Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001) Movie Script

- [Narrator]
Hollywood, California,
(group chattering)
a small theater company
readies for the performance
of an ambitious new work
based on a classic text.
Is it Shakespeare or Sophocles?
- [Man] Line backstage, please.
- [Narrator] None of the above.
- It's reefer madness!
Reefer madness!
- [Narrator] It's
"Reefer Madness."
- No!
We're all gonna die.
(thunder rumbling)
- [Narrator] In it's
original incarnation
as a theatrical film,
"Reefer Madness"
was an early prototype
for a sensationalistic
brand of filmmaking
that flourished in
America for decades.
Reefer madness
Reefer madness
"Reefer Madness: The Musical"
was just one example
of how the controversial
and misfit movies of yesterday
can become the mainstream
entertainments of today.
Till the devil
Reefer madness
What follows is the
story of that strange
alchemical process
of a secret cinema
and the men and women
who brought it to life.
(women screaming)
(audience applauding
and cheering)
Question, what is an
exploitation movie?
- There has never
been a good answer
to what is an
exploitation movie.
Some people would
say it's something
that exploits the
subject matter,
other people would
say it's something
that exploits the audience.
I would say it's probably
somewhere in between
or a combination of both.
(suspenseful music)
- Anything was permissible
for an exploitation picture,
as long as it was in bad taste.
(woman laughing ominously)
- It was just unheard of.
Society was alarmed
and delighted.
(suspenseful music)
- We did make them in six days.
I remember once, later on,
when we got seven or eight
days to make a movie, we said,
"What are we gonna
do with the extra time?"
(weapon whirring)
- The ideal world for a teenager
is a parentless existence.
(motorcycle engines droning)
(dramatic music)
- Now that you bought me,
what do you want me to do?
- 'Cause we were making money
while they were dropping
dead at the box office.
- You say to me that I
made exploitation films
and I say to you that every
film is an exploitation film;
because as soon as
you advertise something,
you're exploiting it.
Do you agree?
(suspenseful music)
(thunder rumbling)
- Gee whiz.
- [Narrator] The second
world war was the great
and transforming event of
20th century American life.
(audience cheering
and applauding)
Thanks to wartime mobilization,
the society a generation
went overseas to defend
had vanished in its absence.
Returning GIs
were ready to invent
a new world for themselves,
and they may even have believed
it would resemble the
one that preceded it,
but it couldn't.
They had witnessed too
much not to have been changed
by what they saw.
(sorrowful music)
(torpedo fires)
(bomb explodes)
The pent-up sexual energies
of four long bloody years
of combat and separation
found immediate expression
in a post-war
reproductive frenzy
that came to be
called the Baby Boom.
- The period in
the '50s and '60s
was a period of
unparalleled abundance.
On the whole,
the generation that came
back from World War II
came back to a fat country,
and the GI Bill
and all these things
allowed a lot of people to
become homeowners quick.
So you had this sense of
a kind of paradisiacal
sense of entitlement.
- [Narrator] Beneath
the general euphoria
of prosperity and plenty,
darker currents
circulated as well.
(Maila screaming)
- That wasn't a
good one. (laughs)
- [Man] It sounded
pretty good to me.
- (laughing) That
was the wrong one.
- [Narrator] In 1954,
Los Angeles audiences attuned
to the strange new medium
of live television
discovered and
even stranger entity
invading their living rooms.
The show was a local sensation,
and its hostess was
a necrophiliac's delight
who went by the
stage name Vampira.
From its opening shot,
"The Vampira Show"
promised audiences
something different.
And Maila Nurmi, the
girl behind the ghoul,
made sure it delivered.
- Well, initially the
viewer sees a long corridor
with many
candelabra and dry ice,
and far away a doorway
which opens. (screams)
They can hear it where
down at the end of the corridor.
And then far away they
see this infanta silhouette
slowly approaching
through the mist,
slowly approaching
through the mist.
(animal howling)
And as it gets close enough,
the viewer sees
that it's a creature
apparently in a trance
drifting closer, closer,
closer to the camera.
And when she reaches,
almost reaches the viewer,
she suddenly screams a
blood-curdling scream, (screams)
and then says,
"Screaming relaxes me so,"
as if she's having
just had an orgasm.
I mean, that was my thought,
and that was what
I was trying to imply
in a lady like manner. (laughs)
- [Narrator] Here, on
this small local show
created to showcase
bargain basement horror films
in a late night comedy
format, sex and death,
two American obsessions
often suppressed
from the wider
culture of the day,
arrived in one outrageous
and alluring package.
- According to a report
not yet confirmed,
a beast of seemingly
gigantic proportions
has been cited lurking in
the hills due northeast of town.
- [Narrator] Television itself
was one of several factors
terrorizing the Hollywood
movie-making community
in the mid-1950s.
The majors put up
a brave front at first,
but as millions of viewers
began choosing Uncle Miltie
and "I Love Lucy" over
a night at the movies,
a kind of controlled
panic began to set in.
- indicating that the monster
has some strange power
of rapid growth.
- [Narrator] Though
available only locally,
"The Vampira Show" was
written up in Newsweek,
pictorialized in Life Magazine,
spawned fan clubs
all over the world.
Nurmi's act was
imitated on stations
in every city in America.
- Every major city
seemed to have one,
and they'd come on first
and tell jokes about the movies
and then launch
into the picture.
Maybe it was to make
it a little more palatable
for those PTA groups
and the people who said,
"No, we shouldn't have
these kinds of things,
not even in the movies,
let alone on television
in everybody's living rooms."
- I know with me, it was just...
I was rebelling.
Intense, it was a
violent rebellion.
And I was not alone, obviously.
This whole thing was seething.
People wanted to be unloose,
they wanted some freedom,
freedom of expression,
freedom of everything, you know?
Less hairspray. (laughs)
- [Narrator] The question was:
Freedom for whom?
And revolution against what?
(suspenseful music)
(animal howling)
Television wasn't Hollywood's
only headache by 1954.
Throughout the early '50s,
a late '40s court decision
was in the process
of breaking up the studio
system's virtual monopoly
on premium American
theater space.
For the first time in
modern screen history,
finding an audience
for large scale,
independent film distribution
became a viable possibility.
- There were all
of these problems
in the motion picture world,
from the divorcement decrees
and all these other things,
that were creating havoc.
And we knew that
there was an opportunity.
- [Narrator] American
International Pictures
was one of the first
production outfits
to recognize the
advantages of the situation.
Created as American
Releasing in 1954
by a lawyer turned producer,
Samuel Z. Arkoff
and his partner,
former exhibitor, Jim Nicholson,
AIP quickly realized that
it's cheaply made movies
couldn't compete directly
with A-list studio titles.
The answer was
simple but transforming.
Service a skew of the market
that was uninterested
in the serious minded,
adult themed star vehicles
the studios specialized in
and address concerns
and subject matters
no supposedly reputable
producer would touch.
- We made "I Was a
Teenage Werewolf,"
"I Was a Teenage Caveman,"
"I was a Teenage Frankenstein."
The word teenage, to
the best of my knowledge,
had never appeared
on any picture
throughout the world
prior to that time,
because the teenagers
had never been recognized
as other than a
category of children.
- [Narrator] A key component
of the AIP business strategy
was what used to
be called ballyhoo.
In a radical departure
from standard practice,
film titles and
marketing campaigns
were usually
devised before a script
or even a premise
for a script existed,
often allowing AIP to
turn a profit via pre-sales
before a foot of film was shot.
- We didn't have big stars.
We didn't have
bestselling books.
We didn't have big plays.
So what did we have?
We had titles
and we had artwork,
and that's what we sold.
- Arkoff and Nicholson
we're aided from the first
by a brilliant independent
filmmaker named Roger Corman.
- He was, at the time, I
thought, a great producer.
I think he went to Stanford
and took a business course
and got his money's worth.
- [Narrator] After a brief
and disappointing stint
as a script reader at Fox,
Corman set himself up as
an independent producer.
That he had virtually no
assets with which to make films
seemed to disturb
him not at all.
- I rented the reception
room of a producer
who didn't really have any money
and couldn't afford his rent.
I paid $25 a month
for his reception room
with the understanding
that whenever he had
an important meeting,
I would get out of
the reception room
so it looked like he
had the full office.
(suspenseful music)
(woman screaming)
- [Narrator] Remarkably, a
pattern of speed and economy
that would endure for most
of Corman's professional life
emerged from the
start of his career.
- We did make them in six days.
I remember once, later on,
when we got seven or eight
days to make a movie, we said,
"What are we gonna
do with the extra time?"
(thunder cracking)
- [Man] From billions
of light years away,
I approach your planets.
- [Narrator] The cheapness
of '50s exploitation films
has become the stuff of legend,
and even accounts
for much of their interest
to a latter day fan
base that finds humor
in the occasionally
amateurish performances,
the almost always
ragged production values.
