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August 25, 2010


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Oh man, how I want to see this movie!

"Who was the last completely unself-conscious American exploitation filmmaker who was any good?"

To answer your question, I was going to bring up the holy (to me) trinity—Carpenter, Dante, Cronenberg—but then you went ahead and did it for me. I once wrote about Carpenter and said this: "What's distinctive about Carpenter is how enthusiastically he embraces the hokiest conventions of the genres he works in. His films are cheeky, but not ironic. He has never, no matter the context, shied away from a gunfight or car chase. Indeed, Carpenter’s approach to zombies, psychopaths, aliens, and vampires is to take them all dead seriously as subjects."

I wonder if even some of Brian DePalma's films can be put into this category. I mean they are very, very self-conscious, bordering on the meta-, but they also deliver the goods. For example, I find Dressed to Kill both hilarious as a send-up of slasher movies but also genuinely scary.

Phil Freeman

I haven't finished reading the post yet, but had to stop after the first paragraph and jump in. Romero is almost CRIPPLINGLY self-conscious. I wouldn't necessarily call him an "exploitation" filmmaker, but I'd argue for Walter Hill as an unheralded genre master...and totally un-self-conscious. There's no way you can be self-conscious when making a movie like Extreme Prejudice, which I wrote about some years ago here:


Castle Bravo

I failed to see a mention of Tobe Hooper's '74 Texas Chain Saw Massacre... One of the 10 greatest works of art ever committed to celluloid.

Glenn Kenny

Very astute, Castle Bravo. You DID fail to see a mention of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Because I didn't mention it. I, too, believe it's a great movie, and it is in fact one of the films central to Wood's writing on genre. I didn't mention it in this context because I didn't want to get into too much hair-splitting in the post proper.




Corman's system imploded when THE RAMONES were slipped into what was suppose to be a disco exploitation film.

Craig Kennedy

Post-trash or meta-trash, it's still trash. Aja has no facility for humor or eroticism so the opening hour of shits and giggles is a punishing slog. Even the widely ballyhooed underwater lesballet is outclassed by anything at all on Skinamax.

Aja finally seems to be in his element when things get grimly brutal in the last third, but by then it's too late.

This was also my first experience with 3D post-conversion and it was as terrible as advertised. The problem is, even with the poor execution, the gimmick actually adds a much needed layer of fun so the only choice is to see it in bad 3D or skip it altogether.

Chris O.

: I think it's probably good to be unsettled by something we've been more or less conditioned to chortle at, out of repressed fear or not

Right. Where's Willman on THE EXPENDABLES, which was #1 for two weeks in a row? Mass killings? Check. Blood? Digital, yeah, but check. Violence towards women? Check. Bad cosmetic surgery? Check. And so on.

Of course, it's called a "self-conscious homage", but... you wonder.

But speaking of those from the Corman camp... then there's the from-the-grindhouse-to-the-arthouse career of John Sayles, writer of the original PIRANHA, whose films maybe got more from Corman's lessons in stretching a budget than in genre conventions (script doctoring notwithstanding). That's not to say there's no genre cross-breeding or experimentation.

Paul Johnson

"Who was the last completely unself-conscious American exploitation filmmaker who was any good?"

He was Canadian, so he really doesn't count, but Bob Clark comes to mind, especially for Black Christmas from 1974 (or even Dead of Night - which, for all its loaded evocations of Vietnam, seems more of a piece with The Sadist or Brain That Wouldn't Die than with The Crazies).

I see '74 as the no turning back moment in American horror & exploitation, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Phantom of the Paradise/It's Alive making the kind of hard'n'heavy ironic turn that echoes the post-Raw Power/New York Dolls/Radio City moment in rock, after which everything worth paying attention to seems like a commentary on that which came before - especially John Carpenter's movies, which for all their stripped down purity are supremely self-conscious (Assault on Precinct 13 = the Ramones debut album?).


Well, this is probably the most interesting review of PIRANHA 3D any of us is likely to read. Savor it.

Not that I've seen it, but I want to now more than I did before.

" think it's probably good to be unsettled by something we've been more or less conditioned to chortle at, out of repressed fear or not. Don't you?"

Indeed I do. The absence of this has been my problem with the horror genre, as it exists on film, for a loooong time now. I cringe any time I see a critic say something like "Finally, a horror film that's funny!" As if that was an obvious element to the genre that people had forgotten about. And I know it CAN be an element, and I'm sure Aja's film is loaded with jokes, but the idea
that he might use that humor to smack us in the face at the end appeals to me.

