Rise of Exploitation Films

Is exploitation seeping into the mainstream?

Back in the early 90s, Quentin Tarantino’s first paid screenwriting job was for From Dusk Till Dawn, although it wasn’t released until 1996. Then he made Reservoir Dogs, wrote True Romance and Natural Born Killers. Basically a bunch of exploitation movies.

Sure, they had big name directors behind them (although, at that point Tarantino and Rodriguez weren’t really very big yet), and not all of them were done on a shoestring budget, but the subject matter and often the style was pure exploitation. Whereas in the past, the director would then move onto different kinds of projects, because they would have more resources.

Not Tarantino. Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bills, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and Hateful Eight. He might be a very respected director, but he is still doing those same exploitative themes. Well, new themes all the time, but still, pure exploitation.

This has probably been going on for a while, but I began to take note last year. There seems to be a generation of directors, who watched exploitation during their youth and have now brought that sensibility to the mainstream. Of course, Tarantino has been doing this for 25 years, but he isn’t alone exactly. He must be inspiring a new generation of people as well. You know, people who were teens when he started.

Below are three examples from last year (all movies I like very much, actually two are my top 2 from last year thus far). Am I just remembering recent movies? Am I really onto something? I don’t know. These aren’t quite mainstream, but did all receive theatrical releases in the hundreds, ranging from some 700 to over 3300 theatres in the US. So, not exactly huge, but significant releases anyway, and this doesn’t take international numbers into account in any way.

Neon Demon

Smallest of these releases (in the US). Its about a young girl, who ventures into modelling in LA. The exploitation aspects are plentiful. We have the beautiful girl, as well as her colleagues, who are often displayed in various states of undress on the screen. We have the weird motel manager (played by Keanu Reeves) doing his… thing. We have the weird … whatever’s going on in the end of the movie.

Don’t Breathe

A few young adults break into a house of a blind person in order to rob him. Of course horror is always somewhat exploitative, but this one takes an extra step or two. I’m not going to spoil it, but at some point you just lose the remnants of sympathy for the blind guy. The gory bits are shot in a quite exploitative way as well.

Nocturnal Animals

A story told on several levels. We have a woman reading her former husbands novel and we have what happens in the novel as another level. The novel has been shot in a very exploitative manner. It seems pretty cheap in comparison to stylistic main story, and at its heart its a pretty basic vigilante story, with a lot of exploitative elements especially in how you end up in that situation.

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