The other day, I was watching Pathology, a release from Fox that is terminally mediocre, but is surprisingly gory for what is, minor-to-nil theatrical release aside, essentially a mainstream release. I won’t rehash its silly, empty-headed plot here, other to suggest that you look to spend your entertainment dollar elsewhere. What interests me about the film is that gore. As our characters about their titular activities, corpses are opened up and messed around with in a manner that, not too long ago, would have been unthinkable outside the realm of the more extreme exploitation flicks. For quite a while, since the horror film was revived at the end of the 90s, much of the chatter about violence in the films conveniently forgot just how graphic the situation was in the 70s and 80s, but over the last few years, the gap has been bridged. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. It isn’t the quantity of gore or its explicit nature that I’m ruminating about. Rather, is it still possible to distinguish the genuine, wholesome sleaze from its production-line counterpart emerging from the major studios.
In this light, a double bill of Pathology and Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness might be instructive, in that both films feature much gutting of corpses, including that of the protagonist’s beloved. They are both silly, dumb films with despicable heroes. And yet, there is still, I would argue, a wide gulf between the two films. Idiotic and incoherent as it is, D’Amato’s film still covers one with an oily film. You definitely need a shower after watching this. Post Pathology, all you’ll need is a sympathetic ear in which to pour your complaints.
There is something about the genuine exploitation film. It is perhaps ineffable. It is certainly difficult to pinpoint. I think it is a by-product of a low budget and a willingness on the part of the filmmakers to do absolutely anything at all to get those bums in the seats. Not all films will cross all lines, but there is always the possibility that the next one we pop into the machine will do just that, and thus there is an element of risk as we begin to watch. Will the movie go to far? Will we see something we would like to un-see?
There’s more, though, since what I just described wouldn’t necessary last long into a given film once its transgressive potential was clear. There is something about the rawness of these movies that makes them cut closer to the bone, however clumsily they might do so. In the case of Pathology and its major studio brethren, there is, it seems to me, a certain slickness to the sickness, a comforting professionalism that distances the audience. This is despite, or perhaps because of, the better acting, script and production values. It’s the rough edges of the real sleaze that break the skin, and make the experience a real one.
These are, of course, merely some initial thoughts on the subject, and should be taken as such. Nonetheless, I think that something like this distinction lies at the heart of the true exploitation film. The difference may be more affective than concrete, but it is no less real for that. You watch a D’Amato film, and you’ve been slimed. You watch something like Pathology, and you’ve simply been burned.