Gaining prevalence in the 1970’s, exploitation films challenged the accepted standards of film at the time. Taking away more power from mainstream Hollywood, audiences were introduced to previously censored, controversial and disturbing content in film for the first times. Multiple factors contributed to the rise of exploitation; some even credit the films with the final decline of the major studio system. Many famous directors of the last decades got their starts in exploitation, using popular culture of the time to advance their influence in the film industry, eventually leading to the rise of independent studios.
Exploitation films owe much of their credit to cautionary films of the 1930’s. Skirting the established morals of the time by showcasing subjects such as drug use and premarital sex in a negative light, films like Reefer Madness were presented as educational pieces, dramatizing the horrible things that would happen to deviant pot smokers of the time. Similar films such as Sex Madness soon followed suit, showcasing the horrors of venereal diseases plaguing those who engaged in premarital sex. Maintaining Hollywood’s wholesome and clean image was a strict production code, devised to censor many films containing content that one might find disturbing. With the total vertical integration of the studio system, it was almost impossible to distribute a film containing anything objectionable.
The Paramount Decree of 1948 forced the major studio to divest their exhibition holdings including their monopoly over theaters. Soon, an increasing number of smaller theatres began appearing. This rise in independent theaters greatly contributed to a growing number of independent productions, and a widespread introduction of European art films to American audiences. These art films thrived in these smaller art film houses, where they could be exhibited free from interferences by the Hayes Code or the major studios. The popularity of these underground theaters contributed to the continued relaxation of censorship as many directors began experimenting with what “art films” could contain, and still skirt the code.
Mainstream Hollywood took yet another hit following the introduction of television to American audiences. During the 1950’s, populations began shifting to the suburbs from urban areas, and many adopted television as their new mass media of choice. Driving into the city to see a film in theaters was seen as a hassle; many families stopped going to the movies weekly like they had in the past, and Hollywood soon felt the pressure of declining audiences as well as declining profits.
This rise in television adoption meant that it had become the new “family friendly” medium of choice. Art film houses and newly introduced grindhouses saw a surge in popularity as audiences, especially the youth, started to crave something new and interesting only available outside of a major studio’s sphere of influence. In a last ditch effort to lure youthful...