Tuesday, November 25, 2008

REEL GRINDHOUSE: CLASSIC FILMS - THE X FACTOR

Back in the 60's the MPAA came out with a ratings system. A lot of the grindhouse flicks, believe it or not, were originally rated X. A few distributors just stuck an R on the ads and the one sheets after they got the dreaded “X” rating.

Sometimes they got away with it, sometimes they didn’t. When they got caught, the “offensive “ parts were hacked out and sometimes rendered the rest of the film incoherent. Thus legends were created.

Last House on the Left was the hardest hit as quite a few scenes we cut out. The disemboweling scene and the scene where Krug carves his name on a victim’s chest come to mind. Legendary cuts were talked about as the film was passed around the country and each “ territory” seemed to take a chunk out of the film.

The X rating was totally unfair and lumped these film into the realm of porn. A lot of newspapers wouldn’t run an ad for anything X rated. 1969's Midnight Cowboy got the dreaded X , but went on to win an Oscar or two. Funny, after that, the rating dropped to an “R” without any cuts being made.

Here are a few films that got the dreaded “ X”. Some wore it like a badge of honor, others quickly cut their film to get the “R”. And others just flew under the radar. Most of these are now available in all their sleazy glory on DVD.

I Drink Your Blood 1970 released by Jerry Gross’s Cinemation was one of the first “ blood horrors” to get the dreaded X rating . Gross was a ballsy guy who openly challenged the MPAA and talked about it openly in print. Blood was given the X for violence, not for sex, but that X was the kiss of death as it invoked images of porn.

Jerry agreed to cut the film to an “R”, but just released it as it was, figuring that the MPAA wouldn’t bother checking up on it. He figured wrong and the MPAA was going to withdraw the “R” rating and fine Cinemation. Jerry pulled the prints and hacked out the “offending “ scenes. Some prints had more footage than others. The two scenes that were definitely chopped were an Asian woman’s self immolation and a gang bang with a group of construction workers and an infected woman.

For those that don’t know, Blood was one of the first American Night of the Living Dead ripoffs. A group of satanic hippies set up shop in an almost abandon town. They mess with the locals and give an old man some LSD. His grandson shoots a rabid dog, then injects some of it’s blood into “ meat pies”.

The pies are sold to the hippies and the fun begins. The cult members begin foaming at the mouth and turn on each other. One girl infects a bunch of construction workers after a gang bang. This film is extremely gory as one girl ( Lynn Lowry) cuts off and old lady’s hand with an electric knife. Swords, axes, ect are all brought into play.

I Drink Your Blood was paired with a retitled clunker, I Eat Your Skin ( Voodoo Blood Bath) by Del Tenny ( Horror of Party Beach). It opened at the Rialto, right on the corner of 42nd street and 7th Ave. It played various “Deuce “ grindhouses for 6 months. It was paired up with Carnivorous at the Times Square Theater in 1979. The audience was just pulverized by this double bill. Blood was directed by David Durston, who had previously directed some gay porn films. I Drink your Blood is now available , uncut, from Grindhouse Releasing. Required viewing. But now on to Carnivorous.

Carnivorous, aka, Last Cannibal World, Cannibal, The Last Survivor, Jungle Holocaust 1977. Directed by Ruggerio Deodato.

Man from Deep River may have been the “first” in the Italian Cannibal sub genre, but this film just blew it away. The violence was just too real and the animal cruelty was just vicious.

I saw this film at the wonderful Castle Theater in Irvington NJ. It was called The Last Survivor. I expected your standard “lost in the jungle “ adventure. I was slammed into my seat by the carnage. The usual rowdy crowd here was stunned by the brutality on the screen.

Four people in a small plane fly into an unexplored part of the Phillippines to check on some oil exploration. They find no one at the camp, but obviously something is amiss as evidenced by some blood stains. They decide to spend the night in the plane. The one woman in the group has to answer the call of nature. She disappears into the night.

The men don’t search for her until morning. One of the guys triggers a trap that impales him on a huge ball of spikes. The others find that the girl is now the main course at an impromptu barbecue. The two men are separated. One is captured and witnesses a lot of real animal atrocities. Realizing that he is next on the menu, he escapes with a native girl.

