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View Full Version : What separates Exploitation/Horror films from Arthouse films?



Alex K.
11-24-2011, 04:14 AM
Pretty general topic that I've always been fascinated with. What -if anything- do you guys think really separates these kind of films from each other? Because there have been plenty of pictures, definitely made for profit motivations at least envisioned that way, that can and have been considered as legitimate and well made pictures with a very clear artistry and message when available. There's so many pictures such as: Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, Man Behind the Sun, and Nekromantik so far as disturbing films. Then there's Fulci and Bava's pictures that are more than just horror films.

I've always been of the opinion that the only difference between these films and say Fat Girl, or Von Trier's Antichrist are the names involved and the difference in budget.

What do you guys think?

Alison Jane
11-24-2011, 07:34 AM
Oh it's definitely who's involved and often where it's made. It seems to me a lot of foreign movies possess mystery and beauty that American films aren't quite able to capture. I'm sure in other countries appreciate aspects of American films that we take for granted. A lot of times films that are considered exploitation have a very clear horror and/or sex intent. Arthouse flicks often weave those themes and scenes into a much grander plot.

Just the way I see it.

The Silly Swede
11-24-2011, 07:34 AM
Yeah, the names involved and critical reception. Haneke can do a deeply disturbed film and get loved for it, while a film by any horror director can be half as disturbed and get trashed by critics for being "sociopathic".

Ian Jane
11-24-2011, 11:15 AM
I think a lot of it has to do with intent as well. Von Trier and Haneke often 'intend' to provoke and disturb but that's not the same as intending to 'exploit' the way someone like, to use a current example from Europe by contrst, Uwe Boll does. And of course, there's how the content is portrayed and relayed to the viewer as well. You figure in Antichrist, yeah, it gets very graphic as does something like Irreversible but in both cases the scenes in question are also surrounded by scenes of legitimate drama, which sort of elevates the movies as a whole out of the 'exploitation ghetto' and tags them as arthouse films.

Dom D
11-24-2011, 08:11 PM
I agree with Ian that there's generally a huge difference in intent. There's often amazing artistry in exploitation movies- more so than mainstream films- because the directors and other talent are given a fair bit of freedom and room to move. But they tend to be starting from fairly basic screenplays. That said my favorite movies are always those that blur the line between art and trash. La Grande Bouffe springs to mind.

Ian Jane
11-25-2011, 09:46 AM
There's also the whole 'exploiting things' angle. If a movie is cashing in on some sort of recent event or trend, by default it's an exploitation film, right?

Alex K.
11-25-2011, 05:38 PM
Which would mean that Oliver Stone 9/11 film is exploitation, right?

When you start examining this shit the lines begin to blur.

Alex K.
11-26-2011, 04:54 AM
Andzej Zulawski's Possession is a film that really blurs the line between the two. Love that film by the way.

Todd Jordan
11-26-2011, 09:43 AM
Yeah lines are getting blurry. If you want to, you can argue that EVERY movie is an exploitation movie. But for my money, I consider an exploitation movie to be one that uses certain elements (violence, nudity) to titilate, and not to make you think. Yeah a 9/11 movie exploits the events of that day, but unless they just show naked women screaming in the hallways, I don't think of it as exploitation. A female martial arts expert going in to a burning building and fighting terrorists while she's topless, that would be exploitation. Or if they had a midget fire brigade go into the burning buildings, that would be exploitation. But just conveying the events in a realistic manner, nah.

As far as arthouse vs. exploitation...once the content of the movie is considered (meaning is this a movie with lots of tits, ass, and gore or is it a movie about a rock that can't swim) I think that is nothing more than how its released/promoted. A movie like Warhol's Frankenstein is total exploitation, but since he was an "artist" he gets arthouse appeal. Totally biased.

Ian Jane
11-26-2011, 11:02 AM
Which would mean that Oliver Stone 9/11 film is exploitation, right?

I haven't seen it but I'm sure you could make that arguement.

Jens Thomsen
11-28-2011, 03:50 PM
I've always been of the opinion that the only difference between these films and say Fat Girl, or Von Trier's Antichrist are the names involved and the difference in budget.

What do you guys think?

There's a really good chapter on art house films in Torben Grodal's 'Embodied Visions: Evolution, Emotion, Culture, and Film', a book I really recommend to anyone interested in why movies are able to arouse emotions in us even though they are make-believe. Grodal sorts movies after which mechanism in our brains they activate. And according to him, the major difference between arthouse and more mainstream fare is that the first strives to activate a feeling of meaning and purpose, of something 'deeper'. This is often done by denying the viewer the conclusions that a more mainstream film affords.

