Back to the Grind:

Why the Grindhouse Needs to Return… Now

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.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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  1. Uh, sorry, but how old are you? It all seems very rosy, but these were usually crappy movies shown in crappy theaters. There was better stuff out there. And the good theaters, presenting the good movies, offered most of the experiences you’ve mentioned.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I like the panache and the guts in those movies. I prefer their rawness over the artificial professionalism that makes cinema today so tamed.

    It won’t happen again. They don’t make men and women like that anymore.

  2. I am sorry it took me so long to reply, more than a year late, it would seem.

    Mr. Ribeiro, I think you have misunderstood the purpose of this article. This was an analysis of the cultural implications of Grindhouse cinema, what it meant at the time and what it means now. I am sure you are well aware that the term “crappy” movies has different meaning comparing it to exploitation films, the bar is set differently. And, if I am not mistaken, some of the films which have returned nowadays that acquire the so-called Grindhouse feel have been met with generally positive reviews. Therefore, when saying that the films will “never” return can be interpreted as incorrect, as there have been several projects that have come forward with innumerable nods to the “glory days” of film. Naturally, I have not written a piece whereby I expect such films to return IN THE SAME CAPACITY, but if they were to return, there is undoutebdly a market for them, even if it is so small.

    And, while I do agree that there may be “better stuff out there” the educational elements from the point of view of moviegoers from the Grindhouse days is still quite valid, as there are innumerable filmmakers who have gained notorious reputations for being influenced. You say that they don’t make men and women like that any more, but I am in complete disagreement. If the Grindhouse “culture” does return, I assure you there will be men and women out there to see them.

    I appreciate your opinion. Please read more of my articles as I am always interested in what people have to say.

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