is for Exploitation
When most people hear the term “exploitation movie” they tend to imagine kidnapped runaways forced to perform sexual acts against their will by sweaty goateed pornographers. The real meaning of the term, though, is much more benign and seldom, if ever, involves actual slavery.
When it was originally conceived, the term simply referred to any low budget movie that exploited a specific gimmick in order to convince theatergoers to buy a ticket. The nature of the gimmick could literally be anything—a bizarre concept, the promise of risqué nudity, the acting debut of a non-acting celebrity, the pretense of educational content in order to disguise taboo subject matter, extreme violence, a plot ripped straight from today’s headlines, weird promotional campaigns that had nothing to do with the film itself, etc.
The one common factor that united these films was that they were specifically made for one reason: To earn as much money as possible. Some potential exploitation films, though, have been able to transcend their origins and become art, which disqualifies them from earning the label. For this reason two similar films from the same genre might not both qualify as exploitation movies, despite their apparent similarities. The best example of this being Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th and John Carpenter’s Halloween. Though both films were made quickly, cheaply, and in pursuit of a quick buck, Carpenter’s ambition is immediately apparent from the first shot. On the other hand, Cunningham’s indifference is just as obvious. Made for the same reason and under the same circumstances, only Friday the 13th qualifies as exploitation. Halloween is art.
That’s not to say that an exploitation movie is therefore automatically without merit. So long as it doesn’t make its audience feel like it was ripped off or suckered in by an unmet promise, it can be considered a success. Every exploitation film makes a promise. The good ones deliver on that promise and the bad ones don’t.
As frequently noted by exploitation movie legend Roger Corman, exploitation films are no longer the sole domain of low-budget filmmakers. By the standards described above, many major Hollywood blockbusters easily qualify as exploitation movies.
is for Exploitation