Exploit This! — "Exploitation Trailer" is Redundant

An exploitation film is a genre of film that exploits itself through advertising and forbidden elements, rather than relying on meaningful or intrinsic content, They are shot on a low budgets, with very poor production values, and thus are regarded as B movies. Their initial reaction is generally intended to be shocking. Exploitation films usually contain a great deal of excessive gore, nudity and hardcore thrills.
—from the short documentary Exploitation Films and Grindhouse Theaters.

Exploitation films are so named not because they exploit their actors or their subject matters or their genres (although they may be said to do all of those things). They are called exploitation films because they exploit the taste and interests of audiences, primarily through sensational, graphically rich print advertising and provocative audio-visual marketing. They exploit the profit potential of a given subject or genre or style of filmmaking that has been identified as likely to sell tickets.

Whereas (in theory, at least) film is an art form originating in the expressive creative vision of its screenwriter, director and producer and presented to a public for its delectation, exploitation films are commercial products summoned into existence to meet the demand of the marketplace, to please defined and specified tastes, appetites and desires.

As my definition indicates, it doesn’t take too much pressure for this art/commerce distinction to collapse, especially when one contemplates the blockbuster sequels that proliferate during the summer. Still, the class of film that is categorized unproblematically as “exploitation” makes little or no pretense to excellence in special effects, production design, star-wattage or “source materials.”

Rather, such films exist as acknowledgedly mediocre or sub-standard products which satisfy a taste or inclination, sometimes appealing to audiences by their very lack of artistry or craft. They are journeyman productions made about “lurid” subjects for modest budgets and designed to attract the unsophisticated or undiscerning for an unwholesome experience; they are junk food for the eyes and ears and senses, which is not to say that they aren’t satisfying or appealing to high-brow audiences as well. What can be said, however, is that should they lack nourishment for the higher faculties, no one will be surprised or outraged.

Occasionally, films produced within the exploitation milieu transcend their circumstances, whether as the product of misplaced enthusiasm on the part of their filmmakers or, as happens more frequently, by the sheer accretion of mediocrity or the accidental combination of indifferent components, they somehow attain the status of kitsch, rising up by dint of their joyful, honest awfulness. (Some of John Waters oeuvre may be described as such. Multiple Maniacs anyone?)

A trailer designed to “represent” and position such a film has its own challenges to surmount and its own pitfalls to avoid. For if the film has been designed and produced in order to maximize its likely appeal to an audience, so too has the trailer for that film. A trailer is by definition an exploitation film, only — and ironically– audiences have come to have higher expectations from trailers than they do of the features they market. An exploitation film is what it is, whereas an exploitation trailer, liberated from the film as it is, and limited only by the creativity and engagement (and budget) of its distributor, can soar into a higher realm of audio-visual existence.

Joe Dante, on his TrailersfromHell website and because of his long history of assembling and exhibiting trailer compilations, well understands and exploits the advantage that an exploitation trailer has over its feature. Long format dreck (i.e. feature film) deadens and appalls, tires and irritates. Short format dreck (a trailer?) is “fun,” “outrageous” and blessedly brief. Simple reflection on past movie going experiences should suffice to prove my point. How often and how easily have we consumed and enjoyed trailers for films that we would never consider buying a ticket to see, much less watch at home on Television?

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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