‘Hollywood 90028’ Review: A Cry From the Past

Hollywood 90028

As most genre fans realize, exploitation and Psychotronic films are not necessarily surface-level works. While yes, they often gleefully include transgressive elements (especially sex and violence), they also contain themes and subtexts that discuss some of the thorniest issues facing humanity with a remarkable degree of depth that most straightforward dramas couldn’t hope to. 

The prevalent issue is that, until recently (and even then, not quite fully), genre and Psychotronic films have been dismissed as disposable trash, movies not worth thinking about on a deeper level. To be fair, it’s difficult for the average person to look beneath the surface whilst being distracted by a giant rubber monster and whatnot. Perhaps it’s in that spirit that 1973’s Hollywood 90028, a movie about existential despair, misogynist culture, the troubling lack of upward mobility in society in general (and the film industry in particular), and more, was made.

Although Hollywood 90028 is ostensibly about a serial killer who works as a cameraman for a porn producer, it’s far from the average exploitation movie of that era or any era, really. First and foremost, this is a rare exploitation film written and directed by a woman, Christina Hornisher (who uses the pseudonym “Craig Hansen” for her writing credit).

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Hollywood 90028 is a character study, following Mark (Christopher Augustine) around the City of Angels as he attempts and fails to connect with others, namely young women. Mark is unquestionably a damaged person: the opening sequence, which sees Mark pick up a girl at a restaurant, go back to her place, and then strangle her to death mid-coitus, is followed by a main title montage that echoes the photo montage in the middle of Super Fly, wordlessly chronicling Mark’s childhood in which he may or may not have murdered his baby brother.

From there, it’s revealed that Mark shoots kink loops for the sleazy producer Jobal (Dick Glass) under the foolish assumption that he’ll build up a resume with which he can break into legitimate features. Mark befriends and romances a girl he meets on one of the shoots, Michele (Jeannette Dilger), and her view of Hollywood and the porn industry is a lot more clear-eyed. Her view of Mark himself is also pretty astute, as she begins to distance herself from the man as he becomes more obsessed with her, albeit in ways that only seem to make the desperate, demented Mark more determined. 

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Despite being advertised and released with several far more sordid (and exploitation-friendly) titles like Hollywood Hillside Strangler and Twisted Throats, Hollywood 90028 isn’t a proto-slasher or even a suspense thriller, necessarily. Although it echoes Hitchcock’s Psycho and Powell’s Peeping Tom as well as presages seedier films like Don’t Answer the Phone and Maniac, the murder scenes are few and far between, and never gory. Hornisher keeps a strong focus on the existential sadness that pervades the film instead, the tone of the movie closer to John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or even Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.

There is, unmistakably, a strong feminist thread within the movie: Hornisher uses the lengthy nude scenes as both titillation and commentary on the way women’s bodies are so regularly reduced to sex objects on the silver screen, a subject that Michele flat-out discusses during one scene. Even though he’s not openly sleazy like Jobal, Mark is still shown to have deep-seated issues with women, made most apparent during an early scene where his sister calls him and the soundtrack begins to echo and distort wildly as her voice mutates into a chorus of female voices nagging and taunting Mark.

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Yet Hornisher isn’t simply making a “the evil that men do” treatise, either. The film seems to have a lot of sympathy for Mark, even as it chronicles his many faults and crimes. There are two scenes that seem especially key for understanding where Hornisher is coming from with the movie: in one, Mark takes Michele on their first date, showing the former Midwestern girl the city he’s lived in for years, describing how people needing places to live are shut out by greedy developers buying up all the buildings and land, opening high-priced apartments and condos, and only allowing the 1% who can afford such places the opportunity to live there.

In the other, Mark goes to visit a big Hollywood producer who’s hiring cameramen for his next production, and despite Mark’s extensive resume, the producer insists on seeing some footage Mark has shot before giving him a chance. Given that the only footage Mark has access to in town is the porn loops he’s made, he knows he’s just been catch-22’d out of the gig. 

There is a third key scene, and it’s the scene that essentially decodes the entire movie. Yet it’s the final shot, and would thus be a huge spoiler. Suffice it to say that it’s a moment and an image powerful enough that it began a minor urban legend that claimed Augustine died during the making of it (to the contrary, he is still alive and well).

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In essence, Hornisher makes Hollywood 90028 an exploitation movie that interrogates itself and the audience, sideswiping them with an indictment about the very thing they’re watching. In this way, her film joins the ranks of combative works like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, selling itself to a particular audience and delivering the goods but all the while asking what the cost of those goods may be. It’s not a “fun” movie like so many exploitation films tend to be, but its audaciousness certainly makes up for that. 

As a first feature, Hollywood 90028 exhibits some rookie pacing issues, such as a lengthy montage where Mark and Michele make dinner which follows the creation of one awful-looking pasta meal. Overall, though, the film’s detours are largely diverting if not unintentionally telling; it’s wild to realize that the desolate-looking road where Mark picks up a motormouthed hitchhiker (next to what appears to be an oil derrick) is where the Beverly Center mall now stands.

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Hornisher seems to understand the way so many issues that the film addresses are interconnected—from the economic to the hereditary to the way media and art sell certain images to the public—which results in a feeling of hopelessness. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, her movie which is in part a film about how hard it is to break into making films did not mark the beginning of a lengthy and successful career in Hollywood for her. Fortunately, Grindhouse Releasing has rescued the film from obscurity, taking it out of the repertory circuit and restoring it for a theatrical run and Blu-Ray release later this year.

Hollywood 90028 is a cry from the past that won’t leave you shouting hooray for Hollywood. But, it will have you marveling at the movies, especially genre movies, and how much they’re able to say. 



Hollywood 90028 is a compelling mixture of thoughtful arthouse and sleazy exploitation which has a lot to say about the film industry, life in Los Angeles, and the way both women and men are trapped and victimized by those forces.



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