Low budget grindhouse gold with ‘Death Ranch’ and ‘For The Sake Of Vicious’

MAY 15 — According to Wikipedia, a grindhouse is an American term for a movie theatre that mainly shows low-budget horror, splatter and exploitation films for adults. 

Its golden age was surely the 1970s, when low-budget horror films, kung fu flicks, blaxploitation, splatter films and all sorts of other weird and crazy stuff were being actively churned out everywhere, even in US regions that people do not normally associate with filmmaking. 

There was money to be made if you’re lucky enough to end up with a hit; making millions of dollars on the back of measly budgets that most of the time do not even reach six figures. 

Just take a look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which made US$31 million (RM127 million) with a reportedly US$80,000 budget, or Halloween, which made around US$70 million on the back of a US$300,000 budget.

For most people, the word “grindhouse” probably first came to our attention, or at least the mainstream moviegoer’s attention, in 2007, courtesy of the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez project that they called Grindhouse, in which their films Death Proof and Planet Terror were shown in cinemas as a double bill, complete with fake trailers to mimic the experience of watching a double bill in a grindhouse cinema in the 1970s.

It wasn’t the great box-office success that the studio hoped it would be, but I’m sure it did pretty well on home video, to the point of a Japanese collector’s edition DVD box set of Grindhouse fetching a really handsome price, at least before the Blu-ray finally got released in the US. 

And even though grindhouse cinemas are more or less a thing of the past now, Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse more or less introduced the weird and wonderful world of grindhouse movies to a whole new generation of fans and filmmakers, resulting in plenty of new genre films being made that could easily fit in the grindhouse mould like Dead Hooker In A Trunk and Hobo With A Shotgun.

For an upstart filmmaker, trying your luck making a grindhouse flick is definitely a gamble worth taking as there’s a ready-made audience hungry for new stuff, and the normal downsides that come with low budgets are generally easily accepted and forgiven by genre fans, as long as the films show enough heart and enthusiasm, and are at least well-executed. 

So there’s really a lot of stuff to sift through out there, but I’m always more than delighted whenever I do encounter an awesome new film that fits snugly in the grindhouse genre, and it’s even more of a pleasure when the films come in pairs!

What ‘Death Ranch’ may lack in polish and subtlety, it more than makes up with its energy, enthusiasm, and all-round commitment to graphically show its splatter elements using practical effects. — Screen capture via YouTube
What ‘Death Ranch’ may lack in polish and subtlety, it more than makes up with its energy, enthusiasm, and all-round commitment to graphically show its splatter elements using practical effects. — Screen capture via YouTube

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Death Ranch

Very clearly the lower budgeted and more amateurish of the two films I’m writing about this week, but what Death Ranch may lack in polish and subtlety, it more than makes up with its energy, enthusiasm, and all-round commitment to graphically show its splatter elements using practical effects. 

An old-fashioned grindhouse splatter film that’s even set in 1971, writer-director Charlie Steeds mixes in some blaxploitation in the form of its trio of African-American lead characters — Brandon (who just escaped prison) and his siblings Angie and Clarence. 

Planning to lay low, they head for their grandfather’s old place, somewhere in Tennessee, and wouldn’t you know it, that abandoned barn is now a favourite haunt of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, who are also cannibals!

Just like its 1970s forebears, Death Ranch is quite a nasty and difficult watch, especially when setting up the film for the wholly cathartic righteous vengeance part that we all know will arrive towards the end. 

But before we arrive there, we have to witness some truly deplorable acts committed by the KKK on our three lead characters that involve racism, torture and rape, which of course makes the bloody revenge part sweeter. 

Crudely charming, this won’t win any awards but it will have you cheering!

For The Sake of Vicious

With a title like that, you know straight away what kind of movie this one wants to be, and writer-directors Gabriel Carrer (who did the outstanding The Demolisher) and Reese Eveneshen (Defective) definitely kept their end of the bargain, delivering a tight, taut, well-shot and irresistibly ultraviolent piece of grindhouse gold in just 80 minutes. 

It tells the story of an overworked nurse, Romina (played by Lora Burke from Lifechanger) returning home one night to find a stranger, Chris, holding another man, Alan (her landlord) captive, intending to punish the landlord for allegedly raping his child.

For about half of the movie, this is all we get, a tense chamber piece set in just one location (Romina’s house) with all three actors excellent in conveying and putting out various threats of life-threatening violence in this confrontation. 

But there is of course a twist coming in the film’s second half, in which scores of killers/gangsters/hitmen storm Romina’s house for reasons that will slowly be revealed later and it’s up to the three main characters to fight back and save themselves.

Full of absolutely brutal and beautifully staged set-pieces of messy action and brawls, it’s this second half that will have fans of grindhouse cinema weak at the knees and perform a standing ovation once the film ends as directors Carrer and Eveneshen prove to be absolute naturals at this whole vicious thing, making the film look and feel even more expensive than its clearly low budget. 

One of the genre films to beat this year, no joke!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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