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.