Synapse Films continues their socko series of exploitation trailer collections with 42nd Street Forever Volume 5: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a gathering of 50 trailers and snipes from the golden age of exploitation movies. There's no question this is a superior collection of original trailers, selected by The Alamo staff from their own private holdings and transferred from 35mm elements. However, I can't say the accompanying commentary track by the owner and employees of Austin's famed Alamo Drafthouse cinema is as enlightening (or entertaining, for that matter) as the previous 42nd Street Forever volume I reviewed. As an additional bonus, a 30-minute documentary/commercial for the Alamo is included...but you'll really only want to watch the insane trailers here.
Reading back over the review I wrote for 42nd Street Forever Volume 3: Exploitation Explosion, I was again taken aback by the nostalgia I feel for those long-gone times at the drive-ins and the grindhouses. I write "long-gone" because despite the value of having a venue like The Alamo Drafthouse showing these exploitation films in a real theatre on a big screen, The Alamo in no way represents the experience one had of actually seeing these films in shabby, run-down, decrepit urban theatres, and forlorn, largely-abandoned drive-ins on the outskirts of nowhere. The Alamo, as shown in the documentary, is an upscale, trendy operation with high-priced liquor and food served by bright, peppy staff right to the patrons in their comfy seats, and where the number one compliment paid by the hip patrons to the theatre experience is that "no one talks during the films." What does any of that have to do with encountering these films the way they were meant to be experienced: in harsh, unforgiving environments where your very survival (or at least your perception that what was happening on the screen...could happen to you) was in direct proportion to your enjoyment of the film? I was lucky enough to live through the golden age of exploitation movies, and I saw those films in venues that had absolutely nothing in common - physically or metaphysically - with The Alamo. How safe the experience at The Alamo must seem to moviegoers - right in the heart of a busy downtown, with your snacking and drinking needs brought right to you by a polite staff, as you snicker along with the crowd at, not with, these films. My older brothers' favorite drive-in was farther out in the sticks than most people were comfortable going; a drive-in that looked like it hadn't fallen on hard times but was built on hard times. There you could see the X and "hard R" exploitation fare that, when viewed out in the middle of a dark, dark nowhere, made you wonder if the only other patron in the lot that night might not get homicidal ideas of his own and unhook that shotgun from his Chevy's gun rack. And if we were looking for some downtown action, we'd head for miles, eventually hitting the city, into the most downbeat part of town, to the Pantheon, a moldering, crumbling urban theatre where it wasn't uncommon for the stray rat to be heard squeaking as it ran the aisles, and where the bathrooms were chained shut to keep the perverts at bay (you wanted to take a leak or have sex? Do it up in the balcony or out in the alley). You watched your ass in that place, and you were rewarded with a theatre full of drunken patrons screaming and yelling at the screen after every line, having way more fun than Fred Williamson or Bruce Lee or Joe Don Baker were having up on the screen (I'd love to see the typical Alamo patron - "I'm trying to watch the film!" - try to shush these guys). The detached, self-conscious, cool "irony" that fuels The Alamo experience didn't exist in either of those two places of my youth. There, to those undemanding patrons (myself included), those films offered harsh, immediate, real pleasures.
Obviously, times change (and rarely for the better), so The Alamo exists to re-mine those long-gone films and trailers and exhibit them in a safe, clean, chortling environment. These films now "kick ass" for their younger admirers because they don't play by the rules of today's bland, relatively polite, P.C.-decimated mainstream pop culture. However, these films can no longer be viewed within their sociological and aesthetic context; the gestalt of retro-exploitation exhibition is now one of ironic derision buffeted by macho postures of admiration...as long as the instances of un-P.C. behavior in these films from the 70s and 80s are carefully catalogued and pointed out for group condemnation. And that's pretty much all you get on the commentary track for 42nd Street Forever Volume 5: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I didn't really hear any explanation as to why any of these trailers (or the full films, if the commentators happened to actually see them) appealed to them. No one tried to describe their allure in any way other than to enthusiastically say, "This is totally fucking badass!" (thank you, Quentin Tarantino). And that's fine, I suppose, for these types of film trailers anyway. Their appeal is primal and basic: extreme, sometimes grotesque action for action's sake, and of course, nudity. You could write a thesis, I'm sure, but the fascination is pretty fundamental.
