Exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s are a fascinating study. Are they exploitative, as the genre asserts? Are they liberating? Both? A recent indie film, Bitch Slap (2009) attempts to parody (s)exploitation films like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Last woman on Earth, etc. While its actresses might have similar dimensions to their predecessors, the film has none of its predecessors’ soul.
Where to begin in a discussion of the plot to Bitch Slap. In a way, I could skip this portion of the review altogether. Three curvaceous women arrive at a spot in the middle of a desert in search of “the goods.” They have kidnapped a gangster who apparently knows where to find them. Things get out of hand and as the story tracks back in time to explain how they got there, the “partners” keep switching loyalties and turning on one another in some over-the-top slap fests and an ending with a twist.
Of course, plots were never central to exploitation films, nor was dialogue, editing, or…well…filmmaking in general. But one thing these films had in spades was soul…heart…a purpose. Unfortunately, Bitch Slap, a supposed parody of the genre, lacks all of the above and especially, most regrettably, the latter. One wonders with which definition of parody the filmmakers were working: (1) any humorous, satirical, or burlesque imitation, as of a person, event, etc., or (2) a poor or feeble imitation or semblance (travesty). The film fails at the former as it is not humorous or satirical and succeeds admirably at the latter because it is most poor and feeble. Its aesthetic is more akin to an Asian shock film, shot against green screens whenever the characters moved away from the desert and employing flowing bucket-loads of blood. In terms of the narrative, it would have been better had it not moved back and forth but chronologically; however, of course, the filmmakers wouldn’t have had a reason to flash back to the near-bare-chested protagonists sweating in the desert and fighting with one another.
All of this is not totally the film’s fault. Perhaps the genre, even parodies of it, are no longer needed. Mainstream films are full of nearly-nude women and tons of violence. If one wants to see more flesh, just hop on the internet. Now, it’s not that pornography didn’t exist in the ’60s and ’70s, for example, but it certainly wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. Moreover, films of the ’40s and ’50s weren’t nearly as sexually or violently explicit as they are today. Therefore, exploitation films played a subversive role, providing an alternative to a stifling cinema experience that certainly did not mirror the cultural revolutions and political upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s.
Tarantino these filmmakers are not. He crafts his films, often re-boots of a particular genre like grind house cinema, with care and respect for film history. It also helps that he is one of the greatest dialogue writers of recent cinema. Bitch Slap‘s most Tarantino-esque moment was, perhaps, its opening title sequence, an homage to great women characters in film. Unfortunately, after the sequence ends, the film provides us with some of the worst examples. Exploitation films, and their gurus like Roger Corman and Russ Meyer, proved more complex than we may initially give them credit for. Despite their exploitative nature, they often gave women and minorities a foot in the door to the filmmaking industry, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s hard to imagine that this film will launch anyone involved into the upper echelons of the industry.
If you feel like torturing yourself, Bitch Slap (109 mins.) is available on DVD and is rated R for…well…I guess you can figure it out. The DVD includes a feature-length making of documentary called Building a Better B Movie. Unfortunately, the film in no way made me want to see how it was made, but I imagine it is better than the film itself.