Trailer War (Blu-ray / DVD)
Directed by a whole bunch of people
Distributed by Drafthouse Films
One of these days I’m going to finally get over to Austin, Texas, just so I can finally experience watching a movie in the Alamo Drafthouse. Given all the obscure films and special presentations I’m always reading about them putting on, I’m surprised I haven’t already moved to Austin and begun living in the bowels of the building like the Phantom of the Drafthouse.
42nd Street Forever has pretty much had the market cornered on trailer compilation discs for quite some time now. In fact, one of the most recent editions of the series saw 42nd Street Forever partner with the Alamo Drafthouse for a disc full of trailers said to be from their archives. Now, via their own distribution label, Drafthouse Films, they’re getting into the trailer compilation DVD business for themselves. If Trailer War is any indication of the rare and mind-blowing gems they have stored in their vault, I can only hope this is the beginning of a whole new series to go on my shelf next to the 42nd Street Forever discs I own.
The 2+ hours of trailers that comprise Trailer War are, shall we say, an eclectic mix, and there’s definitely something for anyone. You want horror – you’ve got it. You want sexploitation – you get that, too. You want kung fu – right here. You want double amputee assassins, thunderball fists, topless scuba diving, death-defying stunts set to hard rockin’ music, a slasher dressed in a school mascot bear costume with kitchen knife claws, a Venus Flytrap Man eating Donald Pleasence, Caroline Munro in skimpy intergalactic fetish-wear, a masked European superhero hypnotically ordering foes to “kill yourself”, the trailer for Maniac Cop 2 in French, and a flying severed head being chased down hallways by remote control, yellow plastic, toy helicopters that fire actual exploding missiles – you better believe you’ll see it all in Trailer War!
Here’s a complete list of trailers:
The Fantastic Superman
Voyage of the Rock Aliens
Eunuch of the Western Palace
World War of Kung Fu
The Man from Hong Kong
Con El Odio En El Piel
Maniac Cop 2
Mr. No Legs
Adults Only Snipe
Don’t Answer the Phone
Dead End Drive In
Who Saw Her Die
Amin: The Rise and Fall
The Beach Girls
Nudes on Tiger Reef
The Boob Tube
Northville Cemetery Massacre
The Electric Chair
Women in Cell Block 7
The overwhelming majority are from movies released in the Sixties and Seventies. A few are so obscure they aren’t even in English, or are in English but with foreign subtitles. Some of these movies you’re probably familiar with, and some you’ve never heard of. I’ve personally only seen about ten of these movies. The worst part about any of these trailer collections is the money you’ll be tempted to shell out afterwards trying to hunt some of these movies down. Oh, yes, Thunder Cops will be mine!
The thing about a lot of these trailers is that more often than not they’re far more entertaining than the movies turn out to be when you finally see them. If you listen to the audio commentary track with Alamo Drafthouse programmers Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson, you’ll even hear them warn you off a couple of these movies should you be tempted by the trailer. I suppose it only makes sense that a US-Hong Kong martial arts adventure flick starring Joe Don Baker and Burgess Meredith could never live up to the promise of its trailer.
As cleaned up as the trailers are, you’ll still witness a good deal of pops, scratches, dirt, and splices, none of which bothers me in the slightest due to how rare some of them are and because it really just adds to the grindhouse experience that so many of these movies were all about. My one beef with Trailer War has to do with audio issues. That a couple of the trailers sound extra tinny or boast blown out audio making them loud and muffled isn’t as problematic to me as the inconsistent volume levels between certain trailers that go from normal to loud and back again; a little annoying having to keep the remote handy to ride the audio from time to time. A minor complaint but one I think could have been avoided.
Once you’ve watched the entire gamut of trailers, you’re strongly encouraged to go back and watch them all over again with the before-mentioned commentary track that is as lively as it is informative. They can crack wise even as they regale you with a fountain of trivia about the film being previewed. Like how the director of the violent anti-establishment biker flick Northville Cemetery Massacre went on to direct family films like Harry & the Hendersons. Or how even they have yet to be able to track down a print of Animal Protector, an absurd looking 1988 Swedish-produced, PETA-sponsored action flick about animal rights commandos that stage a full-scale raid on a heavily armed animal testing facility lorded over by a crazed colonel played by the late David Carradine.
Another interesting extra on the disc is a 12-minute interview about the lost art of the trailer with Joe Dante, whom you should all know as the director of Gremlins, The Howling, the original Piranha, as well as the co-founder of the website Trailers from Hell. Dante got his start as a trailer editor for American International Pictures back in the 1970’s so if anyone knows about grindhouse trailers, it’s him. You really don’t need Dante to tell you what should be obvious after watching the trailers on this disc – movie trailers were better back in those days. That’s due in large part, as he so obviously points out, because there was more of an anything goes attitude back then and filmmakers of that era were able to pull off a lot of stuff in their movies you could never get away with today.
“Behind the Scenes at the American Genre Film Archive” is a four-minute short with Nilsen again talking about the special preservation archive started by the Drafthouse where so many of these offbeat, underappreciated, and unheard of genre films have found refuge over the years. Mostly footage of rooms with lots of brown boxes on shelves with film titles on them. I know it brings a tear to my eye to know there’s someone out there making sure a movie entitled Devil Fetus is never lost to the annals of obscurity.
Rounding out the extras is a trailer for Trailer War and other recent Drafthouse Films releases.
If you’re a fan of 42nd Street Forever-style trailer compilations, then Trailer War is a must-have. Currently it is only available exclusively through their website and is offered on DVD and Blu-ray.
Now if only someone could find me a copy of Animal Protector.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5