Welcome To The Amazon Grindhouse

Jul 2, 2020
At this point it is indisputable that Netflix are the premium streamer in the business, offering up a wealth of global content, from TV and movie classics, but leaning towards a greater emphasis on homegrown content.  We’ve seen shows like Stranger Things and Tiger King capture the zeitgeist, while films like Extraction and Bird Box have done phenomenally well in terms of audience reach (and let’s not forget acclaimed masterpieces such as Roma and The Irishman). Disney+ have a strong back catalogue (including the output from Marvel and Lucasfilm) and have made a significant impact right out of the gate with The Mandalorian. It’s probably too early to say what will happen with Apple TV, but they’ve certainly got a lot of talent on board.

But what of Amazon Prime?

They’ve produced some decent TV shows over the last few years but you would be hard pressed to find one that brought everyone immediately to the virtual water cooler to discuss (Fleabag is a co-production with the BBC, so I’m not counting that).  They’ve invested in some great movies such as Manchester By The Sea and You Were Never Really Here, but most of their original films receive some sort of cinematic release in the first instance, so the arrival of these on streaming is never much of an event.

So what else have they got? Turns out, a heck of a lot.

Lockdown and cinema closures afforded me an opportunity and an incentive to dive deeper into Amazon’s catalogue to see what was available. Initially looking for more in the way of what would be described as ‘classic’ cinema, I stumbled across an unexpected treasure trove of more 'low brow' material: exploitation flicks, B-movie delights, grindhouse classics - Amazon Prime is packed with a seemingly endless supply of this kind of stuff and, what’s more, a great deal of it is in sparkling high definition.

Everybody's tolerance of this kind of thing will vary and there’s unquestionably some irredeemable trash available - it is often the scroller's equivalent of gold panning to find anything half decent and even then it’s a gamble - but even so, many of these pictures, despite the necessary elements of nudity and violence crowding out a sensible narrative along with the obvious lack of budget in most cases, often have a charm and energy that makes them endearing, to varying degrees. And, every now and then, you discover something that rises above its origins to become genuinely great.

If you're after Blaxploitation rarities, blood-soaked Italian horror, knife-weilding slasher flicks, badly dubbed king fu movies or gory sci-fi oddities, Amazon Prime may very well have what you’re looking for.

Movie poster Cannibal Holocaust 1980

You could start with Cannibal Holocaust (1980), the notorious video nasty and progenitor of the ‘found footage concept’, and decide for yourself whether it really warranted director Ruggero Deodato being (inevitably unsuccessfully) tried for murder when the film was mistaken for a snuff movie.

Movie poster showing roaring grizzly bear towering over girl sitting by campfire

Or how about Grizzly (1976), a cheap Jaws knock-off featuring a rampaging 18 foot bear that kind of looks like a regular size bear for most of its fleeting appearances. Cheap but successful, it held the record for highest grossing independent film worldwide until Halloween knocked it off the top spot a couple of years later.
 
Poster for Chopping Mall
 
For a bit more of sci-fi theme, maybe Chopping Mall (1986) with its out-of-control killer shopping mall robots (yes, really) making short work of any teenagers foolish enough to engage in sexual activities in their general vicinity.

Movie poster showing images of female gladiators brandishing weaponry

Perhaps you can be tempted by a ferocious performance or two by the incomparable Pam Grier.  The Arena (1974) is a female-fronted riff on Spartacus with some arresting low budget sword and sandals action, given some spiky energy by Grier who adds a modern edge to the more sleazy toga-draped elements. And then there’s The Big Bird Cage (1972), with Grier in rebel mode for a film where the plot keeps teasing that it actually knows where it's going and will eventually apply some actual logic to the ‘women in prison’ shenanigans.

Movie poster with ferocious pigs attacking

And if logic really isn’t your thing, you can indulge in some pure WTF-ness of Pigs (1973) (aka Daddy’s Deadly Darling), a rambling supposed-horror about man-eating swine that features little in the way of hogs chowing down on human flesh, seems to detour into issues of mental health (!) but generally feels like they made it up as they went along.

Movie poster with several girls on the floor looking up at a man wielding a huge drill

For those seeking slasher thrills, why not try The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)? It sticks to the formula by and large, but does generate a modicum of suspense, and is notable for having a female writer and director (Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones), which perhaps explains why the psychopath wielding an extremely large tool eventually finds justice is served by the fairer sex.

Giant horned insect bat thing looms over bikini clad woman

If you feel you’ve watched Alien too many times (really??) perhaps an Alien knock-off will fit the bill? Forbidden World (1982) (aka Mutant) has an experiment going wrong and a genetically engineered lifeform picking off the inhabitants of a research station when they’re not engaged in carnal activities. Cheapo special effects, a steady supply of naked flesh and short enough that it almost doesn’t outstay its welcome.

movie poster with Chinese characters and a hero in kung fu pose

On the more influential end of the spectrum is King Boxer (1972) (aka Five Fingers Of Death), a Shaw Brothers production often credited with kickstarting the kung fu boom in the 1970s (arriving prior to Enter The Dragon). It seems enormously familiar territory now but the fights are well staged and energetic and with the dubbing intact it does retain an air of parody that the general authenticity of the production eventually overrides.

Movie poster depicting two girls, one with a gun and the other in a seductive pose

Last but by no means least, Bonnie’s Kids (1973) offers a nihilistic take on the criminal underworld, a place for hardened crooks only, where crime tourists won’t survive. Strip away some of the more lurid trappings and you have something darker and more desperate, with sociopaths mixing with those who do exhibit some form of moral compass (just). There’s more than a few elements on display to mark it out as a clear inspiration for Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more discoveries to be found, along with some that are easily worth skipping - such as Big Bad Mama, an aimless crime sexploitation picture that wastes Angie Dickinson and can’t be saved by a William Shatner appearance – but there’s a real joy in finding that rough jewel that can hold its own in theme and content against some more high brow material.

Your journey into Amazon’s Grindhouse can now commence!

NB: All films were available on Amazon UK Prime at the time of writing.

Comments

  1. As a fan of exploitation cinema I agree that Amazon has loads to offer.
    I was stunned at the quality of both Samurai Cop and killing America Style (both starring Robert Z'dar) and enjoyed revisiting Grizzly since I watched it as a kid in the late 70's.
    Can l ask if Cannibal Holocaust is uncut? I still think this is an incredible piece of cinema that still packs a punch.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cannibal Holocaust is cut, director-approved I believe, some edits have been made to the scenes involving live animals (they ones where they're not live by the end of the scene!).

    I'll add Samurai Cop and Killing America Style to the list - thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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