In the booklet that comes with the Criterion DVD of Samuel Fuller’s White Dog Armond White writes:
It is crucial to remember how Fuller’s idiosyncratic approach to the social-protest film (very different from that of the equally earnest mainstream lecturer Stanley Kramer) had inspired a movement of underground pulp sensationalism that flourished in the late sixties and early seventies as exploitation films. This was the period when Fuller’s B-movie peer Phil Karlson had a late-career comeback with the vigilante tale Walking Tall, which became a box-office hit concurrent with the popularity of Fuller’s spiritual heir, the satirist Larry Cohen, who was fitting social and economical critique into the blaxploitation genre with Black Caesar, Bone and Hell Up in Harlem. These films were not far from Fuller’s agitpulp, fulfilling his longtime aim of message and medium achieving a seamless mergence.
It brings me great joy to see someone linking together these three filmmakers. Especially Karlson, who’s Walking Tall, I feel has been maligned as hickploitation or forgotten by a generation who know the Rock as Buford Pusser. Even Cohen is not held in as high of a regard as, say Cronenberg. Trapped somewhere between the moral tales of people like Kramer and Lumet and the strangeness of Cronengberg or Lynch, these filmmakers are too easily brushed off as exploitation artists.
Fuller is the critical and scholarly exception. What Sirk is to melodrama, Fuller is to the B-movie. He is an acceptable, even praised figure, in an otherwise dismissed genre, that when studied is done so with an ironic, knowing attitude. But, for me Fuller never operated in this fashion. He never treats his material as being lesser nor does he ever put himself above the issues at play. He, like the animal trainer in White Dog, is there in the cage with the problem, dealing with it on the ground level.
I do think there is one other name that White could have mentioned and perhaps should have mentioned and that is Tom Laughlin. His Billy Jack films make him the distant cousin to these three filmmakers. While Laughlin never succeeds on the same level as Fuller, Laughlin slides too easily into polemical filmmaking, but he posses the same didacticism. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for astute exploitational filmmaking Laughlin should be up there. I’m just not sure if he’s Jefferson or Roosevelt.