There was a time when movies were more than just moving pictures, a time when special effect sequences were only apart of the maker’s imaginations and had not reached the confines of our own reality, It was a time when people came to a theater with nothing but a few bucks in their pockets and the thrill of knowing what they were about to see could only be seen in a seat that cost a few dollars and a few cents. It was a time when theaters were known for their personal identity and how two movies could be seen for the price of one and where the ratings system was the only thing keeping people from watching a movie, not its cost. It was the time of the Grindhouse; theaters that specialized in exploitation cinema that were reliant on cheap thrills and storytelling elements that would attract specific audiences and provide them with cheap thrills and content that was deemed too explicit for regular theaters. However, what makes the Grindhouse such an important part of cinema was the unified experience it provided to its audiences and how it emphasized the idea that when you sit down and watch a movie you are doing so amongst a community of people who are certain to enjoy it just as much as you do, and it was the Grindhouse theater where such an experience was commemorated and where it should be remembered.
During the decades whereby these theaters were popular the film industry was still in its evolutionary stages. MPAA ratings were beginning to take shape and the marketing campaigns by which films were built upon were starting to take shape. Yet, it was in the Grindhouse theaters where audiences were given a memorable experience. As well, the movie itself was not the only thing that people were lining up to enjoy, for the theater itself was an attraction and showcased how films were presented and how people were meant to feel as they were seated comfortably in their chairs. For example, before the patron even purchased their ticket they were greeted with massive billboards with shining lights and several large posters that were crafted from pulp paper with titles and headlines written with large, outlandish lettering that hammered the film’s premise into the minds of those reading. This, although a small portion of the film, is one that is forgotten to this day, with the movie posters of the modern era featuring minimal details and replacing the concept of promotion with tiny catchphrases and marginally sized one-sheets that are mostly digital, thereby skipping the practice of print and everything it brought with it.
And after one was finished standing outside the theater and examining the advertisements that appeared there, they were permitted to enter into a foyer that was full of cut-outs, more massive movies posters, and sometimes props from the actual film, thus giving the Grindhouse a little extra thrill that is rare to see in the regular theaters of today. In essence, there was a connection between audience members, a relationship that was immediately shared, as well as a feeling of immersion that promised not just thrills but also memories and fun. The candy stands would serve their own brand of treats, the beverages were brand names and were served in large quantities, the smell of the theater was not a rich aroma but one that smelled of film and plastic. Everything leading to the feature presentation was not littered with the same commercials that are played on a loop, and when a film began you could hear the crackling projectors and honesty of an art that was not afraid to be itself. And when the curtain finally lifted at the end there was only a brief window before the second show was about to begin. It was exciting, terrifying, mostly gratuitous, and yet carried a semblance of authenticity; an undeniable atmosphere that made you want to sit awhile longer and return the following week for another bout of thrills.
It is difficult to retrieve this feeling, even nostalgically, with most theaters having been corporatized and now with the integration of digital cinema the little things that made seeing films intimate have become obsolete. Nevertheless, the survival of these theaters depends not on the existence of movies houses but rather on the films that were featured. In 2007, legendary filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez decided to lend homage to the exploitation days of movies by delivering a double-feature presentation full of cheap thrills and excitement that was appropriately entitled as the Grindhouse. The film featured big name stars like Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, and of course Quentin Tarantino himself, but after a poor box office performance the potential for a second installment became abandoned and in many cases avoided. However, the financial earnings of a film do not always determine its quality nor should it determine its future, after two Grindhouse films released, followed by an array of expanded trailers (these include Machete, Machete Kills, Hobo with a Shotgun, and finally a comic adaption of Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS), a following does exist as does acclamation (don’t believe me, just look at Rotten Tomatoes or the dozens of other film critics that gave the double-feature positive reviews).
Grindhouse films are of monumental importance. They bring movie experiences that are riddled with identity, overwhelming with communal thrills whereby audiences fully engage with a movie, and remind us about where our favorite films came from and what they represent. Let’s get back to the grind.