She is caught and here is the scene that flatlined the audience. Her head is caved in, then decapitated, she is gutted, filleted, cooked and eaten. I heard some people puking behind me. This just pulverized the audience. The guy gets away after battling a cannibal chief and ripping out and eating his liver in front of the rest of the tribe.

There is no way that this was ever submitted to the ratings board. Somehow it snuck right by then and played on the grindhouse circuit for years under it’s many alternate titles. Available uncut from Shriek Show.

Succubus 1969 a Trans American Films Release got the X rating and stayed with it. One of Jess Franco’s better efforts, it’s about an S & M night club performer who loses her mind as she is manipulated by her lover and a psychiatrist. French actress , Janine Reynaud is the main reason to see this film.

She is one of those actresses who can tease you with her nude scenes and is a talented striptease artist. You watch her and you think she is barring it all, but in reality is showing you nothing. The film starts out with a staged S&M performance, then follows Reynaud’s descent into madness.

Lot’s of 60's style things like, strange clothing, LSD orgies, hallucinations, lesbian trysts, and other weirdness. Did she murder some people or didn’t she. Watch the ending, then decide for yourself. If I remember correctly, Succubus opened at the Cinerama. It had a strange ad campaign that actually worked. It stated: “ Because of the unusual nature of the title we suggest that you call ( name of the theater) for the full meaning so that you will not be surprised by the sophisticated subject matter of this film”.

This worked , as people turned out in droves to see what this was about. Blue Underground has just released a pristine copy of Succubus. It also stars Euro Trash favorites Jack Taylor and Adrian Hoven.

Kung Fu films started playing in the 60's at a small theater, The Bijou on 46th Street right off Broadway. As their popularity rose, they became a mainstay on the “Deuce” particularly at the Cine Twin, right next to the most out of control adult emporium, Blackjack Books.

Sometimes weird Asian horror films would be mixed in with the chop socky films. Black Magic, Black Magic II and Killer Snakes.

Killer Snakes 1974, released by The Shaw Brothers, might have been inspired by 1972's Stanley. Both films featured alienated losers who made friends with snakes.

Killer Snakes, however was rated X for probably many reasons. It never even tried to get the rating changed and nobody at the box office checked id’s , you had cash, you got in. The print that ran then was typical grindhouse, scratched, spliced, and burned. The print that SWV sold on VHS was just like the one they ran back then.

Killer Snakes is a really fucked up film. It has rough ( softcore) sex, bondage, some kung fu, and real snakes. The main character is a loser who works odd jobs. He finds a snake that has had it’s gall bladder cut out. Asians believe that cobra gall bladders have healing and aphrodisiac properties.

Our hero sews up the snake’s wound and they become friends. The snake brings back a few more of his slithery buddies to get fixed up. Bear in mind that these are real cobras, not the CG shit like Snakes on a Plane. Our hero’s troubles start when he delivers food to a whore house and one on the girls makes fun of him.

He gets waylaid, beaten and robbed because of the hooker. He loses his job because of the robbery. He frees some more snakes and plots revenge. He goes back to the house and hires the girl who mocked him and had him robbed. They have crappy sex. She sets him up for another robbery.

This time he has snakes with him. “ Bite them to death” he yells. The guys all die of snake bites. He takes the hooker back and ties her up. A lot of Asian style bondage in this film. He rapes her, then drops one of his scaley buddies between her legs. Not to get graphic here, but snakes seem to like warn, moist places. She actually likes it, so he lets a few more cobras loose and that’s the end of her.

He uses the snakes to kill a few more of his tormentors. When he feels the law is closing in. He puts his pals in boxes, soaks the boxes with gasoline, and lights them up. The original cobra survives long enough to bite and kill him.

The Image release of Killer Snakes has a disclaimer on the box reading “ Warning, contains sick and disturbing scenes. Not suitable for most people” See, ballyhoo isn’t dead. In this case , they ain’t lying. Just the fact that these snake are real and the majority of them are real speckled , banded cobras, is enough to unnerve anyone with even a slight fear of snakes. A really twisted film on many levels, but you’ll want to see it.

