Trash Cinephile (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 27, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
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Author: Blake Ryan
Publisher: Stonegarden.net Publishing
Pages: 251
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Bloody hell, this is pretty post-modern – I'm writing a review of a book of reviews; positively self-referential! Or maybe that should be intertextual? Or maybe that's meta-critical? Well, whatever the wanky undergraduate terminology, Trash Cinephile is Blake Ryan's examination and exploration of exploitation cinema from the 1930s on through the reviewing of 99 exploitation flicks, broken down into 8 wide-ranging chapters.

So I guess the first question you'll be asking, is how does the author define exploitation films – let's face it, it's not an easy question to answer, so who better to explain than Mr Ryan himself, from the back cover blurb and introduction to Trash Cinephile: "Exploitation movies aren't for everyone. They are intended for a particularly unique audience demographic. A demographic that is far too cynical to sit through a whimsical romantic comedy, or a big budget event movie. They simply don't play by the same rules as other films. Anything can happen, and usually does. Exploitation cinema embraces the darker side of our psyche. These twisted cinematic experiences take our unspoken instincts, fears, social ills, and fantasies, and deliver them back to us as a socially confronting form of entertainment."

Sounds like exploitation cinema to me! Now while that's all rather serious, the tone lightens immensely once the reviews actually begin, and yet are no less sharp or insightful for it. Basically Ryan is a reviewer who wants to entertain his audience at the same time as he informs them. And inform he most certainly does – this is a motherfucker in the know. What becomes rapidly apparent as you progress through Trash Cinephile's 99 reviews (homage to 99 Women? Who can say…), is that the author loves his subject material. Let's face it: if you're willing to recommend The Beast of Yucca Flats, Hideous Sun Demon or The Clones of Bruce Lee to total strangers, you have truly opened your heart, mind and soul to exploitation cinema.

Now, I'll pretty much guarantee that the exploitation newbies amongst you would not have heard of, let alone seen the three movies I've just mentioned, let alone For Y'Ur Height Only (a Filipino James Bond rip-off starring 2ft 9" midget Weng Weng as agent 00), At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (woo-hoo! Coffin Joe!) or If Footmen Tire You…What Will the Horses Do? (has to be seen to be believed anti-Communist Christian agit-prop with lashings of gore and totally OTT violence against women and children). This book has something to offer the casual exploitation fan, those actively trying to find the weirdness, and even those who've been around the exploitation block a few times. These are movies you have to search out, which admittedly is becoming much easier in the digital age – a good and a bad thing, in my opinion. Yeah, it's great I can access so much on DVD, but where's the thrill of the chase? As Trent Haaga states in the Forward, and which I can closely empathise with: "I'm the last generation of movie watchers that can remember the thrill of the hunt, the shiver of discovery, the collector's buzz of finally being able to watch a film that I had only read about before."

So the value of this book lies in the fact that it lets you in on some of the truly weird, verging on unclassifiable films that are out there in the world, and which you know you have to track down. Not all of them are as obscure as those mentioned above – I'm sure I don't have to ask for a show of hands as to who's seen Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Rats – Night of Terror or Escape From The Bronx. Part of the value also comes from the fact that it's well-written (although I think that the proof-readers and editor needed a bit of a nudge in terms of typos, spelling of character and place names and punctuation – that is what they're paid for after all), and that it's quite an entertaining almost spoiler-free read. With some films it's almost impossible to get across their importance, strength and power without getting through the whole tale (Cannibal Holocaust, for example) – ah, the curse of the reviewer – I know it all too well. Mind you, if you hadn't seen all of the films mentioned above or others covered within like Near Dark, Future Cop, Tombs of the Blind Dead or Freaks, I'd suggest that maybe your heart really wasn't in it.

My only real criticism is that for a book about film, there aren't any pictures, and while I still think this book stands on its written merits, maybe next time (and I think quite unreservedly there should be a next time – how about: Revenge of Trash Cinephile? Or maybe Son of Trash Cinephile?) images from the films discussed, or even posters (because let's face it, that's part of the allure of exploitation right there. Oh – you disagree? Go and have a look at the artwork for Humanoids From The Deep and tell me you wouldn't watch it based on that one image) would really be beneficial – because I really do think that it would increase the appeal of the text to a less exploitation savvy crowd. I'm guessing that the cost for such (considering most of these films are still in copyright) must have been prohibitive. A shame that copyright-holders don't get the idea of letting others promote your film for free – it's not like I can't just do a Google image search and find scads of piccies from XTRO – would it kill these idiots to let someone use their images for good? Oh well…

I'm not saying that every film reviewed within is a work of genius (personally, I hope never to see either The Killer Shrews, Reefer Madness, Zoltan-Hound of Dracula or Black Gestapo ever again), but every film is reviewed well, in an engaging, personable manner, sort of like if you were sitting across a table in a pub from the author chatting about movies over beers (I know for a fact that's a legitimate analogy, by the way). Facts about the film's intent, the actors and the history of the production are introduced without sounding like showing off – like I said before, this is a knowledgeable bloke telling us what we need to know, and giving us more than just a few good laughs along the way.

In case you're wondering specifically what kind of genres of film are examined here, like I said, it's a pretty broad over-view of the whole exploitation spectrum: hysterical educational flicks, sci-fi horror, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, cannibals, killers, zombies, bikers, blaxploitation, Bruceploitation, roughies, women in prison, rape-revenge, eco-horror, juvies, and some it's extremely hard to classify further than just with the term "exploitation films." Okay, so it's not exhaustive, but then it never sets out to be. It's meant to (as I see it, and as so many of those educational films of the 50s and 60s tried to do) raise awareness about its subject matter, and moreso, get movie watchers off their bulbous pasty arses and out there looking for the goodness. As author Blake Ryan himself states in the Australian exploitation homage film Taber Corn, "That's what exploitation's all about…(it)…sells the sizzle, not the steak." By providing a picture of what's out there, and tempting the audience to go get some, Blake's cooking that steak right now, and if you can't hear that sizzle, go back to your CG showcases and big-budget re-makes of things that never needed it. There's nothing for you here.
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