A lowbrow time tunnel wackily nostalgic for the piss fog and meat-counter movie gore of the recent past, hubby-wife team Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford’s Sleazoid Express remembers a very specific place and time: the 42nd Street grindhouses from the ’60s and ’70s, a self-forged, decaying cultural ghetto whose clients, laborers, and films were largely unwelcome anywhere else. Catering to an audience less interested in the movies than in a dark, semi-secret cranny in which to hide, pass out, score, or fuck, the Deuce’s theaters were a cinematic Dodge City, functioning on the edge of the law and running only the most desperate of exploitation films: porn, amateur bloodbaths, Euro-docs featuring third world t&a. The Deuce-ical, if you will, was a dying genre from its first flutterings as stag reels and Depression-era barnstormers, but it attained a kind of adipocerous grandeur in the Nixon-‘Nam years, when the movies’ non-star talent pool, narcotic extremes, and accidental aesthetics became ironic models for Warhol, Waters, Kuchar, and Smith.
Built upon their zine of the same name, Landis and Clifford’s book is, at first blush, structured by physical venue—from the Cameo, run by a Greek dyke-mogul who encouraged her staff to steal movie prints from other theaters, to the cum-crusted Roxy—and since Landis is a self-confessed Times Square loiterer who even worked as a manager and projectionist at various porn theaters, the accounts of backstage catacombs, audience chaos, and business subterfuge are all first-hand. Even so, the book focuses passionately on the movies—the seminal “roughie” cheapies of John and Lem Amero, the sexually manic bloodletters of Andy Milligan, the butch-bitch s/m sagas starring Dyanne Thorne’s Ilsa-often blindly rating them above “normal” product and ripping poor Pauline Kael for preferring movies with expertise and humanity.
Landis and Clifford rock when waxing fanatic about notorious atrocities few have seen—as in Farewell Uncle Tom, a slave-trade screed in which Mondo Cane-maker and convicted pedophile Gualtiero Jacopetti exploited and humiliated an uncomprehending Haitian cast. (“One grows painfully aware that the extras are debasing themselves for a bowl of rice.”) Even more haunting is the story behind Last House on Dead End Street, an anonymously made pig-guts shredfest that for most of us remained a rumored badtime story, but which, once seen, apparently exceeded even the authors’ seasoned capacity for offense. Of course, Sleazoid Express is an elegy—the theaters are gone, as is the clientele, the contemporary equivalent of which presumably stays home and rents. Indeed, for your delectation, Last House is available at Kim’s. Run, don’t walk.