- Roger Corman
contacted me, he said,
"I'm making a film called 'A
beast With 1,000,000 Eyes,'
and I need the beast.
Is there anybody you
could recommend to me?"
And I immediately thought
of Ray Harryhausen,
the great animator, and he said,
"Oh my God, I
couldn't afford him.
Why, he charges
$10,000, a tentacle!"
(creature screaming)
(weapon whirring)
- [Narrator] But if short
production schedules
and limited resources
where liability in one sense,
they could also be an asset.
- Darryl Zanuck once
said that the best way
to find ideas for movies
was just read the front page
of your newspaper.
They would call these
movies ripped from the pages
of the paper, ripped
from today's headlines.
And that tradition
had kind of died out
in the mainstream Hollywood,
but it was kept up by Corman
and other low budget filmmakers
who could respond very quickly.
- [Narrator] Corman
second feature as a producer
brought him into contact with
Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson,
in a teaming that
would change the course
of all three men's lives.
- I did a road racing picture
called "The Fast
and the Furious"
with John Ireland
and Dorothy Malone.
Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff,
who were starting American
Releasing at the time,
talked to me and asked
if they could take the film
and I said, "Yes, if you can
give me a three picture deal."
They agreed to that because
they really had no company.
- [Narrator] By his
third production,
Corman had taken
the next logical step
by moving into direction,
it was a role he would take
with increasing seriousness,
in which he would eventually
become a recognized master
of the exploitation form.
- I started as a writer, then
became a writer/producer,
then became a producer/director,
and then I really thought of
myself as primarily a director
who also produced.
- I think Roger
basically is a producer,
and the reason he
became a director
is because he could
never get a director
to bring a picture in as
cheap as he could do it himself.
(bouncy music)
- [Narrator] The major
exploiteers of the era
soon found themselves
on the teenage side
of a widening cultural divide.
With the teens' eye view
came a kind of commercially
mandated paranoia
about the adult generation,
a worldview where
governments lie,
parents stifle and
underestimate their children,
and where only the
young see life for what it is.
(alien shrieking)
- The ideal world for a teenager
is a parentless existence,
no parents to shouted at them,
no parents to lecture at them,
no adults to rule them,
to teach them,
to mock them, to jail them,
that was really
what it was on about.
- Five, four, three, two, one,
(bomb explodes)
- [Narrator] At the same time,
the silver lining of
post-war prosperity
came with its own
dark technological cloud.
Though mainly an underground
literary form before the 1950s,
science fiction seemed
suddenly to make a lot more sense
as mass entertainment given
the unprecedented predicament
the world had to
live with after 1945,
the possibility of
absolute annihilation.
- I was the resident
crazy in high school.
Everybody ridiculed
young Forree Ackerman
who thought men
were going to the moon
and someday there will be
atomic power and television.
And the world's eyes
had to be opened
when the two atomic bombs fell,
one of the great
predictions of science fiction.
- [Narrator] In a misguided
effort at military preparedness,
a whole generation of
American school children
was traumatized by such
government propaganda efforts
as "Duck and Cover,"
which encouraged
its young audience
to remain aware at all times
that their entire
world might vanish
in a radioactive flash.
He'd duck and cover
Duck and cover
- [Narrator] That signal means
to stop whatever you are doing
and get to the
nearest safe fast.
Always remember,
the flash of an atomic
bomb can come at any time,
no matter where you may be.
Betty is asking her teacher,
"How can we tell when the
atomic bomb may explode?"
and her teacher is explaining
that there are
two kinds of attack,
with warning and
without any warning.
If you were not ready and
did not know what to do,
it could hurt you
in different ways.
It could knock you down hard,
or throw you against
a tree or a wall.
It is such a big explosion,
it can smash in buildings,
and knock signboards over,
and break windows all over town.
(man screaming)
(music drowns out speaker)
- [Narrator] Is it any wonder
that when '50s exploiteers
projected that same
young audiences dreams
back at it a few years later,
they often created nightmares.
- [Narrator] What happens
to our world if massive,
monstrous man bests
like this invade us?
- The low budget films
tapped into the fears
of most of the population.
And we were very
fearful at the time.
I remember in 1953,
I was watching Jerry Lewis
and Dean Martin on TV
making jokes about atomic bombs,
and I was so
terrified I ran upstairs
and pulled a blanket
over my head.
- Get over here. It
crept into the yard once.
- [Narrator] Clearly,
the exploitation film could
hold a certain segment
of America's attention.
But given the
constraints of time
and money exploiteers work with,
and the relative inexperience
of the average
exploitation filmmaker,
the question can
be fairly asked:
Was meaningful work of
enduring quality possible
within the exploitation format?
- Meaningful is...
Well, that's deep, see?
You're looking for something
that may not exist there.
- [Narrator] Then the answer
depends on your point of view.
- What's locked
behind that door?
- [Narrator] Case in point,
"The Brain That Wouldn't Die."
To a certain type of movie fan,
director Joseph Green's
underfunded 1959 feature
is simply a sublime example
of the so-bad-it's-good
Undeniably amateurish
in many respects,
the film is a shoe
string rehashing
of the Frankenstein paradigm
in which a mad scientist
wrecks a car, kills this fiance,
and then keeps her
severed head alive
while he tries to
find it a new body.
- Let me die.
Let me die.
- I've had success
with transplants,
now I can do it for her.
- [Narrator] Yet in
its own weird way,
"The Brain That Wouldn't
Die" can be interpreted
as bizarre feminist
allegory today.
As the evil and
obsessed Herb Evers
cruises strip bars
and beauty pageants
looking for the body
he'd like to drug, murder,
and then spend the
rest of his life with,
it is the objectification
of women
which the film itself revels in
that also supplies its horror.
- She has the second
nicest body I've ever seen.
- Second to you?
- No, another girl,
a figure model.
You remember that
one in school years ago?
- [Man] Figure model.
Poses for art classes.
The nicest body she's ever seen.
The nicest body.
- Bill,
you put something in my drink,
didn't you?
- Could "The Brain That
Wouldn't Die's" makers
have meant for
such abstract ideas
to be drawn from their work?
Almost surely not.
Does that negate the possibility
that they're present anyway?
Not necessarily.
- Here are these films
that are being popped out
in three days,
five days, six days,
ridiculous speeds
when you think about it.
(thrilling music)
The furious energy of
that, among other things,
forbids the maker to judge
what he or she is making.
All you can do is let it straight
up from your unconscious.
(thrilling music)
- I told you to let me die.
- Don't you want to join in
the things that other people do?
- I don't seem capable of
being very close to people.
(organ music)
- [Narrator] More
self-consciously artful films
were also possible in
the exploitation format.
In 1962, industrial
filmmaker named Herk Harvey
made his first and only feature,
an allegorical ghost story
about a disaffected
church organist
who mysteriously
survives an auto accident.
In Harvey's hands,
"Carnival of Souls"
became an eerily beautiful
and sustained metaphor
for solitude and loneliness;
as caught in some
uncertain borderland
between life and death,
it's alienated
protagonist reaches out
too late for human contact.
- Why can't anybody hear me?
- [Narrator] If a European
director like Alain Resnais
had made "Carnival of Souls,"
it might've been praised for
its eerie existential imagery,
lauded for its
literate screenplay,
perhaps received
multiple awards.
Because the film was
nominally an exploitation title,
it instead played out
of the way drive-ins,
barely returning on
Harvey's investment.
(ominous music)
(wind whooshing)
(water splashes)
"Carnival of Souls"
languished for over two decades
as a neglected
and forgotten work
before a revival of
interest in the late 1980s
crowned it an
unsung masterpiece.
- I, I got a new one.
- Crazy. What is it called?
- Um, "Murdered Man."
- [Narrator] One of the
most interesting Corman titles
of the period can also hold
up under serious analysis.
(dramatic music)
A black comedy scripted by
frequent Corman collaborator,
Charles B. Griffith,
1959's "A Bucket of Blood,"
concerns the misadventures
of Walter Paisley,
a nebbishy waiter
with no creative ability,
who yearns for acceptance
from the in-crowd
at the beatnik coffee
house where he works.
- (laughs) Nobody asked
for your opinion, Walter.
You're just a
simple little farm boy
and the rest of us are
all sophisticated dignits.
- Walter has a clear mind.
One day something
will enter it, feel lonely,
and leave again.
- [Narrator] An
accidental murderer,
Paisley literally
covers up his crimes
by encasing them in clay,
and finds the disturbing
sculptures that result
praised by the
same artistic snobs
who formerly rejected him.
- And I think "Bucket of
Blood" is, in coded form,
Roger's spiritual autobiography.
Here you have a fellow who
the whole world thinks is a geek,
he has a passion to create
that will not be stopped,
and it consumes
a lot of the snobs
that would otherwise
dismiss him,
and at the same
time it's received
as very powerful art,
and he lives in fear
of being unmasked
as a fraud throughout.
