*** Originally published on Ellenwood EP, 06/04/12 ***
If I have one pet peeve, it’s trendy words or expressions. The term “grindhouse” became very much in vogue (read: overused) after Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on their Planet Terror / Death Proof double-bill in ’07. Up to that point, the average person might’ve thought it was referring to a meat packing plant or some sort of grain mill. While the label has been largely bastardized to represent anything cult-y or Tarantino-esque, true grindhouse cinema sits in this strange little dimension where blood, guts, sex and cheap laughs all sort-of intersect. With practically no budget, the movies have to exploit any little gimmick they can to grab an audience, be it a pair of naked breasts or smashing a melon made up to look like a human head. In many ways, you could say these films were the predecessors to YouTube… or at least America’s Funniest Home Videos, which is probably the most exploitative piece of mainstream pop-culture trash since Kids Say the Darndest Things. After Grindhouse unceremoniously came and left multiplexes, a slew of oldies started to resurface on home video, often being pushed as “grindhouse classics”. Most of them were cheap bargain-bin DVDs that could now earn a few extra bucks thanks to a renewed interest in low-budget “schlock”. So it should come as no surprise that Charles Band, the man who has brought us such films as Re-animator, Ghoulies and Puppet Master would eventually release a “Grindhouse Collection” under his Full Moon label – and no offense QT, but this “Grindhouse” is the real deal.
The first film in the lineup that I was able to get my hands on is 1978′s Auditions, a sleazyhidden camera compilation of porn tryouts. The concept is simple: the filmmakers placed an ad for anybody to come audition for a part in the erotic film Cinderella 2. They paid these Hollywood hopefuls $1 and had them sign release forms giving permission to use the footage in a “documentary”. Well, Auditions is certainly no documentary. This is pure exploitation, a semi-sinister look at how far some people will go for just a little taste of fame. A cruel disembodied voice from a secret place off camera demands the subject get nude or masturbate if they want a part in the film. Voiceovers provided by a Rod Serling impersonator attempt to provide some sort of narrative to the sleaze and the music sounds just like that scene in Boogie Nights when Roller Girl nearly gets raped in the back of a limo. The faded, scratched up film, occasionally muffled dialogue and ominous soundtrack are all creepy enough to make a Max Hardcore video seem like VeggieTales. I’m no prude, but on first view, I wasn’t sure I would be
able to recommend Auditions as a purchase. Over the next 24 hours, however, I just couldn’t get it out of my head.
On a second viewing, I realized this film was (and maybe still is?) way ahead of its time. While director Harry Hurwitz (credited as Harry Tampa) surely seems to have included genuine audition footage, there is stuff in here that’s obviously staged. There’s the busting of a naked “underage” girl who’s thrown out of the shoot seconds before penetration and a slimy agent (complete with silly neck scarf) who keeps popping in at random times to promote one of his girls. Let’s not forget the gangster who pulls out a gun or the disgusting old woman who just wants to get nude despite the filmmakers begging her to stay clothed. These gags can be chuckle worthy, but wear thin pretty fast. The real magic lies neither in the real nor the fake, but in the footage that seems to fall somewhere in the middle. One girl is told she’ll have a part if she masturbates using any prop from a dungeon set. She does so… with the leg of a plastic skeleton. It’s over the top and yet somehow believable at the same time. Even one actress who’s audition is interrupted by that annoying agent has this look on her face like “what the fuck is going on here?” Yes the agent is fake, but is the naked girl in front of him (trying to stay professional, yet getting increasingly annoyed) in on the joke?
Along with the porn auditions, there’s a side plot involving some kind of talent contest. We’re treated to midget drummers, creepy carnival acts and some musical show that, whether he knows it or not, Chris Kattan owes his Mr. Peepers character to. This is surely all for some comic relief to break up the shots of 70′s super bush, but the result is a three ring circus that actually changes Auditions from an X-rated Candid Camera into the theater of the absurd. The entire film seems to be a 35 year old premonition of today’s viral videos compiled into one 82 minute pseudo-doc.
The film was shot on 35mm, though you can occasionally see that some of the footage was taken from VHS transfers. This is all explained in a small disclaimer before the movie. Though, for a “lost” film, Auditions looks decent enough. Too clean a picture would take away from the experience, as would crisp sound. The sometimes muddied stereo mix helps add to the sleaziness, for that true grindhouse feel.
Full Moon put out a pretty no-frills DVD. They’ve included trailers for current straight to video fare like the latest installments of the Evil Bong, Killjoy and Gingerdead Man series’ and there’s a pretty cool promo video for the 10 films in their “Grindhouse Collection”. Charles Band also has his own little video clip where he introduces the entire collection, but I’d hardly call these extras. All-in-all this a disc that’s pretty much just movie.
I give Auditions 3 out of 4 devils. It’s gritty, sleazy, weird and the simulated sex acts seem at times to be less than simulated; it’s just like watching a flick in a scummy 42nd street cinema from the comfort of your own home! I would’ve liked to have seen a little more on the extras end, but my hat’s off to Full Moon. They did a great job delivering not only an intriguing social experiment, but a genuine grindhouse experience.