Once you’ve burned through your domestic supply of schlock, it’s inevitable that you must go abroad to find new frontiers of pop culture outside the norms. Thankfully, this is never a problem because schlock is a universal language. In every country, there are always filmmakers who want to get their eccentric, uninhibited visions to the masses and budget-minded entrepreneurs who are willing to make it happen as long as they can rake in a few quick bucks.
Better yet, these international flavors of schlock offer an interesting, funhouse-mirror glimpse into other cultures. By exploring a country’s cultural throwaways, you can get an interesting insight into the customs and attitudes that often get left out of the history books. But how to find these oddball portals into foreign cinema? Don’t worry: there are plenty of guides that will help you find your way down the many international paths to schlock. Here are a trio of Schlockmania’s personal favorites…
IMMORAL TALES: EUROPEAN SEX & HORROR CINEMA 1956–1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs (1995 – St. Martin’s Press): If you’re going to get knee-deep in cinematic schlock, one of the first things you need to learn is that some of the most intense, brain-melting examples of the form come from overseas. Immoral Tales offers an in-depth look at the most important practitioners of Eurotrash erotica and horror, with detailed biographical info and critical essays on fan favorites like Jesus Franco, Jean Rollin, etc. Basically, any crackpot Euro-auteur that can spark fights on a cult-movie message board is here and each is treated with an appropriate mixture of appreciation and criticism. Lurid poster art and even more lurid nudie stills festoon the accompanying pages, doing their part to convey the overripe, fetishistic visual appeal of the films being discussed. There are also explorations of various themes and motifs that recurrently turn up in Eurotrash and an invaluable index of important genre filmmakers and performers, complete with little capsule notes on each entry to clue the reader into the why’s and wherefores of their significance. Who says foreign film isn’t accessible?
MONDO MACABRO: WEIRD AND WONDERFUL CINEMA AROUND THE WORLD by Pete Tombs (1998 – St. Martin’s Griffin): The sequel to Immoral Tales takes its search for schlock from Europe into other international territories… and it hits multicultural paydirt in the process. Each chapter deals with a different country and the author unearths a fascinating amount of material on the history of genre and exploitation filmmaking in each locale. Significant personalities and trends particular to a certain country get discussed in detail along the way: for instance, the chapter on Brazil devotes a lot of time to the efforts of horror legend Jose Mojica Marins and the chapter on Hong Kong filmmaking offers some intriguing information on the wave of “Brucesploitation” chopsocky epics that capitalized on the death of Bruce Lee. The book also incorporates a lot of detail on the customs and political/social climate of each country, thus allowing the reader to understand how these elements shaped the output of said country’s genre filmmakers. This gets particularly fascinating when it discusses how regional folklore often collided with a country’s attempts to imitate popular Hollywood films: one of the loopiest examples is Lady Terminator, a wild supernatural/action opus that reconfigures the Indonesian legend of the South Seas Queen as a female-centric ripoff of The Terminator, complete with scenes that recreate its key action highlights. Best of all, Tombs utilizes the polished prose and scholarly analytical style one would expect from an English writer but also incorporates a genuine, contagious sense of fun. In short, this is a necessity for anyone who wants to dive into the international frontiers of schlock (it’s also a dandy companion guide to the DVD releases issued on Mondo Macabro, the DVD label that Tombs has masterminded in recent years).
SEX & ZEN & A BULLET IN THE HEAD by Stefan Hammond (1996 – Fireside): There are plenty of good books on HK cinema but this is Your Humble Reviewer’s personal fave and perhaps the most useful. This compact trade paperback works both as a reference and a start-to-finish read: it breaks down Hong Kong’s many flavors of genre cinema into easily digested chapters on particular film styles (heroic bloodshed, chick fight epics) or particular dominant personalities (like John Woo and Jackie Chan). Every chapter includes a solid essay that blends fanboy enthusiasm with intriguing nuggets of trivia plus a fistful of short reviews of the notable flicks for that chapter’s particular area/personality. A true sign of their specialist knowledge is that the authors include several lists of memorable moments in otherwise less-than-noteworthy films: Hong Kong genre cinema is often a cinema of moments, especially when you are dealing with its pure-bred schlock, so this particular feature comes in very handy for anyone looking to track down the genre’s extremes with ease. In short, Sex & Zen & A Bullet In The Head is as useful as it is fun to read and this makes it an ideal companion both at the video store and on the bookshelf.