Exploitation Film


"It's almost as if this movie is some kind of exploitative piece that likes showing violence and naked women for no reason whatsoever. There really should be a name for this genre. Exploit...? Exploitate...? Ahh, I'll think of it later."

A film which focuses on morbid elements a lot, the type of morbid elements that fascinate or excite people. For example, a crime movie which focuses more on the details of committing the crime or its effects on the victim, rather than the efforts to solve it. Or a movie that's excessively violent for no real reason. In fact, that - excessive violence or sexuality - seems to be the main definition of an exploitation film. "Raw" is the name of the game. Bonus points if the production has that "low-budget" feel to it, though it isn't strictly necessary.

In the past, such films were sometimes made featuring lurid scenes with the supposed intent to be educational, such as Reefer Madness. However, the lurid scenes were often meant to be the main source of entertainment.

In The '60s and The '70s, these films reached something of a Golden Age—perhaps in response to the "arty" mainstream films of the Hollywood Renaissance. This was the era of drive-in "grindhouse" double-features and limited releases touring around the country with crackly prints and at times missing reels. It was also the era of Blaxploitation.

It's sometimes debatable as to whether a given film is an Exploitation Film or not. If there's a heavy emphasis on plot and background detail, yet at the same time the visceral elements are emphasized and played up in detail, then people will disagree on whether or not it fits this category. For example, The Passion of the Christ goes into a ton of detail in watching Jesus be tortured. Yet, many churches were turning out in droves to see it, despite it being a film that consists of two hours of torture followed by the death of the lead character. Due to the movie's theme and background material, some argue that it isn't exploitation at all, since Jesus's torture was not intended for the audience's excitement, while others argue precisely the contrary.

That's part of the dividing line. Is the violence or sexuality contained within a movie gratuitous, meant largely for entertainment? Or is it used to enhance the plot or theme? Since The Girl Next Door is a fictionalized story based on a true crime involving a real girl who was systematically abused by her family, what is it? Is it exploitation because the story itself is fictionalized and involves made-up characters instead of literally retelling the story of the crime? And even if it did retell the story of actual crime, would it still be exploitation?

Because one person's "gritty realistic drama" is another's form of entertainment in the "grit" itself, the line can sometimes be pretty thin.

Most exploitation films, by their nature, tend to be B-movies.

A Super Trope to Blaxploitation, Cannibal Film, Mondo, and Nazisploitation.

Compare Video Nasties (moral panic about these films that occurred in Britain in The '80s), Gorn, Torture Porn, Euroshlock (which is commonly accused of this).

Examples will be subjective:

