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A grindhouse is an American term for a theater that mainly shows exploitation films. It is named after the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City, where 'bump n' grind' dancing and striptease were featured.
In the film Lady of Burlesque (1943) one of the characters refers to the burlesque theatre on 42nd Street, where they are performing stripteases and bump and grind dances, as a "grindhouse".
The introduction of television greatly eroded the audience for local and single-screen movie theatres, many of which were built during the cinema boom of the 1930s. In combination with urban decay after white flight out of older city areas in the mid to late 1960s, changing economics forced these theatres to either close or offer something that TV could not. In the 1970s these theatres were put to new use as venues for exploitation films, either adult pornography and sleaze, or slasher horror and dubbed martial arts films from Hong Kong.
Grindhouse films characteristically contain large amounts of sex, violence or bizarre subject matter. One genre of film featured were "roughies" or sexploitation, a mix of sex, violence and sadism. Quality varied, but low budget production values and poor print quality were common. Critical opinions varied regarding typical grindhouse fare, but many films acquired cult following and critical praise. Double, triple, and "all night" bills on a single admission charge often encouraged patrons to spend long periods of time in the theaters. The milieu was largely and faithfully captured at the time by the magazine Sleazoid Express.
By the 1980s, home video and cable movie channels threatened to render the grindhouse obsolete. By the end of the decade, these theaters had vanished from Los Angeles's Broadway and Hollywood Boulevard, New York City's Times Square and San Francisco's Market Street. By the mid-1990s, these particular theaters had all but disappeared from the US. Very few exist today.
The Robert Rodriguez film, Planet Terror and the Quentin Tarantino film Death Proof, which were released together as Grindhouse, were created as a homage to the genre. Similar films such as Machete (also by Rodriguez), Chillerama and Drive Angry have appeared since. The video games House of the Dead: Overkill, Wet and Shadows of the Damned serve as homages to the grindhouse horror movies. The author Jacques Boyreau released the book Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box in 2009 about the history of the genre. The field is also the focus of the 2010 documentary American Grindhouse.
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