Customer Reviews: Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
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on March 26, 2005
It's amusing to read down the reviews and see the usual angels on the head of a pin discussions about inclusion and exclusion that seem to always occur between schlock devotees, along with the justifiable praise this wickedly amusing documentary deserves. This stuff is all subjective, so I'll just state my opinion, which is that this movie is splendid and that the filmmakers got it pretty much exactly right in the balance they strike between teenage exploitation and the "adults only" variety -- I clocked it, and it works out to pretty much a 50/50 split, which is how it ought to be if you're focusing on the actual exploitation production and distribution patterns of the 60s and not the films like Corman's "Bucket of Blood" which have gone on to individual fame through constant TV airings.

There was a lot of crossover between the teen exploitation and sex exploitation worlds, and it could be argued that "SCHLOCK!" could do a better job of demonstrating this; for example, there is no discussion of the fact that Sam Arkoff's teenage-themed AIP handled films by sexploiteers Harry Novak and Doris Wishman, in Wishman's case under the "Hallmark" bannerhead, which was created for movies too offensive to run under the schlock AIP monniker! But by blending these two worlds, this documentary makes a point that needs to be made, which is that the teen exploitation filmmakers and the sex exploitation filmmakers were two sides of the same outsider coin, and sometimes their relationship was even closer than that shopworn analogy makes it seem.

Many latter day schlock fans get their opinion about the nature of this bizarre movie world from television, which celebrates the goopy monster pics of the Roger Cormans and Ed Woods on a regular basis but which has refused to show the equally public and popular adults only fare that packed in theatregoers back in the 60s, and so a lot of the hardcore fans don't realize that sexploitation was a parallell universe in a similar orbit on the other side of the generation gap, a point this film makes elegantly and persuasively. How many "Plan 9 From Outer Space Fans" realize that Ed Wood ended his career making "monster nudie" exploitation movies for cult sexploitation producer A.C. Stephens, for example? Without realizing it, the "official" schlock history neglects more than half the movies the exploitation filmmakers created. This documentary corrects for this problem, and so has a thing or two to tell even some of the more devoted schlock afficianados about what was what back in the day. The eyewitness testimonials of the actual filmmakers are priceless, and should settle the question as much as it's possible to do so.

The fact that these people nailed down what to my knowledge is the only serious interview cult icon Doris Wishman ever sat for would be reason enough to buy this pic -- the terrific interviews with David Friedman and Sam Arkoff among others make this a must have too. I wished this movie was longer, and was going to give it four stars as a result, but I decided that if that's your worst criticism, maybe that's not a criticism after all.
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on April 15, 2005
Do they let us contradict people on this site? Because I'm looking down the comments and I see one guy who is saying this movie misspells the word "SCHLOCK" (I'm Jewish, it's a yiddishism, and they spelled it correctly, "SCHLOCK," not "shlock" as this incorrect spellchecker viewer says it should be) and another guy who says that sexploitation movies aren't part of the "schlock" genre (this despite the fact that the most articulate interview subject in this movie -- an honest to God theoretician of the exploitation realm -- is David F. Friedman, a key figure in sexploitation).

I mean, c'mon, ask yourself, is Russ Meyer an exploitation moviemaker, is he a "schlock" auteur? Answer: Of course. So why wouldn't his sexploitation competitors, who are a part AND ONLY A PART of this movie also be considered "schlock" filmmakers? They should be, and in this movie they are.

Sam Arkoff and Roger Corman get half this movie's running time, which seemed like plenty to me, since so much more has been written and said about them than the Doris Wishmans of this world. Speaking of Doris: as an aspiring "bad girl" filmmaker, I gotta say, I found her absolutely inspirational. "Bad Girls Go To Hell" indeed!

I think the guy who was unwilling to admit that sexploitation movies are exploitation movies needs to watch this thing again, and more closely. He'll have a good time if he does to, and so will you, dear and gentle reader.

