American Grindhouse

I wanted to have this up yesterday, but I've been having some personal issues as of late. I'm back on track, though. I now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Horror hounds are familiar with the term "grindhouse," right? I've never been to an honest-to-Satan grindhouse theater, but I have a pretty good idea of what one looks like and smells like. I've read the Quentin Tarantino interviews. I've heard the eulogistic chestnuts of nostalgia from friends who have been to these inviolable shrines of b-movie worship. I know the basic details. However, I wouldn't be able to give you an explicit, illustrative definition of "grindhouse," and after viewing American Grindhouse, a documentary on this very subject, I still wouldn't be able to describe such a place without using vague adjectives that you've already heard.

I went into this film hoping to learn more about the theaters themselves and the movies that are considered to be grindhouse fare. And I did. Sort of. American Grindhouse delves into the degrees of exploitation. It discusses every subgenre under the sun from "nudie cuties" to anti-drug propaganda. We see clips from "roughies," "women in prison" flicks, Nazisploitation pictures, splatter cinema and softcore pornography. Okay, great. But I thought that American Grindhouse was going to focus more on the origin of the nomenclature in its title. I already know the story behind Blood Feast. Why is it christened with the "grindhouse" tag?

Am I making any sense? As far as I know, Blood Feast was screened at a slew of drive-in theaters. So what makes it ripe for inclusion in a documentary about grindhouse theaters? You can play any type of film at a grindhouse theater, can you not? That's what I don't get. Isn't this just a documentary about b-movies? I doubt that most schlock junkies would ask as many annoying questions as I did while watching American Grindhouse, so take this review with a grain...no, a freight ton of salt.

You probably think that I hated this documentary, but that couldn't be any further from the truth. It's definitely entertaining. The production values are pristine (I've never seen The Tormentors look so dignified), and director Elijah Drenner picked the right personalities to interrogate. NOTE TO SELF: Stalk Kim Morgan. American Grindhouse is worth renting just to hear Don Edmonds explain how he stumbled into directing Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. To sum things up, I didn't quite understand the point of this feature, but I ended up enjoying it regardless. A word of warning...do not eat a Big Mac during American Grindhouse. Why Drenner chose to linger on a close-up shot of a live child birth is anyone's best guess.


  1. Basically, "grindhouse" movies and "drive-in" movies are pretty much the same thing - the sort of cheap, tawdry exploitation movies covered here.

    The term comes from one of two possible origins (maybe both?). First, from the fact that grindhouse theaters would "grind out" the same movie all day and night long. Second, from the fact that most of them used to be burlesque houses where dancers would "bump and grind". Take your pick.

    Then go pick up two books 'Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of Adults Only Cinema' by Eddie Muller, and 'A Youth in Babylon' by David F. Friedman. Or if you're not in a reading mood, either 'Mau Mau Sex Sex' or 'Schlock: The Secret History of American Movies' are documentaries that cover this territory much better than 'American Grindhouse' does.

  2. They did gloss over the burlesque origins of grindhouse, but yeah, it doesn't surprise me that there are better documentaries out there. Hell, they didn't even mention John Waters. To me, Pink Flamingos is one of the best exploitation films of all time, if not the best.

    I'll look into those books. Thanks for the recommendations, Bobby!