Much like the popular Alamo Drafthouse chain of movie theaters that spawned it, Drafthouse Films lies far off the beaten path of modern cinema. Self-described as a "curated brand of provocative, visionary and artfully unusual films new and old from around the world", the online boutique creates thoughtful DVD and Blu-Ray releases of films that wouldn't be touched by most major studios, thank goodness. Founded in 2010 by Alamo CEO Tim League, Drafthouse Films has released just eight titles on home video thus far (seven of those during 2012), with at least five more discs scheduled for release in 2013.
Trailer War is their latest effort...and even by Drafthouse Film's unorthodox standards, it's an odd duck. This 113-minute "film" is essentially 45 trailers played back-to-back, all unearthed from the company's vault of obscure exploitation, sci-fi, kung fu and other like-minded films, most from the 1970s and 1980s. Curated by Alamo's Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson, this wacked-out slice of film history is truly a sight to behold, whether you've already seen some of these international cult productions or it's your first dip in the pool. With titles like
Argoman, The Fantastic Superman, Voyage of the Rock Aliens, Dead End Drive-In, The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob and Women in Cell Block 7, it's no surprise that the full-length productions wouldn't appeal to all audiences. In abbreviated form, the appeal broadens quite a bit.
I've got a soft spot for certain B-movies but wouldn't consider myself a full-fledged disciple of the genre. Even so, I'd be lying if Trailer War didn't make me want to seek out at least a dozen of these oddities, though some of the full-length prints may not even be in existence anymore. In the meantime, this collage of exploitation goes down quite easy, whether you watch the trailers in standard format or with optional audio commentary by Nilsen and Carlson. The latter is an entertaining (dare I say educational) experience, as their encyclopedic knowledge of cult cinema elevates Trailer War from "comedic fodder" to "pretty damn fascinating". Available on DVD or Blu-Ray, this low-priced single-disc release is one of the year's most fun, whether you're watching it alone or (preferably) with a group of rowdy friends.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Not surprisingly, these trailers look pretty rough...but for obvious reasons, that just adds to the charm. Presented in a mixed 1.85:1/2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer does what it can with the extremely limited source material. Colors are warped, dirt and debris is almost constant, black levels are more like medium gray, image detail is fairly soft and...well, these were created for next to nothing and stored in less-than-ideal conditions for several decades, so I'm shocked that some of 'em look as good as they do. If you're familiar at all with grindhouse or exploitation films, you probably know what to expect here.
DISCLAIMER: These stills are from a Drafthouse Films promotional gallery and do not represent Blu-Ray's 1080p resolution.
The audio's even rougher (and that's saying something)...but, like the visuals, any problems undoubtedly stem from the deteriorated source material. Though we're only given a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track to work with, most of the audio is clear despite an abundance of hissing, a total lack of dynamic range and poor channel separation. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Animated menus with simple navigation...and there's even a rather "revealing" Easter egg, if you look hard enough. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase with one-sided cover artwork; no slipcover or inserts of any kind are included. The disc appears to be locked for Region A playback.
An Audio Commentary
with Alamo Drafthouse employees / Trailer War
curators Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson offers plenty of insight into many of the respective films' productions and history, or at least some personal memories or other trivial tidbits. While it's recommended that new viewers watch the actual trailers first, you'll be tempted to switch back and forth during certain segments just for curiosity's sake. A like-minded Interview
with director Joe Dante (HD, 13 minutes) sheds light on his years working for Roger Corman, cutting trailers, and his sincere love for low-budget, kitchen-table productions.
"Behind the Scenes at AGFA" (HD, 4:30) is hosted by Lars Nilsen and shows us just one branch of the cozy, cluttered (and growing!) film archives. Finally, a Trailer for the film is included (HD, 1:30), plus a collection of trailers for other Drafthouse releases. Overall, it's a fun and informative mix of extras.
Trailer War is most certainly aimed at a specific type of movie fan: one with a soft spot for low-budget camp, exploitation and politically incorrect nonsense. If all that stuff sounds like your cup of
tea beer, Drafthouse Films' compilation of rare, vintage trailers will entertain and amaze you and your demented circle of friends. The A/V presentation is obviously a bit lacking, but the charm factor and excellent supplements make up for it. Whether you opt for this Blu-Ray or the even less visually impressive DVD, Trailer War is the right kind of awesome for the right kind of audience. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.