Being born in 1986, there are probably a lot of people who may think I have no place in trying to say anything about the Grindhouse Genre, let alone the “Grindhouse experience”.
I will be the first to admit, I’ve never lived a true grindhouse experience. Yes, I went and saw the Grindhouse double feature presented by Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez back in 2007. It was presented in one of the larger auditoriums at an AMC Theater down in Dallas. There were 7 other people in the theater at the beginning of the feature, and three of us left at the end.
I’ve begun taking it as a bad sign when the ticket teller looks at you odd and asks if “You’re sure you know this is a three hour movie right?” before they actually sell you the ticket.
Yes. I know it’s three hours. It’s 100 degrees in the shade out today, I’m pretty sure a large efficiently cooled building is exactly where I want to be this afternoon. Especially for three hours.
I rather enjoyed my first grindhouse experience, but it left me wanting more. I wanted the sticky floors, I wanted the scratched and ripped reels of film shown back to back for days on end. I wanted the real grindhouse experience that only 42nd Street in New York City.
Grindhouse theaters popped up in the old burlesque houses on 42nd Street in the 1970s. Grindhouses showed mainly exploitation films where you could pay less than a dollar and sit for an entire afternoon watching whatever they had laying around.
The films shown in these modified theaters fell into a few different genres all fitting under the umbrella of the exploitation title. These included; sleazy pornos, cheesy horror or slasher horror films, poorly dubbed martial arts films, or crazy action flicks. While quality varied from film to film, almost all had the same things in common, low production costs and value and even poorer print quality often resulting in lost frames or damaged reels causing delays in screenings which in turn resulted in people throwing popcorn and random fluids at the screen. (Resulting in said sticky floors)
There are a number of collections of trailers you can find online that give you the impression of the types of films that were shown in these theaters. Almost none remain fully intact to this day. Trailers were easier to keep due to smaller reel size and weren’t subject to the multiple showings that the film reels were put through.
If you have Netflix, just search for the keyword “CHEEZY” and you’ll find three collections of trailers available to watch on instant viewing.
The reason the grindhouses were successful and have become such a favorite genre for many film makers and viewers alike is the fact that the film makers had free reign to do whatever they pleased. These films weren’t subject to being edited or censored by the MPAA, they were shown because they had enough money to get their own movies made and put onto a film transfer that could be shown in a theater.
There’s something missing with today’s cinema that disappeared with the grindhouse and that is freedom. The freedom to do what you wanted, the freedom to gather with a bunch of friends and waste away an entire day watching bad kung fu movies, sleazy horror slasher flicks, and trashy zombie action films.
I’ve thought time and time again, that if I had the money to start up a theater, these are the types of films I would show. Anyone with a camera and an idea could make whatever they wanted and could show it at my theater. It’s easy to get your movies out to the masses these days thanks to the internet. And that’s great, but there’s something about seeing your own ideas and stories presented on the big screen in a real theater. It’s the dream of everyone who’s made a short film for a class or just for fun.
The closest thing we have to a grindhouse experience these days are the few and far between theaters that still show the Rocky Horror Picture Show during the summer months at midnight on Saturday nights. These theaters still hold onto the dream and view it through rose-tinted lenses. We could learn a lot from our past. There’s still hope for the future. The grindhouse will rise again.
As a closing note, to learn more about the Grindhouse experience check out the documentary ‘American Grindhouse’ available to watch instantly on Netflix.