And I think Cronenber is the "last" kind of filmmaker you describe, still and always. Mainly because he's still good, and while his genres have shifted lately, he's still nailing down some damn good work in theoretically exploitation genres. And he's always been the smartest of them all anyway.

Of the type you seem to be thinking of more specifically, I'd go with Carpenter. That man was a true craftsman. What happened?

The First Bill C

@Paul: Bob Clark was not Canadian. He often worked in Canada, where the tax-shelter money was and where he built up something of a rep company, but he was born in New Orleans and grew up in Florida.

While I'm being pedantic, it's Elisabeth Shue, Glenn, with an "s."

Mr. Peel

In this context I suppose the Patrick Hobby joke actually began with Dante/Arkush's HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, used as the pseudonym for screenwriter Danny Opatashu.

I would make some comment regarding my appreciation for Kelly Brook in PIRANHA 3D but that would probably be too off-topic, so I'll just add that this was an excellent piece.

Mark Slutsky

You know what? I'm getting kind of tired of people taking potshots at the HOSTEL movies whenever they need a "torture porn" whipping boy. Hostel 1—and weirdly enough, especially 2—are smart movies, very well made, with a pretty solid satirical bent. They really deserve better.


Isn't, uh, Cronenberg also Canadian?


Having seen six of Carpenter's movies, I'm inclined to think he's overrated. "The Thing" is the best of those I've seen, but quite frankly I don't think cinema would be worse off if "Halloween" had never existed. Many critics don't like Woody Allen for remaking Bergman and Fellini, so why should Carpenter get so much praise for remaking "Rio Bravo"? A cynical observer, or John Simon, might think Carpenter was being rewarded more for knowing the prejudices of a certain type of film critic than for being a good filmmaker (Hawks is more admired, Carpenter isn't being too "intellectual"). He had more Hollywood opportunities of many American filmamakers of his decade (cough, Charles Burnett, cough), and he blew it.

It's striking that two years after Carpenter made this movie, Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bermgan made their own movies about murderers, which tended not to be admired by Carpenter's or De Palma's fans. I've never seen "The Life of the Marionettes," but I hope to sometime in the next two months. Any thoughts about it?

One thing about "The Phantom of the Paradise," which I saw at least a quarter of a century after it was released, is that it's so weird having the Andy Warhol/Malcolm McLaren figure played by Paul Williams making his fortune with a version of "Grease." Yes, I know McLaren hadn't come to prominence then, but he is the person one would think of for this kind of role in retrospect.


HALLOWEEN was a remake of RIO BRAVO?


D. P. - Oops, yes, he is.

Kiss Me, Son of God

I mostly enjoyed Piranha 3D, but I thought the third act represented somewhat of a failure of nerve on the filmmakers' part -- whether the previous hour had been post-trash or meta-trash isn't for me to say, but it was a lot of fun, and then much less fun as it became a more conventional survivalist drama hinging upon e.g. the audience giving a shit about the welfare of the protagonist's moppet siblings. Of course, I was delighted by the picture's coda (and final shot) -- a wry, nasty wink that reminded me of Raimi's Drag Me To Hell.

Also of some interest is the fake 3D, which had the effect of looking accidentally avant-garde in some shots. It almost looked like a commentary on bad 3D. Almost.

Kiss Me, Son of God

Bill, I assume Partisan was referring to Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13," which was loosely modeled after Rio Bravo...but that is not very clear in Partisan's post, so perhaps he's confused himself...

Craig Kennedy

KMSoG: Just for clarification, are you disappointed with the smaller scale climax on the party boat or are you disappointed in the grim mass killing part?


Partisan, please.

Jeff McMahon

It has to depend on which 6 Carpenter movies you've seen. If they included Village of the Damned/Escape from L.A./Vampires, he might have a point. If, in addition to Halloween and The Thing, they included Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live it would be a different story.

Jeff McMahon

Also, on the subject of 'good recent unself-conscious exploitation filmmakers' I'd like to nominate Larry Fessenden and David Twohy.

