Right now ‘Grindhouse’ fever is on the rampage, (Rodriguez/Tarantino’s “Grindhouse”), so who better to interview than 42nd Street Pete, the most well known Grindhouse aficionado/historian around.
For those of you who think ‘Grindhouse’ is a film, I’m hoping that by the end of this interview that you will be psyched to go into the lurid and sinful world of Exploitation films and find yourself a whole bunch of new films to devour.
The Naked Kiss: What is your definition of the term ‘Grindhouse’?
42nd Street Pete: My definition of the term ‘Grindhouse’ goes back to when these theatres were built at the turn of the century. Most originally were burlesque joints, hence the term “Bump & Grind” by the dancers. After that ended, these theatres ground out films sometimes 24/7 . Dave Friedman may have coined the term Grindhouse, after that as he was a big supplier of the films that ran there.
What is your opinion on the modern day ‘Grindhouse Revival’?
My opinion of the modern day Grindhouse Revival is mixed at best. I’m glad that some formerly “lost” films are being found and restored, that is the upside. The downside is that every unreleasable piece of shit is now being called ‘Grindhouse’. Someone just asked me what modern Grindhouse is: being that there are no more Grindhouse, how could there be a “modern” Grindhouse film? There isn’t, but films like Chainsaw Sally, The Atrocity Circle, Pervert,the Movie, all have Grindhouse roots.
Could you tell us a little, about the differences between the cinematic experience back then compared with today?
The movie going experience then now, what was the difference? There was a schedule of times, but no one gave a shit. You could come in the middle of a movie. You weren’t “herded out” after the films, you could stay all day. You could smoke, cigarettes or whatever, you could sneak in beer, wine, or a pint of hard stuff, you could even have sex with the low rent hookers who worked the porn grinders. You could talk back to the screen, audience participation made a Grindhouse a great place.
During Texas Chainsaw Massacre people were yelling out the girl’s hiding places to Leatherface.
Sometimes the audience was a show in itself: lover’s quarrels, drunken outbursts, fist fights etc, were all part of the fun. The damn theatres may have been run down, but were virtually indestructible. Most had that well worn comfortable seats. Don’t get me wrong, some were dangerous and never go to the rest room alone. They had cool names like the Liberty, The National, The Lyric, Variety Photoplays, the Venus(creepy porn grinder), The Embassy, and many others. What do you have now, sterile multiplexes with rules. Fuck that.
What was the craziest thing you witnessed on 42nd Street during its heyday?
What was the craziest thing I witnessed on 42nd Street? Something different every night. Once… I think it might have been in the Lyric, someone either jumped or was thrown off one of the balconies. He landed two rows behind us, feet first and was stuck in the seat which held his ankles together like a bear trap.
Once we were in the Fox Theatre in Hackensack New jersey watching a Russ Meyer double feature, Up! & Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens. During Vixens, the place went dark. No big whoop as these films broke all the time. About 15 minutes went by, way too long for a splice job. The house lights came on and the fire department was there. We were refunded our money and told to leave. We found out later that the projectionist had locked himself in and was pleasuring himself. He had a heart attack in mid stroke and the fire department had to break the door down. I could tell a hundred stories like this. It was that crazy back then.
What were some of the films that got the best audience reactions?
Films that got the best reactions… Night of the Living Dead blew everyone’s mind. People freaked out and some left the place. I saw NOTLD about 100 times on the big screen. Ravenous (AKA Jungle Holocaust, Last Survivor, Last Cannibal World) just pulverized the patrons of the Liberty theatre. Man from Deep River did the same thing to the patrons of the Castle Theatre. San Francisco Ball, an exercise in sadism, had people heading out the door of the Venus.
Cannibal Holocaust completely flat-lined the patrons of the Liberty. Women in the place were openly crying and people were vomiting. This film hit most people like a steel toed boot to the groin. Oddly enough, the film that I saw get the biggest reaction about 5 years after its initial release was The Wild Bunch. As the credits were rolling, it got to the part where William Holden said “If they move, kill them”. Then directed by Sam Peckinpah flashed across the screen and the place erupted in cheers and shouting. The pop that this film got was fuckin’ amazing and it still gets the same reaction today.
Which of your compilation DVDs would you suggest to our readers as a good introduction to 8mm loops and/or exploitation trailers?
As far as my 8mm line, I would say any of them as I hand pick the loops myself. Superstars of the 70’s Stags is my personal favourite. One of the loops got me thrown off an “adult” website for improper content. I was so proud.
