5 kick-ass feminist exploitation films

Feminist exploitation movies have a way of turning violence against women on its head, taking the kick-ass female heroine to an extreme, turning women from victims into predators. They make radical ultraviolence a commentary on the treatment of women in society — and reclaim female power, especially when they come from female directors like the Soska sisters, the women behind DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK, airing tonight at midnight.

Get ready for a wild ride and some seriously films that prove just how far women filmmakers (and a few men!) have pushed the boundaries.

Jen and Sylvia Soska love horror and always have. Originally conceived as a short, the microbudget DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK went on to become a feature-length film, and their goal was gore, gore, gore. It’s punk. It’s gross. You spend the entire movie wondering how they could possibly top what just happened and then they come up with something even more disgusting. And kick-ass women are in the thick of it; no wilting lilies waiting for rescue here. While the title might make this movie sound antifeminist, at its core the action promises something quite different.

Zack Snyder takes us on a wild ride in this bizarre, violent, strangely empowering film about a woman trapped in an asylum. It works as a commentary on institutionalization and the abuses women endure, but also as a statement piece on violence, women and cinema. “Babydoll” fights for her life and those of her comrades and learns how far she might have to go to save the women around her. The film got a mixed reception from feminists, illustrating that there are a lot of different ways to read it. Sheer violence porn with pretty costumes, or sharp critique of the social handling of mental illness? Yes.

Diablo Cody and company set out to make a movie about evil, and not just high school evil. JENNIFER’S BODY plays with familiar horror tropes like virgin sacrifices and demonic possession, turning familiar tropes inside-out. As a succubus stalks male classmates in the body of a popular cheerleader, it’s up to Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) to stop her, even if it means getting violent, and you can bet it does. Get ready to have your assumptions about friendship, teen sexuality and “good girls” put to the test.

What do you get when you place a mixed group of schoolchildren on an island and force them to fight to the death? A whole lot of violence, that’s what. Tormented by a history of abuse, Mitsuko Souma is one hell of a bloodthirsty and ferocious character who will stop at nothing to win, and ultimately goes down in a blaze of gunfire.

Filmmaker Stephanie Rothman’s contributions to the exploitation genre have been many, but this one in particular has been the subject of copious analysis over the years. Inmates at Terminal Island are murderers written off for dead, living in a feral society where the strong exploit the weak, but a new arrival decides she’s had just about enough of that. The film plays with male fantasies, desire and exploitation and Rothman’s work has become a key part of countercultural cinema.

Tune in to DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK tonight at midnight on Sundance Channel.

Photo credit: Official DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK Flickr