Slang City Mail

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April 12, 2007

Slang of the Week: grindhouse/grind house (noun)
a movie theater specializing in violent, shocking and/or pornographic films, usually showing them continuously, day and night

Example:
“Why would you want to see a Kurosawa retrospective,” asked Mike, “when the grindhouse is showing Cannibal Coeds from the Ninth Dimension?”

Celebrity quote:
“Peculiar Works Project, producers of unique theatrical experiences throughout NYC, is coming to the new Collective: Unconscious (and former home of a notorious grindhouse) for a one-night-only burlesque extravaganza. Seeking all types of provocative acts: solo and group, female and male, professional and amateur, and anyone who wants to celebrate erotic performance from Gypsy Rose Lee to Janet Jackson.”
Advertisement for talent from the Peculiar Works Project

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino just loves old-school genre movies. His previous projects have celebrated horror films (From Dusk Till Dawn), Hong Kong action pictures (Kill Bill I & II) and heist movies (Reservoir Dogs), as well as sleazy and sensational paperback novels (Pulp Fiction).

His newest offering, with Robert Rodriguez, is called Grindhouse, and it is an ode to the (mostly awful, though in a good way) sensational and exploitive films that used to be shown at that kind of theater.

The movie website IMDB.com defines grindhouse as “movie theaters common in the
U.S. from the 1950s onward, that specialized in showing, or ‘grinding out’ as many B movies* as they could fit into their schedules.” This etymology of ‘grinding out’ (continuously showing) also appears in Cassell’s.

But there might be more to it. Robert Chapman  suggests in American Slang that it might also be related to the bump and grind of the strip-tease—a connection apparently made by the Peculiar Works Project as well. Many of these theaters started out as burlesque houses with live dancers who specialized in grinding their hips. When they were converted to movie houses, sexy films initially replaced the dancers, but the theaters soon expanded to show horror and action films alongside the erotic ones.

As for the advertisement above, if you were thinking of applying, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s too late! The show happened two years ago, though it looks as if they’re planning to repeat it (see details). 

*B-movie: a low budget film. This has a negative connotation and should not be confused with what are usually called "independent films," which also have small budgets. The former are intended to make money, the latter to make art--or something like it. Interestingly, some of Tarantino's films might fall into both categories.

Bookstore
Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Robert Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang.