Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!

A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959

Bold!  Daring!  Shocking!  True!

Book Pages: 488 Illustrations: 59 b&w photographs, 7 figures Published: October 1999

Author: Eric Schaefer

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

Unashamed nudists, high-flying hopheads, brazen strippers, vicious vice lords, and high school girls who find themselves “in trouble” comprise the population of exploitation films. In the first full-scale history of these low-budget movies of decades past, Eric Schaefer reveals how this pioneering form of “trash film” purveyed the forbidden thrills of explicit sexual behavior, drug use, and vice that the mainstream movie industry could not show.
Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! is a meticulously researched, interdisciplinary study that is informed by a wide range of sources—including both mainstream and industry newspapers and periodicals, archival accounts, personal interviews, and the films themselves. Schaefer begins by exploring the unique mode of production of exploitation movies, their distribution, and the outrageous exhibition practices that were rooted in the traditions of sideshows and carnivals. His close analysis of dozens of films, such as The Road to Ruin, Modern Motherhood, One Way Ticket to Hell, and The Wages of Sin demonstrates that these films were more than simply “bad” movies. By situating exploitation films in a historical context and organizing them according to the social problems they addressed, Schaefer shows how they evolved during a period of forty years and how, during that time, they shaped public policies and attitudes. Finally, he focuses on the changes in the postwar American film industry that led to the decline of the classical exploitation film and set the stage for the rise of “sexploitation” in the 1960s.
Engagingly written, illustrated with rare photographs, posters, production stills, and ad slicks, and offering a full filmography, Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! reveals a forgotten side of film history and American culture. It will delight and inform those interested in film history, cultural studies, American studies and history, and the many fans of exploitation films.


“‘Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!’ is a book that fills a very large gap in film history. . . . This book, capable of interweaving Edmund Wilson and Roland Barthes with lots of jazzy examples of classic Variety-ese, reminds us that other cinemas can and should exist, no matter how impoverished and confused.” — A. S. Hamrah , Boston Book Review

“[A] remarkably thorough, thoughtful book. . . . Schaefer offers a rich, densely contextualized study of a previously obscure, underground, disreputable cultural form. Successfully arguing that exploitation films were ‘more than simply “bad” movies,’ he expands our understanding of the film industry broadly and of American cultural history more broadly.” — Regina Kunzel , Journal of American History

“[A]n excellent history of films about kids who go to pot or pay for their earnest backseat mistakes. . . . Schaefer has managed to fill in one of those significant absences in film history by providing a well-researched account of a genre of films that initially grew up in conjunction with ‘mainstream’ cinema but then broke off to become a marginal outcast, only eventually to have its areas of exploration once again reabsorbed into the mainstream.” — Elena Maria Di Grazia , Politics and Culture

“[An] encyclopedic, exhaustively researched book. . . . [This] highly ambitious, skillfully wrought volume [is] the first authoritative word on exploitation cinema; it will be a book that both anchors and stimulates research in this important area for years to come.” — Adam Lowenstein , Modernism/Modernity

“[S]taggeringly comprehensive. . . .” — Sight & Sound

“Anyone who thinks he’s an expert on cult movies is delusional, unless he’s read Eric Schaefer’s remarkable volume. . . . [R]esearched with astonishing thoroughness, . . . it’s an insightful social history that examines the evolution of American attitudes about censorship.” — Playboy

“Eric Schaefer has produced an outstanding work of film history. . . . Originally and intelligently conceived, thoroughly researched, and gracefully writtten, . . . it offers an impressive and provocative model for readers interested in both cinematic history and contemporary cultural landscapes in which multiple and overlapping media operate.” — J. David Slocum , Cineaste

“In this comprehensive book, author Eric Schaefer contemplates exploitation films with high academic style. . . . [He] convincingly argues that exploitation film was both transgressive and conservative. Though a footnote in film history, the exploitation phenomenon, Schaefer concludes, was ‘profoundly American.’” — Newsweek

