AIMING TO BE a definitive survey of trash cinema, American Grindhouse looks at the past century of exploitation flicks with the enthusiasm of a rabid fan. Director Elijah Drenner quickly leads the audience through the various stages of grindhouse movies—and there were many—with narration from Robert Forster and a series of interviews with John Landis, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Fred Williamson, and others. But it's too broad an overview; we scarcely hear about one particular subgenre of splatter flick before we're onto the next.
Exploitation cinema has been around almost as long as moving pictures; 1932's Freaks and the live birth in the 1945 pseudo-doc Mom and Dad ran countercurrent to the wholesome entertainment offered by Hollywood. Through the '50s and '60s, nudist films, teen flicks, and sci-fi shlock gradually gave way to gore and sex films, before the explosion of exploitation cinema in the 1970s, which saw porn, horror, and blaxploitation finding wide audiences. The parallel stream of anti-establishment cinema is a fascinating topic, and a potentially bottomless one—were these filmmakers out to challenge the status quo, or were they merely sickos? But American Grindhouse moves too quickly, a thumbnail overview of some weird and wonderful garbage.