When Female Exploitation Films Are Flat-Out Fun

A UCLA Film & Television Archive series kicks off tonight, looking at prison flicks, biker pictures and slasher movies — made by women. It's called "No She Didn't!: Women Exploitation Auteurs," and features some hard-to-find titles with interesting themes:

LA Times writer Mark Olsen says that Doris Wishman, who made the 1965 flick Bad Girls Go to Hell, was in many ways the forerunner of the feminist exploitation genre. The movie involves a woman being raped by her janitor while her husband is at work; she kills him with a bowl. But fearing the consequences of the murder, she flees the city and travels to New York, where she changes her name and has a tryst with a woman, then gets raped by some other guy, then eventually wakes up to find it has all been a dream. Then her husband leaves for work… And the janitor comes in and rapes her. Uplifting? Here's the trailer:





Then there's Terminal Island, directed by Stephanie Rothman. The movie revolves around a an island penal colony where the male and female prisoners fend for themselves without guards. But the subtext is all about power, sexism and social upheaval. Critic Dave Kehr claims the film can be seen as a "lurid exploitation subject turned into a crafty feminist allegory… It's difficult now to believe there was a time when such progressive politics could be expressed in a drive-in movie." This is not the original trailer, but a remix that might not be safe for work, view with caution: (And check out the trashtastic poster!)





"No She Didn't" will also look at Gator Bait, what's called a "hicksploitation" movie directed by Beverly Sebastian. Kathleen McHugh, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women says: "Even in the mid-'70s, the kind of proto-feminist element was being written about… you have these powerful, self-assertive, one might even use the term 'extremely aggressive' women who are wreaking vengeance against forces, people, men who are trying to keep them down." Gator Bait, looks, in a word, awesome:





Of course, all of these films are still part of a genre which is deemed "exploitation." So you'll find gratuitous nudity, violence and general sleaze. But the female filmmakers were following what was — at the time — a viable career path in Hollywood. Notes Olsen: "Where many male filmmakers who worked the same route moved on to more respectable projects and acclaim, their female counterparts largely faded into obscurity." Still, the women making these movies injected their point of view. McHugh points out: "A significant part of feminism was women taking charge of representations of sexuality. And you clearly see, albeit in an extreme and sort of trashy way, you do see it in these exploitation films." Paul Malcolm, who is the programmer of the UCLA series, puts it this way: "The films are really flat-out fun genre films, but there's something else at work."

Female-Exploitation Films Seen In New Light [LA Times]
Bad Girls Go To Hell [YouTube]
Gator Bait [YouTube]
Terminal Island [YouTube]

[Image via MovieGoods.com]