Loving schlock means hav­ing a healthy, irrev­er­ent appre­ci­a­tion for the rude, the crude and the social­ly unac­cept­able.  Those in the know will be quick to tell you that the most direct route to films that ful­fill those three cri­te­ria is the one that ends in front of a grind­house.  For those who only know the term from the Tarantino/Rodriguez opus of a few years back, a “grind­house” refers to the­aters usu­al­ly locat­ed in urban areas that spe­cial­ized in the most sala­cious and grungy cin­e­mat­ic fare imag­in­able.  Said the­aters were often hasti­ly-con­vert­ed bur­lesque venues that spe­cial­ized in “bump & grind” dance rou­ti­nes, hence the name…

Simply put, grind­house fare has become a reli­gion to an ever-grow­ing cult of film­go­ers who crave the illic­it thrills of a more dan­ger­ous, less polit­i­cal­ly-cor­rect era.  Plenty of peo­ple have appoint­ed them­selves grind­house experts to answer this call but only a select few walk the walk as skill­ful­ly as they talk the talk.  The fol­low­ing trio of books high­light true experts in action, two of them deal­ing in mul­ti-gen­re grind­house fare and the third spe­cial­iz­ing in hor­ror with a grind­house fla­vor.  All three titles are wor­thy of a schlock fan’s study and devo­tion.

SLEAZOID EXPRESS by Bill Landis (2002 — Fireside): Simply put, this is one of the best books ever writ­ten on the sub­ject of grind­house cul­ture. This is because Sleazoid Express was writ­ten by some­one who was at ground zero dur­ing its hey­day: Bill Landis spent a lot of time in the Times Square’s most noto­ri­ous grind­hous­es dur­ing the 1970’s and 1980’s, includ­ing stints as a pro­jec­tion­ist and a the­ater man­ager, and pub­lished the famous zine that gives this book its title.  As a result, he is able to vivid­ly recre­ate the set­ting and provide an invalu­able insider’s per­spec­tive: Landis offers a ton of back­ground mate­ri­al that will be news to even vet­er­an grind­house fans – the chap­ter on Mondo pio­neers Jacopetti and Prosperi is a real eye-open­er –  and, despite some fac­tu­al errors about the films them­selves, his analy­ses of grind­house fare are smart and impas­sioned.  He also presents his mate­ri­al in a unique way, orga­niz­ing his looks into var­i­ous film­mak­ers and sub­gen­res by start­ing each chap­ter with a “you are there”-styled explo­ration of a speci­fic Times Square grind­house where that mate­ri­al was pop­u­lar.  The sleazy, 42nd Street ambiance that Landis so skill­ful­ly evokes here makes this book a must read for any­one with even a pass­ing inter­est in grind­house fare.

SLIMETIME by Steven Puchalski (1996 – Critical Vision): This is one of the new­er influ­ences on Your Humble Reviewer’s grind­house tastes. I picked up this book after becom­ing a fan of Puchalski’s cur­rent zine, Shock Cinema.  This tome gath­ers togeth­er a series of short reviews Puchalski and a few com­pa­tri­ots penned for his 80’s-era zine Slimetime.  Like Puchalski’s cur­rent efforts, the­se reviews cov­er every­thing from grind­house favorites to art-house obscu­ri­ties and the writ­ing style presents it all with a sig­na­ture mix of enthu­si­asm, irrev­er­ence and sly insight into what defines good fringe film­mak­ing.  This is a per­fect style for dyed-in-the-wool schlock fans because it is savvy with­out being pre­ten­tious and has fun with the mate­ri­al – the ide­al way to expe­ri­ence schlock.  Slimetime also makes a good com­pan­ion to the Psychotronic books because it offers a bit more detail and opin­ion in its reviews.  The book is round­ed out by a series of well-researched essays on bik­er, blax­ploita­tion and drugs films, plus a bonus sto­ry about a Hunter S. Thompson appear­ance that Puchalski attend­ed.  In short, this is a vital addi­tion to a schlock fan’s grind­house-study reper­toire.

DEEP RED HORROR HANDBOOK Edited by Chas Balun (Fantaco – 1989): When Your Humble Reviewer was at the height of his teenage obses­sion with the hor­ror gen­re, Chas Balun was his favorite writer on the sub­ject and this book was his blood-stained bible.  For those of you who aren’t famil­iar with the man’s work, Balun was the most opin­ion­at­ed and fear­less rab­ble-rouser on the hor­ror press scene of the 1980’s.  Genre fans still debate his mer­its but as far as Yours Truly is con­cerned, his wit, pas­sion and fear­less love of  div­ing into the genre’s dark­est cor­ners made up for any per­ceived laps­es of taste or judge­ment.  He’s the rare gen­re crit­ic who can appre­ci­ate an acknowl­edged clas­sic for all the right smar­ty­pants rea­sons AND out­line all the joys of a schlocky expe­ri­ence with a fanboy’s crazed pas­sion.  Even if you total­ly dis­agree with his opin­ion on some­thing, his “Lester Bangs of hor­ror” writ­ing style was enter­tain­ing enough to keep you read­ing.  Deep Red Horror Handbook dish­es up a series of fun, fan-mind­ed essays penned by Balun and his com­pa­tri­ots from Deep Red mag­a­zine on var­i­ous eso­ter­ic hor­ror-fan top­ics: my per­son­al favorites are a great arti­cle on taboo-trash­ing movies that “look you in the eye and spit” and Greg Goodsell’s wit­ty overview of leg­endary brain-melt­ing bizarre schlock epics like Black Devil Doll From Hell and Don’t Go Near The Park.  Best of all, it also throws in an updat­ed-for-1989 ver­sion of Balun’s Gore Score cap­sule hor­ror review guide that lets you know where he stands on the hor­ror flicks of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  To enhance the row­dy, fan-friend­ly aspect of the book, each cap­sule comes attached with two rat­ings – a 1-to-4 skull rat­ing that sums up the film’s artis­tic mer­its and 1-to-10 ‘splat’ count that out­li­nes how much blood is spilled.  How could a hor­ror addict not love a book with this sort of approach?