SCHLOCK! THE SECRET HISTORY OF AMERICAN MOVIES (director/writer/editor/producer: Ray Greene; cinematographer: Sean Peacock; music: Johnny English; cast: Forrest J Ackerman, Dick Miller, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Vampira, David F. Friedman, Dorothy Wishman, Harry Novak; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wade Major; Pathfinder Home Entertainment; 2001)
“Ray Greene has put together a well-documented record of schlock films with mainly interviews of those responsible for its success.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The documentary promotes itself as the Hollywood you’ve never seen! It features rare film clips! shocking interviews! Brazen women! Lust-crazed men! In reality, this is a clinical presentation of schlock or exploitation films and of the men and women who brought it to life.
If it was an exploitation movie it had to be in bad taste, one of the talking heads suggests. This documentary is not in bad taste; it’s about a wide assortment of films on forbidden subjects from the macabre to nudity to excessive gore. The expected audience will be film buffs and historians and those nostalgia freaks missing those peep shows that disappeared in the modern age of no censorship where there’s now only a volunteer rating system supplied by Jack Valenti’s nefarious MPAA. The schlock films “golden era” ended suddenly in the early 1970s, but it was not without redeeming social value and at least one questionable cornball masterpiece in the 1962 Herk Harvey “Carnival of Souls”–one of my favorite low-budget films about alienation and the state of limbo between this world and the next. This genre’s main accomplishment probably was to open the way for indy films and esteemed filmmakers such as Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Bartel, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola, all of whom either got their start in that dirty business or benefited from its filmmaking craft. The documentary makes the case that not only its type of film was an exploitation one, but legit films such as Star Wars and any film that advertises is selling itself by exploitation. It might even be true as stated, that the close-knit schlock industry never sneered at their audience or insulted them with artsy-fartsy pretension like the mainstream film industry regularly does.
The heyday for schlock films was from the economically fat postwar period in the 1950s through the social revolutionary days of the 1960s. Repression and paranoia marked the 1950s, so these cheaply and fastly made films got around the censorship laws that bound the big studio system and found their audience among those who wanted to see pictures of boobs that weren’t made until the exploiters picked up the slack. The sleaze pioneers featured in this film were Samuel Z. Arkoff, David F. Friedman (an early collaborator of Herschell Gordon Lewis until their eventual split), Harry Novak and one of the few original women in the industry, the late Dorothy Wishman (in her last interview). They all openly boast and gloat about their success in making bad films to please a hungry public and becoming rich for their efforts. We’re informed, that the trick is in knowing how to promote a film. As one of them says — since they couldn’t afford to pay for scripts or get big stars, they sold their colorful titles and art work and created a demand for their work. They maintain this is similar to the way the blockbuster films of today operate, as they cleanup during their opening week and the gross usually trails off considerably thereafter as the next blockbuster hits the multiplexes.
The film historians such as Forrest J Ackerman and the pioneer smut promoters talk of the type of schlock film that came into vogue influenced by the times. There were films known in the trade as “nudie cuties” and “roughies” and “dust and cover,” with the latter bringing out a plethora of nudie alien films. The documentary is at its best showing clips from the lurid and long-forgotten films of its past. There was the nudist camp film “Garden of Eden,” Harry Novak’s big moneymaker breakthrough sex film “Kiss Me Quick,” the antidrug cornball howler “Reefer Madness,” the 1963 graphically violent “Blood Feast,” the aesthetically classy Roger Corman ripoff of Poe “The House of Usher,” the surreal William Rotsler directed and written “Love and Agony,” and the druggie-biker film “Wild Angels,” all of which supposedly led up to legit indy smash hits such as “Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy.”
For those trying to get a handle on those once secretly popular grindhouse drive-in flicks, this is as good a place as any to start to relive the past. Ray Greene has put together a well-documented record of schlock films with mainly interviews of those responsible for its success. But be warned, if you’re in need of a porno fix this documentary will leave you cold and dry.
REVIEWED ON 12/25/2003 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