(dramatic music)
- Where are you going, Carla?
What's the matter?
- Walter, there's a
body inside that statue.
- Oh, well, that's Alice.
- [F. X.] These are, I think,
primal fears that any
director could relate to.
- Let them become clay in his
hands that he might mold them.
- I had heard this before
that there had been a review
of a rerelease of "Bucket of
Blood" up in San Francisco,
and they try to compare
the character, my character,
and Roger's career.
- When did you do this, Walter?
- Last night. It doesn't
take me very long.
- I don't think that's
what it was though.
I don't think it
was that at all.
- It's very possible
that "Bucket of Blood,"
on an unconscious level,
is somewhat autobiographical.
The young artist
who exploits violence
and then becomes fearful
that he's being recognized
for the exploitation
rather than for his
own true artistic ability.
- I'll hide where
they'll never find me.
- I do think that
anybody who's working
in a creative medium
is working partially out
of their conscious mind
and partially out of
their unconscious mind.
- [Narrator] By the
end of the 1950s,
the teenage exploitation film
had unquestionably come of age.
It had also become an
intensely competitive field
to work in,
a fact both Corman
and AIP took note of.
(sorrowful music)
- [Man] I suppose he would
have called it "Hanging Man,"
his greatest work.
- Well, we began to
get a lot of competition
in those cheap black
and white pictures.
So we finally said,
"Look, let's make one picture
for the money we were
otherwise spending for two pictures.
So let's take the
200 to $300,000
and let's make a picture
that will play top of the bill;
and then we'll sell,
again, for a flat price,
one of our pictures that
had already played off."
- So I said,
"Why don't you let
me have 15 days.
I'll shoot in color.
And I'll do one film,
and it will stand on its own."
And they asked me
what I wanted to do,
and I said "The fall of
the House of Usher."
And after a little
bit of discussion,
I think they were
ready to gamble
on a slightly
bigger picture, too.
- [Narrator] The first in
a series of popular films
based on the writings
of Edgar Allan Poe.
1960's "The Fall of
the House of Usher"
marked a turning point
for both AIP and Corman,
a lush period
film shot in color.
And with a name
actor in Vincent Price,
it was also arguably a move
beyond the strict
exploitation formula
AIP helped pioneer,
the proof that
Arkoff, Nicholson,
and Corman had mastered
their craft and their business
and were now capable
of creating works
that could compete
directly in the mainstream.
(dramatic music)
(woman screaming)
The victory was an earned one;
and the away from more
topical subjects, temporary.
But elsewhere on
the exploitation scene,
the same combustible elements
of ambition and opportunism
that defined
exploitation's teenage era
were poised to shake
things up all over again.
(ominous music)
(thunder cracking)
- I have some pictures here
that were made
just for folks like you.
You're going to sit
quietly and look at them,
and never again will
you ever think of sex
as anything but something
wonderful, miraculous,
almost divine.
(dramatic music)
- [Narrator] By 1960,
American International Pictures
loomed over the
world of exploitation
like an indie Colossus.
But for all the social fireworks
their movies
occasionally ignited,
there were certain
areas of content
which AIP and its competitors
simply could not address,
chief among these
were nudity and sex.
As always, exploitation
abhorred a commercial vacuum.
For a new breed of exploiteer
whose roots stretched
all the way back
to the erotic peep
shows of the silent era,
the fact that there was a
topic of great public fascination
no one else was dealing with
made for an
irresistible opportunity.
- The sex would be the one thing
that wasn't being
exploited quite so heavily
by the main Hollywood studios,
and so that was the
one thing they had to sell.
- [Narrator] And in guessing
that the frank treatment of sex
held enormous profit potential,
the next wave of
exploitation filmmakers
wasn't exactly
shooting in the dark.
(film roll rattling)
By the late 1950s,
cinematic sex had been
officially marginalized
for close to three decades.
In 1921,
the Motion Picture Producers
and Distributors of America
was formed by the
major Hollywood studios
to avoid outside censorship.
In 1930,
the MPPDA's production code
began barring
mainstream Hollywood
from dealing with topics
including venereal disease,
prostitution, sexual perversion,
adultery, nudity,
drug trafficking,
profanity, suggestive dancing,
and the ridiculing of religion.
Since only major
studios were constrained
by the code's restrictions,
the reaction from the
independence was instantaneous.
Cheap, sensationalistic
movies began circulating
from town to town,
territory to territory,
offering audiences
titillating subject matters
the studios had grown
too timid to show.
- Subjects such as,
oh, a birth of a baby,
venereal disease, miscegenation,
dope, alcoholism,
all of the no-no subjects,
anything was permissible
for an exploitation picture
as long as it was in bad taste.
- [Narrator] Distributors
of such product
were necessarily gypsies,
ready to skip town at the
flash of a sheriff's badge.
A term was coined to describe
their vagabond lifestyle,
the road showman had been.
- Road showing was the
supreme example of exploitation.
You came into
town like a carnival,
you stayed a couple of
days and you got out of town,
just like a traveling carnival.
- [Man] Smoke, Mary.
- [Mary] Thanks. (laughs)
- [Narrator] The explosion of
American drug use in the 1960s
made cult classics
out of cautionary tales
of narcotic excess like Dwayne
Espers "Reefer Madness,"
originally produced as a
church sponsored anti-drug film
entitled "Tell Your Children."
Audiences far more
informed than the film's makers
about the effects of marijuana
laugh at "Reefer Madness" today.
- Naturally they're
laughing at them today
because they're so corny,
but they weren't laughing
at them back in the '30s.
A lot of people of my
generation never tried marijuana
because we had
seen these pictures.
- [Narrator] This is
the wonder story of life.
- [Narrator] A less well
remembered roadshow genre
kept sex before the public
through the '30s and '40.
Sex hygiene pictures,
also called clap operas,
were a bizarre hybrid
of fiscal opportunism
and genuine reformers
concerns over social ills
like unwed motherhood
and venereal disease.
In the guise of sex education,
audiences might see
anything from partial
and/or full frontal nudity
to closeups of
syphilitic sex organs,
with natural and
surgically induced childbirth
often supplied as a chaser.
- The birth of a baby film
was perfect road showing.
It wasn't just a matter of
showing them a picture.
We'd have nurses in uniforms.
We'd have an
ambulance out front.
We didn't just
give them a picture,
we gave them a show.
At a certain point,
we show them
the birth of a baby,
both a normal birth and
then a ceasarean section.
And guys passed out like flies
watching the ceasarean section.
And then we showed
them something,
we showed them a VD reel,
and that, that
got to all of them.
- [Narrator] To
confuse local censors,
the tone was both high
moral and relentlessly clinical,
which makes the erotic
appeal of such films
difficult to determine today.
- Are we healthy
enough to get married.
- You're both as
solid as a new dollar.
Sally, that first baby
didn't hurt you a bit,
you can have a dozen
more if you want to.
And, Bob, you'll
be pleased to know
that there's no
trace of your old VD,
100% cured.
What did you say
about a first baby?
- David F. Friedman
had a hand in distributing
several of the most
well-known sex hygiene titles
in the 1950s.
He describes the
sex hygiene genre
as something of
a bait and switch.
- They all thought they
were gonna come in
and see beautiful nude people,
but they saw the results of sex,
and they came out
a little shaken up,
but nobody ever asked
for their money back.
How do you sell sex anyway?
I don't care what you...
It's the curiosity factor.
No one has ever had their
curiosity totally satisfied
when it comes to sex.
- [Narrator] By the 1950s,
America's curiosity about
sex was at an all time high.
The advent of the
inexpensive paperback book
meant that furtively
distributed adults only novels
were beginning to circulate,
serving a function not unlike
pornographic videos today
by bringing sex-based storylines
into a certain kind
of American home.
- The whole notion
of a sexual revolution,
this isn't something it started
with the Summer of Love,
and peace and love, and
hippies, and that sort of notion;
in fact, that's sort
of the terminal point.
That's when people's
kids found out
about the sexual revolution.
I sometimes call it a
bachelors' revolution
or a swingers' revolution
that was happening
in the early to
mid '50s, really.
It's that Second
World War generation,
particularly men of very
homosocial sensibility
that started this revolution.
And things like Playboy
Magazine, for instance,
which are a
phenomenon of the '50s,
this is the beginning.
- [Narrator] There were other
raw forms of sexual content
available to magazine
readers of the era as well.
Some, like the
fetish minded Bizarre,
or the erotic literary review
"American Aphrodite,"
even attempted to
pass themselves off
as journals of ideas,
albeit within a narrow range.
(dramatic music)
By contrast, movies
were lagging way behind.
Europe came to the rescue
in the form of Brigitte Bardot.
