Killer Bimbos & Galactic Gigolos Star in Video's Grade Z Future
updated 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/07/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Welcome to the world of Grade Z movies. It's a penurious world, by definition, but not an unpopulated one. In fact, America is witnessing the underground explosion of a new cinematic subgenre. Armed with colorful titles and loaded cameras, renegade filmmakers on both coasts and points between are churning out movies with liberal amounts of gore and T&A (which isn't particularly new) and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor (which is). Representative efforts include Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity, Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid, Surf Nazis Must Die, I Was a Teenage TV Terrorist, Chain-saw Hookers, Curse of the Cannibal Confederates, Class of Nuke 'Em High and Cheerleaders in Cages.
The sudden surge in the genre is best explained by one word: money. There's plenty of it to be made in low-budget pix, not in traditional markets but in what Martin Grove, business editor for the Hollywood Reporter, calls "the booming after-market of home video. It's hungry for product."
One of the granddaddies of inexpensive but potentially lucrative movies is Roger Corman's 1960 Little Shop of Horrors, which was made for $30,000 in two days and has since become a cult classic. The new Grade Zs are designed to follow in Little Shop's footsteps. Fred Olen Rey's Beach Blanket Bloodbath, for example, isn't even a film. It's actually a promo. "We used the extras, crew and equipment left over from another film," says the L.A.-based Rey, 32. "If people express an interest in it, we'll write a story and produce the film." A more typical genesis is that of Charlie Band's forthcoming Space Sluts in the Slammer. Band, a 35-year-old L.A. producer, dreamed up the title and a one-line plot synopsis, had a poster designed to go along with it and on the strength of those elements raised $550,000. Space Sluts shouldn't take more than three months to write, shoot and edit, after which, like most Grade Zs, it will have a short—if any—theatrical run before popping up in video stores. One of the heralded examples of the species, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, reportedly was made for $750,000 and grossed $8 million.
Are we talking quality here? Are you crazy? Still, movie critic Gene Siskel sees the Grade Zs as "trashy fun. The titles try to capture the mood of 'Let's have a ridiculous time.' The bad parts are usually worth a few laughs, and the frightening parts provide guys with the hope that their dates will grab onto them for protection."
No-budget films also provide something else—a training ground for wanna-be actors and auteurs. Jack Nicholson and Francis Coppola served their apprenticeships with Roger Corman, and Platoon director Oliver Stone was an associate producer on Sugar Cookies for New York's low-rolling Troma Films.
Back on the Killer Bimbos set, while the characters are planning "the destruction of the slimeballs of our society," as the script puts it, the actresses are planning to cross over into legitimate films. Scrubbed of their makeup, they appear to be normal young women. Simon Reyes, 19, is a receptionist at a New York recording company. Debi Thibeault, 20, works at a rape-crisis center in Waterbury. Lisa Schmidt, 23, is a fitness instructor at a Manhattan health club. New Yorkers Karen Nielsen, 23, and Ruth Collins, 26, are pursuing acting full time; the latter has made eight Grade Z movies in the past 18 months and evinces much pride in her work. "They aren't X-rated films," she says. "I've taken off my top, but I'd never take off my bottoms for anything."
In fact, a kind of prickly pride is epidemic on the set, as it is in most parts of the Grade Z community. "We're not a gang of pigs here," says Killer Bimbos' co-writer, Carmine Capobianco, 28. "We're doing off-the-wall, Monty Python-type comedy, not just exploitation." Of course, the Grade Z zealots wouldn't mind, exactly, if they eventually got the opportunity to do something a little more mainstream. Says Capobianco; "When I'm 50, I don't want to have to turn to my boy and say, 'Son, this is what I do for a living.' "