I actually enjoyed parts of the track where The Alamo owner Tim League discussed how trailers are tracked down and collected all over the world (interestingly, League dismisses such info as boring, and drops it). And occasionally, some background info on the individual films would be pertinent and to the point (although nowhere near in the same league as Fangoria Managing Editor Michael Gingold's, Film Historian Chris Poggiali's, and AVManiacs Editor Edwin Samuelson's copious information on the 42nd Street Forever Volume 3: Exploitation Explosion commentary track). What eventually did annoy me about the track, though, was the complete lack of irony and self-awareness concerning the group's own comments. Forget facile absolutes like, "You have to see Putney Swope to have some level of cultural literacy." In addition to League, "Programmers" (with a capital "P" on the DVD box) Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson (I feel about the usage of the word "Programmers" the way I feel about calling my garbage man a "Sanitary Engineer") alternate their effusive praise for the trailers with derisive, cautionary asides about the "casual insensitivity of the day" when trailers like Group Marriage or "Norman...Is That You?" feature gay jokes, or a snipe for Flavos Shrimp Rolls depicts an Asian stereotype cartoon. That kind of P.C. cherry-picking is (regrettably) to be expected today, but yet no one seems to utter a word of caution when one of the commentators, during The 3 Supermen of the West trailer, says there's "this whole tradition of Italians being the goofiest motherfuckers." Someone else helpfully goes on by saying such comedy western fare is popular there because there's a big section of the Italian population that's "uneducated, with third-grade educations," an observation that's topped off with the marvelously ironic (to everyone but the speaker): "Not to be snobbish about it." I don't bring this up because I'm offended; I'm no more offended by it than if they had said the same thing about my nationality - red, white and blue American, buddy boy. If that's your opinion - whatever. If that's a joke - you own it. Fine by me. Everybody - and I mean everybody - needs to lighten up in this country. American humor used to be the best because it didn't give a shit who it offended. What amuses me is that the commentators don't understand they're just as "casual" about their "insensitivity" as anyone else, but P.C. dogma eases the conflict. If the commentators are truly sensitive, and they're offended by gays and Asians being mocked, why make a point of cruelly insulting the clean-cut, old-fashioned, conservative-looking white kid in The Magic Christmas Tree for having "the biggest ass" you've ever seen in movies (I have my theories on that one)? My point isn't made to limit speech (the true aim of P.C.), but to expand it. You want to joke about stuff? You want to truly enjoy those trailers and films you snicker at (because they're ugly in thought as well as deed...that's why they give us a charge)? Then you've got to embrace it all. Everyone and everything has to be fair game. Otherwise, hypocrisy reigns.
And with that verbose pomposity at an end...time for the trailers. Here are the titles of the 50 vintage trailers and snipes included on 42nd Street Forever Volume 5: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, along with a few comments:
Charlton Heston on Movie Ratings
An incredible find by The Alamo, with Hollywood's biggest star to ever go "exploitation," Charlton Heston (what else would you call The Omega Man and Soylent Green?). Behold Heston in all his seventies glory, from his groovy beard right down to tres chic tennis sweats - my god, now that's a movie star! Remember what Chuck says, in regards to movie content (and everything else in this world, for that matter): "You're the final judge - the only judge - of what is acceptable." Amen, Chuck. Amen (thank god he didn't live to see today...).
A Life of Ninja
An action-filled trailer for 1983's Wang ming ren zhe. When the trailer cues us for ninja "fight to the death contests between trainees," we're treated to two women mud-wrestling (where to do I sign up?).
Sting of the Dragon Masters
A trailer for 1973's Tai quan zhen jiu zhou, starring the delectable and deadly Angela Mao. I love the use of the no-doubt illegally lifted Bernard Herrmann cues. "The chop-sock team that will knock you out...and stomp you to pieces!"
One of the greatest exploitation trailers of all time (for Chiba's 1976 effort, Karate Kiba), if only for the chanting of "Viva Chiba!" that reaches an insanely fevered pitch. There's also an incredible opening shot of 42nd Street in New York, where movie theatres are showing among other titles, Hot Potato, Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Bank Shot, Breakheart Pass, Harry Cherry, and Raquel, Deep Throat, Inserts, The Killer Elite, and Return of the Dragon - how the hell were you supposed to make a decision? Lots of hard-core gore featured. "The meanest, bloodiest, most violent ass-kicking, arm-ripping mother yet!" in Adolph Caesar's best snarl.
