Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Orson Welles, Little Oral Annie
Produced by Stephen Romano
Distributed by Bloody Earth Films
If marijuana is considered a gateway drug, then Stephen Romano’s Shock Festival is a gateway DVD for uninitiated genre fans. But fair warning: Watching this seemingly endless collection of horror and exploitation trailers comes with a price. And that price is however much it’ll cost you to track down all the films offered in this compilation. My fiancée already reminded me that spring is coming, meaning I should be more concerned with treating our withering lawn than with securing a copy of Girls for Rent. Buzzkill.
If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, I did mean what I said about Shock Festival being a gateway drug. The most hardcore among you will have already seen the majority of these films, so while watching the trailers is a nice way to remind you of some fantastic films you might not have seen recently (I forgot I owned Fight for Your Life, for example), it does little to expand a seasoned veteran’s genre view in the same way that Synapse’s ongoing 42nd Street Forever series does.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. I was initially disappointed to discover that I’d seen the vast majority of the films featured here, but that’s hardly Stephen Romano’s fault. In fact, Shock Festival is a great place for fledgling exploitation fans to pick and choose the films that might pique their curiosity. Everything has been arranged here as a tasty sampler of sorts: giallo, slasher, creature feature, blaxploitation, rape/revenge – there’s something for everyone.
One of my favorite things to do when entertaining company is to show them trailers for old exploitation films – all the while watching their faces. And Shock Festival makes it even easier to delight your guests – just pop it in, press play and crack a few beers. Even if you have seen most of the showcased films, it’s a fantastic conversation piece that will repulse some and intrigue others. I just wish Romano could’ve included Cannibal Man and The Toy Box – I don’t recall ever laughing as much as during either of those trailers, but maybe he’s saving some big guns for a sequel.
One feature that doesn’t quite work is the special section of faux trailers – created, exclusively, I presume, for this release. I hate to be the guy that pisses in the Cheerios, but I didn’t find them especially entertaining – only irritating. The filmmakers had their hearts in the right place and I enjoyed seeing the nods to some classic trailers (such as Suspiria) reworked, but we’re a far cry from Grindhouse here. Maybe if Nicolas Cage had resurfaced as Fu Manchu…
Shock Festival is spread across two discs – one for the “Ultimate Shock Festival” and another for the “Ultimate Horror Marathon” – with your choice of commentary tracks for both. One is courtesy of the festival’s show runner himself, Stephen Romano, while the other comes from our own Uncle Creepy! I think Creepy will forgive me if I call his commentary tracks inconsistent – we’re occasionally left sitting in silence, which wouldn’t be as noticeable if the disc’s producers had left the trailer audio beneath Creepy’s rants. Both of Creepy’s commentaries are worth listening to, however, as I got a healthy dose of good natured belly laughs while listening. Okay, you’re not going to learn anything new here, but it’s like sharing a few beers with a good buddy – both funny and familiar.
If it’s education you want, you’re going to have to switch over to Romano’s commentaries. This guy knows his stuff! At the risk of sounding like a horror snob, I consider myself to be a knowledgeable individual when it comes to the genre, but Romano still managed to learn me a thing or two. It works because he doesn’t feel obligated to keep time with the rapid succession of trailers spilling across the screen, instead choosing to dissect arguably the most amazing era in the genre’s history – and he does it in such an amiable way that it’s never annoying, condescending or uninteresting. It’s good stuff and a worthy complement to the main feature.
But, for my money, the biggest draw of this set is the third disc: a collection of over 300 radio spots in an MP3 format. It’s enough to make you yearn for the good old days – much like everything else included in this package. Beyond that, the DVD insert is packed with a mini-poster, lots of groovy artwork for imaginary horror movies and more. Most companies can’t be bothered to include so much as a chapter list inside their packages these days so to see the extra mile here really charms my heart.
Shock Festival is a blast in terms of both quality and content. Whether or not you’re already acquainted with the films explored here is irrelevant; this presentation makes the material a wonder to behold – even if you’ve seen every movie here. I recommend sitting back with a tub of popcorn, a tall cold one and have a good time. Try to ignore the drug deal happening five rows behind you and just enjoy the delicious Grindhouse experience unfolding before you. It won’t be hard.
4 out of 5
5 out of 5
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