Personal confession time, though I doubt I am entirely alone in experiencing the following. One of the odd side-effects of the fact that, sooner or later, EVERYTHING is making its way to DVD, is that some of that some of the more deliciously sordid mysteries of one’s youth are fading in the harsh light of day. Nowhere is this more the case than in the realm of the exploitation film.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m of an age that places me between two stools. I’m old enough to remember the grindhouses her… in Winnipeg, and the ads for the movies that played there (not to mention the disreputable efforts that screened in the more mainstream venues as well). But I’m young enough that there was no way I could see those films when they first appeared. Heck, I was in elementary school for the 70s. But the ads that appeared in the papers haunt me still. Now, many of those alluring/terrifying/both films are easy to watch, and in nice prints at that. While I appreciate the opportunity, I also regret discovering the disappointing reality of so many of these movies.
This is, of course, nothing more nor less than the standard audience experience of the exploitation film. Those posters and trailers would promise so much, but the execution was rarely up to said promises. (And this is part of the conceit of Robert Rodriguez’ contribution to Grindhouse: an exploitation film that more than delivers on its promises.) The difference here is that, in my case, seeing the posters and seeing the films would be events separated by twenty or thirty years, which tends to make the posters loom even larger in memory.
I was brought to ruminate on this sad fact of life thanks to Severin’s release of the Black Emanuelle’s Box set. I’ll be posting a full review of this set shortly, so I don’t want to cover identical ground here. But I remember when some of these movies were playing in Winnipeg. Emanuelle Around the World in particular got quite the lavish campaign, relatively speaking, and I believe it played at the suburban Garden City Cinema, oddly enough. The posters for this and other films in the series were certainly enough to spark a young man’s imagination, so it’s a shame that very little such spark showed up in the imagination of the filmmakers. The films are largely uninvolving travelogues and their eroticism would be completely laughable were it not for the presence of Laura Gemser. So sigh, yet another promise unfulfilled.
But there are, it must be said, those select films in each realm of exploitation that DID deliver what they promised (or threatened). Anything Russ Meyer went near, it need hardly be pointed out, was more over the top and sensational than any poster. And while we’re talking about glossy soft-core in the Emanuelle mode (or the Emmanuelle mode, if you want to consider the actual series), The Story of O was certainly a cut above the usual, rather pallid affairs.
And then there are the Ilsa films. These will warrant a column on their own at a later date, but I have two very vivid sets of memories connected with these. The first, is being almost traumatized by the newspaper ads for Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. The second is when, back in the early 90s, I finally saw them on video, and discovered, with a not altogether pleasant jolt, that they, too, made good on their promises. I’d almost say the moral is to be careful what you wish for, but quite honestly, it’s always better to get it. Even if it’s in the neck.