Building on a string
of U.S. court decisions
permitting the exhibition
of such high-minded
but centrally charged
European product as "Bitter Rice"
and Roberto
Rossellini's "The Miracle,"
Bardot arrived as the young,
briefly unclad star
of Frenchmen Roger Vadim's
"And God Created Woman."
In the art house cinemas,
all hell broke loose.
- This was the picture
that changed all of those
so-called art theaters
into adult theaters.
You remember we
had an art theater,
it was those theaters
where all the intellectuals
and the
pseudo-intellectuals went in
and they drank lousy
instant coffee in the lobby,
and they talked about
all these esoteric things.
And then suddenly
in comes this picture
with this little French cupcake
with this beautiful
bear derriere;
and suddenly, all day long,
guys are drifting into the
theater, the raincoat crowd,
they cloak and suit
crow, the briefcase...
And the exhibitors saying,
"My God, how long
has this been going on?"
- [Narrator] With the exploiteers'
penchant for extremes,
the groundwork for
a far more excessive
and uniquely American use of
nudity was already being laid,
courtesy of Walter Bibo,
a New York based producer
of burlesque short subjects.
In 1954,
Bibo shot a film called
"Garden of Eden"
set in a Florida nudist camp.
When the film was
banned in New York,
he won a 1957 court battle
based on a narrow ruling
that boiled down to the fact
that since nudist camps existed,
simply depicting them could
not be construed as obscene.
(dramatic music)
New York, the most significant
movie market in America
was suddenly awash
in cinematic tributes
to the wholesome,
recreational joys of
the nudist way of life.
The sexploitation
film had arrived.
(jazzy music)
We pause here
upon the first incline
of what some still
view as a slippery slope.
Decades after their demise,
sexploitation films remain
a subject of controversy.
(jazzy music)
To the makers of
this documentary,
criticizing sexploitation
for featuring nudity
is akin to criticizing a
musical for bursting into song.
Nudity was the sexploitation
film's commercial reason
for being,
the saleable commodity
that enabled latter
day adults only pictures
to draw a mostly male,
mostly middle-aged
audience to cheap,
quickly made productions,
and thereby to return
a predictable profit.
(jazzy music)
While sex was therefore
undeniably the sexploitation
films' great theme,
what sexploitation had
to say on the subject
was as varied as the companies
producing the films themselves
and the personalities
making them.
(jazzy music)
If the attitudes
the films reflect
may in some cases no
longer be fashionable,
it could be argued this makes
them all the more valuable
as cultural artifacts.
(jazzy music)
So shudder if you will,
turn away if you must,
but keep in mind as you do so
that the films we now turn to
were made and seen by
the hundreds, week by week,
month by month,
for 15 of the most
tumultuous years
in American movie history.
They need no more
strident defense
than to say that they exist,
and to move on from there.
(jazzy music)
That the truth of the
matter is more complex
than meets the eye,
is demonstrated by the
fact that one of the earliest
and most dedicated
followers of Bibo's lead
was a New York based
filmmaker named Doris Wishman.
- And I was a frustrated
actress, which is...
I suppose I still am, you know,
it never really leaves you.
I went to drama school
with Shelley Winters,
and I was far better
than she, I really was;
however, she pursued
her career and I didn't,
and that's the
difference, so here I am.
- [Narrator] Prior to
turning to filmmaking,
Wishman had worked
on the distribution
of Bibo's "Garden of Eden"
and seen it firsthand how
profitable the movie had been.
But it wasn't a
chance for a quick buck
that was her primary motivation
for moving into filmmaking,
it was the aftermath
of personal tragedy.
- My first film was
"Hideout in the Sun,"
and that was produced
almost 40 years ago.
I didn't really know
what I was doing,
and that's the truth.
I guess I still don't;
but, in any event,
I didn't then.
It was after my husband died
that I decided to make a film
'cause I felt that it
would keep me so busy
'cause I would
go to bed at night
and pretend I had a date with...
You know, sick thinking!
I had a guilt complex,
you know, the usual.
And so my sister gave
me the $10,000, and I shot,
and it was bad.
But when I went to bed at night,
instead of thinking that I
had a date with my husband,
I would think,
"Well, if I pay Pearl
back $10 a week
for the rest of my life,
I'll return the money."
- According to Wishman
biographer, Michael Bowen,
the therapeutic impulse behind
Whitman's nudist camp films
makes them thematically unique.
- Doris's a husband,
as I understand,
had passed away in 1959.
And she made nudist
camp films, of course,
for the first five years,
six years after he
had passed away.
These films express
a very different desire;
a desire, I would say, for
the return of that husband,
'cause all these
films were love stories
about people meeting
their love partner.
- Nudist films have
no sex in them,
at least they shouldn't,
and they're not supposed to,
and they didn't,
none that I saw.
Do you have to show
sex to be in love?
I mean, somebody gives you
a flower because he loves you,
that's just much
more exciting than sex.
I'm giving everybody
the wrong impression.
I'm normal.
I've had my quota,
let's put it that way.
Hey, that's a
good title, Michael.
"I've Had My Quota," isn't it?
- She wanted to make
these love stories,
but she needed to in a
way that was commercial.
So what she did is she figured,
"Well, the gimmick will be
that it will all be
happening in the nude."
But it really didn't have
to happen in the nude,
it could have happened anywhere.
Now, I think that's very
different from what motivated
most of the other people
who made these films;
as far as I know, they
were all men by and large.
And so I think that's
very significant.
- "Hideout in the Sun"
proved profitable enough
to encourage Wishman in
what even she acknowledges
were fledgling efforts,
and she quickly moved
forward with a second film.
Science fiction was still a
mainstream exploitation staple,
and topical curiosity
about the brand new
American space program
had raised interest
in space exploration
to an all time high.
- We choose to go to
the moon in this decade
and do the other this-
- [Narrator] John F. Kennedy
would momentarily
make it a matter
of official national policy
that America would
be the first country
to put a man on the moon;
but nobody had gone there yet,
which meant the
possibilities were endless.
(suspenseful music)
For all anyone knew,
the moon's surface might
look like just about anything,
including Sunny Palms,
a sun dappled nudist camp
located near Miami, Florida.
- [Woman] I have
someone do all ear
for a most important matter.
I'm mooning over you
My little moon doll
- [Narrator] Erotic space
fantasies were nothing new.
Straight exploitation had
already given the world
"Queen of Outer space,"
"Cat-women of the Moon,"
and countless variations on
the theme back in the 1950s.
But by blending
interstellar sirens
with a nudist camp plot line;
Wishman, perhaps inadvertently,
took a science fiction motif
that dated all the way back
to the earliest pulp magazines
and exploded its sexual
subtext for all the world to see.
As with many exploitation films,
"Nude on the Moon's" following
breaks down into those
who choose to laugh
at the filmmaker's
perceived ineptitude
and those who find a kind
of cock-eyed primal poetry
in an unschooled,
but heartfelt
approach to a medium
that often seems
to be suffocating
under the weight of
faceless craftsmanship.
As with most of her features,
Wishman produced,
wrote, directed,
and designed the promotion
for "Nude on the Moon,"
it was her film all the way.
And its central preoccupation,
as in all nudist camp features,
was nudity as a
metaphor for true love.
A nymph in the
pale moonlight
I pine for you,
my little moon doll
So who's to say
that, on its own terms,
what she gave us
wasn't beautiful?
- I can't believe it.
You are here on earth.
I didn't lose you after all.
For it's you who makes
the moon so bright
- [Narrator] Wishman stuck
with nudist camp pictures
for eight films before trying
her hand at other things.
Other sexploiteers were a
lot less devoted to the form.
- The so-called
nudist colony films
were not really
entertainment, per se,
they were just nudity
for the sake of nudity.
It was just a lot of people
running around naked,
so I never considered
them to be competitive
to our products.
- Going through a nudist colony
is about as erotic as walking
through the cold storage room
of Swift and Company in
the Chicago stockyards.
Anytime you were making
a nudist camp picture,
you had better bring
your own nudists. (laughs)
- [Narrator] Dave
Friedman, like Wishman,
was in the process
of coming into his own.
A product of the
Hollywood studio system,
Friedman had turned his
back on a major promotion
in the Exploitation Division
at paramount pictures
to throw in his lot
with a road showman
named Kroger Babb,
whose "Mom and Dad"
was one of the most
successful exploitation movies
ever made.
- Kroger Babb as one
of those few geniuses
that knew how to get to
Mr. and Mrs. Average-American.
He could write copy...
Yeah, I know today all
of the ad agencies say,
"Oh, what cornball
stuff this is."
But people read that copy
and they went out to see
what Krog had to offer.
- [Narrator] Accounts vary,
but it's estimated by some
that the combined grosses
for film admissions and a
sexually explicit medical pamphlet
hawked by bogus physicians
at "Mom and Dad's" screenings
exceeded $100 million during
the 25 year life of the film.
- And the other thing he did,
more so than anything else,
that picture was a prime
target of the Legion of Decency,
which was an agency
of the Catholic Church.
