Best: Coffy (1973)
Blaxploitation queen bee Pam Grier heads up one of the finest examples of the blaxploitation movement.
She plays vigilante Coffy, who is a nurse by day, and a mean mofo by night. When her sister falls foul of drug abuse, Coffy decides it’s time to clean up the streets of LA. Armed with a rifle and a take-no-prisoners attitude, she wages war on LA criminals.
Worst: Showgirls (1995)
Paul Verhoeven slips into camp territory with that bird from Saved By The Bell: The New Class. Except it’s not the decadent, exploitation-baiting success he hoped it would be.
Instead, Showgirls is overlong and full of itself. Too certain that it’s an emotional drama, it hams up the nudity, and features a truly horrendous pool sex scene with Elizabeth Berkley and the usually-dependable Kyle McLachlan. Atrocious.
Best: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Black and white classic where the women are the ones with all the control. Despite featuring zero nudity, Russ Meyer’s film is sexed up to the hilt, with outrageous violence and a propensity for some of the campiest dialogue outside of a Carry On film.
The plot follows three strippers who wreak havoc in the desert, killing any man who comes across their path. Poor sods.
Worst: Night Of The Lepus (1972)
That it’s so twee and ridiculous could be a selling point for Lepus . Except this tale of giant bunnies terrorising Southwest America is just too dumb for its own good.
Standout special effects mostly involve regular size rabbits being put inside miniature sets to make them seem massive. With extra set wobble just for effect. Watch The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit instead. Seriously.
Best: The Pom Pom Girls (1976)
It’s up there as one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite Grindhouse flicks, and why not? Cheerleaders are almost as much of an exploitation fixture as nuns – for entirely different reasons, of course.
Revolving around seniors embarking on their “final high school fling”, there’s all the raunchy, uh, pom-pom action you’d be expecting, alongside a glut of outrageous car chases. If it’s good enough for Quent, it’s good enough for us. We wonder if those girls could spell E-X-P-L-O-I-T-A-T-I-O-N with their bodies...
Worst: Dont Go Near The Park (1981)
Time travel and serial killer movies collide as runaway kids get massacred by things from “the far past”. They want their youth, see, and the only way they can get it is by sacrificing a virgin.
Yeah, it’s as stilted and directionless at it sounds. Dreadful acting, actresses who only turn up to flash a boob, and a plot that’s as old as the hills do this effort few favours.
Best: Raw Force (1982)
Sometimes a film’s ingredients can be so disparate yet genius that when they’re mashed together, you get something as outrageously, diabolically entertaining as Raw Force.
For instance, this exploitation flick crams in a kung-fu yacht party, a blue-skinned samurai, flesh-munching monks (who like a bit of sex on the side) and a Hitler-moustached pilot. Now there’s one delicious sounding stew.
Worst: Frogs (1972)
Aren’t frogs terrifying? Yeah, they’re all, like, slippery and bug-eyed and stuff! That’s what director George McCowan, the soggy brains behind this limp croak, clearly thought.
McCowan tries to do for frogs what Jaws did for sharks – except frogs just aren’t freakin’ scary! (Crazy Frog aside, shudder.) Which makes the plot – frogs infiltrate a country home and get to some killing – both daft and completely devoid of either tension or levity.
Best: Satans Cheerleaders (1977)
What were we just saying about cheerleaders? There’s just something about those joy-spreaders that grindhouse filmmakers can’t resist hooking their claws into.
Four young cheerleaders are kidnapped along with their coach to be sacrificed during a dark ritual. With a plot like that, nobody’s calling it a slice of arthouse cinema – but Cheerleaders has rightly garnered itself a loyal cult following. Must be the pom-poms.
Worst: Satans Sadists (1969)
All hail bikersploitation, as biker gang the ‘Satans’ head to a diner in the middle of the Californian desert and set about hacking its patrons to death. When one escapes, though, they must give chase or get a serious slap on the wrist.
The film’s low budget is painfully evident here, which gives Sadists some serious pacing issues. Meanwhile, the actors seem to have been drafted in off the street, while dialogue like “doesn't he know I dig him?” makes the film unintentionally hilarious. But still nowhere near entertaining.
Best: Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974)
Sometimes, a title just sums it up. That’s the case with this I Spit On Your Grave - and Last House On The Left -inspired rape-revenge genre mash-up (look out for those classics on a future list).
Swedish sex symbol Christina Linberg plays a young girl who suffers horrendous abuse, dragged into a drug-filled prostitute lifestyle. But when she learns how to fight back, she decides to get her revenge on those who have wronged her. Female empowerment or female exploitation? The debate rages on…
Worst: Snuff (1976)
Remember what we said about ingredients? Sometimes they go bad. Really bad. Like with Snuff , which attempts to stir a biker gang, occult fancies and a dose of gore into the same movie. The result is a gooey mess.
It strains to weave a little Easy Rider into the formula, but the grainy picture quality and atrocious dialogue (yes, more atrocious than most exploitation films) mean Snuff really should be snuffed itself.