Mad Monkey Kung Fu
A trailer for 1979's Feng Hou, directed by legendary Chia-Liang Liu. I love it when the guy uses the little crabs as weapons under the bridge. "Three types of Monkey boxing! Step beyond kung fu!"
The action-packed Ross Hagen-starrer from 1973, from the director of Angel and Avenging Angel and the screenwriter of Vice Squad. "Beautiful, mysterious, luscious dolls! A sisterhood of death! But they were also women...you'll never know what they'll come up with next! Maybe a kiss in the dark. Maybe a knife in the back!"
A trailer for 1986's 7 xiao fu. The Little Rascals Meets Enter the Dragon. Is that a sudden, weird lift of Georgio Moroder's Cat People in there? Watch that poor child smack her face boom! on the hard concrete floor, after she's been thrown through some pretty convincing plate glass!
A snipe advertising the refreshing benefits of in-theatre air conditioning.
The Shark Hunter
Hysterical trailer for Enzo G. Castellari's (Cold Eyes of Fear, 1990 The Bronx Warrior, Great White) 1979 production of Il cacciatore de squali. I guess Force 10 From Navarone didn't turn things around for Franco Nero the year before....
Birds Do It, Bees Do It
A trailer for the David L. Wolper-produced animal sex documentary. Remember: it won't ever be shown on TV.
Let's Do It!
A trailer for Bert I. Gordon's 1982 sex comedy. Dig that hazy, blown-out SoCal look to the cinematography...if you can get past the roller skating girl with the huge...skates. "Does he have a genuine sexual hang-up or is he just a fool?" "When the pressure is on to "get it on," a hard man is good to find."
A trailer for the 1977 sex comedy featuring the first talking vagina. Film's best line? "Do you serve a box lunch?" See Professor Irwin Corey! See Rip Taylor! Starring the incomparable Candice Rialson.
Danish Love Acts
I couldn't find a year for this "sex ed" film, but it may be the best lit and shot film in the bunch. "Without a doubt, we all believe we know absolutely everything there is to know about sex." "A sex seminar for adults."
Written by the executive producer of Rock Hudson's Avalanche, this 1973 drive-in staple (it was still playing in the early 80s) stars exploitation queen, Claudia Jennings (Gator Bait, Truck Stop Women). "In group marriage, you share everything and never get bored."
A narration-only trailer for the 1974 shocker, the last directorial effort by the man behind Touch of Evil and High School Confidential, Albert Zugsmith. I always loves the trailers that said they couldn't show you any scenes because they were too shocking - you just knew the movie had to have the goods.
Trailer for director Jean Rollin's (The Iron Rose) 1971 vampire flick, Vierges et Vampires, which I saw back in the 80s under the title, Dungeon of Horror. Some incredible breast-pawing in those torture scenes. "Take two devilish nymphets, hiding from the police. Put them in a forest more ominous than death...and listen to their screams."
Smithfield B-B-Q Beef
A snipe for Smithfield's James River Brand B-B-Q Beef, available now at your concession stand. Not sure why the guys on the commentary think this item was so bizarre - it was commonly available in our area. And it was good.
Message From Space
Trailer for director Kinji Fukasaku's (Tora! Tora! Tora!) Uchu kara no messeji. Wasn't there an injunction taken out by Fox over this film, because of its similarities to Star Wars? I love that shot of the sailing ship floating through space. Watch the combination of sorrow and rage on the face of great character actor Vic Morrow as he exclaims, in ironies of ironies, "I burned my career...in space!"
A trailer for director Montgomery Tully's (Battle Beneath the Earth) zero-budget space adventure from 1967. Doesn't one of the robots look like a Dalek?
Probably better known as Galaxy of Terror, from 1981. "An infinity of terror!" Happy Days' Erin Moran strangles When Time Ran Out...'s Edward Albert. Some cool special effects shots, though. Director Bruce D. Clark only helmed four films, but every one of them was an exploitation winner: 1969's Naked Angels, 1971's The Ski Bum, and 1972's Hammer.
Trailer for director Hal Needham's absolutely unbelievable Megabomb (I believe it cost over 20 million - an unheard of budget back then for this kind of junk). "From the director who brought you Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and Cannonball Run, comes the ultimate spectacle!" I saw it in a deserted theater. It was...magically awful. Remember what Barry Bostwick says: "The good guys always win...even in the 80s!"
