An Axe to Grind with the Grindhouse

So, apparently we’re getting a Machete 2. Yawn.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie Grindhouse was awesome. One of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had, ever. Part of that was absolutely due to the hilarious fake trailers that accompanied it — included the gut-busting preview for Machete that opened the evening.

But that trailer was a JOKE. The Grindhouse experience was a crazy mix of tight storytelling, great acting, a camp tone, and throwback fun. Unfortunately, it seems to have kicked off a string of films that ape the style for the sake of style, without putting in any of the effort that Tarantino and Rodriguez did (at least the first time around).

And I’m ready for it to stop.

Real quick, let me clarify that I’m using “grindhouse” and “exploitation” interchangeably, under the common definition (this one was pulled from Wikipedia).

…generally considered to be both low budget and of low moral or artistic merit, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by “exploiting” a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter.”

Pictured: Lurid Subject Matter 

This neo-grindhouse movement has gained a bit of steam since the release of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s double-feature. Maybe that’s just my imagination, or maybe it’s simply due to a new market online, but it does seem like these sorts of movies are getting a bit more attention than they used to.

(I’m not nearly as aware of the schlock community that existed before the rise of the internet, so this column is exclusively focused on the current approach to that sort of material. For all I know the nostalgic praise for the genre has a legitimate foundation.)

Near as I can tell, a big part of the appeal of the grindhouse approach is its “rebellious” nature. Often, a grindhouse movie is a movie made in spite of a low budget and no stars, substituting those elements with willingness to go anywhere or show anything.

There’s an accompanying assumption that the artistic parts of the project — like writing and acting — will be lacking to say the least. Makes sense, in some cases. I’d say there’s something to be said for taking the value that a movie has without holding it to a lofty artistic standard.

I’d also say that the lowered expectations for this genre has led to a lot of filmmakers just letting themselves get lazy. Instead of coming up with their own ideas; making their own contributions to a genre (hell, to film as a whole), they’re attempting to ape the style of the cheapest, grimiest movement in recent film history. Low production, high shock value. We’ve seen this before.


Just look at how much bulls**t torture-porn we had to sit through in the wake of the Saw franchise’s success. The grindhouse phenomenon isn’t as mainstream, but it’s similarly overpopulated filmmaking territory.

And some of it can be fun! Like I said above, I absolutely loved Grindhouse. Now, the thing that was great about it (and about Tarantino’s style in general) was its willingness to take an aesthetic — the cheap, dingy grindhouse flick — and amp it up, applying a whole new level of craft and intelligence to it. They took trash, and made it art. And now people are cashing in.

Instead of being a smart, savvy improvement of the genre, a lot of this intentionally campy stuff just sounds like the movie equivalent of those people who invoke Hitler and/or Nazis to win any argument, no matter how inappropriate the reference may be. Oh, speaking of that…


What kills me about this is it’s ACTUALLY AN AWESOME IDEA. I would love to see a good movie made from that premise, because it sounds like a blast. Unfortunately, since this is intenti-camp territory, we’re treated instead to things like a horribly-executed parody of Downfall — which I assume was included because of its status as the source of a bajillion other parodies.


A lot of these neo-schlock movies give off that vibe to me. Parodies of parodies. An endless circle of navel-gazing sensationalism, completely divorced from anything that would actually justify the expenditure of 90 minutes to watch them.

And sure, the phenomenon of mindless copying isn’t limited to shock and camp cinema. It does, though, seem to enjoy a strong presence in these very fad-driven flicks.

And here’s the kicker: That grindhouse aesthetic was born from filmmakers stretching their budgets to the absolute limit. A lot of them simply couldn’t afford quality writers or actors, and had to make do with what was available. It strikes me as rather missing the point to try and emulate people who DIDN’T have the means to make a real movie, when these filmmakers clearly DO.

In other words…

Why is there an entire genre of movies that expects — almost requires — a lack of good storytelling?

And why do we keep giving them attention for it?

I’m sure I’ve raised the ire of somebody out there. Let’s take this debate to the comments section.

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  1. Nope. If you don’t enjoy a particular genre of film, nobody is putting a gun to your head, man. Trying to analyze a genre you don’t understand in the least is no kind of way to spend your day. I wouldn’t ask a hip-hop fan’s opinion on death metal and I don’t care about a jazz fan’s thoughts on punk rock or hardcore rap either. I’m sure they think it’s all childish noise devoid of all value and people are listening to it only because it’s “rebellious” and they are ready for these trends to stop. But the thing is, they are terminally wrong on all counts, and therefore should concentrate their energy on the things they do like rather than picking at their own scabs. This stuff has likely been around longer than we have been alive and people will still continue to enjoy it long after we are gone so articles about how anyone is ready for it to go away now are worth less than nothing. “All these kids these days with their rap music and their grindhouses and their skinny jeans….” [shakes fist]

  2. I was just thinking about this. I can’t agree more. I think Tarantino is the only one who does it well, because he makes a movie based on the genre instead of trying to be super tongue in cheek about it. I try to watch one of Rodriguez’ movies and it’s like he doesn’t realize that to successfully play off of bad movies, you can’t just make your own terrible movie. “parodies of parodies” is about the best way to put it.
    The movies were shlocky because they had low budgets and low interest. If you have a decent budget and decent actors, you can make a decent movie that plays on the genre. It doesn’t also have to suck to be tribute.

  3. The key to a successful parody is that the creators have to understand what drew people into the original in the first place. I got two examples that come straight to mind, though I fully recognize that this will date me considerably.

    Dragnet- If you have never watch the show, the first thing you need to realize is that the show was loved because it was so damn off the wall crazy. Sgt Joe Friday was borderline insane and the way marijuana usage is portrayed is hilarious. A modern movie was made, making fun of the show, starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks and it is fucking brilliant. Clearly the entire movie was created with the understanding of why the original show was so freaking hilarious…abet totally unintentionally.

    Dukes of Hazard- Dear lord it is clear that no one, at any level of this films production, had ever watched a single episode had an understanding as to why the show was popular. The film pretty much insulted anyone who grew up watching the show and it was a train wreck from start to finish. If you removed the car and the character names, its pretty much just a random, annoying, and poorly executed shit film.

    Films like “Shaun of the Dead” work because the film makers clearly loved zombie films. There are so many brilliant inside jokes through out and at no time does the film, while taking a piss on the genre at moments, never takes a piss on fans of the genre.

    This whole concept of what I am trying to explain is so damn far from how Hollywood operates that its a rarity when its pulled off correctly. We are talking about an industry where the vast majority of participants cannot tell the difference between “Twilight” and “Citizen Kane” except the prior made a shitload more money in its opening week.

  4. yeah sorry but your taste in movies sucks. Machette was hilarious and Iron Sky is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. The whole segment with the worlds space crafts all being armed was fucking golden.

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