Richard James Havis
There are good films, there are bad films - and there are exploitation films. These cheaply produced movies, which usually focus on gore, sex and horror, began life in the 1950s as an inexpensive way to fill the bills on the expanding drive-in cinema scene. Over the next few decades they picked up their own audience of adolescent young males and grew into popular subgenres of their own.
Exploitation movies even produced their own auteurs, whose oeuvres are now all over the internet, a platform which seems to be their natural home. Some sites are amusing, some tasteless, and some sickening. Parents should note that most of these sites are unsuitable for children.
The kings of exploitation are American. Russ Meyer made many bawdy, sex-themed films with titles such as Up! and Common Law Cabin. His movies are mild, and have acquired a critical following for their corny sexual metaphors, large women and cheeky dialogue. An essay on Meyer can be found at brightlights film.com/16/meyer.html.
People often quote 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page (bettie page.com/about/fast facts.html) as the queen of exploitation. Page had all the right qualities - she was even the subject of a recent feature film - but only made three films, tatty burlesque movies with titles such as Teaserama. The real exploitation queen is Barbara Steele, a British actress who made her name in the Italian horror La Maschera Del Demonio (Black Sunday, available on Hulu) in 1960 and went on to have a long career in the genre. Information about Steele can be found at barbarasteele.com.
As far as exploitative horror goes, Mario Bava (mariobava.tripod.com) - the Italian director of Black Sunday - is the best known. The Italians have proved extremely adept at all forms of exploitation film, but Bava's 1960 gothic masterpiece transcends the genre.
One of his proteges, Dario Argento (archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/argento.html), took exploitation horror mainstream in the late 70s with well-produced films such as Inferno and Suspiria.
The name most synonymous with exploitation is American producer Roger Corman, whose American International Pictures made a slew of cheap movies from the 50s to the 70s, churning out around seven pictures a year. Some of these, like the art house-inclined The Masque of the Red Death and biker film The Wild Angels, were far better than they should have been.
Corman also made the original Little Shop of Horrors and the classic LSD film The Trip. He still produces films today, and has a webpage that can be found at myspace.com/rcorman.