By Bob Freville
Brenda: Sounds nice and kinky to me. Too bad you’re not double-jointed.
Brenda: Because if you were, you’d be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!
—Actual dialogue from Savage Streets (1984)
Much has been written about sex and violence in motion pictures, but few bother to mention how much on-screen sex and violence have changed over the years. One could argue that things that used to be unacceptable in entertainment, such as homosexual protagonists or simulated sodomy, are now acceptable (see: FX’s American Horror Story, A Serbian Film, etc.), but it is also evident that things that were once acceptable are no longer considered appropriate.
If we look back at the Seventies and early-Eighties, we can see that the rape-revenge sub-genre was massively popular. From Clint Eastwood’s seminal Play Misty for Me (1971) to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, audiences were enraptured by tales of female empowerment against male brutality.
You would think that these kinds of narratives would be more popular than ever what with the #MeToo movement, but one could also argue that real-life female empowerment and the recent leveling of power, especially abuse of power, has led to a relative dearth of such dreary subject matter.
Maybe shit is just too real and people don’t want to watch renderings of that reality anymore. There is also the matter of PC culture; in the 80s, it was perfectly okay to casually call a character a “fag” while today it would be grounds for expulsion from the entertainment industry.
In fact, that is just what happened to a cast member of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, a show that is every bit as graphic as any horror movie. Don’t believe me? Just watch the Season 5 finale and tell me there’s any air left in the room when you’re done.
The current sociopolitical landscape is such that it would be tough to get most so-called exploitation movies made today, if for no other reason than there’s too much brutality going on in viewers’ daily lives.
A relevant example would be Eli Roth’s remake of Death Wish. Completed in early 2017 and intended for theatrical release, it was ultimately pulled from MGM’s theatrical line-up after the movie’s trailer caused public outrage.
The trailer, which depicted the kind of indiscriminate violence one would expect from a revenge picture (the closing moments see Bruce Willis dropping a car on a greasy-haired white dude), was flagged by sensitive audience members who saw that Willis’ character guns down a black man.
Consequently, the flick was accused of being an Alt-Right fantasy aimed at inciting whites to attack black people. At the time, the film’s director, a veteran of grindhouse fare, thanked critics for the free publicity, but he probably wasn’t smiling when the movie got an unceremonious DVD release on June 5th of the following year.
It seems more than coincidental that Roth’s 2018 follow-up to Death Wish was an adaptation of a children’s book that falls neatly into PG Goosebumps territory. It’s simply easier for directors to get their movies made if they embrace the widest audience possible and offend as few demographics as they can.
What Roth’s experience with Death Wish illustrates is just how unlikely it is for the films of yesteryear to be considered up to snuff by contemporary standards. Today, we’ll take a look at eight other examples of past motion pictures that couldn’t possibly work in 2018.
Some, you will notice, actually have been remade in the last ten to twelve years, but you’ll quickly notice just how different said remakes were from their source material. Let’s have a look!
1. MOTHER’S DAY (1980)
This “Tromasterpiece” by Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman’s younger brother, Charles, is an unflinching and, oftentimes, bizarrely hilarious horror satire. When it’s not focused on the preternatural trio of murderous Mama and her two co-dependent hillbilly sons hacking off people’s heads or raping young women, it is brutally sending up the cultural trends of the late-Seventies.
Nothing is sacred in Kaufman’s film, whether it’s high society, cheesy self-help seminars, posh pool parties or the prevailing music trends of the day (Addley: Punk sucks! Ike: Disco’s stoopid!). The movie, which filmed right across the lake from where Sean S. Cunningham was simultaneously shooting the first installment of Friday the 13th, even manages to make fun of the tropes inherent in films like the Jason Voorhees franchise (see: the old man who warns the girls not to go in the woods).
What makes 1980’s Mother’s Day especially shocking, even today, is the seamless way in which it segues from a sort of comedy of grotesquerie to unadulterated horror. Few films can have you laughing at its villains one moment and then cringing at their actions the very next.
Now, Mother’s Day is one of those rare rape-revenge flicks that actually got a reboot (or reimagining) in the 21st century. In 2010, Saw franchise director Darren Lynn Bousman gave us his watered-down take on Kaufman’s classic, casting Rebecca De Mornay in the role of “Mother” and replacing the rotten-toothed hilljacks, Ike and Addley, with two fit young TV actors with chiseled pretty boy features.
Not only was the cast too fay to seem truly menacing but this rape-revenge flick dropped the rape in favor of the odd scalping and a lot of wanna-be alpha male posturing. Essentially, all we get is a lot of grab ass, a rip-off/reversal of Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs and male-on-male torture.
It almost seemed like Lynn Bousman was trying to comment on the homoeroticism of home invasion or something. Whether this was his intention or not is moot. The point is, Mother’s Day just ain’t Mother’s Day without hillbillies in gunny sacks who brush their teeth with cheap beer.
2. MS. 45 (1981)
In this early Abel Ferrara gem, our mute protagonist is raped not once but twice on her way home from work. This is another early example of how talented filmmakers could use the exploitation genre as an opportunity for social commentary.
The film, which was shot in the derelict apartments of a crumbling and filthy New York City, had a lot on its mind and Ms. 45’s double-rape is clearly a statement about just how rampant grime and crime were in the bowels of the Big Apple.
Like Ferrara’s other early effort, Driller Killer, this one is unlikely to appeal to a modern audience who have been weaned on terms like “trigger warning” and “trolling.” And it’s not just the so-called “snowflakes” that would have a problem with this flick and many others in the rape-revenge vein.
