William Lustig exploitation flicks screen in all their glory 

click to enlarge William Lustig
  • Films by overlooked exploitation filmmaker William Lustig screen at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this weekend.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, a self-described movie maniac who likes all genres, has a special fondness for exploitation flicks.

“William Lustig changed my life. As a child, I saw the movie ‘Maniac,’ and it had quite an effect on me. I knew it was about the mind of the character. It’s about the loneliness of big cities, especially New York in that post-punk era,” says Ficks, the host of “Midnites for Maniacs.”

On Friday and Saturday, Ficks, who teaches film at Academy of Art University, presents two Lustig triple features at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the director is slated to appear.

Lustig’s movies, which explore the inner lives of disturbed and violent characters, were highly controversial when they came out. “Maniac,” released in 1980, was decried for being too violent. Yet Ficks, who discovered Lustig’s movies by accident when he was young, thinks they deserve to be examined as genuine art.

Ficks first developed his love of cinema as a child in the early 1980s, when many video rental stores were family-run, and obscure movies were shelved side-by-side with mainstream Hollywood fare. He and his mother had a weekly ritual of watching three movies in a row on VHS before his father came home from his job at a radio station in Salt Lake City. It was during this period that Ficks found Lustig.

While fans of exploitation flicks – independent, low-budget, violent, insensitive movies shown in cheap theaters called grindhouses that were especially popular in the 1970s-80s – often describe them as “so bad, they’re good,” Ficks, who compares making fun of movies to bullying, disagrees with that view.

“To me, that has played itself out. If you give a movie a chance, often you’ll be surprised at how rewarding the movie can be,” he says.

Friday’s bill includes “Maniac: Unrated Director's Cut” (1980), “Vigilante” (1983) and “Hit List” (1989). The movies will screen on 35-millimeter film to give them a grainy, grindhouse quality. On Saturday, the “Maniac Cop” trilogy – “Maniac Cop” (1988), “Maniac Cop 2” (1990) and “Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence” (1993) – screens in San Francisco for the first time, on modern digital film.

“When you watch three in a row, you see that William Lustig has a style, just like Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg,” Ficks says.


Tribute Retrospective to the Exploitation of William Lustig

presented by Midnite for Maniacs

When: 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

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Chloe Johnson

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