There is a prevalent fascination with Grindhouse cinema that persists even though most casual horror fans didn’t even know what it was ten years ago. This whole style had been long-forgotten, dug up by throwbacks made during the 2000s and forced back into the spotlight by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, whose careers have been entirely shaped by this kind of movie. They teamed together to do their own throwback, Drive-In double feature, titled Grindhouse. That experimental event project made almost no money because nobody got it. By 2007, just about everyone had forgotten what a double feature was.
I distinctly remember going to see that movie in theaters and everyone leaving after the first film, save for the group I had gone there with. The posters noted two separate titles, the trailers tried to make it as clear as possible, but it didn’t matter. It was just too much for most people to focus on and understand, and after seeing the box office results I quickly realized that it wasn’t just my theater that had that problem. But Grindhouse succeeded in bringing that term back. I don’t think we’d use it half as openly now if Tarantino and Rodriguez hadn’t made their joint venture.
Over the past decade, so many grindhouse classics have been rediscovered—and re-released for that matter. In many ways, they have a bigger audience now than when they were all originally released on Drive-In double bills. But there are always films that fall by the wayside.
Grindhouse as an era was already somewhat underground to begin with. So with this list, I’m going to touch on some grindhouse classics that are absolutely worth digging up and seeing with new eyes, or for the first time if you’ve never actually gotten around to giving them a look.
Abby is a Blaxploitation rip off of The Exorcist starring William H. Marshall, AKA Blacula himself. It was also directed by William Girdler, who was a seminal filmmaker in the Blaxploitation movement. In general, the Blaxploitation movement is crucial to the era of grindhouse features and Abby is one of the most infamous of the bunch. It’s notoriously campy, but incredibly entertaining.
The Baby is downright bizarre and that’s always a plus for grindhouse movies. From the title and poster, you would consider it a film akin to Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, but it is actually even more bizarre. It’s about a social worker investigating a family with a grown man who acts like an infant and is only referred to as “Baby.” It’s surprisingly inventive, though, and has a great twist that flips the whole thing on its head.
It’s hard to imagine there being a cheaper rip off of The Wizard of Gore, but that’s exactly what Bloodsucking Freaks is. It’s even more irreverent, even more of a showcase for misogynistic kill sequences than Herschel Gordon Lewis’s well-known cult classic. It’s uncomfortable—and not in a way that seems to have any kind of point, but is worth seeing just to witness the grotesque, budgetless spectacle at least once.
Equinox has some people curious now because of its parallels to Evil Dead. Many people want to see it so they can see how bad Evil Dead allegedly ripped it off, presumably so that they no longer feel obliged to love one of their favorite horror films, because that’s something people are fond of doing now. Instead, I would recommend seeing Equinox for the way it embraces its own lunacy. Sure, there’s a group of friends in the woods with an ancient book, but there’s also a forest ranger who’s actually an evil demon king/giant bird named Asmodeus and many giant Claymation monsters.
Featuring an early performance by Sid Haig and a very late performance by Lon Chaney, Jr. Spider Baby is an awesome, weird, gothic horror pseudo-comedy about an inbred family in an isolated mansion who kill passers by and suffer from a made up disorder that causes their minds to stop developing at early puberty. Chaney looks so tired, but everyone else is having fun. In general, it’s a staple that should not be missed.
House on the Edge of the Park
Ruggero Deodato’s lesser well-known movie after Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park also stars Last House on the Left’s David Hess. In fact, David Hess plays virtually the same character he played in Last House, but somehow this one stops short of feeling like a blatant rip off. Believe it or not, when Deodato first read the script, he initially thought it was too violent for his tastes.
Of course, after the release of Jaws in 1975, the late ‘70s were filled with features about animals going on killing sprees. Grizzly is one that has its very passionate fans, but way too many horror enthusiasts have never actually watched it. It’s the perfect hybrid of everything you’d expect from a grindhouse movie coupled with all the great carnage of a post-Jaws rip offs.
The Undertaker and His Pals
First of all, this movie has one of the best titles of all time, no matter the genre. It centers on a surprisingly inventive business venture: An undertaker teams up with two restaurant owners to embark on a killing spree. They cook up parts of the bodies for their menu and the undertaker gets paid by the families to bury whatever’s left. What’s not to love?