The Incredible Torture Show 1978 Directed by Joel Reed was given the X rating. That didn’t stop the film from getting distributed. What got the film yanked from distribution was the protests from the Women Against Pornography. Remember them? The fat whales that used to organize protests of all the sex related businesses in NYC? Usually business picked up when they were around. The sight of these manatees out in front of peepshows made the ugliest booth girls very desirable. But I digress.

Torture Show was pulled, re-titled Blood Sucking Freaks, made no cuts and got an “R “ rating. It went on to be a favorite on the midnight show circuit. Make no mistake about it, this is one sick movie. People are tortured, a hole is drilled in a woman’s head and her brains are sucked out. There is a cage of cannibal woman and an evil dwarf ( Louie De Jesus, who did porn loops) helps with the fun. Completely twisted and depraved. Available from Troma ( who else) Home Video.

So there you have the X factor in the wacky world of Grindhouse Films. The above five films are required viewing. They aren’t the only films that got hit with the X rating. Forbidden World and Inseminoid ( Horror Planet) had to make major cuts just to squeak by with the “R”. Other films managed to get by without being caught by the MPAA. This is part of what makes Grindhouse Films so interesting. Today, a low budget film goes straight to DVD, where, you can pretty much push the envelope. That’s why there are so many “ director’s cuts” of lukewarm genre releases floating around. Grindhouse film makers had big balls, something sadly lacking in films today.

People keep bringing up the term “ modern grindhouse” or maybe a guy with the initials QT coined the term. I don’t know but when you can smoke, drink, and have sex in a theater, that’s a grindhouse. When you can throw stuff at the screen, talk back to the movie, yell out to the killer where his victim is hiding, that’s a grindhouse. If you enter a theater and the smell of sweat, stale beer, pot, cigarette smoke, and piss make your eyes water, your in a grindhouse.

So, does anybody know of a place like that, and no, your living room doesn’t count. Nobody? So I would venture that it is safe to say that the grindhouse has gone the way of the dinosaur, extinct. But the films that were the life blood of these places are still here. And it’s all about the films now.

So what would I consider a “modern ‘ grindhouse film? Hatchet is very good and delivers the sauce in buckets. You would be hard pressed to top Black Sheep for the sheer audacity and violence. Killer flesh eating sheep? People that turn into weresheep? This fucker would have played at the Liberty to SRO crowds. The Hills Have Eyes remake is a definite, though I really fuckin hate remakes, this one actually worked. Chainsaw Sally is another one that would have packed the places on weekends.

If I tell ya what’s good ,it’s only fair that I tell ya what’s bad, really bad. Dimension Extreme’s Welcome to the Jungle is a complete ripoff. A Cannibal Holocaust “ revision” , produced by Gail Ann Hurd. The box will tell you that this is the most terrifying film of the decade. I’ll tell you that its a complete piece of shit, period. If watching four idiots play with their camcorder for about 70 minutes, until the “action” starts, is your thing, than enjoy.

The “premise” for this is that Michael Rockerfeller disappeared of the coast of New Guinea years ago. Our four insipid explorers try to find him for the reward. Then they try to copy Cannibal Holocaust. Remember the famous “girl impaled on a spike” scene? Now we have a girl with a spike through her head, sort of like whoever directed this had something wrong with their head.

Nothing happens until about the last ten minutes, then one guy is found with his limbs eaten off and he is still alive. The others are presumably killed and eaten and an aging Mr. Rockerfeller makes an appearance from the knees down. The really shocking thing is that someone is actually planning a big budget remake of CH. The only reason CH worked in the first place was A: because of the time period and B: all the controversy surrounding the film. The only way a remake would work would be if they actually killed and ate the director of Welcome to the Jungle and Gail Ann Hurd. Now that I’d pay to see.

So the “spirit” of the grindhouse isn’t dead, just watch out for budget labels that say grindhouse on them. Now any former unreleasable piece of shit is all of a sudden a “ grindhouse “ film. Find the real stuff like Three On a Meat Hook, Fleshpot on 42nd Street, Screams on a Winter Night, The Ugly Ones, etc. That’s real GRINDHOUSE. Can I get an ‘amen” brothers & sisters?

42nd Street Pete