The Alt-Right is unlikely to even believe in rape, seeing as how they are in love with a man who thinks he can go around grabbing women’s genitals at will. These same people are of a generation that grew up hearing stories like the one that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine, stories of college campus rapes that were later proven to be untrue. For these individuals, the notion of a woman deserving of vengeance is laughable.
You won’t find the misogynistic white power crowd enjoying the climax of I Spit on Your Grave. Of that much I am sure.
3. VIGILANTE (1982)
Best known for 1980’s Maniac and the cult Maniac Cop series, William Lustig followed up the success of the former with this bad-ass flick whose name tells you everything you need to know about its plot.
Inspired by the high crime rate in 70’s NYC, Vigilante concerns the actions of a group of men who get tired of being pushed around by street gangs and ignored by an ineffectual police force. The film was an unbridled look at drugs, prostitution and murder that even managed to shed a light on male objectification.
The notion of male objectification seems virtually absurd in 2018, right?
When one considers Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews’ testimony about his sexual assault at the hands of a Hollywood agent, it becomes obvious that this is a problem facing people of all genders.
Still, you are unlikely to see a movie about it any time soon. Hollywood ain’t about to feel sorry for men, especially when the men running it are rats on a sinking ship due to their objectification of the fairer sex.
4. ANGEL (1984)
Described in the film’s synopsis as a “baby prostitute,” Angel’s eponymous female lead is exactly that, unsettlingly young with cherubic features. This adds to the grit that’s already pervasive in Robert Vincent O’Neill’s film.
Even the film’s tagline seems like something you would be unlikely to see on a movie poster in the 21st century: “Honor student by day. Hooker by night.”
The hard R film focuses on a fifteen-year old protagonist who must endure a constant onslaught of pervs as well as lines from companions like, “The men use their dicks as oars” and, “Hey! All’s I wanted to do was borrow it, not buy it!”
It’s not hard to imagine a Hollywood studio greenlighting a movie about a young call girl (The success of The Girlfriend Experience immediately comes to mind), but you won’t find a movie made in the last five years containing dialogue such as, “When I was a kid my father warned me. He said, ‘Rachel, don’t ever play cards with a Jewish dyke. They cheat!’”
5. COMBAT SHOCK (1984)
Buddy Giovinazzo (Buddy G, for short) is a celebrated author and directorial gun for hire in Germany today, but in 1984, he shook up the grindhouse circuit with this sleazy Staten Island horror-drama about the mental fallout from the Vietnam war, and the tolls that poverty and drug addiction take on our veterans.
Much of the film’s acting is typical Troma quality at best, but the decaying production design and harsh imagery hold up, as does the soul-sucking skull-fuck that is its main character’s plight. Frankie returns from war to find only unemployment and acrimony waiting for him. His wife is an incessant nag and his child is nauseatingly deformed from the effects of Agent Orange.
In the ensuing years, we’ve seen plenty of movies about the squalor of the junkie lifestyle and the perils of war, but none of them packed a punch like the last ten minutes of Combat Shock. If infanticide and oven cremation sound like something you can stomach, this is the flick for you. You better scoop up a copy because you’re not gonna see anything else like it from here on out.
6. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
This might seem like a more mainstream example, but at the time, A Nightmare on Elm Street was a sterling, obsidian example of the revenge picture. Whereas its sequels turned Freddy Krueger into a Vaudevillian trickster, the original kept him cloaked in shadow, slimy and enigmatic.
The revenge here belongs to the villain as much as it does to his would-be victims. Krueger attacks the teenagers of Springfield in their dreams to get even with their parents for murdering him years earlier.
This is another one that received a mostly lackluster remake in the early-Aughts, and it’s debatable whether the remake was more or less disturbing than Wes Craven’s first entry in the franchise. For instance, Fred Krueger’s pederasty is made more explicit in Samuel Bayer’s 2010 iteration, but the mystery and brutality are definitely toned down.
7. SAVAGE STREETS (1984)
Danny Steinnman’s rape-revenge flick might be the most perturbing on this list as it involves the sexual assault of a deaf mute (scream queen Linnea Quigley) and the wave of violence that this assault leads to.
Horror royalty Linda Blair plays the buxom babe who avenges her handicapped sister’s rape, wielding a crossbow decades before Darryl Dixon (The Walking Dead) and contending with everyone from a gang of hardened punks to a tyrannical high school principal (John Vernon) who says things like “Fuck an iceberg!”
There is no shortage of movies featuring women in tight leather clothing kicking major ass (see: Charlie’s Angels, Catwoman, American Mary, et al.), but there aren’t too many movies being made lately that offer laughably gross dialogue and uncompromising ferocity.
8. AVENGING ANGEL (1985)
Millennials may only know her as the MILF wife of Saw’s criminal mastermind John “Jigsaw” Kramer, but Betsy Russell was once a tomcat of Eighties sex romps and slasher films. In 1985’s Avenging Angel, the stunning Russell replaced Donna Wilkes as Molly “Angel” Stewart and wrought wrath on downtown LA after her law enforcement mentor was murdered in cold blood.
As sequels go, Avenging Angel isn’t at all groundbreaking, but it is impressively gritty considering how slick and polished most sequels usually are. If Angel were allowed to be made in this day and age, it would be highly improbable for the filmmakers to do what they did here (,i.e.: take a sympathetic jail bait character from the first installment and replace her in a sequel with a curly-haired sex pot).
The early-2000s saw a number of exploitation movies made, from 2009’s grindhouse throwback Run! Bitch! Run! to 2010’s torture porn remake of the rape-revenge classic I Spit on Your Grave, but it would seem that the trend towards this kind of content is coming to a close.