Mr. Babb fought
them tooth and nail
440 some odd times in court,
and in that way was one
of the very early leaders
in making motion pictures have
the same freedom of the press
as the printed word.
He was in pioneer in first
amendment rights for film.
That's why you should
care about Kroger Babb.
- [Narrator] Friedman,
who had relocated to
Chicago from Los Angeles,
outlasted his mentors prime,
and had into independent
production by the early 1960s
in partnership with
a novice filmmaker
named Herschell Gordon Lewis.
It was a teaming which,
for impact and influence
in the exploitation field,
can withstand a certain
kind of comparison
to AIP's Sam Arkoff
and Jim Nicholson.
- Herschell and I were...
If we weren't the
Barnum and Bailey of film,
we were the
Hagenbeck and Wallace,
or the Sells and Floto,
those were smaller circuses
that existed in the time
of Barnum and Bailey.
We were a team, we
did everything together.
- [Narrator] After two marginally
profitable collaborations
called the "Prime Time"
and "Leaving Venus,"
Friedman and Lewis
came into their own
with a movie and a
new sexploitation genre
called the nudie-cutie,
its title was "The
Adventures of Lucky Pierre."
- And for $7,500,
we made "The
Adventures of Lucky Pierre,"
35 millimeter color.
And Herschell was the
director and the camera man,
I was the producer
and the sound man,
and we parlayed that 7,500
plus another 20,000 for prints
and advertising
into about $250,000,
and we were in business.
- [Narrator] The nudie-cutie
had been pioneered
by a maverick
Playboy photographer
and sometime industrial
filmmaker named Russ Meyer,
whose first feature,
"The Immoral Mr Teas,"
had grossed an
amazing $3.5 million
off a budget of 24,000
beginning in 1959.
- Russ Meyer's movies
are Molotov cocktails
in the sexual revolution,
they detonated the barriers
of what movies
could show sexually.
- [Narrator] And like the sex
hygiene films before them,
nudie-cuties were even capable
of performing a certain
educational function.
- And Meyer brought the whole
nudie-cutie genre into being
with "The Immoral Mr. Teas,"
which I think I snuck
into when I was about 14.
And when you were
going through puberty,
this was really interesting
to see little flashes of
nudity here and there.
It was very mild,
and people today would
think it was not much;
but back then,
it was very hard for
kids to get any sense
of what the human body was like.
- [Announcer] See "The
Wonderful World of Girls."
- [Narrator] The first
nudie-cuties had roots
in a number of
pop culture artifacts,
including Mack Sennett's
silent bathing beauty comedies,
and that salacious form
of live American theater
called burlesque.
(playful jazz music)
The cheesecake men's
magazines of the '40s,
though devoid of nudity,
had showcased young women
in a variety of comedic
photo narratives
after the style of
European fumetti.
The nudie-cutie formula
reflected the same priorities,
concerned mainly with
maneuvering female flesh
into the most
pleasing arrangements
their makers could devise.
- Even Francis Ford Coppola,
while he was still
in school at UCLA,
made one call
"Tonight for Sure."
Now, that was
actually his first movie.
- [Narrator] On the West Coast,
the commercial impact of Meyer
and his rapidly
expanding host of imitators
was drawing
others into the fold,
among them was one Harry
H. Novak who, like Friedman,
was a product of
the studio system.
Novak had worked for
RKO under Howard Hughes,
whose distinguishing
characteristics as a mogul
had been as censorship battles
over Jane Russell's cleavage
and the casting in legitimate
roles of a famous stripper
named Lili St. Cyr.
When RKO crumbled
into dust in the mid 1950s,
Novak was temporarily
given the custodianship
of the studio's franchise
on Walt Disney product.
He used his sizeable
sales commissions
for a purpose Hughes
would have loved,
but which Disney
must've frowned upon.
- [Harry] I made a lot
of money doing that,
and that helped me so that
I was able to have money
to make my first picture.
- [Narrator]
Novak's first release
was "Girls Without Rooms,"
a revamped Swedish
prostitution expose
originally entitled "The Flame."
- Kiss me quick.
- [Narrator] In partnership
with a brilliant sexploiteer
named Pete Perry,
Novak knocked one into
the nudie-cutie bleachers
with one of his earliest
attempts at production,
a campy pastiche of
horror, science fiction,
and toplessness
entitled "Kiss Me Quick,"
made in 1965.
- "Kiss Me Quick" is a comedy.
It had all the basic elements.
It had Frankenstein,
it had spacemen,
and it had the TNA in it;
put it all together,
and you have a big
picture all rolled up into one.
- [Narrator] Like
"Nude on the Moon,
"Kiss Me Quick" stood out
from other sexploitation titles
of its era by echoing aspects
of mainstream
exploitation filmmaking,
only this time with tongue
firmly and intentionally
planted in cheek.
At moments,
it's possible to
imagine the makers
of the durable "Rocky
Horror Picture Show"
using "Kiss Me Quick" as
a primary point of reference.
- To study them.
- Study them?
Do you mean to tell
them you have no women
on the planet Butlers.
- No.
- And we got to try to beat
the Russians to outer space.
- It did exceptionally very
big for me in the marketplace.
It was my first
major production,
and it bought me
everything I have today.
So it was my lucky piece.
It's still earning to
this day, very well.
- [Narrator] "Kiss
Me Quick's" returns
launched Novak into one of
the most sustained careers
in independent film
distribution of any sexploiteer.
By the 1970s,
Novak would release over
200 mostly adults only titles
into the marketplace.
- Every film I put my hands on,
I exploited it to the
best of my ability,
and I gave it a lot of
ballyhoo and cornball,
and it worked.
- [Narrator] Ironically,
one of the first casualties
of the nudist camp
and nudie-cutie revolution
was the burlesque circuit
the films drew
on for inspiration.
- They'd order for
burlesque houses.
You sent him a can of film.
He'd put it on a screen
40 foot wide, 20 feet high.
It didn't ask for any overtime
if he ran it 13 times
or 20 times that week.
It was always on time.
It did everything
he told it to do,
and no backtalk.
So he said, "Who
needs burlesque?
Just send us film."
- The burlesque
houses started to go out
and "The Wonderful World
of Girls" started to come in.
- [Narrator] Back in Chicago,
Friedman and Lewis
were in the process
of immortalizing a
historical moment
with the first of
what for Friedman
would become a string of movies
reflecting his love of the
exploitation game itself.
In self satirizing "Boin-n-g,"
two nebbishy amateurs
decide to break
into the nudie business.
- [Both] You're hired!
- [Narrator] Their inspiration,
the mediocrity of every
single sexploitation film
Lewis and Friedman
collaborated on up to that time.
- A great picture!
One of the worst I've ever seen!
- Yeah, sensational.
I don't know when I've
seen such lousy acting
or more phony scenery.
- [Narrator] "Boin-n-g's"
behind the scene sequences
were straight keystone comedy,
seasoned liberally
with the requisite pauses
for lingering closeups
of naked flesh,
and presented with
a satiric emphasis
on our hapless heroes'
inability to do anything
involved with
movie-making correctly.
(platform crashes)
As filmmakers who
had learned by doing,
Lewis and Friedman were
celebrating their own apprenticeship
and that of every single
novice writer, director,
or producer who'd joined them
in this new frontier of
independent endeavor.
- All right, buster. Cut!
- [Narrator] The
kicker was a send-up
of the entire nudie genre
in the person of a
cartoon sexploitation mogul
reacting to a private screening
of the film within the film.
- You couldn't stand it, huh?
Well, it was just
bad enough, boys!
I'll take it.
- You'll what?
- I'll take it.
It was the worst
picture I ever seen.
It'll be a smash
at the box office.
- [Narrator] It's been
said that self satire
is the first sign of
the end of the genre.
After "Boin-n-g" and two
last nudist camp efforts,
the restless team of
Friedman and Lewis
were ready to move
on to other things.
- We had been making nudist
camp pictures and nudie-cuties,
and it was boring.
(playful music)
And Herschell said one day,
"What can we do that
nobody else has done,
and that we don't
have to have them
taking off all their clothes
and running around
playing volleyball
or thinking of gags?"
So we started putting
down a list of things.
Finally, Herschell said,
"Could you think of
one idea where torture
could become a
legitimate subject?"
and I said, "Yeah.
Nazi death camp,"
he said, "Okay."
From that, suddenly,
one word hit us, gore.
(suspenseful music)
- [Narrator] As it turned out,
the Hagenbeck and
Wallace of movie-making
were about to take both
the straight exploitation genre
and the sexploitation
film on a very wild ride.
(group screaming)
- Well, you listen,
and you listen well!
You're damaged merchandise
and this is a fire sale.
And you walk out of here
and your reputation
won't be worth 15 cents.
You do as I tell you!
Do you hear?
You do as I tell you!
