Image by Alvin Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons
Back in ’92, when I was taking a French New Wave class at Boston University, my professor, Gerald Perry, brought in an intense, bearish looking guy in a leather trench coat and announced him as the new Martin Scorsese. I hadn’t a clue who he was nor had I heard of his movie, Reservoir Dogs, which was playing at the Boston Film Festival. The guy, of course, was Quentin Tarantino. As he talked passionately about movies, in particular Jean-Pierre Melville, who’s movie Le Samourai was the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs’s distinct sartorial style, I was struck by just how many f-bombs he was able to squeeze into a 20-minute spiel.
The comparison to Scorsese is apt. Both directors took the innovations of French New Wave and adapted them for a mainstream American audience in the form of ferocious, stylish crime thrillers. Both filmmakers also make regular homages to the films of their childhood. For Scorsese, it was largely films from the ’40s and ‘50s by filmmakers like Vincent Minnelli, Michael Powell, and Alfred Hitchcock. Tarantino’s inspirations, on the other hand, were largely 1970s grindhouse flicks.
In the 1960s, a combination of the increasing popularity of television and white-flight from urban centers greatly reduced the number of people coming to single-screen theaters. A number of movies houses, especially in Times Square in New York and on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, started screening double and triple bills of cheaply made, independently produced exploitation movies filled with sex, nudity, graphic violence and straight up sadism.
As Tarantino’s career progressed, his movies became more and more transparent pastiches of the grindhouse movies he loved. Kill Bill is, after all, a supremely entertaining patchwork of homages to Game of Death, Lady Snowblood, Five Fingers of Death and dozens of other Asian exploitation flicks. Heck, he even tried to recreate the experience of grindhouse cinema by making a double-bill movie with Robert Rodriguez called Grindhouse.
So when Tarantino was asked to come up with a list of his favorite exploitation flicks for the Grindhouse Cinema Database, it was not terribly surprising that he was very particular about his choices. "Some of [the movies] don't quite work,” said the filmmaker. "For instance, Female Prisoner 701 Scorpion, that was never released anywhere outside Japan... My point being, it has to have been played in a grindhouse… The same way like Halloween could be on [the list], but Friday The 13th...couldn't, because that was a Paramount movie."
The movies that did make the list include horror classics, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead; the martial arts masterpiece Five Fingers of Death; and blaxploitation flicks including Coffy and The Mack. There’s even one movie, The Lady in Red, which was written by indie film icon John Sayles. Check out the full list below.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Dawn of the Dead
- Night of the Living Dead
- Rolling Thunder
- Five Fingers of Death
- The Mack
- The Girl From Starship Venus
- The Last House On The Left
- Master of the Flying Guillotine
- The Street Fighter | Return of The Street Fighter | The Street Fighter's Last Revenge ("You just have to kinda consider all three of them together." - QT)
- The Psychic
- The Lady in Red
- Thriller: A Cruel Picture
- Hammer of the Gods
- The Savage Seven
- The Pom Pom Girls
You can find two of the films listed above -- The Street Fighter and Night of the Living Dead -- listed in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
The image above was taken by Georges Biard.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.