Wishman forever!
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on January 28, 2004
In Schlock! The Secret History Of American Movies, Ray Greene brings us up close and personal with the seamier side of film presenting, in great detail, the history of the exploitation film genre that thrived on the fringes of Hollywood.
From road shows presenting 'educational' films, nudie cuties, grind house fair, roughies, and most any kind of exploitation genre you can name, we get up close and personal with the people involved in making and starring in these films. Greene talks to such notable figures as Roger Corman, David F. Friedman, Dick Miller, Samual Z. Zarkoff, Forry J. Ackerman, Harry H. Novak, Doris Wishmen, Vampira, and many more.
We learn how these films came about, how they evolved in reference to society, and how mainstream Hollywood eventually co-opted the format. We also learn interesting details about financing of the films, the film makers experiences with censorship, and how these small, low or no budget films actually outpaced Hollywood releases at times in drawing attendees. What I found really interesting was how, these directors and producers really zeroed in on what the public wanted, what the public wasn't getting from mainstream movies, and made heaping mounds of money doing it. Once the mainstream industry saw the kind of money being made, they would begin to incorporate the material presented in these seedy, little movies, forcing the exploitioneers to find even more shocking and enticing material to release on an unsuspecting public.
At a running time of about 90 minutes, this documentary certainly doesn't cover everything, but what it does cover, it does very well, between the interviews and rare film clips, and provides a fascinating glimpse into a world few get to see. It's not always a pretty journey, but I was entertained and even learned a few things.
Special features include a nuclear propaganda short titled "The Atom and Eve", behind the scenes footage with some of the directors listed above, an art gallery of exploitation promotional materials, and an audio commentary with the director Greene and a co-producer.
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Man, I hate giving a lousy review to a movie that's gotten a lot of good ones, because now everyone's gonna write in to argue it with me.

But here's the thing: "Schlock!" begins promising, with brief scenes of movies like "Teenagers from Outer Space" and "The Fast and the Furious," and an interview with '50s TV horror movie host Vampira, but then takes an abrupt right-hand turn into nudism movies and burlesque, where it spends most of its time.

Now, I agree that the nudie film circuit has a fascinating history, and I'm all for watching clips of naked young women playing volleyball, even though they're all as old as my Grandma now. But my argument is they aren't really "schlock" movies -- at least not in the same sense that the teen exploitation and monster movies of the '50s and early '60s were. And even though the movie makes a strong argument that they're related, skin flicks and cheesy teen movies really are separate genres altogether.

In that regard, the movie doesn't live up to the promise of its title, and that's a shame. The filmmakers scored great interviews with industry giants like Roger Corman and monster mag publisher Forrest J. Ackerman, as well as "schlock" stars like Dick Miller and Vampira, but they only serve to make you wish there was much more of them. In fact, while the film shows several scenes of Vampira's appearance in "Plan 9 From Outer Space," it never even mentions the movie at all. And "Plan 9" is perhaps the king of all "schlock" movies!

Where was "Robot Monster," "Teenage Zombies" or "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla"? I could name a million "schlock" movies that "Schlock!" ignores altogether, in favor of its odd concentration on nudism movies, which, while titillating (heh-heh), don't really belong here.

Two stars from me, with the hope that the next filmmaker to make a "schlock" movie documentary knows what "schlock" really is.
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on October 20, 2003
You gotta love a film that starts off with scenes from Reefer Madness: the Musical and that's just how this fantastic new documentary Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies begins. Directed by film maker and journalist Ray Greene this is a very thorough look at exploitation films and filmmakers between the forties to the early seventies starting with the road show days and ending with mainstream acceptance of exploitation. It's full of rare film clips, interviews and artwork.
The film tracks the many phases of exploitation films spawned through the years from early roots of drug, sex, hygiene and birthing road shows to nudist and nudie cutie films, the Roughies, Gore films of H.G. Lewis, AIP films to the end of the golden age of exploitation when Hollywood started to make the same kind of films with bigger budgets. It's all covered in way to enlighten the viewer rather than ridicule the films for any perceived shortcomings.
Besides the wealth of information to be garnered from the films collection of movie clips it also features a multitude of insightful interviews with many of the key figures of the exploitation film era including sexploitation king Harry Novak, the late Doris Wishman (one of America's most prolific female directors) Sam Z Arkoff of AIP (who sadly has passed away) Roger Corman one of the most successful men in Hollywood, and David Friedman who started with road shows and is still hawking films to this day. These interviews paint an interesting picture of a time when filmmakers made films to please a core audience and make their own mark rather than please the whole world.
The only disappointment for me was the lack of coverage of blaxploitation, zombie (and cannibal) and Ilsa films. Other than that it's a great film for those with an interest in exploitation films or a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the subject matter.
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on April 14, 2004
What a fun, cool, interesting and humorous movie! It takes exploitation films and presents them in a way that increases their significance and makes them accessible to everybody, not just the hardcore fans. The interviews are fascinating (yay Vampira!), and the many, many clips blow the mind. There are dozens of rare exploitation movie posters displayed, which is also cool because the poster art itself communicates a lot about what's scarey and great about exploitation. And the DVD extras are PRICELESS, especially the hilarious Harry Novak short and David Friedman's carny book pitch segment. But howcome no more Vampira?
The main contibution this film has to make is that it very carefully positions the exploitation film in a wide social context as an index of American culture in the 50s and 60s, and it does so by TAKING THE FILMS SERIOUSLY which almost nobody who loves these movies ever does. Cult movie geeks being what they are, almost everybody who watches "SCHLOCK!" will have a desire to see something else represented (I always think Allied Artists films like "Not of This Earth" get the shaft in these movies -- nobody seems to remember the main competitor to AIP). But I think that's a sign of the success of this picture, because it engages you in the history and lore of the exploitation "golden era," so much so that, despite a ton of material, you end up wanting more.
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This documentary written, directed and edited by Ray Greene features clips of independent movies made in the 1950s and 1960s at the height (relatively speaking) of exploitation movies in the United States. Along with the clips, "Schlock! The Secret History of the American Movies" has interviews with the people who made these movies. You should recognize at least some of what whizzes by here (e.g., "Nude on the Moon," "Carnival of Soul"") and if you have any familiarity with the genre you will recognize lots of names. Just be disappointed when one of these movies catches your fancy and then you discover it is not available on video or DVD.