- [Narrator] As the
mid 1960s approached,
strange days came to America.
(siren wailing)
(dogs barking)
- [Announcer] It appears as
though something has happened
in the motorcade group.
- Jack Kennedy, the decade's
symbol of youthful optimism,
was assassinated before
hundreds of witnesses
in Dealey Plaza.
Less than 48 hours later,
his presumed killer was
gunned down on live TV.
- I have not been
charged with that.
In fact, nobody has
said that to me yet.
The first thing I heard about it
was when the newspaper
reporters in the hall
asked me that question.
- [Narrator] A world
away in Vietnam,
an undeclared war
was in the early stages
of claiming over 50,000 American
and upwards of 1
million Vietnamese lives.
(gun fires)
(siren wailing)
Increasingly, American
streets rang with protest
and ran was American blood.
- [Woman] Is there a
doctor in the house?
I wanna see him right here.
- [Man] Everybody
else, please stay back!
Please stay back!
Everybody else,
just please stay back!
(sorrowful music)
- Now, oh, Ishtar,
the feast has begun.
(dramatic music)
- Tony!
- [Narrator] As times changed,
the opportunists of exploitation
changed along with them.
- Nobody had ever made a
picture that showed blood.
Nobody had ever died
with their eyes open.
- [Narrator] In
the most notorious
Lewis and Friedman
there was no
nakedness and no sex;
in their place,
1963's "Blood Feast" substituted
graphic violence so extreme
that a lab technician
is said to him vomited
while processing the dailies.
The storyline was ludicrous,
penny dreadful stuff.
A crazed Egyptian caterer
murderously assembles the menu
for a cannibalistic
dinner party.
Reviewers were outraged
as were some exhibitors.
Friedman's sometime competitor,
Harry Novak was
moonlighting for a company
that handled "Blood
Feast" in 1964.
- The civic drive-ins did not
want to release the picture
in its original form.
The picture had to be
cut, cut, and more cuts.
And it was all cut
up, mumble jumble.
Right up to hours
before playtime,
that picture had to be cut.
- [Narrator] For
Friedman and Lewis,
extreme violence
was just another area
of audience fascination the
studios were afraid to explore.
"Blood Feast" wasn't
to be taken seriously,
it was all in good fun.
- The biggest thing was,
was to keep these
crazy girls from laughing.
While we've got them pinned up
and we're peeling
the skin off of them,
or cutting their hearts
out, they're giggling.
(woman screams)
- [Narrator] But "Blood Feast"
and the two Lewis and
Friedman gore films that followed it
opened up a Pandora's box
by becoming among the most
influential exploitation films
ever made.
By decade's end,
next generation directors
like George Romero
were creating graphic depictions
of murder and cannibalism,
and midnight favorites like
"Night of the Living Dead."
Meanwhile, beginning in 1967,
mainstream fair,
like "Bonnie and Clyde"
and "The Wild Bunch,"
brought realistic carnage
onto the studio backlots.
- The same people that
went to see "Blood Feast"
went to see "Bonnie and Clyde"
and went to see
"The Wild Bunch."
Again, is it art imitating
life or life imitating art?
Most of the innovations
when it came to changes,
particularly when it came,
for better or for worse,
in so far as frankness and
some form of sex and/or violence,
started with the independents,
and the majors jumped in
on the bandwagon afterwards.
(bird squawking)
- [Narrator] Like a vampire
in an AIP horror movie,
once a certain
segment of the audience
got the taste of
blood in its mouth,
it became insatiable.
(dramatic music)
Some observers have been
shaking their heads ever since.
I wonder if you
can tell me anything
about your opinion of the
films of Herschell Gordon Lewis.
- I'd really rather
not. (laughs)
I don't care for such
god-awful gory things. (laughs)
- Yeah, it's our stupid
little $24,000 movie
that was made in five days
and brought back
something like $6 million
and is still being seen
all over the world on video.
But Herschell Lewis put it all
in one very succinct sentence.
"It's like a Walt Whitman poem.
It's no good but it's
the first of its kind,
therefore it deserves
some consideration."
- You act like
little Miss Muffet
and down inside you're dirty.
Do you hear me?
- [Narrator] The
sexploitation film
was turning toward
dark subjects as well,
and Friedman and Lewis had
already anticipated the trend.
1962's "Scum of the Earth"
was a tabloid style expos
a of two-bit smut peddlers,
combining sexual subjects
and gratuitous violence
with the production values
of an underground stag movie.
(jazz music)
As in "Boin-n-g,"
any self-parody was
purely intentional.
- Okay, Sandy, come on,
let's shoot
something interesting,
you know, the stuff that sells.
- All right.
But remember, I'm
not double jointed.
The high school kids
who buy these pictures
think you are.
- [Narrator] By
September of 1964,
Lewis and Friedman had
dissolved their partnership.
Friedman hooked
up with Dan Sonney,
a producer with
roots that stretched
all the way back to
the roadshow era,
and returned to Los Angeles
where a bonafide
sexploitation industry
was taking shape.
- In the meanwhile,
this whole nudie business
was burgeoning here.
It was like a
fraternity or a lodge.
We had no secrets
among each other.
I mean, we've pooled our
information for the common good.
- So baby wants to
play the scene rough.
Alright. That's okay.
'Cause Carl, he likes
to rough house, himself.
- [Woman] Oh, no, no!
- [Narrator] Friedman's
first post Lewis production
became a prototype for
a controversial new genre,
the roughy.
In "The Defilers,"
directed by Lee frost,
two jaded beatniks kidnap a
randomly selected young woman
and then physically
and sexually assault her
over a period of several days.
- Look at her.
If I don't feed her,
she goes hungry.
(jazz music)
She belongs to me
like a slave.
- [Narrator] Dark, downbeat,
almost masochistically bleak,
roughies trafficked in behaviors
that would have been
unthinkable a few years earlier.
According to the
filmmakers themselves,
sexploitation's sudden
fascination with human perversity
was commercially motivated,
and nothing more.
- The nudist films were gone,
they were no longer ventures,
they were no longer commercial,
and it's understandable.
How much nudity can you see?
It becomes boring after a while.
So you want a real story.
People wanted
more for their money,
so you gave them a
regular feature film.
So I sat down and wrote
"Sex Peris of Paulette,"
and so on, and so on, and so on.
- As I say, it was just
an attempt to get away
from what you were doing.
The shear on weight of
making nudist camp pictures
and nudie-cuties was horrendous.
- [Narrator] The roughies
seemed like a startling departure
from the coy comedies
that preceded them.
(dramatic music)
But even the nudist camp
pictures and nudie-cuties
had been films
about frustration.
Out of a fear of prosecution,
the filmmakers kept
any object of male desire
just out of reach.
In the roughies,
this latent sexual frustration
erupted to the surface
in an orgy of brutality
unlike anything adult
movies had seen.
What the brooding
films of Orson Welles,
Fritz Lang and
Alfred Hitchcock were
to the MGM musicals
of a previous era,
roughies were to
the nudie-cuties,
the monster in the closet,
the shadows cast by
all that artificial light.
(ominous music)
(women screaming)
As always in the
adults only field,
the looming threat of
censorship also played its part.
- It was not possible to
show explicit sexual situations.
I'm not saying it wasn't
possible to show explicit sex.
Nobody even
dreamed of that in 1964
outside of people
who were selling
eight millimeter stag loops
out of the trunk of a car.
That's why the roughie,
in my estimation,
violence all the time.
At least it was some
kind of physical action,
an action of the body;
an eruptive,
climactic activity that
you could have in the film.
- You be my mama.
- [Narrator] Censorship
worries and market realities
may explain the
motives of the filmmakers,
but what about the
motives of the audience?
What drew thousands of
outwardly respectable men
to back alley
theaters and drive-ins
for a whole category of movies
that wallowed in degradation.
(man screaming)
A look at wider social
trends offers a clue.
In 1948 and 1953,
an academic named
Alfred Charles Kinsey
had published two
heavily researched reports
demonstrating a wide disparity
between American sexual
practice and social preachment.
According to
Kinsey's first volume,
70% of pre-war American men
had indulged in
premarital intercourse,
and 50% in
post-marital adultery.
Over half had
frequented prostitutes.
One-third had engaged
in a homosexual sex act.
In Kinsey part two,
over 30% of American women
were shown to have
experienced sex
outside the
confines of marriage.
The "Kinsey Report," as the
two volumes came to be known,
were unexpected best-sellers.
Spawning hundreds of imitators,
books of increasingly
dubious scientific value
were sold as more
personal than Kinsey
or newer than Kinsey
and more daring.
The cumulative
impact was staggering.
A country that fetishized
chastity and monogamy
stood revealed this
practicing little of either.
- As you say, it's all in
the interest of science.
But I've never seen a
weirdo in action before,
and I might learn something
that's not in my Kinsey books.