Best: Grindhouse (2007)
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ode to just about every film on this list. Scratched up and straining for that authentically grimy grindhouse feel, the directing duo even drafted in Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright to helm faux exploitation trailers.
Out of Planet Terror and Death Proof , it’s perhaps the former that gets the formula more perfect – a genius zombie invasion that pairs awesome effects with, yup, Rose McGowan donning a shotgun leg.
Worst: Mutant Hunt (1987)
“It's the 21st century New York and it's open season on cyborgs” teases this film’s tagline. Best stop while you’re ahead – nothing in the rest of Tim Kincaid’s attempt at exploitation horror can top the tag.
Terrible robot design (what the hell is that?!) and a script that seems to have been scribbled on loo paper, this can’t hope to pull off any of the lofty ambitions one assumes it once possessed.
Best: Women In Cages (1971)
And look, here’s the film that appeared in Planet Terror . Clearly, Quent’s a fan. “I'm a huge, huge fan of Gerry de Leon.... [ the film ] is just harsh, harsh, harsh,” he gushes, adding that the final shot is one of “devastating despair”.
The plot follows Carol, who’s banged up in jail and meets Alabama (Pam Grier, again), a lesbian guard who likes a bit of torture with her morning cereal. Together with Alabama’s lover Theresa, Carol plans her escape. One of the best examples of prison exploitation films.
Worst: Zombie Strippers (2008)
Rodriguez and Tarantino have a lot to answer for – namely the raft of crummy Grindhouse-inspired films that were given a greenlight when their double bill got people talking.
Here, Jenna Jameson makes her ‘legit’ debut, departing porn sets for movie sets. Except what kind of a movie is this? One that gets its kicks by making puns about George W. Bush getting a fourth term. Now that’s truly terrifying.
Best: Vanishing Point (1971)
America comes to life in Richard C. Sarafian’s carsploitation film, as Barry Newman trailblazes across the country, taking in a variety of stunning locations.
Of course, they’re just a gorgeous backdrop for the good stuff, as Newman attempts to drive his 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in just 24 hours. All while eluding police and causing a right pile-up. The ultimate in on-road action.
Worst: Killer Nun (1983)
Black Narcissus this ain’t. Sure, there are hysterical nuns, but Giulio Berruti’s nunsploitation film is unforgivably silly.
A morphine addicted nun is growing ever more insane by the day, and enforces of a regime of torture, lesbianism and, ultimately, death. Where’s Sister Ruth when you need her?
Best: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
God love cannibals. This ‘80s nasty caused a scandal on its release when it was revealed that animals really were killed during the making of the movie (we wonder nobody waited to read the end of credits notice).
Even Sergio Leone was a fan, writing to director Ruggero Deodato: “Dear Ruggero, what a movie! The second part is a masterpiece of cinematographic realism, but everything seems so real that I think you will get in trouble with all the world.” How right he was.
Worst: Porno Holocaust (1981)
Some people just can’t get a break. When a group of castaways wash up on a deserted island, they discover that a sex-crazed radioactive monster is on the looser. Said monster quickly rapes the women, who die thanks to his radioactive sperm.
Hoping to reach the heady heights of Cannibal Holocaust, this icky mutation ends up like a particularly bad imitation of the Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Best: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)
Oh, it’s Russ Meyer again. Presenting this as “the first exploitation-horror-camp-musical”, Valley is a frenetic, frantic journey following the three members of girl band The Kelly Affair, who head to Hollywood in search of fame.
Lesbians, wild parties, sex on tap, Valley is as wild as they come – not least during the druggy orgy at a record producer’s house, where secrets come spilling out amid the slippery fluids. The film even has a cameo from Pam Grier. Nice.
Worst: Blood Feast (1963)
The police don’t come off particularly well in this oldie. Has it ripened with age, like a vintage wine? Nope, it just looks more inept than ever.
A caterer goes about collecting various body parts from various women in order to assemble a new host for a dormant Egyptian goddess. As you do.
Best: Ebola Syndrome (1996)
Sweeney Todd gets a makeover with director Herman Tau’s warped, blood-drenched horror film. Villainous Ah Kai (Anthony Wong) shags his boss’ wife, begs her to piss on him, almost castrates himself and then descends into an Ebola-crazed rampage.
“Her nipples are the size of prunes!” he shrieks in elation after raping a sickly South African. Sick is indeed the word, but it’s also unapologetically hilarious – and an alarmingly canny appropriation of the AIDS craze.
Worst: Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)
More butcher action, but this one not a patch on Ebola Syndrome . A butcher and a baker hatch a plot to make some delicious pies using the only meat going – human. The butcher kills folks and delivers them to the baker, who turns them into lovely delicacies.
Yes, there’s a bit with a booby in a pie. Poor Sweeney Todd must be turning in his gravy.
Best: Straw Dogs (1971)
Still controversial today thanks to its pivotal rape scene, Straw Dogs was banned here in the UK thanks to that very scene where Susan George is taken advantage of. Why so controversial? She seems to actually enjoy the experience. Eeshk.