Could you recommend a few must-see ‘Grindhouse’ flicks for our readers who are new to the world of exploitation films?
Must see Grindhouse Films. The very term “Grindhouse” encompasses so many different genres, that you would be hard pressed to cover all the bases. So, being in a pretty good mood tonight, I’m gonna give you the best of a couple of genres. I’ll leave out TCM, NOTLD, and other stuff that is familiar to everyone.
Horror – Blood Feast, I Drink your Blood, Grave of the Vampire, Bloody Pit Of Horror, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Dr Butcher MD, Cannibal Holocaust, Make Them Die Slowly, Mark of the Devil, Tool Box Murders, Killer Snakes, Suspiria,and Zombie.
Biker Films – Northvale Cemetery Massacre, The Losers, Satan’s Sadists, Hells Angels on Wheels,Hells Angels ’69, Bury Me an Angel,and Naked Under Leather.
Spaghetti Westerns – Sabata, Payment in Blood, Cut Throats 9, The Big Gundown, Django, The Tramplers, The Ugly Ones, The Revengers, Hunting Party, The Stranger, Blindman & El Condor
Exploitation – Ilsa: Shewolf of the SS, Assault on Precinct 13, Gestapo’s Last Orgy, Emmanuelle in America, Bullet Machine, Sadomania, Criminally Insane, Fight for Your Life & San Francisco Ball
Blaxploitation – Coffy, Slaughter, Superfly, Friday Foster, Abby, Hell Up in Harlem, The Mack,Blacula & Suger Hill and Her Zombie Hit Men.
Women In Prison- Women’s Prison Massacre, Barbwire Dolls, Big Dollhouse, Big Bird Cage, The Hot Box, Women in Cages, Savage Sisters, & Black Mama, White Mama.
Porn- Wicked School Girls, Taming of Rebecca, Insatiable, Little Orphan Dusty, Pretty Peaches,The Haunted Pussy, Forced Entry, Ride a Cocked Horse, Kneel Before Me, Rape Victims, Long Jean Silver, Tigeress and Other Maneaters and Ball Game.
Think that’s enough? Well, for now it is.
Was there any film in particular in your youth that triggered your love of exploitation films?
What triggered my love for this stuff? I guess I was born weird. I caught all the Universal Stuff on TV growing up. Then I went to a kiddie Matinee when I was 12. It was Curse of Frankenstein & Horror of Dracula. I was hooked and still am.
In the 70s we had the XXX roughie, films like Forced Entry, Water Power, Unwilling Lovers, Sex Wish, etc. Compared to those grimy, often nihilistic slices of celluloid sleaze, what do you think of the state of modern gonzo pornography and the extremes it is currently pushing toward?
What do I think of the Gonzo stuff as compared to the “roughies” back in the day? There is no comparison. Back in the day, guys got busted for showing this stuff, making this stuff, even appearing in it. Guys like Al Goldstein and a lot of others got thrown in jail for being pornographers. They broke taboos, took chances, and put out a better product. Gonzo is bullshit, it’s already been done and better. Look at any Avon Film, some are hard to watch, yet they had credible story lines, some performers who could actually act, and they took risks.
The films were films, not a bunch of scenes strung together. Actually we have gone back to the loop. A scene is basically just a video version of a loop. There is no heart in this shit. The girls are all cookie cutter blondes, there are no plot lines and the sight of a girl’s sphincter stretched out so wide that you could toss a soft ball in it, does nothing for me. When porn was commercialized, that was the end. Just another corporate entity.
Any last words?
Random thoughts. People ask me if I regret any of this adventure that I call my life. In my tenure on “The Deuce” I was stabbed twice, shot at a couple of times, got into a bunch of drunken brawls (that I usually lost), drank an ocean of cheap hooch, smoked up most of Mexico and some parts of Columbia, had sex with tons of hookers, and saw every major & minor genre release right up on the bog screen for over forty years. Do I regret any of it? Fuck no! now I can share all of this arcane knowledge with the fans who never had the chance to experience any of this.
NYC in the 70s was like the wild west. It was crazy. I left after 9/11. In 2003 , it was all over. Peepland, the last smut joint on the “Deuce” closed. Screw, our guide to anything sexual in NYC went under. And NYC Liquidators, the last big porn tape outlet that I managed, closed up when my friend and boss died in November of that year. To some it up, let me take a line from Meatloaf: “It was long ago and so far away , but it was so much better than it is today” Amen and pass that doobie.
Later, 42nd Street Pete