Grindhouse Cinema. An Introduction.

During the 1930s, burlesque theatres became increasingly popular in America. These vintage equivalents to modern-day strip clubs included ‘bump and ‘grind’ shows, and subsequently they became commonly referred to as Grindhouse’s. By the late 1950s, a combination of a social pressure on burlesque shows, which had gained a sleazy and shady reputation in the 1940‘s and, later, with nudity becoming more accessible at movie theatres and drive-ins, most of these clubs ended up as neglected, run-down, empty buildings. With their theatre style set up and no expectations to renovate or refurbish, the rent and upkeep was cheap, so they were an obvious choice for the market gap in paracinema movies. These theatres showed predominantly  exploitation films known for their emphasis on extreme depictions of sex, violence and gore, that general would not get a mainstream release, therefore, it seemed fitting that they adopted the Grindhouse name. The typical subjects of movies seen at a Grindhouse were pornography, horror, and sometimes martial arts. These films traditionally had low budgets and poor print quality, leading to their famously scratchy grained picture, and rarely any prominence to artistic merit.

The popularity of drive in theatres had begun to decline in the 1960’s, leaving theatre owners to look for new ways to bring in customers. With Grindhouse theatres gaining seemingly overnight popularity by 1970, and making a notable profit, one solution was to start booking Grindhouse movies. Soon, filmmakers were producing  films directly for the drive-in market, which at the Grindhouse peak in the mid 1970s, were probably more popular than the smaller theatres that had earned them their name.

However, By 1982 most homes had VHS home video players. People could now view exploitative or pornographic films in the privacy of their home, and Grindhouse theatres disappeared into hazy memories and rumors for over 20 years. Until 2007, when Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez brought Grindhouse cinema back to big screens with their double bill; Planet Terror and Death proof, complete with a collection of fictitious Grindhouse-esque trailers for upcoming attractions, advertisements, and in-theater announcements. Clearly their goal was to pay a deconstructive homage to the long forgotten genre, that had influenced their film making careers, most evident in their previous joint venture, From dusk to Dawn. However, it seems that they have achieved much more than that, their double bill kick-defined a whole new genre; modern Grindhouse. A genre that is independent of exploitation films, and become a style of filmmaking of its own.

There has been a recent surge of modern Grindhouse films such as; Nude Nuns with Big Guns, Dear God No! and Bitch Slap. Also, two of the fictitious trailers from the Tarantino / Rodrigues double bill have spurred full feature movies; Machete and Hobo with a shot-gun, with more on the way.

Whilst gathering up a list of Grindhouse horror, exploitation films that I hadn’t watched, it became quickly apparent that I have not seen nearly enough to even think about posting top list. Nevertheless, here is a list of Grindhouse movies that I recommend if you are interested in exploring the genre: The Gore Gore Girls, Last House on the Left, The Maniac, They Call her One Eye, 2000 Maniacs, Faster Pussycat Kill!, Tentacles, Switchblade Sisters, Primitive Desires, I Drink your Blood, IIsa She wolf of The SS, Fight for your Life, and Zombie Flesh Eaters.

As modern Grindhouse goes, it’s still in its infancy, but I suspect you’ll struggle to find better than Planet Terror and Death proof for sometime. Kurt Russell’s performance as Stuntman Mike, is nothing less than magnificence.


  1. Great article indeed. And just to give
    you a tip. The film “bitch slap” is one of my favorite explotation flicks.
    Also any kind of slasher-horror can defiantly go under the grindhouse banner.

  2. While I am not a horror movie fan by nature (although I did forward a link to your column to my nephew, who is a certified gorehound) I liked your post on “Grindhouse Cinema”. I have copies of “Planet Terror”, “Death Proof” and “Switchblade Sisters” in my own modest DVD collection, loved “From Dusk to Dawn”. thought “Machete” was cool, wasn’t crazy about “Bitch Slap” or “Hobo with a Shotgun” (although I’ll always go out of my way to see the great Rutger Hauer in action) and any Russ Meyer flick (like Faster! Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) has gotta be a guilty pleasure.

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