  • The Kiss (1896): This movie features a couple kissing and gives the audience exactly what it wants to see within the 18 seconds of its length. Rather tame according to today's norms, but at the time it was considered daring and caused moral outrage. Many people felt this picture was "disgusting" and "pornographic" and tried to have it banned.
  • Traffic in Souls (1913), about "white slavery" (forced prostitution) is probably the Ur-Example.
  • Reefer Madness (1932) is an odd case. It was originally created by a church in an attempt to warn about the dangers of marijuana, and was titled Tell Your Children. A company specializing in exploitation films bought the rights to it and spiced it up with extra scenes and a new title, changing it into an intentional exploitation film.
  • Child Bride (1938) was a rather infamous one back in the day. It was supposed to be an indictment of irregular marriage laws in the Appalachian Mountains. So why the extended scene of a naked 12-year old girl going swimming?
  • Mondo Cane (1962): A "documentary" showing bizarre scenes filmed at various places across the world. Became a series that inspired various rip-off movies, all featuring shocking imagery of sex, nudity, violence and death. Sometimes staged. Sometimes not.
  • The Honeymoon Killers (1970): A docu-drama about the Real Life "Lonely Hearts Killers", Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, done on No Budget with an over-the-top score and a general air of grime throughout.
  • Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971) is a Mondo film showing the degrading conditions in which black African slaves used to live. The film is far from subtle and notorious for creating walk-outs and riots among viewers.
  • The Last House on the Left (1972): Wes Craven's debut film about a group of girls who get kidnapped, raped and murdered by a bunch of psychopaths who are then killed off by the girls' parents.
  • Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1974) is a erotic film set in a Nazi concentration camp, featuring the most famous example of Nazisploitation ever.
  • I Spit on Your Grave (1979): A woman gets raped in a long sequence and then takes revenge on her former attackers.
  • Cannibal Holocaust (1979/1980) is a film within a film featuring a documentary team's ill fated journey into the "Green Inferno" of South America. It sparked murder charges in Italy when it was released due to the graphic portrayals of violence onscreen leading to accusations of being a Snuff Film, as well as charges for animal cruelty due to the onscreen deaths of real animals. It also was banned in Britain as one of the Video Nasties.
  • Caligula (1979): This infamous adaptation of the life of Roman Emperor Caligula is rather odd for an exploitation film, as it had a relatively large budget and featured A-List actors (including Malcolm McDowell, Peter O'Toole, and Helen Mirren). However, it also featured enough controversial imagery, including strong violence and extremely hardcore sex, to make it a definitive example of this trope.
  • Mad Max and its sequel The Road Warrior: "Low-budget" Australian thrillers making use of the Outback desert, trucks, cars, leather, and garbage. The films that made Mel Gibson famous. The third movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, doesn't have the low-budget "feel" to it and isn't nearly as "raw".
  • Men Behind the Sun (1988), a Chinese film about the war crimes of Imperial Japan's infamous Unit 731, which blurs the lines between exploitation & docudrama. Which is quite appropriate, considering it's about a bunch of people who made their living not so much blurring the line between scientific research & sadistic torture, as injecting horse urine into its kidneys & feeding it to its cellmate...
  • The Untold Story (1993) is a supposedly true story about a restaurant owner who killed a family (and a few employees) and fed them to his customers.
  • The Candy Snatchers is a crime movie about the kidnapping of a Catholic schoolgirl (called Candy, hence the name). The movie focuses heavily on her plight, and the things that go wrong with the kidnapping. Meanwhile, the poor kidnap victim is seen Bound and Gagged an awful lot throughout the entire movie. It does not end well.
  • Hard Candy is about a teenage girl who knocks out and ties up a pedophile photographer whose house she visits. The entire movie is pretty much about her trying to extract information and confessions from him, using threats and torture.
  • The Girl Next Door (2007) is about a teenage girl who is held captive and horribly mistreated by her adoptive family. It's based on a novel which in turn is inspired by a similar horrible real life case.
    • An American Crime (2007 film, as there is another film with the same name!) is based on the case more directly, but goes out of its way to humanize the characters and go into detail about other things, leaving most of the tortures implied rather than shown. Yet, ironically, perhaps because it's directly based on the real life torture case and not simply being inspired by it, some reviewers accused this movie of being exploitative, even though it held back in the portrayals of violence.
  • Grindhouse (2007) was an Affectionate Parody of the exploitation films of the 1970s. ("Grindhouse" being a slang term for the type of theater that specialized in showing actual films of this Trope.)
  • Teenage Mother, everything that Juno was not.
  • Tokyo Gore Police (2008). The main page says it all: "What ensues is almost two hours-worth of decapitations, dismemberments, disembowelments, katanas, chainsaw duels, penises that double as guns, vagina monsters that eat people, breasts that squirt acid and people propelling themselves into the air with gouts of blood among other things."
  • A Serbian Film (2010): Infamous Serbian film about a porn actor forced to commit all kinds of depraved sex scenes.
  • The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence is a somewhat notorious example, delivering the much-anticipated gore that was missing from the original, upping the victim count from 3 to 12 and including gems such as barbed wire rape, sandpaper masturbation, newborn stomping, tongue extraction and laxative-induced coprophagia. Some of it's scenes were extreme enough for it be Banned In The UK and, allegedly, converted to black-and-white to allow for a wider release.
  • A lot of the Spaghetti Westerns were either these or interpreted as these, although by the standards of nowadays they seem quite tame and kind of arty.
  • Sin City is exploitation-noir, which is probably a bit of a rarity.
    • It may be that exploitation films are what Film Noir evolved into, since Noir represented the first push against the restrictions of The Hays Code, and exploitation films broke the Code down completely. Exploitation films tended to deal with material much darker even than Noir.
  • Current exploitation films tend to be very tongue-in-cheek and revel in the genre. Such examples include Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun, and Big Tits Zombie. All three movies are filled with over-the-top violence and nudity and are mostly Played for Laughs.
  • Many of The Asylum's movies, especially the horror rip-offs, would fit right in here, to the point that they wouldn't seem that out of place playing in a 70's Grindhouse theater. This is largely due to them being direct to DVD, and therefore able to get away with a lot more sex and violence than the movies they're ripping off.
  • Forced Entry is said by some to be the first "deranged Vietnam veteran" film, and follows an unnamed former soldier as he stalks, rapes, tortures and kills random women. It features a lot of actual war footage, so we're shown women being abused alongside shots of gun battles, the wounded and dying, mass graves, bombs being dropped, etc. Oh, and it's a hardcore porno.
  • Not Quite Hollywood is a documentary on Australia's exploitation film industry of the 1970s and 80s, dubbed 'Ozsploitation'. Films featured include Alvin Purple, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Dead End Drive-In, Long Weekend, Mad Max, The Man from Hong Kong, Patrick, Razorback, Road Games, Stork, Next of Kin (1982), and Turkey Shoot.
  • Rin Daughters Of Mnemosyne features so many lesbian sex scenes, attempted rapes, torture scenes and gore that it feels very much like the anime version of an exploitation movie.
    • There were also a large number of OVAs and anime movies in the 80's and 90's that were exported across the pond (mainly because of Manga Entertainment picking them up because they were so bad that you could get the license to them for a song) that practically reveled in graphic violence, nudity and sex. For every Ghost in the Shell or AKIRA, there was a large handful of Mad Bull 34 and Genocyber. And who the hell knows which category Ninja Scroll belongs to.
    • Related to above, Hentai OVA adaptations of gorn-tastic Porn Without Plot Eroge tends to head into this way. The original source materials are no better.
  • As seen in the page quote, The Cinema Snob reviews z-grade exploitation movies, and even made his own exploitation mini-series.
  • Pretty much anything made by Troma.
  • The Faces of Death series, which was pretty much just a bunch of allegedly-real graphic footage strung together (though some of the footage was real...though the real footage slowly disappeared from the movies as the series went on.)
  • The 2004 film Paparazzi features a celebrity who's family is hospitalized after a car wreck caused by over-the-top evil Paparazzi, and turns into what feels like some celebrity's revenge fantasy when he starts going on a paparazzi killing spree.
  • The early Pam Grier movie Black Mama, White Mama starts in a women's prison and then follows the two protagonists as they escape and have to make their way, still chained together, across a tropical island while hunted both by the police and two criminal gangs. It contains a fair amount of graphic violence but is notable mostly for the enormous amount of Fanservice and female nudity.
  • The Clones of Bruce Lee is one of the most notorious of the so-called "Brucesploitation" movies, made to cash on the late Bruce Lee's popularity. Three Bruce Lee Clones work together to stop a Mad Scientist from Taking Over the World.
  • Savaged: A young woman is raped and murdered by rednecks, possessed by an Apache ghost, and seeks revenge. Features a man being disemboweled with a broken bottle.