“It is the singular (and highly instructive) achievement of Eric Schaefer that he has produced a basically good-humored, highly tolerant, historically alert ‘square-up’ for this whole lost, sad, generally risible genre. . . . This is an important book, not merely as a study of a forgotten realm of film history but as well-grounded social history, too.” — , Los Angeles Times

“Schaefer adroitly maps out the lurid, carnivalesque excesses that the studio system shoved to the margins in an effort to legitimate the movies as a new entertainment medium.” — , Publishers Weekly

“Schaefer’s well-founded and persuasive analysis never condescends to its subject . . . . [His] writing style is as approachable as it is fact-filled.” — Richard Harland Smith, Video Watchdog

“The first half of this book looks at the mechanics of the films; production, distribution, advertising, and exhibition differed greatly from Hollywood norms. The second half examines the major categories of exploitation films. A good look at a neglected topic.” — , Library Journal

“The first scholarly work to grant this genre serious consideration, Schaefer’s book provides a detailed account of the mode of production and distribution, form and content, and historical backdrop for the rise and fall of a constellation of films that have long been excluded from cinematic history. . . . Schaefer’s lively, readable work makes a valuable contribution by surveying the dominant themes and aesthetics of the exploitation genre, describing them in terms of the constraints of production and distribution, and situating them within the context of debates about standards of taste and morality.” — Rachel Adams , Minnesota Review

“This extraordinary book provides a thorough and engaging history of the classic American exploitation film. Schaefer is wonderfully attentive to the ideological motives and political circumstances that are responsible for these films. . . . Not only is a wide range of films treated, but often they are treated with great theoretical insight. . . . A big and important book.” — Virginia Quarterly Review

“This is an intelligent book that is also lively, informative, and fun to read. And like most of the better film books, it is keenly concerned with the symbiotic relationship that exists between movies and the people who watch them.” — David J. Hogan , Filmfax

“Those who think that protests against violence and sex in Hollywood movies are something new will have their eyes opened by Eric Schaefer’s ‘Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!’.” — Lou Gaul, Burlington (NJ) County Times

“An astonishing scholarly achievement, one of the most impressive books I’ve read in a decade. Schaefer’s research is broad and profound. This is not only the reference work on the subject; it is a model of elegant argument.” — Matthew Bernstein, author of Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent

“The exploitation film has enjoyed a cult following as ‘turkey cinema,’ ‘trash,’ midnight movie camp, psychotronic cinema, and the object of ridicule on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet Schaefer’s book shows us that it must be central to any understanding of the way Hollywood cinema operates. This groundbreaking work will open up an entirely new field of film history.” — Henry Jenkins, author of Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek

“When I was in the business I billed myself as ‘The Expert Exponent of Exploitation.’ I hereby bestow that shibboleth to the genuine, absolute, factual Expert Exponent, Eric Schaefer. Nothing more need ever be told about this subject.” — David F. Friedman, producer of Daughter of the Sun


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric Schaefer is Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: “As Long as It Was in Bad Taste!”

“An Attempt to ‘Commercialize Vice’”: Origins of the Exploitation Film

“A Hodge-Podge of Cuttings and Splicings”: The Mode of Production and the Style of Classical Exploitation Films

“You Gotta Tell ’Em to Sell ’Em”: Distribution, Advertising, and Exhibition of Exploitation Films

“Thoroughly Vile and Disgusting”: The Exploitation Film and Censorship

“No False Modesty, No Old-Fashioned Taboos”: The Sex Hygiene Film

“The Monster That Caters to Thrill-Hungry Youth”: The Drug Film

"Timely as Today’s Front Page”: Vice, Exotic, and Atrocity Films

“They Wear No Clothes!”: Nudist and Burlesque Films

Conclusion: The End of Classical Exploitation

Appendix 1 - Major Exploitation Producers/Distributors and Their

Company Names

Appendix 2 - Filmography

Appendix 3 - Video Sources



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Recipient of a Theatre Library Association special jury prize for distinguished achievement

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2374-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2353-2
Publicity material