- [Narrator] As the idea of a
sexual revolution took hold,
sexploiteers, who were used
to staying ahead of the curve,
were hard pressed to
keep up with current events.
Perhaps the harrowing
world of the roughies
reflected the anxieties
of a generation of men
newfangled enough
to be titillated
by the carnal possibilities
of a broadening
sexual revolution,
but old fashioned enough
to expect blood, thunder,
and punishment as
the wages of erotic sin.
- Do you feel you
deserve the punishment?
- [Narrator] Or then
again, maybe not.
- I don't like to destroy
anybody's series;
but, believe it or not,
we weren't paying too
much attention back then.
We were just making movies.
We weren't plotting out
any great psychological
warfare there.
In these theaters,
when that customer
came out of the joint,
believe it or not,
he told the manager what
he liked about our picture.
So you had a pretty good
feedback, believe it or not,
from these characters that
went in to see these picture.
- [Interviewer] So in a way,
the market is one of the
makers of the film, right?
- Mm-hmm.
- [Narrator] Friedman's
"The Defilers"
became an influential hit,
and other producers took notice.
At Box Office International,
the roughies' quick turnaround
and minimal production values
meshed perfectly with
Harry Novak's commitment
to keeping costs low and
distribution volume high.
- Do it.
Do it.
Hurt me.
Dirty me.
- What?
- Just do it.
- [Narrator] Novak's
emerging marketing philosophy
could have come straight
from the pages of Kinsey.
- Everybody wants to know
whose wife is doing
what with whom.
You give it that sort
of secret element to it.
Like "Free Love Confidential,
"Motel Confidential,"
It gives the connotation
that something is going on
behind the doors,
under the sheets.
People wanna see
what took place,
and that's what brings them in.
- Now that you've bought me,
what do you want me to do?
- Could we, uh-
- [Narrator] Perhaps
Novak's finest effort
along these lines was
"The Agony of Love,"
a seamy psychodrama
about an affluent housewife,
played by Pat Barrington,
who rebels against the
gilded boredom of her marriage
by leading a double
life as a prostitute.
(jazzy music)
The squalid premise was redeemed
by talented writer/director,
William Rotsler's
unwavering sympathy
for the stifling predicament
of a middle-class wife.
- I don't know what a genius is,
but I think Bill Rotsler
might've been a genius,
and in a lot of fields.
He was a sculptor.
He was a cartoonist,
he wrote a lot
of science fiction.
He directed twenty-five
motion pictures.
And I think all but two of
the pictures that he directed,
he also wrote.
He had an active mind.
- [Narrator] "Agony"
was as close
to a stylistic and
thematic tour de force
as a feature shot in five
days is ever likely to come.
Students of the genre have noted
the almost scene by scene
resemblance of "Agony of Love"
to surrealist director Luis
Bunuel's "Belle de Jour,"
which Rotsler's scenario matches
right down to its eerie
dream sequences.
(man laughing ominously)
Exploitation was never
above ripping off the masters,
but if plagiarism
occurred in this case,
it was on Bunuel's part.
Rotsler and Novak's
agony was released in 1966,
a full year before Bunuel's
more renowned work.
As the only major female figure
in a field dominated by men,
Doris Wishman might
have been expected to recoil
from a genre predicated
on violence against women.
In fact, many of her most
noteworthy and personal films
were roughies.
- Doris's mid to late
'60s films reflected a shift
that's difficult to explain.
She's not necessarily
the first person
to have pioneered
the look of the roughy,
but jumped into
it pretty quickly.
(suspenseful music)
(woman panting)
And it obviously
spoke to something
that she felt deeply and
personally in her own experience
as a woman, I would say.
- [Interviewer] Do
you think that people,
when they watch your films,
can tell that they're
made by a woman?
- Oh, I don't think so, do you?
How can you tell?
- A film like "Bad
Girls Go to Hell"
is very interesting
from the point of view
of female sexuality also
because of the young
woman, the star of the film,
she encounters a landscape
of terrifying sexual
perversities, deformities,
overwhelming desires;
a "lesbian."
(dramatic music)
- Why are you leaving?
You know that I love you.
- I know. I love you too.
- A loner masochist
who beats her,
who I think in the
code of the 1960s
might be considered a
repressed homosexual.
- Cut it!
(pottery smashes)
- Also then, a married
man who rapes her.
(woman gasps) (thrilling music)
All these things happen
as part of a dream
after her husband
basically has denied her
erotic satisfaction.
- Hold me close.
- Now, what's wrong?
- Uh, I h...
I had the most horrible dream.
- Shh.
- And, again,
we see Doris making
a very similar comment
in these roughies
on the catch 22
that women find themselves in,
in the mid to late sixties
or before feminism.
They are asked
to be erotic beings
by this bachelor
swinger culture,
but at the same
time must be able
to immediately convert
themselves back into virgins
and acceptable spouses,
and things like that.
- I just felt that this was it,
this was what I had to do,
and it was gonna be great.
(thunder cracking)
(woman screams)
- [Narrator] The
adult filmmakers
weren't the only exploiteers
who found the chaos
of the mid to late 1960s
fertile ground for growth
and experimentation.
From the start of the decade,
the prolific Roger Corman
was hitting his creative stride.
As the AIP Poe films
continued to rack up
impressive grosses,
their director was
living a double
and, in some
ways, a triple life.
By the late 1950s,
Corman and his brother
Gene had founded Film Group,
an independent production
and distribution outlet
designed to both supply product
to and compete against AIP.
(waves crashing)
To fill Film Group's
production pipeline,
Corman began scouting for
young and often untried talent.
In no time at all,
his track record was
little short of amazing.
- You think I'm mad, don't you?
- Right now, Baron, I'm
not sure just what I think.
- Roger realized very early
on that scripts and actors
were for free.
It didn't matter,
you could pay
$1,000 for a script
or you could pay
$1 million for a script,
you got the same script.
Your actors were the same thing.
It doesn't matter.
You don't have to buy
cheap actors who couldn't act,
you'd buy expensive
actors and get them cheap.
- Corman Was virtually a
one man film school operation,
giving people a break
in exchange for paying
them almost nothing.
It gives you credit
and some visibility,
and you can use that
to make more films.
- The waste-not-want-not
production philosophy
at Film Group took low
budget cost consciousness
to unprecedented levels.
(scary music)
1963's "The Terror" is a
noteworthy case in point.
Co-directed by Corman and
a young Film Group employee
named Francis
Coppola, among others,
"The Terror" starred an
unknown named Jack Nicholson
opposite horror
great, Boris Karloff,
with "Bucket of Blood
Star," Dick Miller,
in a prominent supporting role.
The entire project was
conceived over a rainy weekend
to exploit Corman's access
to the Gothic sets
for "The Raven"
a Poe film Corman
had just directed for AIP.
- See, what Roger would
do was he would use
all of our stuff;
and then when he was
done with our picture,
he would make another
one for himself, see.
Using the same sets,
we finally would get him
to change them a little
so they wouldn't look
completely identical, see.
And then generally speaking,
he would bring it
to us for distribution.
(dramatic music)
- Where's the baron?
- We must get to him.
He's locked
himself in the crypt.
- And we shot three days
of non-sequitur scenes
that had no meaning,
just a lot of great
lines by Boris Karloff
that made no sense.
- What you see, new tenant,
are the remains
of a noble house.
- See, even he didn't
understand what he was saying.
- [Narrator] They're
not up to the standards
of Corman's best Poe films,
"The Terror" is a
fascinating artifact
in that so many talents of
tomorrow converged on it.
- One by one,
just about everybody
I knew directed
portions of this picture,
until the last day of
shooting Jack Nicholson said,
"Roger, every idiot in town
has directed part
of this picture,
let me direct the last day,"
and I said, "Sure, Jack,
you're the director of
the last day of shooting."
- [Narrator] "The Terror" was
released through AIP in 1963.
But even then,
the film's unique history
wasn't quite complete.
- You're safe now.
It's over.
- [Narrator] When journalist
and aspiring filmmaker,
Peter Bogdanovich came to
work for Corman a few years later,
a precondition of
Bogdanovich's directorial debut
was that he devise a way
to incorporate 20 minutes of
pre-existing "Terror" footage
into "Targets," his
striking first feature.
- And I couldn't see
taking 20 minutes
of Karloff footage out of it.
I couldn't find 20
minutes to take out of it
that I would know
what to do with.
- And Peter has solved the
problem, I think, brilliantly.
He had Boris play an actor
in 20th century Hollywood,
who was making a
historical horror film.
And the present day
stuff was the new footage
that Peter shot for "Targets."
- Bogdanovich's "Targets"
was deemed so good
the Corman sold it to
Paramount Pictures,
an establishment studio
which gave the film a
limited 1968 release.
In 1971,
Bogdanovich would make the
last picture show for Columbia
and emerge as the hottest
director in Hollywood,
a summit he would be joined
on by fellow Corman alumnus,
Francis Coppola,
who directed Paramount's
"The Godfather" in 1972.