Asher Steinberg

"Many critics don't like Woody Allen for remaking Bergman and Fellini, so why should Carpenter get so much praise for remaking "Rio Bravo"? A cynical observer, or John Simon, might think Carpenter was being rewarded more for knowing the prejudices of a certain type of film critic than for being a good filmmaker (Hawks is more admired, Carpenter isn't being too "intellectual")"

Well, I don't see the point in remaking Bergman and Fellini. Now, I'm going to admit before I make my foregoing comments that I haven't seen as much of either as I should, so the following could be ignorant. But it strikes me that Bergman's films are already commentaries on themselves; it's very hard for me to see what remaking Bergman adds to Bergman. And to me Fellini is a stylist first and foremost, so to remake Fellini is to style-ape. Hawks, on the other hand, is, in some respects, a stylistically bare filmmaker who tells these powerful archetypal stories in very genre-specific contexts, such that you can retell RIO BRAVO in different eras, turn it from a Western into a existentialist neo-noir as Melville does in parts of LE CERCLE ROUGE, a police procedural, any manner of things. And each time (if you actually do a good job), you won't be making a homage to your favorite filmmaker, as Bergman/Fellini remakes necessarily are, but will be saying something new about the situation. That's how I see it, anyway.


I was gonna mention Twohy as well, Jeff, but thought I should hold off until I've seen A PERFECT GETAWAY.

Asher: It's not a remake exactly, but AMERICAN GRAFFITI owes a lot to I VITELLONI without being Felliniesque, per se. And I haven't seen Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but I'm assuming the only thing Bergmanesque about it is the plot. But your general point is well taken.


About Bergman's "Of the life of the marionettes": it's an AWESOME film, and by awesome I mean sick, bleak and hopeless. Don't miss it. (I don't think it has much to do with the slasher genre, though).

Kiss Me, Son of God

Craig: the smaller-scale boat part, more or less. Felt more conventional Hollywood thriller, less gonzo exploitation.

Fuzzy Bastard

Jesus! Self-conscious exploitation aside...

"please don't ever write anything ever again Eric Kohn,"
"made poor widdle Christopher Campbell cry,"

And then you wonder why your comments become a home for poop-throwing insult monkeys? I know, insulting other critics is part of your brand, but these swipes aren't even funny. Everything else in this piece is interesting and thoughtful, but then there's these sentences where a mean 8-year-old suddenly takes over your word processor.

Glenn Kenny

@ Fuzzy: Wow, man. Just as Gamera is a friend to all children, you appear to be a friend to all potentially aggrieved film reviewers. If I didn't know better I'd think you were canvassing for votes, as it were. Actually, I don't know better.

A few points: One, I don't really "wonder why," at all; two, your own notions of causality, in my opinion, lack; three, parallel construction jokes are apparently lost on you; and four, pshaw!—I went very, very easy on the tender-hearted Mr. Campbell and his ludicrous bleat.

I grow weary, sometimes, of having to repeat this fact: this is my blog. I'll write as I please on it, and deal with the consequences, such as they are. Including tolerating tedious, humorless prigs.

Fuzzy Bastard

Canvasing for votes? For what? I'm not a professional reviewer, and have no ambitions to be such. As for my own film work, given that I'm here under a pseudonym, can't see how that would have an impact. I just find it depressing watching you torpedo your own work by giving in to your very worst instincts, is all.

As for humorless, well, if you really think "poor widdle so-and-so" is funny, enjoy cackling over noogies in the boys' room.

James Keepnews

FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES is astonishingly good Bergman -- the last "good German" one from his years as a tax exile, just like Mick and Keef -- and I'm surprised how rarely discussed it remains among his films. While not a slasher film per se, it examines the aftermath of a "passion" murder with a willingness to explore its multidirectional tragic consequences an unblinking eye. And as far as those slasher elements go, the opening scenes features a shot that is held for an almost unbearably long time as you await the inevitable -- I can't think of another shot (or entire film, really) quite like it in Bergman's oeuvre, and it truly belongs more to the tradition of horror film than Bergman's sui generis anti-trash. Don't believe it's ever seen the light of NTSC DVD, has it?

Carpenter: I like DARK STAR, THE THING, THEY LIVE and most esp. ELVIS, which I'm happy to see is now available in a new DVD. Me no like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, which my teenage pals and I could not stop ridiculing when we watched it, and thereafter ("Gotta smoke?" Gotta non-cliched line of dialogue? No? Right...And would we ever forgive him for offing Kim Richards?), and most of his films after IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. In fact, us junior cinephiles did not recognize the auteurist-stroking reference to RIO BRAVO in ASSAULT, so much as the (for us) more obvious reference to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, against which it suffered greatly by comparison. And continues to.

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