Exploitation cinema is a vast array of subgenres, some common knowledge and some you didn’t even know existed. With so many subgenres and films residing under the exploitation umbrella, its easy for a few titles to get lost. This especially true when you consider that most exploitations hype comes from word-of-mouth. Therefore, it’s easy for a title to disappear into history and obscurity once people stop talking about them. Listed here are five films that will hopefully get you talking and sharing with your friends so these classics won’t fade away.
PETEY WHEATSTRAW: THE DEVIL’S SON-IN-LAW (1977)
In the world of Blaxploitation cinema, most people tend to look at the more serious side of the subgenre. Films like BLACK CAESAR, SUPERFLY, and THE MACK, stand out as examples of films as heavy on social commentary as they are on action. However, there is a subgenre within the subgenre that delivers its social message while still delivering some intentional humor and horror. PETEY WHEATSTRAW is Rudy Ray Moore’s successful attempt at much needed levity.
We first meet Petey during his birth. Amidst a hurricane, a six-year-old diaper-wearing Petey pops out of his mother and attacks the doctor who delivered him. His rampage is interrupted by his mother who, in a stern motherly fashion, sets him straight. Later on he meets a Kung Fu expert who teaches him how to fight. At the end of his training, he decides to become the most successful stand-up comedian in the world, a position that earns him a number of enemies. Petey is gunned downed only to be resurrected by the devil in exchange for marrying the devil’s daughter. The rest of the film is a Kung Fu-powered revenge tale aided by the supernatural powers of the devil. It’s a very creative turn for the genre and one of Rudy Ray Moore’s best performances.
ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (1978)
After the death of legendary actor, filmmaker, and martial arts expert Bruce Lee, several young men attempted to fill the massive hole he left behind. This attempt to grab hold of the reigns created a subgenre of exploitation known as “Bruceploitation”. Most of the men who tried to be the next Bruce Lee copied everything about him- his looks, his style, and even his trademark aviator sunglasses. However, there was one actor who decided to go his own way when it came to making his tribute to the legend. Sammo Hung was known as a fight choreographer who has worked for such legends as Jackie Chan and John Woo. He was also one of Bruce Lee’s closest friends. Bruce casts Sammo to appear in his 1973 film ENTER THE DRAGON and even opens the film by fighting him. When Bruce Lee died, Sammo wanted to pay tribute to his friend. Being that he was more then twice the size of the much leaner Lee, Sammo’s film couldn’t be your typical Bruceploitation film. Instead of attempting to play the legend, Sammo plays a man obsessed with Bruce Lee. Most of his attempts at imitation are bungling, and he is often ridiculed for them, but in the end he emerges a hero.
Unlike other Bruceploitation films, there is a genuine desire to pay tribute rather than assume the role, while at the same time poking fun at a genre that was trying to cash in on the Bruce phenomenon even after his death. At one point, he even takes on the genre by putting a Bruce wannabe in his place. Strangely enough, up until Jackie Chan’s emergences as a martial arts star, Sammo Hung was viewed as the future of Martial Arts films in China.
KILLER NUN (1979)
Nunsploitation films were mostly a product of the 1970s. A European as well as Japanese phenomenon, nunsploitation films tended to be historical accounts. Some, like 1971’s THE DEVILS, directed by Ken Russell, had some basis in actual historical events. Mostly these films were accounts of medieval religious orders as well as nuns serving during the inquisition.
KILLER NUN, from 1979, broke free from this formula by setting itself in modern times (1978). Sister Gertrude is in recovery, after having a brain tumor removed. After her recoup is rushed by her Mother Superior, Gertrude becomes addicted to heroin which she steals from the geriatric hospital where she works. She also slips into psychosis and initiates an affair with fellow nun Sister Matthieu. Her behavior quickly becomes less monastic as she starts having one night stands and torturing patients. KILLER NUN is most notable for being one of the only nunsploitation films to not rely on the usual tropes of nuns gone mad fueled by an all-powerful church existing during a brutal period in the church’s history. As such, it is devoid of the biting criticism of the church that most films of this subgenre adhere to, and it splits itself evenly between nunsploitation and sexploitation.
Another film that splits subgenres is 1978’s FELICITY. Half sexploitation, half Ozploitatoin, FELICITY plays both genre’s perfectly. Felicity is a young woman, sheltered by her Roman Catholic upbringing and the boarding school where she received her education. She begins reading erotic novels such as THE STORY OF O and EMMANUELLE, which inspires her to have a lesbian affair with her friend Jenny. Her father arranges for her to stay with a wealth family while vacationing in Hong Kong. There she has sex with a man for the first time, which unlocks insane sexual desires within her. Like most Ozploitation films, this film rode in on a wave of low-budget films that took advantage of how little the rest of the world knew about this down under country. As for its qualifications as a sexploitation film, it follows the typical sweet innocent girl sexually awakened for the first time going on a sexual binge. It’s fitting that we see her reading EMMANUEL since FELICITY feels like the beginning of an Australian EMMANUEL series that never got off the ground.
When you think bikesploitation, you don’t always think England. However, England has churned out some pretty good disenfranchised biker films. The first to come to mind is usually 1973’s PSYCHOMANIA. The same year as that release, The Who released QUADROPHENIA, a rock opera about a disenfranchised mod named Jimmy trying not to turn out like his parents. He goes through several dead-end jobs and drugs, but just wants to hang with his fellow mod friends, riding their scooters and motorcycles all over town terrorizing the citizenry and getting into fights with fellow mod gangs. Jimmy is eventually arrested. Back home, he becomes increasingly depressed and disillusioned by life in general.
In 1975, The Who released the film adaptation of their 1969 album TOMMY. The film adaptation was well-received and stuck fairly closely to the album. When QUARDRAPHENIA’s was adapted, it wasn’t given the same rock opera treatment. Instead, The Who never appear in the film with the exception of a brief appearance on a television. The music from the album is used as the backdrop for film. Because of this, the film didn’t quite have the longevity of the band’s first rock opera. However, it is still a great look at a seldom seen motorcycle culture and youth revolt.