18. Zombie Holocaust aka Dr. Butcher M.D.
Taking a little bit from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 2 and a little from the cannibal movie trend just taking off with Cannibal Holocaust, Zombie Holocaust gives you the best of both worlds, with gut-munching cannibals as well as grotesque, shambling corpses.
Like Fulci’s film, a lot of the action takes place on a tropical island (the production actually used some of the same sets) where a mad scientist has been turning human corpses into the living dead. When a team of people arrives looking to investigate a strange cult, they wind up either having their guts eaten by the cannibalistic natives, or their eyes gouged out by the zombies that show up every so often.
In one case, a victim undergoes some yucky brain surgery at the hands of the evil doctor. Perhaps not quite as good as the movies that inspired it, it’s still a fun time for aficionados of extreme gore (watch for an outboard motor dicing up a zombie’s head) and a notable installment in international zombiedom.
19. Bloodsucking Freaks aka The Incredible Torture Show
An underground theater in New York City (ever notice how many American exploitation films take place in New York?) puts on shows that feature supposedly simulated acts of torture and mutilation performed on young women in the style of Grand Guignol. What the audiences don’t know is that the tortures are real, and that the mad dramatist and his dwarf assistant keep a kennel of female slaves in the basement.
Alternately shocking and absurd, this is similar to other films on this list in that it tries to both sexually titillate and appall with brutal violence, often favoring the latter. Among other things, a ballerina has her legs cut off with a chainsaw, and a character receives fellatio (offscreen) from a severed head. This is a movie that works hard to achieve its cult status.
20. Blood Feast
Herschell Gordon Lewis is considered by many to be the godfather of the gore film, and this is the movie that helped to cement that reputation. An Egyptian caterer and worshiper of Ishtar cruises Miami and dispatches young women, collecting their body parts as ingredients for a religious feast in her honor. Several women (including 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason) are killed in gruesome ways that utilize gore effects that would elicit more laughs than gasps today.
In terms of quality, this film makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Blade Runner, but its worth checking out just for its status as the starting point for the splatter films we take for granted today.
21. Orgy of the Dead
Sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it? Not unless you find old-fashioned striptease and burlesque horrifying. A writer and his girlfriend wreck their car and wander into a graveyard where they witness a ritual involving undead women in a variety of get-ups dancing to please the emperor of the dead. There are also a wolfman and a mummy.
Scripted by none other than Ed Wood, Jr., this has dialogue and performances every bit as hilariously inept as anything in his other movies, with the added bonus of topless dancing.
22. Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead
Well before 28 Days Later or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead introduced the concept of the fast zombie, Umberto Lenzi brought to the viewing public the hyperactive dead of Nightmare City. The argument could be made that these aren’t actual zombies, but rather victims of radiation poisoning that causes them to go berserk, but why nitpick? They wield knives and guns, attack like bad guys in a Bruce Lee movie, and cause a lot of bloody mayhem.
This film looks cheap because it probably is, and was never going to win any awards for realistic effects, but when it comes to exploitation, bad often means good or great, and the fun to be had in a movie like this is how much crazy action and blood its willing to throw at its audience.
23. TNT Jackson
Another product of the ever-prolific Roger Corman factory, this time mixing up the blaxploitation and kung fu genres into a humorous chop socky extravaganza. A young women known as TNT Jackson searches for her missing brother in Hong Kong, running afoul of a local drug lord in the process. The martial arts fighting isn’t exactly great, but there’s a lot of it, plus a couple of nasty finishing moves (a bloody arm break is a standout), as well as two of the most incredible afros in movie history.
One of the best reasons to watch this is for lead actress Jeane Bell’s terrible performance—her clumsy line readings alone are worth your time. It doesn’t hurt that she has a topless karate fight with a gang of thugs, either. Co-written by Dick Miller, who you might remember as the flower-eating man in the original Little Shop of Horrors.
24. Monster Shark
While maybe not the best example of the sharksploitation genre (popularized in the last decade by SyFy Channel programming), 1984’s Monster Shark follows the same tried and true formula as most cheap cash-ins on vastly more popular and better-made films: change the story just enough that you can’t be accused of actionable plagiarism, add more blood n’ boobs if necessary (it usually is), and hope for the best.
Despite the title, there isn’t a shark in sight, but rather a tentacled, buck-toothed fish monster genetically engineered by the military, because movie militaries love the idea of fighting wars with weird monsters. Probably best known for being ridiculed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 under the title Devil Fish, with the nudity and modest gore trimmed in the interest of good taste.
25. Bruce Lee In New Guinea
Bruce Li (real name Ho Chung-tao) played the deceased martial arts legend in a number of bruceploitation movies, though it’s probably safe to say that the real Bruce Lee would have passed on a project as goofy as this one. Lee (sort of—he’s never actually called Bruce at any point in the movie) travels with his anthropologist friend to New Guinea to investigate a mysterious cult that practices snake kung fu. He returns home under a strange curse, meaning he has to go back and defeat the evil cult leader.
Many, many fights result, about as many as any person could hope to see in a z-grade martial arts actioner. Fans of pointless nudity will also enjoy a scene of mass skinny dipping that bears no relation to anything else going on, and a kung fu gorilla shows up a couple of times. Definitely not Enter The Dragon, but certainly not a waste of time, either.
Author Bio: Scot Mason lives in Tucson, AZ. He is the author of the blogs Hawaii Timewarp, Eastern Trails, Scotty’s Movies N’ Tunes, and Tucson Only Kind Of Sucks. He once lived in a shack in the middle of an abandoned sugercane field full of giant spiders and rats, because YOLO.