Trailer for the ultra-violent 1976 actioner helmed by Joe Tornatore. Lots of slow-motion high falls. "When they strike, all hell explodes."
Terrifically gory trailer for 1983's Lebak membara, a WWII Japanese atrocity film helmed by Imam Tartoui. Punji-stake mayhem, and a freedom fighter putting his fingers through some soldier's skull!
James Tont: Operation O.N.E.
A 1965 trailer for the Italian James Bond spoof, James Tont: Operazione U.N.O.!, starring Lando Buzzanca (who you may remember as the clueless Italian police chief in Peter Sellers' After the Fox). The women look incredible.
International Secret Police
I couldn't find an exact date for this particular film - in fact, I couldn't find that particular title listed in star Sonny Chiba's filmography. The commentators state this is one of the titles from the International Secret Police series that Woody Allen used for What's Up, Tiger Lily?, but I couldn't confirm that, either (if anyone has that info, please email me and I'll update the review). Regardless, the trailer looks hilarious; I particularly like the low-key villain who politely asks: "Listen you...would you mind? Tell me where the diamonds are hidden."
Machine Gun McCain
Sensational-looking trailer for director Giuliano Montaldo's (Sacco & Venzetti) Gli intoccabili, from 1969. The first truly top-of-the-line cast to show up on this collection, with John Cassavettes, Gena Rowland, Peter Falk, and beautiful, beautiful Britt Ekland.
Speaking of beautiful, Playboy Playmate of May,1967, Anne Randall, rips open her racing suit (no bra) to sensational effect in this trailer for this Andy Sidaris' 1973 actioner. If you like what you see (and who wouldn't), check her out in Hell's Bloody Devils, The Night Strangler, and a bit in Westworld. Was that Anitra Ford from The Price is Right in one of those love scenes? I love how Stacey adjusts her purse first before blasting away with her gun - that's class. "In seduction or slaughter, Stacey always scores!"
A 1966 Antonio Margheriti-directed James Bond spoof called Operazione Goldman (that explains the Goldfinger rip-off song), starring Anthony Eisley. "A supercharger of Suspense!" "Action! Action! Action!"
A trailer for director Godfrey Ho's 1983 effort...with Pink Floyd on the soundtrack???
The Three Supermen of the West
Trailer for one of producer Italo Martineghi's Three Supermen series, ...e cosi divennero i 3 supermen d'el West, from 1974. Lots of slapstick for those "circus spaghetti western" lovers.
Our Next Attraction
A vintage snipe announcing an upcoming title.
Pretty Maids All in a Row
I think the last time this Roger Vadim title was available to a (relatively) large audience was when Showtime aired it over and over again back in '78 or '79 (at least that's the last time I saw it...over and over again). The movie to see as a horny adolescent for Angie Dickinson's seduction scene alone (she is...sex incarnate). Unbelievable cast (Rock Hudson, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn). That's Isis swinging that mini up those stairs (I feel faint...). Why isn't this movie the subject of a revival along the lines of Valley of the Dolls? It needs to come out on DVD; a revelation waiting to be re-discovered (it was savaged when it first came out in '71).
An absolutely hysterical trailer for Robert Downey, Sr.'s 1969 attack on American advertising. Once you start to really listen to the lyrics, it all makes sense.
"Norman...Is That You?"
Directed by Laugh-In's George Schlatter, this 1976 effort to catapult TV megastar Redd Foxx into big-screen stardom was an unmitigated disaster at the box office. The commentators on the disc groan (and they say, "Yuck!" to Wayland Flowers and Madam - a pop culture crime, if you ask me), but the trailer actually looks pretty funny, with the premise not too terribly different than the hilarious La Cage Aux Folles (and certainly no more broad than that film's atrocious remake, The Bird Cage).
An absolute dream cast for an exploitation film: Slim Pickens, Dub Taylor, Ted Cassidy, and...SHELLEY WINTERS! If only Ernest Borgnine could have been available. First released as Poor Pretty Eddie in 1975, from directors David Worth (Doing It!, Frat House) and Chris Robinson (Stanley, Thunder County). Listen to the genius that is Dub Taylor when he cackles, "Ain't you all just glad you came? Ha!"
