Monday, September 29, 2014

The Difference Between Cult and Exploitation Movies

The B-Raters view all manner of content with few exceptions but we most often find ourselves watching Cult and Exploitation films - and, all too often, real B-rated trash.

Cult movies are often lumped-in with Exploitation and B-movies but they are neither, necessarily. "Cult" movies refer to films that have become perennially popular amongst an audience. This audience rarely holds any political, religious, or other views as a group; they simply love a particular movie. Over the years, these movies began to develop a certain nature and revel in particular subject matters, and films with these traits have come to be labeled Cult movies. To be sure, Cult movies can be manufactured and qualify as a genre, but the fans really choose which movies become Cult films, and these are not always Independent, dark, or quirky.

Exploitation films are generally believed to have been most popular, and most often made, in the 1970s but exploitative movies have been made since the dawn of the motion picture. In some sense, all movies made today can be considered exploitative but the term, "Exploitation movies," refers to a specific genre of films and filmmaking most prevalent in the 1970s. To this we would add the "Roughies" of the 1950s and '60s and, yes, Pornography falls into this category as well (formerly referred to as "Blue" or "Stag" films). In fact, many of the earliest photographs and cave drawings would be considered "pornographic" by today's prudish standards. A handful of movies from other decades are also relevant, most notably Tod Brown's Freaks and Mom & Pop - a sleazy flick which was released as an educational film regarding the birds and bees.

While there has been a recent wave of new Exploitation flicks, the most popular sub-genres were established by American movies from the 1970s. These include Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, Rapesploitation (Revenge flicks), Grindhouse, Brucesploitation ("Bruce Lee" films starring everyone except Bruce Lee), and a handful of others. Some rather newer categories of Exploitation include Nazisploitation, Nunsploitation, Ozploitation, and Religiousploitation. Sometimes the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and Slasher flicks of the 1980s, as well as a specific type of documentary (called Mondo or "Shockumentary"), are included in this overall genre. While the Slasher film deserves special consideration, only the documentaries from the list above are actually Exploitation Movies. "Exploitation" refers as much to a Movement in filmmaking as it does a style or genre.

Exploitation Movies were made outside the Hollywood system by the first true, commercial, Independent Filmmakers. That deserves capitalization these days as Independent Film has become a cottage Hollywood industry in and of itself. In its infancy though, it usually referred to B-rated movies churned out by shady types who weren't necessarily "filmmakers" by trade. Many of these were, intentionally or not, sleazy and exploitative. This includes Pornographic movies, which briefly achieved mainstream success with the theatrical wide-release of Deepthroat in 1974.

While any asshole with an iPhone can be called an "Independent Filmmaker," Exploitation movies were made possible by the popularity of the American Drive-In and their makers were driven solely by commercial desire. This movement was heavily propelled and defined by the success of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which is why many of these movies belong in the Horror genre or have Horror overtones. Most horror film historians and experts agree that the political climate of that Era is most responsible for the movement and, often times, the material is in too poor of taste for Hollywood standards of the period.

While some of these movies aspire to, and even fewer actually achieve, some higher purpose, most Exploitation and Drive-In movies were created to make money. They did so by featuring taboo subjects in a lurid and sensationalistic manner and with little budget. This is known as a lowest common denominator approach which had already been perfected by daytime TV. The low budget resulted in few sets and even fewer permits, rushed takes, and poor quality equipment. Thus, cinema-veritae cinematography and cheap film resulted in grainy shots and shaky camerawork that became hallmarks of the movement, lending these movies that "Gritty" atmosphere.

Blaxploitation movies were originally poorly produced by white men who saw a lucrative market, for example. However, they provide a far more realistic portrayal of black American life in those times than most Hollywood movies made during the same period despite the fact that they rely on exploitative situations and stereotypes. Most of these movies found their most lasting audience members at the Drive-In, thus the overlap in Cult, Exploitation, Drive-In, and B-movies.

 But not all horror movies, or Drive-In films, can be considered Cult or Exploitation.

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