This 2001 documentary begins by asking, "What is an exploitation movie?" An easy answer is not forthcoming, but you certainly will understand the evolution of the genre over the quarter-century in which it thrived. Greene finds the genesis of exploitation in the discovery that teenagers comprised an economic market distinct from the rather broad category of "children." I am not sure if I would privilege the arrival of Vampira on the scene as highly as Greene does, but you have to admit she makes a pretty good poster girl for the movies under discussion. Actually, the youth oriented films (e.g., "I Was a Teenage Werewolf") get rather short shift in "Part I: The Fast and the Furious," although it does introduce Roger Corman's work at A.I.P. and explores the idea that there are examples of exploitation films that might actually be meaningful (not that their creators are aware of such depth). There is also an emphasis on the idea that with exploitation movies it is how you sell these things that matters more than whether or not they are any good (because they usually are not).

Court rulings on obscenity set up "Part II: Sinema," which is the most interesting part of the documentary because Greene shows how the industry got from sex films dealing with the miracle of birth and "hygiene" issues, to the nudist camp films of Doris Wishman, to the Nudie Cuties and the films of Harry Novak. Once exploitation films go "Across the Great Divide" in Part III, and we get to the emphasis on blood and gore that has an impact on the sexploitation films and we get to what are called the Roughies. So if you are not interested in sexploitation you are going to be disappointed with "Schlock!" because this is where Greene is able to make his best academic arguments. Really. You can only look at so many naked women and Greene's analysis and the interview clips with Wishman and Novak are a lot more interesting.

The final section returns Corman to see what he was up to in the 1960s and looks at how what was happening at the end of the decade with the ratings system and "Midnight Cowboy" ended up sounding the death knell for exploitation flicks. The concluding argument is that today ALL movies are examples of exploitation, and during the end credits while we watch people walk by a poster for "Godzilla" ("Size does matter"), which reinforces the idea that today all movies are "exploitation" by definition. It is interesting to see these filmmakers point out that today movies have their best days and weeks when they open, which was the trademark of exploitation films in their heyday, versus the way movies from major studios would build momentum over time.

In terms of DVD extra we begin with behind the scenes footage with sexploiters Harry Novak (takes us on a tour of his office), Dorish Wishman (interview outtakes), and David F. Friedman (demonstrating a typical "sex hygiene" book pitch). Then Greene talks about "Sci-Fi: Science and Symbols" in a short clip for a television documentary and we have the short, "The Atom and Eve," a surreal industrial film from the early 1960s produced by the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, which uses buxom dancer Leslie Franzos to sell nuclear power (as Greene wryly notes in the card introducing this one, "Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder").

For Audio extras there is a KPCC Radio interview with Greene, the songs "Your One and Only Original Lizard Brain" and "Under the Rug," the latter by Johnny English, who wrote the soundtrack music and liked it enough to add lyrics and make it a song. For that matter, you can listen to the entire soundtrack. There is a exploitation art gallery (most of which pops up in the documentary), credits for the filmmakers and also credits for the talking heads from Forrest J. Ackerman to Doris Wishman (which Samuel Z. Arkoff, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman and Maila Nurmi a.k.a. Vampira in between). You will also find an audio commentary track with Greene, co-producer Wade Major and special guests that really does continue to explore the topics broached in the documentary.
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on May 16, 2013
"Schlock" is a term (of endearment) that refers to low-caliber exploitation movies in general -- the cinematic equivalent of a carnival sideshow -- and covers a broad base of categories.

