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What are Grindhouse Films?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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A grindhouse film refers to exploitative films, popular primarily in the late 1960s and onward, that relied on extreme depictions of violence, and often graphic sexual content to bring in audiences. The grindhouse film was not known for its quality — instead most were low budget films with poor filmmaking technique, also typically called B movies. While a V movie, especially one made in the 1950s or earlier could be a fairly harmless affair, the grindhouse film was preoccupied with violence or near pornography.

The term grindhouse comes from the venues in which grindhouse films were often shown, usually formerly burlesque theaters that might once have featured “bump and grind” strip shows. In fact some of these theaters remain dedicated to showing exclusively real or soft pornography. Gradually, with the advent of the VCR, grindhouse films became a thing of the past. If people wished to view exploitative films they could rent and view them from the comfort of their homes, and with a great deal more privacy.

In 2007, the film Grindhouse with two segments directed by Quentin Tarantino and Richard Rodriquez brought the term back into common conversation. Both segments essentially used the same elements that had made grindhouse films popular among a certain audience, excessive violence and gore, and graphic sexual content. They also feature a certain shock value known to exploitation film fans as "shock exploitation." Earlier grindhouse film examples of shock exploitation include Assault on Precinct 13.

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Rodriquez and Tarantino also interspersed elements in the films, which made the movies look like they have been shown thousands of times, and had missing reels. The quality of the actual film reel, and ability to keep track of it were common to grindhouse theaters, producing very poor picture quality and missing story elements. Often, since story was not an important reason for seeing a film, few minded a missing reel or two.

Some early grindhouse films would seem tame by modern standards, but this was not to remain the case. As the 1960s came to an end, the adjective "tame" could no longer be applied to them. In fact, many grindhouse films greatly evoked the ire of movie critics, who felt that all decency had been overstepped by the subject matter. It’s surprising that a few of these same critics praise the 2007 Tarantino/Rodriguez film.

Some now famous directors got their entrée into the film world by making one or several grindhouse movies. Probably the most famous is Peter Jackson. His previous films were mostly gory depictions of zombies, true grindhouse fare. Other modern films certainly come close and focus on shock value and gore rather than good plotlines or quality. The graphic violence in films like Saw, The Hills Have Eyes, and Hostel seem to many overtly and disgustingly violent. Yet a segment of the population enjoys these films and this certainly can be proven by box office returns.

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