Bogdanovich and Coppola
were the leading edge of a hip,
young invasion force that would
transform the studio system,
a surprising number of which
cut their teeth with Corman
or at AIP.
- I think Roger Corman was
one of the most important figures
of the modern age,
I mean, the modern screen.
If you subtract, from
modern American cinema,
all those people that Roger
brought into the movies,
you're gonna be
very impoverished,
because it's Coppola,
and Scorsese,
and Jonathan Demme,
and Paul Bartel.
You turn around and somebody
else was started by Corman.
- [Narrator] The very fact
that various
exploitation proteges
were able to move from
independent filmmaking
into the Hollywood mainstream
demonstrated how
tastes were changing.
At AIP, Corman both catered to
and commented on the
emerging youth culture
with "The wild Angels,"
a nihilistic look at
an outlaw biker gang,
and "The Trip,"
one of the first
exploitation films
to deal with a powerful new
recreational hallucinogen
called LSD.
(mellow rock music)
- Both subjects were
highly controversial.
I couldn't very well come
out saying "The Trip"
in favor of "Dope,"
yet at the same time I was
smoking a little marijuana,
as well as most of my friends.
So I felt the way to do that,
and "The Wild Angels" as well,
was to tell as honestly and
as objectively as we could
what the scene was like,
and leave the judgment
to the audience.
- [Narrator] Both films were
almost unbelievably successful
by the standards of the day.
AIP found itself awash
and profits and controversy.
- You can't really
overestimate the effect
that the '60s had;
and that is why when
they older people
would see some of our
pictures, they were horrified,
as though we had started
this, which is nonsense.
We didn't start anything.
We may have helped them
along, we may have given it a voice,
but we didn't start anything,
it was there, it was
burning inside young people.
- [Narrator] Other exploiteers
quickly staked their claim
to the new terrain
AIP had opened up.
Dave Friedman brought
the world "The Acid Eaters,"
memorable for its
vaudeville surrealism
and depiction of a 50
foot high pyramid of LSD.
(mellow rock music)
Producer Harry Novak financed
an omnibus documentary
of the era's fads and
fashions called "Mondo Mod."
(discordant rock music)
Meanwhile, the studios were
becoming increasingly desperate
to connect with
audiences the exploiteers
had been speaking
to for a long, long time.
- The studios realized that
there was such a sea change
that they didn't have to answer
to religious organizations.
So you have a
several year period
before the NPAA sets
up its rating system
where anything went,
and anything did.
- [Narrator] In October of 1968,
the motion Picture
Production Code,
which had been
teetering under the burden
of defending itself against
new types of content
collapsed completely,
to be replaced by a
voluntary rating system.
It was a major victory for
free speech and filmmaking,
one various exploiteers had
been fighting for for decades.
Ironically, the creation
of the rating system
also marked the beginning
of exploitation's
ultimate decline.
- Hollywood was opening
up to profanity, and nudity,
and extreme violence,
and things like that,
so the major studio films
became more and more explicit,
and they took over
the subject matter.
- [Narrator] By 1969,
exploitation proteges we're
reinventing studio filmmaking
with movies like
the Dennis Hopper,
Peter Fonda biker
epic, "Easy Rider,"
a direct descendant
of Corman's "Wild
Angels" and "The Trip,"
and a film which was
originally developed
by Hopper and Fonda for
Corman to produce at AIP.
Meanwhile, a new
rating that was created
to stigmatize adults only fair
was being flaunted in
ads like a badge of honor.
Sexploiteers trumpeted
important court victories
without necessarily recognizing
that the rules were
changing for everyone.
In 1969, an X-rated studio
feature called "Midnight Cowboy"
became a critical and
commercial favorite
for its daring and supposedly
groundbreaking treatment
of raw sex, homosexual
themes, and prostitution,
subjects exploiteers
like Friedman,
Wishman and Novak had
been trafficking in for years.
- My pictures set the groundwork
for many of the major studios
to come in with
stories similar to ours,
'cause we were making money
while they were dropping dead
at the box office.
- [Narrator] With the
release of "Easy Rider"
and the triumph of the
X-rated "Midnight Cowboy"
at the 1969 Academy Awards,
both the youth exploitation film
and the adults only
movie had moved
into the commercial mainstream.
The process would take
over two decades to complete,
but the exploiteers'
very success
in shattering the old
taboos had doomed them
to eventual extinction.
For the instinctive
outsiders of exploitation,
they would increasingly
no longer be an outside.
- [Man] Here we go.
(board crashing)
- [Narrator] So what,
in the final analysis,
did the exploiteers achieve?
The individual
statistics give some idea
of the scale of their
- If we did anything,
it was that we opened a
way for the independents.
- [Narrator] AIP launched
dozens of major film careers
and distributed
approximately 500 titles
during the 27 years
between 1954 and 1980.
- What happened all the pens?
- [Narrator] As this
documentary neared completion,
Sam Arkoff was still an
active Hollywood producer
at the age of 81.
- There were no road signs
specifically pointing the way,
but the roads
themselves were there.
- [Narrator] Roger Corman
founded two post film
group production companies,
New World Pictures and
Concord New Horizons,
whose California
soundstages are shown here.
Corman's resume includes
the production and/or distribution
of over 300 film titles,
over 50 of which Roger
Corman directed himself.
- I have a high school education
in how pictures are made,
but I got a PhD in
how pictures are sold.
- [Narrator] Between
1960 and 1985,
Dave Friedman was
involved with the creation
of over 50 theatrical features,
most of which he produced,
many of which he also scripted.
Currently, Freedman owns
and operates a traveling carnival.
- All the pictures I've
made her like my children.
I love them all.
They all play their
own part in my life.
- [Narrator] Harry Novak
was still actively distributing
his enormous library of
over 200 exploitation titles
at the time of this
documentary's production.
- You say to me that I
made exploitation films
and I say to you that every
film was an exploitation film;
because as soon as
you advertise something,
you're exploiting it.
Do you agree?
- [Narrator] Doris Wishman
has produced, written,
and/or directed some 25 films,
making her the most
prolific female director
of the American sound era.
(man laughing
laughing ominously)
- Faster, Sally, faster!
- [Narrator] As
for the rest of us,
we live in a world the
exploiteers made for us,
one rife with outcast images
which moved in from the margins
and took over the
commercial mainstream.
(woman screaming)
- Faster, sally, faster!
(man laughing frantically)
- [Narrator] The question
that's still debated is this:
Are we collectively better off
for the new realms of content
exploitation opened up,
or did the exploiteers'
ultimate victory
represent the
triumph of the sordid
and lurid over some imagined
era of civility and taste?
The shocking facts have
all been laid before you,
some of them frightening,
many of them less than refined,
so you decide.
- [Interviewer] You said before,
there would always
be independent films,
will there always
be exploitation films?
- What the devil do we
have but exploitation films?
All you have to do is look at
those big pictures every week.
They go out, they are
covered with advertising,
with TV commercials, with
everything, for God's sakes.
And this year we've
seen, and in many cases,
the first week is
their best week,
and then they tail off
and the next one comes along.
What do you think
that's sold then?
It's the exploitation
that's sold.
It's not the
picture that's sold,
it's the exploitation.
And that's basically why we
have our exploitation pictures,
even though our arty-farties
and pseudo intellectuals
refuse to admit it, you see?
And interesting thing
about all arty-farties
is they want all the accolades
and they want all the wealth,
but they really wanna
be able to sneer
at their lesser men,
the audience in the theaters.
We never sneered at them,
we recognize that was our blood.
(bouncy music)
I went to see doctor
To figure out
just what I had
I was all bottled up
Deeply frustrated and sad
I said my dear old mama
medieval mom raised me
To be right thinking,
straight-arrow boy
But I can't measure up
And I'm feeling so bad
And he said
Oh, no, that's just
your lizard brain
It's my diagnosis
That you're mired in mud
Thanks to your one and
only original lizard brain
Your sex and violence,
semen and blood
I went out to a feature-film
Trying to set
my mind at rest
Till the girl in the picture
Suddenly fell
out of her dress
The bad guy pulled a gun out
Waved it, firing
at his enemies
When the hero fought back
It was red, running mess
And I thought
Oh, no, my lizard brain
Has learned to make movies
How to write for TV
He can offer those
ad fueled dramas
That go straight
for the jugular
Your heavy breathing
At generous fees
And when I die
Please shine a light on me
And in the cold
glow of heaven
It seemed to
sink down into hell
Will I arrive with amphibious
motion as I thought
Or wriggle like tadpole
You never can tell
He should have said
oh no to his lizard brain
Everyone has one
It's like semen and blood
That reptile pulse line
Pounding in our blood
The primary mover
up from the mud
(dramatic music)
- So there.
(bouncy music)