• James Harvey

10 Exploitation Horror Films That Ended Up Defining Their Subgenre. Part One

PART 1: No: 10 to 6

An exploitation film or B-Movie is defined as a low-quality, low-budget film, that is released to latch onto a current trend. They are seen by the makers, and the studios producing them, as a throw away low budget grab at the cash the current trend is generating.

There are however occasions when these films become sleeper hits and, in turn, became trend setters in their own right. There have even been instances when they have spawned a series of films that rake in multimillion dollars of profit across multiple releases. Some even go on to define as well as change the entire genre they are aiming to exploit in the first place, bringing them kicking and screaming into the mainstream.

Here we take a look at ten horror exploitation films that went on to, not only become huge films in their own right, but changed the horror genre forever and in doing so cementing their subgenre as a major money-making machine on top of winning millions of fans worldwide.

10: Night of the Living Dead - 1968

At the time this film came out, a little-known subgenre called, ‘Zombie Horror’, had sprung up in the B-Movie market. While this subgenre had some cult films out already, by the time Romero’s, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, turned up, this was the film that dragged it into the limelight for good.

The film itself was written, directed and edited by Romero, as well as being completed on an estimated budget of $114,000. It went on to gross $30,000,000 worldwide, spawn five sequels and paved the way for not only films but TV, books, comics and more recently, video games. Such is the love for the genre, it is today suffering burn out, as there is just so much around.

(c) Image Ten

We also must not forget the major breakthrough it was in terms of the American Civil Rights movement. By casting an African-American actor, Duane Jones, as the films main protagonist Ben, in a time of major segregation, it was pretty much career suicide. As an example, just a few years earlier, Alan Freed, a music producer and DJ, the very man who came up with the term, Rock n’ Roll, had his entire life ruined and died a penniless alcoholic, by doing nothing more than allowing a Black Man to dance with a White Woman on his Prime time TV show.

9: Halloween - 1978

While again, not the first film within its small subgenre at the time, John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’, gave the ‘Slasher’ genre some much needed mainstream credibility with its clever cinematography, editing and sound design; seriously, the main theme tune still sends shivers down people’s spine as well as being one of films most famous theme tunes.

What really made this film stand out at the time however, was John Carpenter’s genius idea to attack the previously safe area of American’s small-town suburbia setting; with its white picket fences, flags flapping in the breeze and friendly neighborhoods, where everybody knew everyone else.

The idea that something so horrendous could happen in such an iconic picturesque American setting, brought the fear closer to audiences of the time.

The influence the film has had on modern horror is easy to see with films series such as ‘Nightmare on Elm’s street’ (1984), ‘Friday the 13th ‘(1980), and the more modern ‘Scream’(1996) film. They all borrowed heavily on the so called ‘safe’ setting, turning it into a living nightmare for the people unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(c) Compass International Pictures

‘Just like Night of the Living Dead’ before it, ‘Halloween’ stood for more than just horror. The main protagonist, Laurie Strode (played by the amazing talent that is, Jamie Lee Curtis), is a strong, independent Woman, standing and fighting the horror of a serial killer who was happily murdering everyone around her. At the time, strong Female leads weren’t common in mainstream film and it took an independent film, again, to go against the mainstream to prove that such characters were crowd pleasers and could bring in the money.

It’s wasn’t just the impact it had on the genre that shows the films success, on a reported budget of just $300,000, the film turned in an estimated 70 million dollars worldwide, which, even by today’s standards, is an amazing box-office return.

8: Hostel - 2005

Only Eli Roth’s second feature film, after ‘Cabin Fever’ (2002), 2005’s ‘Hostel’, was the film that really brought the term ‘Torture Porn’ to the masses. Again, written and directed by its creator (you can no doubt see a pattern emerging here!), ‘Hostel’ took the idea of sadistic violence/torture towards a completely unprepared protagonist and turned it mainstream.

Roth didn’t do this by watering it down in any way; instead he showed the plot in a realistic setting with a believably story. Here was a setting that the viewer could in some way relate too, with actions they believe could happen to them or someone they knew.

(c) Next Entertainment

‘Hostel’, spawned numerous different films all trying to latch on to the explosion of interest in this new, more extreme horror. While most at least tried to follow the more realistic style, some just went in the opposite direction and pulled people in for the no holds barred, shock factor, such as the ‘Human Centipede’ series of films.

Sticking with another emerging pattern, the film was made on a low budget of 4.8 million dollars, going on to gross an estimated 80.5 million dollars worldwide.

7. The Blair Witch Project- 1999

Written, Directed and Edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999), did two things really well.

The first was the style of the film. The ‘Found Footage’ subgenre, was a mess, and that's if you had even heard of it. It stood for zero quality, zero realism, it was a cheap way to make ‘films’. Yet by taking the quality of the filmmaking up a notch but still keeping the feel of ‘found-footage’ the filmmakers made it a lot more accessible to the casual film goer.

The second thing ‘The Blair Witch Project’ did right, was exploit a then little-known tool that had pretty much only been used for looking at pictures (mainly porn) and researching information. The name of this tool, if you hadn’t guessed, was the World Wide Web or the Internet for short.

(c) Haxan Films

In a time before, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc, it was considered a grown-up thing, so when a short documentary appeared appealing for help to find a missing student film crew, the story got snatched up by News stations, Newspapers and Radio Shows. People from all over the world, rang up these news stations volunteering to help try and find these lost students. Little did they know; it was nothing more than a genius promotional campaign for a horror film.

It worked so well the film, which cost an estimated $60,000 to make, went on to earn $249 MILLION, let that just sink in for a moment! That wasn’t the only legacy ‘The Blair Witch Project’ left behind. While firmly taking its place in pop culture the world over, it brought the ‘Found-Footage’ subgenre into the light, spawning countless wannabes and some amazing films in their own right, such as ‘REC’ (2007). Oh, and it destroyed some people’s trust in the internet, so not all great!

6. The Thing - 1982

The Horror God, that is John Carpenter, returns to the list with a remake of a little known, but awesome 1951 film called, ‘The Thing’. Having already given credit to other subgenres, and with others still playing catch up with him, Carpenter, made the film that defined the term ‘Body Horror’ and turned the horror genre on its head again.

Telling a simple story, that comes down to nothing more than ‘people being haunted by an alien’, Carpenter, took some of our most primal fears and stuffed them into a claustrophobic, paranoid inducing setting. Creating a film that is still loved and held in such high regard today, an amazing 37 years later.

(c) Universal Pictures

It also exploded this little-known subgenre, quickly others raced to cash in on the trend, as well as bringing numerous lesser known directors of this subgenre a platform to the mainstream, step forward the Godfather of ‘Body Horror’, David Cronenberg’s and his 1986’s ‘Body Horror’ masterpiece, ‘The Fly’.

Carpenter, again showed the world you didn’t have to chase trends to be successful, setting them was much more fun. Saying that however, unlike the others so far on the list, it didn’t light up the box-office. While it did make a profit, it wasn’t world changing in terms of money made. For the record, the film cost an estimated $15 million and made a worldwide gross of $19.5 million.

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