Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture,
In the mid-1930s, when the Production Code tightened the leash on Hollywood’s Depression-era decadence, cagey entrepreneurs stepped in to fill the void, producing independent features on sub-Poverty Row budgets that fed audiences’ hunger for the illicit. While the Pre-Code films had demonstrated the art of nuance and the power of suggestion, exploitation films were ham-fisted exposés of a wide variety of hot-button issues, most frequently drug abuse and sex hygiene. By framing themselves as social problem films (almost always beginning with a lengthy title scroll stating their educational intent), exploitation films granted themselves a license to depict all the vices major studio films were forbidden to dramatize. Although vulgar by design and technically poor in execution, exploitation films occasionally surprise the viewer with moments of emotional poignance and a gleeful disregard for convention. In a period when independently-owned “Main Street” theaters were being choked out of business by the studio-owned theater chains, exploitation films provided a welcome injection of revenue, since these films could always be depended upon to attract a crowd, due to both the scandalous subject matter and the carnivalesque way in which they were promoted.