Now, Dogs still retains its grimy, horrifying power, its essay on sex and isolation just as chilling as it was back in the day. Wonder if James Marsden’s 2011 remake will be quite as brave.
Worst: Ratman (1988)
Considering its poster rips off Jaws , we know we’re not standing on particularly firm terrain here. Even director Giuliano Carnimeo didn’t want to be associated with this trash, using a pseudonym instead.
The plot, such as it is, sees womens’ bodies turning up hideously mutilated. Could a giant rat-thing be responsible? Yeah, it’s total pap. Need further proof? “He’s the critter from the shitter!” is the film’s tagline. We rest our case.
Best: Ilsa: The She Wolf Of The SS (1974)
Nazisploitation! The first and best of the lot, Ilsa throws its nutso concept right out there and makes absolutely zero apologies for it.
Dyanna Thorne is the rather curvy Nazi medical office Ilsa, who’s obsessed with her perverted experimentations – which seek to prove that women can withstand more pain than men. Cue heaps of sex and violence (this is the perfect movie for anybody with a very short concentration span), and sleaze by the shipload.
Worst: Bitch Slap (2009)
Ah, more post- Grindhouse garbage. Just look how it’s all been watered down since the ‘70s, with plot devices recycled, and the formula – boobs, guns and violence – now beyond snore-worthy.
“The idea is to amuse anyone who's not offended by all the over-baked violence, bad acting and slapping babeage, but it's so heavy-handed and hyper-stylized that any extant wit gets smacked into submission,” wrote the SF Chronicle . “It's just not any fun.”
Best: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Who says torture porn started with Saw and Hostel ? This 50 year old nasty got the jump on that trend before the name Eli Roth had even been dreamed up.
Taking full advantage of Technicolor filming, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ splatter film is more claret-soaked than an abattoir, and stars Playmate Connie Mason to boot. Robert Englund headed up a 2005 remake-spin-off with 2001 Maniacs , but couldn’t attain these grisly heights.
Worst: Basket Case (1982)
Hysterically dreadful title = hysterically dreadful movie. A young boy is born with a parasitic twin attached to his shoulder. When the abhorrent thing is removed, the young boy keeps his twin in a basket and feeds him.
Sad thing is, when said boy tries to track down the doctors who removed his twin, said twin turns out to be a murderous maniac with a thirst for blood. One to watch after a six pack of beers.
Best: The Bonnie Parker Story (1958)
“A terrific gangster movie,” reckons sploitation-lover Tarantino, “but an A.I.P-style gangster movie which were more like juvenile delinquent movies dressed up as ‘30s gangster movies.”
Released amid a flurry of late-‘50s gangster biopics, Bonnie Parker is notable for its refusal to water down the tougher aspects of Clyde Barrow’s colourful life. A thrilling alternative to the more famous Bonnie & Clyde.
Worst: Evils Of The Night (1985)
Okay, what?! The plot for this nutty film sees sexy teens get kidnapped by mechanics who are working for aliens, who have taken over a hospital.
So, basically, it’s Friday The 13th meets War Of The Worlds . Except nowhere near as cool as that sounds. Dreadful stuff.
Best: Dont Answer The Phone (1980)
Originally titled The Hollywood Strangler , this ‘80s horror ups the sleaze factor of Maniac and has been deemed “an unpleasant and deeply disturbing work of trashy cinematic art”.
Nicholas Worth gives us his best impression of a demented serial killer (and nails it to the wall), while prostitutes flail, pimps get mean, and people are strangled all over the place. It also features one of the best mental breakdowns ever filmed.
Worst: Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead (1979)
What’s less sexy than a corpse? A corpse doing it badly. Which can basically be said for this film in its entirety. It’s porn, but it’s not. It’s horror, but it’s not.
Really, Joe D'Amato’s film doesn’t know what it wants to be, straddling genres but never satisfying either side of the fence. Terrible dubbing, too. Grab a copy of Beyond The Darkness instead.
Best: Braindead (1992)
Hard to imagine that the soppy old sod who brought us the bromantic Lord Of The Rings trilogy was responsible for this gooey vomit-fest. That said, Peter Jackson did film JRR Tolkien’s previously considered “unfilmable” novels, and here he commits to celluloid an entire army of impossible material.
Crazy newborns rampaging about, death by lawnmower, nuns, a fist through the back of the head and out the mouth... It may be called Braindead , but it’s cleverly crafted stuff.
Worst: Night Of The Bloody Apes (1969)
Cinema’s played host to many a Night. Living Dead. Lepus . Then, in an attempt to come up with something completely original, we had Night Of The Bloody Apes.
Which is just as bloody ridiculous as it sounds. When a mad scientist (are there any other kind?) saves his son by giving him an ape heart transplant to replace his failing organ, said son turns into a sex-crazy monkey hybrid thing. Completely bonkers; and not in a good way.
Best: Shaft (1971)
Private investigator Shaft is firm but fair, waging war on the city’s criminals and garnering respect from both cops and mobsters alike.
Full of sass, this is Richard Roundtree’s defining performance. Complex thriller trappings are left at the door in favour of moral questions and action to die for.