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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 01:58 am

Grindhouse classics

Art can be found in the trashiest locations

Untitled Document Quentin Tarantino continues his role as the cinema’s greatest cheerleader of B-movies. His latest foray into cheese is a celebration of grindhouse movies — or, as they are better known, exploitation cinema. The relaxing of restrictions in the 1960s allowed filmmakers to up the quotient of sex and violence, elements necessary in all good grindhouse movies. Rundown urban theaters and drive-ins were the main locations where the more lurid horror and action movies that characterized the form were showcased. Sometimes the titles say it all. No one would expect great art from The Gore Gore Girls (1972) or The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! (1972), and Edward Wood Jr. would be ashamed to put his name on them. Ironically, home video brought them a wider audience, but the switchover to DVD made them disappear from the video-store shelves. The horror genre veered further from the supernatural and into the realm of realistic and sadistic violence. “Keep repeating it’s only a movie” became its mantra, and it was also the tagline for the infamous Last House on the Left (1972). Two teenage girls are raped and murdered by a gang of escaped convicts, who are even more brutally dispatched by the parents of one of the girls. Wes Craven’s cult classic is shoddy in every respect, from cinematography to acting, and the attempt at humor is more cringe-inducing than the castration scene. Everyone is familiar with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), the greatest indie horror film of the ’70s, but few are aware of his demented follow-up, Eaten Alive (1977). Neville Brand is the proprietor of a hotel on a swamp who attacks his guests with a scythe and feeds them to his pet alligator. The brooding Southern atmosphere envelops the film just as surely as it does a Tennessee Williams play. Movies this creatively deranged must be cherished. Tarantino has cited Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), a road-weary 90-minute car chase, as one of his main inspirations for his Grindhouse segment. It’s a terrible film. The oddity of Vigilante Force (1976) puts it at a much higher level of drive-in action flick. Ben Arnold (Jan-Michael Vincent) recruits his brother Aaron (Kris Kristofferson) to bring in his Vietnam-vet buddies to clean up their town.
Success breeds power, which leads to no good, and the vets take control of the town. Vigilante Force may seem unnecessarily chaotic, but its apocalyptic mood lingers. Art can be found in the trashiest locations.
New on DVD this Tuesday (April 24): The Queen, Night at the Museum, and Déjà Vu.
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