Sunday, August 11, 2013

How 70's Exploitation Influenced The Check Out

Hopefully, you have gotten your copy of The Check Out. If not, feel free to click on my Amazon Page and order it in Kindle Format ($3.99) or Paperback ($12.99).

Last time we chatted about the book, I discussed the Film Noir roots. Today's post will be about a genre that is almost the exact opposite from Noir: Exploitation!

During the early 1960's, the old Hollywood codes were beginning to be discarded. Audiences were growing more sophisticated, and religious pressure to keep taboo topics off the screen was dissipating. The price of film stock was also lowering so that amateur filmmakers could start churning out their own movies.

Studio films were still big business, so these independent directors had to figure out a way to compete against mammoth production value. What could they show onscreen that a studio wouldn't? The answer, naturally, was sex and violence.

Hershell Gordon Lewis was one of the first directors to feature explicit gore in his film Blood Feast. The plot is thin, but audiences turned out to watch shorn body parts, spewing blood, and, most notoriously, a tongue removal! Lewis's meager budget of $25,000 ended up making millions. Soon, the horror genre shifted from the Hammer Films to the Texas Chainsaw Massacres.

Exploitation films, as the genre became known, also gave rise to films that featured full nudity, and more sexual content than had been allowed up to that point. Instead of fading to black, films now showed men and women completely disrobing and engaging in sexual activity. It's no surprise that filmmakers eventually went all the way, thus establishing the pornography industry.

Blaxploitation was another branch in the exploitation genre. For most of cinema history, African Americans had been relegated to stereotypical, and often offensive, roles. A black actor was rarely, if ever, a leading man. Films like Night of the Living Dead eased America into accepting black actors. With the new wave of indie filmmaking taking hold, African Americans took the reigns and began making their own films for themselves. Most of the films featured an actor or actress who was being oppressed by a corrupt sheriff or other authority figure. They would inevitably hit their breaking point, and turn the tables on "the man." 

The Check Out features many staples of exploitation films. As an independent author, I am not just competing with the Stephen Kings of the world, but about a million other self-published authors, as well. What could I do to set myself apart?

Well, first of all, there's a lot of sex in my book. The noir characters of the broken leading man and the femme fatale that lead him to ruin have been replaced by a foul-mouthed drunkard and a scheming, overweight African American woman. The two characters begin having an fairly graphic detail. My goal was to take a plot that could be very cliche' and turn it around. The sex in my book is never a titillating. In fact, it's designed to revolt and provoke laughter.

Perhaps the best example of that style in film would the movies of John Waters. Lovingly known as "The Prince of Puke," Waters made his career with low budget films that feature the most elaborate array of degenerates ever seen. Sex is never taken seriously in his movies, either. While teaching prisoners in the 1980's, Waters was asked by one of his students: "Could you please bring a film that I could masturbate to? This is disgusting."

The sexual element is also exploited by setting a few of the scenes in the local strip joint, The Platinum Pony. Larry, the store manager, has had an affair before. While arguing with his wife, Larry storms out to the club where he pays a beautiful dancer to have sex with him. A few of the other characters also find their way to the club. It's a very popular place in town.

Violence is also another key factor in The Check Out. Once again, it is played more for laughs than to be gruesome. There are a few scenes that feature graphic descriptions of blood and gore, though they are specific and deliberate. Unlike Lewis, I decided not to base my entire work on guts and innards!

Another common staple of exploitation is the character with a shady past. I have two characters with that background in The Check Out. One is the assistant manager, Terrence, who is hiding a former life of crime from his coworkers. The other character, Roland Tillman, is a blood thirsty robber, who has no compunction with murder.

Many exploitation films featured drug use, as they could deal with the subject in ways Hollywood couldn't. Brad, a character from The Check Out, has problems with addiction. I tried to make him more sympathetic than you normally find in an exploitation movie. I felt like there should be someone you could pull for; even if he continually makes mistakes.

For the cover of The Check Out, I wanted to immediately inform the reader about the tone of the book. I wanted an image that grabbed the reader, and emulated the posters for exploitation films. I wanted a minimal, stark, cover that would stand out as a thumbnail. I think Damian Browning, my designer, did an excellent job. The cover reminds me of The Miniskirt Mob, Fangs, or Don't Answer The Phone.

I love exploitation films because they represent a mindset that I respect. The directors of these films have a passion that most studio directors don't. Indie filmmakers have to raise their own money, write their own material, and figure out a way to make it interesting. They can't throw millions of dollars of CGI at the screen to get people to watch. They put much more of themselves into the finished product. That is what I have tried to do with The Check Out.


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