Sex, violence, torn-from-today’s-headlines shockers, fast cars, faster pussycats, psycho killers and kids run wild — throw a few (or all) of these ingredients into a pot, let the whole thing boil over, and you have the recipe for some tasty exploitation cinema. Even if you didn’t grow up in the heyday of flea-pit grindhouse theaters and drive-in double features, you’ve probably seen the era’s sleazy, salacious output — the Nineties saw a serious reappraisal of vintage “sin-ema,” and it’s now possible to check out most of the legendary biker flicks, blaxploitation epics, chop-socky sagas, women-in-prison melodramas and other tawdry exercises in catering to audiences’ primal urges on DVD or Blu-ray.
But exploitation cinema never really went away — it just started playing different venues and took on slightly morphed, occasionally more “respectable” forms. A whole wave of movies influenced by yesterday’s Forty-Deuce classics have emerged in the last few decades, as well as numerous arthouse and A-list dips into depravity that deserve to have the “sploitation” suffix tacked on to their descriptions. Trash by any other name smells just as gloriously ripe.
So we’re counting down the best modern exploitation movies of the last 20 years, from 1995’s one-two punch of Kids and Showgirls to the more recent straight-to-the-gut appeals to filmgoers’ baser instincts. We’re staying away from blockbuster franchises that borrow exploitation’s building blocks (what are the Fast & Furious movies but updated carsploitation flicks high on nitro-fuel?) and just focused on the films that channeled that ol’ sticky-floored, grindhouse-magic feeling. Bring on the guilty pleasures.