, Bill Lee, and 1960s nudie flick prurience, the movie simultaneously celebrated its heroine’s empowerment and objectified her, and ended with a tonally ugly rape-as-punishment scene that writer-director Lee presented not as a Neanderthal attack on Nola’s autonomy, but a wake-up call for a woman who needed to lay off the sausage for a while and get her act together. The film’s art/exploitation schizophrenia is evident in a sex scene between Nola and her most hyperactive and childish lover, Mars Blackmon, who just happens to be played by Spike Lee. Its high point, a shot of Lee sucking on one of Nola’s nipples in slow-motion, is a clever comment on Mars’ infantile neediness, an erotic image of awesome beauty, and the most shamelessly self-indulgent moment in the history of director cameos. To Lee’s credit, though, he’s never been shy about admitting he’s both an artist and a huckster. The movie’s trailer began with a shot of Lee on the street selling tube socks, three for $5.

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    “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

    From Thomas Edison through William Castle and beyond, successful exploitation filmmaking was often less about actual movie than the P.R. campaign, the attitude, the package. “The Blair Witch Project” brought poverty row hucksterism into a new technological era. Shot for pocket change in Burkittsville, Md., by the filmmaking team of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, the movie adopted a pseudo-documentary style (black-and-white 16mm film plus consumer-grade video) and presented itself as found footage produced by a trio of filmmakers that went looking for a witch and were never heard from again. The film’s distributor, a then-frisky newcomer called Artisan, cleverly built on the film’s mockumentary gestalt, spinning off a fake documentary about the fake documentary and all manner of ancillary materials, many of them made available on a strange system of tubes called the Internet. The film itself divided viewers, with some hailing its rough-and-ready aesthetic and cryptic ending and declaring themselves scared to death, and others storming out of the theater muttering, “Bullshit!” over and over. That’s exploitation, baby.

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    “Grindhouse” (2007)

    When co-directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez announced that they were making a nostalgic tribute to the so-called grindhouse experience — a couple of B-movies interspersed with low-rent trailers and faded-looking ads for local businesses — aficionados of fleapit movie culture were mostly over-the-moon. The final product was not a financial success, though, and critics either didn’t quite know how to embrace it or else turned it into a battle of the postmodern auteurs, championing Tarantino’s film over Rodriguez’s, or the reverse. What was the problem, really? Was the entire thing just too long? Or too meta? Or too self-conscious? Maybe too handsomely produced and aesthetically fussy to recapture the true grindhouse experience? The two movies, Tarantino’s vehicular horror flick “Death Proof” and Rodriguez’s sci-fi zombie thriller “Planet Terror,” both featured “breaks” and “scratches” that had been added during postproduction; the funniest was the buildup to Kurt Russell’s long-anticipated lap dance in “Death Proof,” which was followed by a title card that read, “Scene missing.” That always got a big laugh (and a groan), but there was something too calculated about it; deep down the cynics suspected that Tarantino did, in fact, shoot that scene, and sure enough, it was restored a few months later when the two features were broken up and exhibited separately and on DVD. The movie’s fake trailers won near unanimous praise, though, and eventually inspired Rodriguez to direct a feature-length spinoff of his own fake trailer for the Danny Trejo Mexsploitation picture “Machete.” Whatever the project’s creative merits or lack thereof, it was dogged by a certain self-consciousness, as well as a sadness over the realization that it was trying (perhaps too hard) to recapture nostalgia for an experience that was often more interesting than pleasurable, and that often wrote creative checks that its artistry couldn’t cash. “Grindhouse” is the exploitation movie version of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame: a loving tribute, and a sign that an era has passed.