Famous Notable and Notorious Exploitation Films

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There seems to be a time when filmmakers were pushing the boundaries of what had previously been acceptable: sex, violence and bad language were not common at one point. Attempting to portray something far grittier, or perhaps to exploit the desire for humans to seek what is forbidden, the ‘Exploitation’ film genre got people talking ‘ for better or for worse ‘ about what is and should be acceptable


1. I Spit on Your Grave


The most notorious rape-and-revenge film of them all, it remains one of the most talked about films of all time largely because of an extended gang rape. A writer arrives in small town America and soon catches the attention of several young men. Out boating one day, she is interrupted by a couple of them and it seems they were going to abduct her so one of them (a virgin) could have his first sexual experience. They rape her and after her escape she takes revenge on the men, killing them one by one

2. The Toxic Avenger


Part parody and part serious message about both pollution and body image obsession, this superhero exploitation film was ignored at the time of its release but is now considered a cult classic. A local nerd is bullied and the bullying becomes so severe that during one encounter he falls into a vat of chemicals and catches fire. Somehow surviving, he goes home to take a bath and transforms into a large muscular superhero. After taking care of the bullies, he destroys the town’s crime ring and is finally accepted as its protector as The Toxic Avenger

3. Cannibal Holocaust


Considered one of the most violent films of all time, it begins with mock video footage of an American TV crew going missing in the Amazon Basin while filming a documentary. A rescue team takes one of the suspected abductors captive and attempts to use him to negotiate to get the crew back. It is revealed that the crew were exploiting the locals, had gang-raped a young girl and killed a person purely so they could film how the cannibal tribes would dispose of the body

4. Caligula


Notable because it has some very big name actors of the period, few mainstream films can match Caligula for violence and sex. It also has the dubious honour of being considered one of the worst films of all time and still being banned in several countries. It has the first mainstream examples of un-simulated sex scenes. Based ‘ obviously ‘ on the life of the tyrannical Roman emperor of the same name, it stars Malcolm McDowell in the title role, Peter O’Toole as Emperor Tiberius and Helen Mirren as Caesonia

5. The Last House on the Left


Another notorious rape and revenge film, two teenage girls are abducted by a group of escaped criminals. They are tortured, raped and then killed. The criminals unwittingly end up at one of the girls’ parent’s home and when they discover what has transpired and that the two men and one woman are responsible, they set about taking revenge by torturing and then dismembering them. It was remade in 2009 but was far less graphic in its depiction of rape and violence

6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre


For some, this is the film that started it all ‘ or at least brought exploitation films into the mainstream. It may seem cliché now, but it is about a group of teenagers who pick up a strange hitchhiker. He takes a polaroid picture and demands money. When the group refuse, he slashes himself and one of the teenagers. They stop at a gas station but, finding none, drive on to a homestead to ask for help. Nature takes its course and they are picked off one by one until there is just one survivor left

7. Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS


Ilsa is a Commandant of a POW camp and dedicates her career to proving that women are capable of enduring more pain than men and therefore should be permitted to fight on the front lines. Like real-life Nazi scientists, Ilsa takes pleasure in sadism. She rapes the men in the camp and castrates and kills those who do not sufficiently satisfy her. She is buxom and insatiable but finally meets her match in one American POW.

8. The Evil Dead


There is no bigger exploitation film with such a cult following as this Sam Raimi directed low-budget horror film about woodlands haunted by evil spirits. A group of friends go for a vacation in the woods and in the basement of the log cabin find ‘The Book of the Dead’. One of the men recites a passage from the book and reawakens ancient evils. One by one they are all picked off. It spawned a sequel and a big-budget third film called ‘The Medieval Dead’.

9. Black Caesar


The civil rights movement in the USA led to an explosion of black culture into the mainstream. Though ‘blackspoitation’ was primarily by black filmmakers and for black audiences they soon found broader appeal. This is considered the best of the subgenre and as about a young man who is assaulted by a racist white cop and grows up to establish a large criminal empire in New York, eventually taking on the dominant Italian mafia of the city. At the end, he has a showdown with the racist cop but the two kill each other

10. Saw


The modern breed of exploitation film (labelled as a sub-genre shocksploitation) began with the realistic depiction of torture and violence first seen in the Saw series of films. In this first one, two men are trapped in a bathroom, handcuffed together and with no idea how they got there. They must escape and the killer has set a time limit ‘ one man must kill the other or his family will die. But once the other is dead, the first must cut off his own foot in order to retrieve the key



The impact that exploitation films have had on mainstream cinema today is clear in how accepting the average filmgoer is of sex and violence. Even the most hardened and open-minded of movie fans is likely to be shocked at some of the scenes from some of the films above.

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