Exploiting the Opportunity to Write an Ebook about Exploitation Films
Hollywood films have happy endings; guy saves girl, girl gets guy, happy ever after for all. Exploitation films are different. Sometimes things turn out okay – in the old Hammer Horror Dracula films, Dracula is defeated with the clockwork thump of a stake and the good guy goes off with the good girl, much as they would in Hollywood.
Just as often in exploitation films, though, everything ends badly for everyone…
In Jack Hill’s 1971 women-in-prison sleazefest The Big Doll House, pretty much everybody dies or is recaptured save for the leading lady, who is gratuitously carted back to prison in the last moment of the film. In Wes Craven’s 1972 The Last House on the Left, the film ends with murderers murdered in an orgy of blood and vindictiveness#; hardly a feel good denoument. Friday the 13th films generally have a stopping point with Jason dead, but since Jason always comes back to life it’s more a pause in the carnage than a satisfying happily ever after.
Romero’s Living Dead films start and end with the apocalypse — which I suppose could be considered happy, depending on how you feel about the continued existence of the humanity.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with happy endings. Jane Austen’s my favorite novelist. But when everybody has to marry and be joyful and save the world, it can get a little repetitive — even oppressive. You start to feel like you have to be happy all the time yourself. Besides, is anyone really pleased when Tom Cruise defeats the bad guys? Wouldn’t it be more enjoyable, just once, to see him get killed and watch his enemies bathe in his blood?
I personally think so, but given the popularity of Tom Cruise films that do not end with him bloodily decapitated, this is obviously a minority opinion. And minority opinions don’t get up on Hollywood screens. Only majority opinions — defeating the Empire, and gamboling self-actualized empowerment — appear on Hollywood screens, because they are what most of the people want.
The genius of the exploitation film was that it didn’t have to give most of the people what they wanted.
Exploitation film was low budget drive-in schlock. It wasn’t intended to sell to everyone. The majority of people didn’t go to exploitation films to see big stars and get empowered. Instead, a smaller group of people went to see sex and violence — and as long as directors threw those in, there was a lot of room to do whatever else those directors wanted, from flat out sadistic fantasy (looking at you Jess Franco) to feminism in a roller-rink shootout.
A smaller audience can be a chance to be weirder, for better or worse. ..
The internet in some ways has intensified the logic of all-things-to-all-people-all-the-time. Our amazing advances in communications technology mean everyone can think the same thing at exactly the same time, sharing the same cute goat-meets-cat video before clicking over to the thinkpiece about how the Game of Thrones finale perfectly elucidates Brexit in 5 GIFs.
For writers like me, who often write for mainstream venues, this logic means writing a lot about the same few things, over and over. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, superheroes, James Bond. Have I written a Beyoncé superhero thinkpiece, you ask? Yes. Yes I have. Google it if you dare.
But even as the internet taketh away with one click, yay, it giveth back with another. Because at the same moment the web insists you must write for everyone, it also, through the miracle of ever-expanding search functionality, allows you to write for the four people who want to read Weiss Kreuz fan fiction, or for the four people who want to read minotaur porn.
And as it turns out, there are a lot more than four people who want to read minotaur porn…
There are enough people who want to read minotaur porn (or related genres, like bigfoot porn) that some folks have made $30,000 a month selling ebooks through Amazon devoted exclusively to big monsters ravishing one another. So many monsters ravished, in fact, that Amazon got really disturbed and started to censor the books — which just goes to show that even when you’re out of the mainstream, the mainstream will drag you under, and yes, your minotaurs too.
I doubt I’m going to make $30,000 a month with my own little ebook on exploitation film. Lengthy literary analysis of sex with giant mind-controlling wasps is always going to be less popular than straightforward descriptions of sex with giant mind-controlling wasps; this is the way of the world.
Like many an ebook, my own Fecund Horror: Slashers, Rape/Revenge, Women in Prison, Zombies and Other Exploitation Dreck is a work of foolishly desperate aspiration and hope. Maybe, maybe, if I write about things I love and care about — things like shit-colored sex slugs, why 50s women-in-prison films are different from 70s women-in-prison films, why Halloween is better than Psycho, which are the greatest rape/revenge films — maybe, I say, someone will want to read about those things too. And then I can take my 70% cut of sales, and go write about other, different obscurities. Maybe I can even write that book about Project Runway the world hasn’t exactly been waiting for.
You say I’m a dreamer? Well, yeah.
One fantasy, when you’re a writer, is to be universally beloved and admired — George R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling or Ta-Nehisi Coates. I would like to be those people, I admit it. But there’s also a smaller yet also satisfying fantasy, which is that you get to write what you want and some small subset of people are interested enough to pay you to cover your expenses.
My friend, Phil Sandifer is an inspiration; he writes about Dr. Who and British comics and the occult and futurism, and while the whole world doesn’t rally around him, enough people do. So, I’m giving it a shot as well.
Maybe the outcome will be gruesome… but that’s the risk you take when you’re not ready for the main screen.
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