As I type this, my original Moonrunners one-sheet lies safely under glass. The inspiration for The Dukes of Hazzard (along with, obviously, The Coyote and The Road Runner), this 1976 Jim Mitchum masterpiece has to be seen in a backwoods drive-in. It does not work anywhere else. You have to smell those pick-up exhaust fumes, and hear the crunching of Red, White, and Blue bottle caps under your feet to really get this one. "It's all about hangin' out together...and getting' it on together!" Hillbilly heaven, son.
Flavos Shrimp Roll
A snipe for the beloved Flavos Shrimp Roll, available now at our snack bar! Remember: "They're Shrimp-ly Delicious!" And yes, I have several wrappers in my personal collection.
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne
A trailer for 1958's Vynalez zkazy, directed by Karel Zeman. Is this film, though, truly an "exploitation" film? Filmed in Mystimation! Incredible-looking special effects that look like engravings come to life.
The Magic Christmas Tree
The commentators are right: this 1964 Richard C. Parrish effort was still showing up at children's matinees right up until the mid-80s (yes...I went). Has to be seen to be disbelieved. See the Happy Witch! See the Greedy Giant! See Santa Claus! See...the Runaway Lawnmower???
Pinocchio's Birthday Party
A trailer for the 1974 Ron Merk production. Some of the Claymation actually looks pretty cool, but those studio-filmed inserts look creepy beyond belief. Winner, according to the trailer, of the 1974 Atlanta International Film Festival - was that festival real?
The Magic of the Kite
A trailer for 1958's Cerf-volant du bout du mondie, but released here in the States in 1971 for Paramount's Matinee Classics in-theatre series.
The Secret of Magic Island
Amazing trailer for 1956's Une fee...pas comme les autres, by director Jean Tourane. The commentators are right on this one: this seriously needs to be released on DVD (even if it's just the French version). How did they train those birds to look like they were singing?
Super Dog and Texas Schooner
A fun snipe for the concession favorites Super (Hot) Dog and your favorite drink in a Texas-sized schooner.
Karzan, Master of the Jungle
Available now on DVD (I know...because I had to review the thing). Where is Johnny Kissmuller, Jr. now? Italian jungle-picture making at its best.
I can remember it like it was yesterday, settling down to watch Charles B. Pierce's The Norseman (I was a big Lee Majors fan as a kid)...and seeing an oil tanker off on the horizon during one of the beach-landing scenes. Love Lee's perm. No joke: when is someone going to release a Charles B. Pierce box set, including a decent print of Legend of Boggy Creek and any print of the now seemingly vanished, The Town That Dreaded Sundown?
This 1982 swords-n-sorcery epic starring Leigh and Lynn Harris was a stable on Showtime back in the early 80s. "Out of an age undreamed of...." Still looks good today. Directed by legendary Jack Hill (Foxy Brown, Coffy, The Big Bird Cage, and The Big Doll House).
Terror in the Wax Museum
Directed by genial hack Georg Fenedy, this 1973 "shocker" has an incredible cast. Favorite line? "Whatayadoin?"
The Manson Massacre
Extremely short trailer for this 1972 Kentucky Jones effort - is this film officially "lost?"
The Devil Within Her
Still a few years before Dynasty temporarily salvaged her almost non-existent career, Joan Collins made this 1975 Rosemary's Baby/The Exorcist knock-off, also known as: I Don't Want to Be Born. By the director of Pia Zadora's The Lonely Lady!
A 1988 MTV-inspired horror flick, starring Toni Basil.
Since all of the transfers here are taken directly from the prints supplied by The Alamo, I'm assuming the various aspect ratios, all presented in anamorphically-enhanced widescreen, are correct (1.85:1 and 2.35:1 are represented). The only one that looked suspicious was the old air conditioning snipe, which looked like it was cropped for widescreen. All of the major scratches and dirt and anomalies are to be expected here...and they amp-up the nostalgia factor, big time.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track is adequate for the job here. Naturally, just like with the video, any sound anomalies heard no doubt come from the original source materials. No subtitles or close-captions are included.
In addition to the commentary track (reviewed above), there's a 30-minute documentary, Remember The Alamo, giving League, Nilsen, and Carlson a chance to explain The Alamo mission and operation, while going over some of the history of the venue.
A sensational selection of exploitation trailers - one of the best I've seen - but a commentary track that's far less impressive. Older viewers are going to fondly remember this time in moviegoing history, while newcomers will have something to laugh at. I highly recommend 42nd Street Forever Volume 5: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.