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'American Grindhouse' chronicles exploitation films

American Grindhouse

American Grindhouse Credit: Handout

Ever since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to make their double feature film “Grindhouse,” there’s been a resurgence of interest in the classic exploitation film.

Exploitation films cover a range of genres, playing up the violence, vulgarity and sex. The term “grindhouse” is slang for the theaters where these films used to screen.

amNewYork spoke with director Elijah Drenner, 31, who investigated the genre in his documentary “American Grindhouse,” opening Friday.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while making the film?
That it was very nonlinear … it’s very linear up until the 1960s, and then the s--- hits the fan. Up until that point, you can really point to movies and movements within film history being the results of censorship or movie studios owning their movie theaters and stuff like that. Once that falls apart, the linear fashion of the story falls apart.

How did you choose whom you wanted to focus on?
It started off talking to anybody who would return a phone call. We were just dumb kids with cameras. Most people just liked the title.

What is your favorite so-bad-it’s-good grindhouse movie?
I think if there is any one movie featured that is just so skull-scratchingly strange, it’s a movie called “Blood Freak.” [It] is this anti-drug movie about this guy [who] takes LSD and ... goes on this bloody killing spree. The movie is terrible, but the trailer is epic. It’s on YouTube. That, to me, is a pretty amazingly bad movie.

What grindhouse movie would you say best epitomizes New York City?
Maybe “Taxi Driver?” I think that “Taxi Driver” is really just a big-budget exploitation [film]. It’s just a revenge movie on prostitution and drugs, and a very violent criminal is sort of an antihero.

What grindhouse movie do you wish you had seen in its heyday on 42nd Street?
I’ve heard stories about “Caligula” being played in Times Square. People were screaming. I bet you that was a unique experience.

If you go: “American Grindhouse” opens at Cinema Village on Friday. 22 E. 12th St., 212-924-3363.

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