Exploitation film is a type of film that is promoted by "exploiting" often lurid subject matter. The term "exploitation" is common in film marketing, used for all types of films to mean promotion or advertising. These films then need something to exploit, such as a big star, special effects, sex, violence, romance, etc. An exploitation film, however, relies heavily on sensationalist advertising, as well as broad overstatements of the issues depicted, regardless of how they relate to the intrinsic quality of the film. Very often, exploitation films are of low quality. Even so, exploitation films sometimes attract critical attention and cult followings.

History Edit

Exploitation films may feature suggestive or explicit sex, sensational violence, drug use, nudity, freaks, gore, the bizarre, destruction, rebellion, and mayhem. Such films were first seen in their modern form in the early 1920s, but they were popularized in the 1960s and 70s with the general relaxing of censorship and cinematic taboos in the USA and Europe. The Motion Picture Cinema of America (and the MPPDA before it) cooperated with censorship boards and grassroots organizations in the name of preserving the image of a "clean" Hollywood, but exploitation film distributors operated outside of this circuit and often welcomed controversy as a form of free promotion. Their producers also used sensational elements to attract audiences lost to television. Since the 1990s, this genre has also received attention from academic circles, where it is sometimes called paracinema.

"Exploitation" is very loosely defined, and has more to do with the viewer's perception of the film than with the film's actual content. Titillating material and artistic content can and often do coexist, as demonstrated by the fact that art films that failed to pass the Hays Code were often shown in the same grindhouses as exploitation films. Exploitation films share with acclaimed transgressive European directors such as Derek Jarman, Luis Buñuel, and Jean-Luc Godard a fearlessness toward handling 'disreputable' content. Numerous films recognized as classics contain levels of sex, violence, and shock typically associated with exploitation films, including Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, Tod Browning's Freaks, and Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Buñuel's Un chien andalou contains elements of the modern splatter film. It has further been stated that if Carnival of Souls had been made in Europe, that it would be considered an art film, while if Eyes Without a Face had been made in the U.S., it would have been categorized as a low-budget horror film. The art film and exploitation film audiences are both considered to have tastes that reject the mainstream Hollywood offerings.

Exploitation films often exploited events that occurred in the news and were in the short term public consciousness that a major film studio may avoid due to the length of time of producing a major film. For example Child Bride (1938) addressed a problem of older men marrying very young women in the Ozarks. Other issues such as drug use in films like Reefer Madness (1936) attracted an audience that a major film studio would usually avoid to keep their mainstream and respectable reputations. But if the motivations were strong enough, major studios might become involved, as in Warner Bros.1969 anti-LSD, anti-counterculture film The Big Cube. Sex Madness (1938) portrayed the dangers of venereal disease from premarital sex. The film Mom and Dad (1945), a film about pregnancy and childbirth, was promoted in lurid terms. She Shoulda Said No! (1949) combined the themes of drug use and promiscuous sex. In the early days of film, when exploitation films relied on such sensational subjects as these, they had to present them within the context of a very conservative moral viewpoint in order to avoid censorship, as movies were not at the time considered to enjoy First Amendment protection.

Several war films were made about the Winter War in Finland, the Korean War and Vietnam War before the major studios showed interest. When Orson welles' Mercury theatre Halloween 1938 radio production of The War of the Worlds shocked many Americans and made news, Universal Pictures edited their serial Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars into a short feature called Mars Attacks the World for release in November of that year.

Some Poverty Row lower budget B-movie often exploit major studio projects. Their rapid production schedule can take advantage of publicity attached to major studio films. For example, Edward L. Alperson produced William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars in order to beat Paramount Pictures' prestigious production of director George Pal's The War of the Worlds to the cinemas. Pal's The Time Machine was also beaten to the cinemas by Robert Clarke's Edgar G. Ulmer film Beyond the Time Barrier (1960). As a result, many major studios, producers, and stars keep their projects secret.

Grindhouses and drive-ins Edit

Grindhouse is an American term for a theatre that mainly showed exploitation films. One theory is the word is named after the defunct burlesque theatres, on 42nd Street, New York, where 'bump n' grind' dancing and striptease used to be on the bill. In the 1960s these theatres were put to new use as venues for exploitation films.

As the drive-in movie theatres(an outdoor theater into which the patrons drive and watch the film from their car) began to decline in the 1960s and 1970s, theater owners began to look for ways to bring in patrons. One solution was to book exploitation films. In fact, some producers from the 1950s to the 1980s would make films directly for the drive-in market, the mass product needed for a weekly change led to another theory that the producers would "grind" films out. Many of them were violent action films which some would refer to as 'drive-in' films.

Subgenres Edit

Exploitation films may adopt the subject matters and stylings of film genres, particularly horror films and documentary films. The subgenres of exploitation films are categorized by which characteristics they utilize. Thematically, exploitation films can also be influenced by other so-called exploitative media, like pulp magazines. Exploitation films often blur genre lines by containing elements of two or more genres at a time. For example, Doris Wishman's Let Me Die A Woman contains both shock documentary and sexploitation elements.