We tend to organize our everyday experience into linear narratives ('I go down to the shop to get milk, I find the milk, I pay, I go home, I drink the milk' etc.) and mainstream movies are using this feature of our mental makeup to activate us by creating expectations and fulfilling them. Arthouse films might seem to create the same expectations but often don't fulfill them because narrative coherence is of less importance. Instead, the arthouse movies often work by activating the parts of our brain that has to do with association and this gives the viewer a feeling of some sort of meaning, some hidden truth to be found in the film. According to Grodal, however, there really doesn't have to be any form of deeper meaning hidden in the movie. There might be, but regardless just because the movie activates a certain part of the brain we will feel there is whether it's true or not.

A film like 'Antichrist' does not really have a coherent narrative in the traditional sense. And even von Trier has said that it is mostly based on his dreams during a period of depression. But it activates feelings of purpose and of meaning in the viewer and so those who are not turned off by the lack of narrative feel compelled to look for it, to analyze it. Whether there's any to be found is really up to the viewer and the viewer's analytic and associative skills.

I hope this made at least some sense? It's been a while since I read that book.

Ian Jane
11-28-2011, 04:00 PM
That actually makes a lot of sense, Jens. Some good food for thought there and there's probably a lot of validity to the writer's theories.

Randy G
11-29-2011, 02:36 AM
As far as arthouse vs. exploitation...once the content of the movie is considered (meaning is this a movie with lots of tits, ass, and gore or is it a movie about a rock that can't swim) I think that is nothing more than how its released/promoted. A movie like Warhol's Frankenstein is total exploitation, but since he was an "artist" he gets arthouse appeal. Totally biased.

Warhol didn't direct Flesh for Frankenstein, Paul Morrissey did, but I see your point. Seems to me though from the ad mats I've seen from when Flesh for Frankenstein was released it did play a lot of the same theatres as exploitation films because it had an X rating. Warhol talked pretty openly of being inspired by beaver shorts and porn movies though so I'm not sure he would have had an issue with the films he produced being associated with exploitation, Morrissey is a whole other kettle of fish though, but then he just seems kinda crazy.

I agree with Lens though that sometimes exploitation and arthouse films can have the some sense of strange disassociation and surrealism through sudden shifts in tone, slow plotting, odd editing, outre acting, extreme violence or sex, etc. Most often with arthouse films these effects are on purpose, whereas sometimes with exploitation it is inadvertent like in the films of HG Lewis or Doris Wishman, although there are exceptions like Morrissey, some of Franco, Frederick Friedel.

Robin Bougie
11-29-2011, 07:04 AM
Great post, Jens.

I find it interesting that certain countries have a very active arthouse element in their exploitation -- for instance: Japanese pink films. The movies are designed to titilate just as American softcore is, but its undeniable that there are other elements at play in many of them. A lot of the directors that made roman porno for Nikkatsu weren't really interested in being pornographers, but used the popularity of the genre to make the art they couldn't get hired to make outside of pink. When you watch these movies, you realize that they had been given a guideline to put a sex scene in at least every 10 minutes or so, and over and above that, they had free reign to make whatever kind of movie they wanted to. With those kind of rules in place (similar in a way to Von Trier's "dogme" rules) you end up with some very interesting art that you wouldn't have achieved if you had been given unlimited and unshackled creative freedom.

Much of my favourite erotic cinema is made by directors that never wanted to be pornographers, but were forced to do so for whatever reason.

Ian Jane
11-29-2011, 10:10 AM
A lot of the directors that made roman porno for Nikkatsu weren't really interested in being pornographers, but used the popularity of the genre to make the art they couldn't get hired to make outside of pink.

This is something that is covered in quite a bit of detail in Behind The Pink Curtain if you haven't read it yet and in the supplements on a lot of Pink Eiga releases. A lot of these guys definitely had aspirations to make something more than just simple sex films, and a lot of them accomplished it too, even within the established confines of the genre.

Robin Bougie
11-29-2011, 10:33 AM
I have indeed read most of it. It's a must-own!

Another good place for interesting behind the scenes talk on these movies are the 5 hours of extra features on the ANGEL GUTS boxset.

Ian Jane
11-29-2011, 10:39 AM
That boxed set rules! It's also long OOP and pretty pricey now, but I remember completely geeking out over it when it first arrived on my door step. That also turned out to be one of those infamous 'Dark Side' reviews way back when. Fuckers.

Randy G
11-29-2011, 08:13 PM
The Japanese directors of pinku and girl gang films are an excellent example of arthouse/exploitation. I think the Japanese films of the 70s are my favourite exploitation films period. I love the way they also manage to make the films overtly political while still indulging in all kinds of exploitation insanity.