All exploitation movies are essentially "schlock" regardless of genre or type. In their heyday, these subterranean films dealt luridly with such subjects as sex education (V.D., unwed pregnancy, childbirth), alcoholism and drugs, crime, domestic violence, "freaks" and physical deformity (CHAINED FOR LIFE about the sexual and romantic issues of "Siamese" twins, a little-people Western called THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN), biker flicks, Gore porn, low-grade Horror, Science Fiction and monsters, teenage rebellion and under-age sexuality (HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, HOT ROD GANG), nudist camps, rock'n'roll, religion (cheap renditions of Bible stories and passion plays, fundamentalist scare films threatening horrendous hell and damnation), "nudie cutie" frolics, crappy kiddie matinee junk, Mexican Wrestling Superhero fantasies, "nudie roughies" (sadism and sexual violence), REEFER MADNESS and COCAINE FIENDS, stag reels, burlesque stripping, bondage and fetishism, homosexuality, transvestism and sex change...

You name it, schlocky exploitation and "sexploitation" films sold whatever then-"hot" or scandalous tabloid subjects establishment Hollywood would not touch and which held a powerful attraction to the baser instincts of an enormous audience stifled by social conservatism and starved by mainstream entertainment's false moralizing and sanitizing of the gamy aspects of human nature and the grit of actual life.

All these fields were ripe for exploitation, in the sense of a cynical capitalization on the morbid and horny curiosity of a public demand for the stimulation of forbidden knowledge and pleasurable, dirty sleaze.

This documentary survey does a good job of charting the progression of schlocky film culture as it pushed the boundaries from the circus-like atmosphere of its early stages through the lower strata of the teen-oriented Horror and Science Fiction genres and into the increasingly daring area of the sex film. The field is much too broad for a comprehensive exploration within the time limits of a single feature but this film will serve as a useful starting point.
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on May 24, 2008
Header pretty much says it. B-movie lovers should enjoy this one. Found the visit to Harry Novak's studio worth the price of admission alone, although they did leave out low-budget filmmakers like Andy Milligan, Brownrigg
(the guy who made Don't Look in the Basement) Ed Wood & some others. On the other hand, you get interviews with the one and only Roger Corman, Sam Arkoff, Doris Wishman, David Friedman, etc., etc.--not to mention plenty of T & A footage.

Like I said: it's for those who grew up on B-movies and continue to have an appreciation for them. Grab a brewskie, a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
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on April 10, 2004
Trying to encapsulate the entire history of "shlock" cinema (and what's with that misspelled title?) within a 90-minute documentary is a fool's errand at best but this ambitious effort, while biting off far more than it can chew, earns points for even taking a stab.
That said, SCHLOCK will probably disappoint its target audience (hardcore shlock buffs) whose initial fascination will ultimately turn to frustration as entire sub-genres (mondo flicks, blaxploitation, Ed Wood, Albert Zugsmith's big-studio B-unit) are either ignored or given the once-over-lightly treatment. More than a primer than a definite work, SCHLOCK should nevertheless satisfy newbies to the scene.
B-movie czar Roger Corman inadvertantly puts his finger on one of this docu's big problems early on, when, in the course of an on-camera interview, he points out the difficulty of even defining what an exploitation picture is. (Later, nudist-camp auteur Doris Wishman further muddies the water when she argues that ANY movie that's advertised is exploitation fodder.)
But a far bigger hurdle facing the producers of this frugally-financed opus was apparently limited access to a wider range of film clips. While still fun to watch, excerpts from old public domain titles like REEFER MADNESS and MOM AND DAD (as well as 1950's civil defense featurettes) have been over-exposed on cable and in other documentaries. As a result, the financially-strapped producers were forced to creatively pad, making liberal use of old newsreels and commercials (which, though interesting, have no real bearing on the subject at hand) while misleading viewers into believing that unidentified sequences from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is actually archival material from old Vampira (Maila Nurmi) kinescopes. Meanwhile, Russ Meyer's immeasurable contributions to the genre are dismissed with a few laudatory sentences (but no clips), while endless samples from Wishman's ouevre present practically suggest that nudist camp flicks were the backbone of the exploitation industry. In a similar vein, Corman's A BUCKET OF BLOOD rates a lengthy segment thats recaps highlights from entire film, presumably for no other reason than that rights were available.
Pic's puzzling pacing may also be the result of budget strait-jacket. Instead of getting the show off to a bang with, say, a montage of explo highlights (think of the dynamite teaser leads to SOMETHING WEIRD's video catalog), SCHLOCK begins with plodding footage of a painfully campy new stage musical based on REEFER MADNESS (!)--certainly an odd way to open a film celebrating "bad" movies, particularly when samples of that far-ranging genre are under-represented onscreen.
Insightful interviews with exploitation stalwarts Dick Miller and David J. Friedman (as well as Corman, Wishman and the elfin Nurmi, the latter two particularly delightful) help pick up the slack.
But the real scene-stealer of this piece? The kid who pops out of Mom's womb during the jaw-dropping birth-of-a-baby reel. A star is born, indeed!
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