The Grindhouse Effect – By Josh Samford

As a fan of cult film, and a writer on the subject for nearly a decade, I have dabbled in nearly ever genre. From the biker movies of the sixties, giant Godzilla-esque Kaiju movies, roving teenage girl gang movies in the Pinky Violence genre and the general nastiness of the German splatter scene. These obscure and delightfully strange movies have dominated my life since my mid-teen years. In truth it would be hard to imagine my life without cult-cinema. Yet in the same way that the proliferation of technology has given us geek-chic, so has the popularity of a select number of filmmakers given the mainstream world a taste of cult cinema. Although this movement is more than likely destined to fade into the background of cinema once again, it doesn’t change how peculiar and interesting such a movement actually is.

Although the aptly titled Grindhouse may be the apex for this movement in its entirety, film geeks the entire world over have taken to their cameras en masse. Although every filmmaker in one way or another lampoons/borrows from their masters, the latest trend seems to be an open acknowledgment that says "yes, we are indeed referencing a film that the majority of our audience will not have seen". The massive influx of movies that seem to fit this mold have been ridiculous within the past ten years. These movies can take place within various genres, have varying degrees of intelligence or seriousness but all share the same theme of being movies that are generally about other movies. Some are good and some have been far from it, but you can’t deny the audacious meta qualities of such a movement.

Although it seems that the film geeks were generally letting their hair down at right around the same time, the populace would get their highest concentrated overdose of referencing through Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series. In the early to mid-nineties, Quentin Tarantino inspired a army of young, independent filmmakers to take to their cameras and create their own cheap imitations of his particular style of crime cinema. These movies deserve their own article by themselves, but Tarantino’s second revolution has arguably created the more interesting projects. The Kill Bill movies are probably the best examples of this particular style of cinema as they draw from every possible inspiration that Quentin Tarantino could possibly muster. From Hong Kong martial arts to Japanese yakuza movies and every form of American exploitation that you could think of; these movies brought them all to the forefront. Movie geeks were able to sit back in their chairs, counting every reference that flew by with a gleeful look of reverence. Arguably, the Kill Bill movies aren’t the strongest pieces of cinema in terms of narrative structure but their aesthetic qualities alone have won millions of fans over.

Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright are three filmmakers who have followed in Tarantino’s shoes by making films that are indebted to their own love for cinema. Wright started his career directing the comedy sitcom Spaced, which started his love affair for referential material. With his debut feature, Shaun of the Dead, he managed to capitalize on his love for horror cinema and create a wildly funny and consistently witty look at the zombie genre on the whole. Although packed to the brim with random horror movie referencing, the use of satire proved to be a cohesive and brilliant way to show off these references without seeming hackneyed. Eli Roth and Rob Zombie took a more generic infusion of style from the filmmakers of old. Although each filmmaker has their own visual aesthetic that is uniquely their own, each took ideas or visual cues directly from many of their favorite films. This, in my opinion, lead to their stumbling on their debuts as both House of 1000 Corpses (Zombie) and Cabin Fever (Roth) suffer from being so heavily indebted to genre film conventions.

So we have these filmmakers who are making these particular types of movies and the question ultimately becomes: are they worth it? This is a good question. While I appreciate what many of these films have done, one has to wonder if the spark of originality is being muffled by the continual repeating of films that we have seen before. Does the acknowledgment that you are taking from another source make the parroting of said idea legitimate or new? Although we as film geeks often feel that tingle of satisfaction while watching movies that reference films that only we would have seen beforehand, our continual support of projects that ultimately rehash previous genre fare leads to a continual loop of recycling. While I do feel this way, it is understandable from the other side of the equation as well. Although few would argue that Kill Bill was a film that had more content than aesthetic flare, there is a place for that in cinema. Who knows, maybe someone saw Darryl Hannah’s eye patch in that film and then searched out They Call Her One Eye because of the vague reference. That is a good thing after all, isn’t it? We as genre fans can never allow our own selfish egos get in the way of spreading these imaginative and interesting pieces of cinema.

The entire situation is a catch 22 of sorts. I feel that ultimately this fad will die and we as film geeks will be left with the possible consequences of over-exposure towards our love of exploitation cinema. Over exposure seems like a far too encompassing term for the most obscure of obscure genres, but with marketing analysts and every possible low rent DVD company releasing titles and trying to capitalize on these random bits of sleaze, I can see the concept of "grindhouse" films or "exploitation" in general losing their luster. Film fans can be fickle and mainstream movie fans can be downright mental. I see what has become of so many classic pieces of genre fare that have been remade, I see how modern audiences now react to their progeny and I see pieces of cinema unfairly dying out on the scale of film criticism.

As film geeks, we have to be brave in our love for cinema of all sorts. Whether the future leads to an over-exposure that no longer makes our most obscure of infatuations all that original anymore, or if the future leads to an even bleaker vision of horror and exploitation on the whole. Eventually, even the filmmakers are going to lose interest. With Eli Roth talking about moving into other genres and Rob Zombie angering the entire horror community with his Halloween sequel, one can see the path possibly coming to a close. If that is so, then those of us who are true to genre-film should close that door ourselves and continue to enjoy our particular facet of the cinematic world or embrace the little time that we may have being slightly less-fringe than we normally are. I’d prefer it if we took the less isolationist mentality, but that’s just me. We have options, but I urge film geeks out there to prepare for the worst but hope for the best. I know that we all fear another drop in horror-cinema popularity as we saw throughout the nineties. Could that be on the horizon? It’s a possibility, but we may also end up staring at something truly original and new just beyond that sunrise. It is all food for thought!