I waited for The Devil’s Rejects with an erection and a gun — hoping it would satisfy, but ready to kill if it didn’t. It did, and I didn’t have to pull the trigger. Rob Zombie set out to make an exploitation flick, and he succeeded. As to be expected, some people have been less enthusiastic about the film, and I can sympathize. It’s not pleasant, the actors are dirty looking, and there’s no big car chases or Will Smith. It’s the exact opposite of what a summer movie should be, and that got my respect.
The era of the exploitation age has come and gone. The magic can be replicated to a certain degree on the screen, but the environment in which you watch the film is different. This is a post 9/11 world. This is a world where Clinton’s bj made it to the front page. This is a world where people actually seem to want to see a Fred Durst sex video. This is a world where brides-to-be flee the altar and make up stories about being abducted by a Hispanic man and his white female counterpart. This is a world where freeway chases interrupt programming. The exploitation is all around us … only it’s sanitized to make it okay for prime time. It’s exploitation-lite, but it’s real.
In the era of “The Last House on the Left,” “Ms. 45,” and others of that ilk, the world was going through problems, but they weren’t entertainment. They were tragedy. Films like the aforementioned were fantasies where bad things happened but were avenged in the end. People wanted a similar outcome in real life, too. And yes, people overreacted to these movies at the time, but they were less of a niche market than one would suspect. The curiosity factor was high. People weren’t afraid. It wouldn’t be until later that they became that way.
You may find this surprising, but I’m glad the exploitation era of film is no longer what it used to be. By now Hollywood would have found various ways to (ahem) exploit it for all it was worth and ruin it. We’d be watching “The Last House on the Left Seven: The Taking of Sabrina” starring Paris Hilton or some such nonsense. (“I’m trying to get more gritty roles,” she tells “Entertainment Weekly.”) People like Gene Shalit would be saying, “I loved this film of revenge and rape, but it’s not fit for taking a date.” It would be horrible. Now, instead of Hollywood molesting what I love, we get directors like Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie paying homage to the art form and presenting it to a new audience. (And let’s not even get into the indie directors who are still making exploitation films for a limited fan base. Thanks, guys!) The films may be out there, but the days of going to the theatre on any given Saturday and seeing one are over.
The reaction to “The Devil’s Rejects” isn’t surprising, and I’m sure it didn’t shock Rob Zombie that it did only seven million smackers at the box office opening weekend. He knew that what he was making had a very narrow audience. I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “The trailer looked good, but it might be a bit too much for me.” In the golden age of exploitation, those people would have been in line regardless. These days everyone is a coward. (Even the young couple sitting behind me in theatre were gasping in spots and sounded like they were getting sick. I had to hand it to them, though, for even attempting to watch the show.)
Those glory days are done now. Fans of the genre have a select few independent flicks, a even smaller amount of more mainstream ones, and a gaggle of classics. On the plus side, DVD has made it so you don’t have to be paranoid about your VHS copy of “The Big Bird Cage” getting eaten by the machine, and magazines like “The Dark Side” keep fans aware of the latest releases. The old stuff lives on through technology and determination, and fans couldn’t be happier.
Even though the fans keep the films alive, it’s the cowards who ensure that Hollywood won’t touch this sort of thing, and thus it will remain pure and good. That’s right, for once I’m glad the American people are acting as expected. It saves me a lot of heartache and makes me relish things like “The Devil’s Rejects” all the more. In this age, when people get excited over “Madagascar” and Fantastic Four, I take comfort in the fact that those movies aren’t even on my radar. I’m more concerned with hunting down a copy of “I Spit on Your Grave” than I am standing in line like a fool for Wedding Crashers.
Does this make me better than those people? No. But it sure makes me a hell of a lot more interesting.
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