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For the past few years one of the brightest web destinations for fantastic film fans has been Trailers from Hell, a site with a simple premise: you can see original movie trailers there, with or without informed commentary by actual, real-life, honest-to-golly film directors. Savant edited trailers for a few years and is a fan of older forms of these "coming attractions" mini-previews. Once upon a time before TV advertising, audiences were actually excited to see the coming attraction previews, as they were often the only way to get an idea of the quality of the movie represented by the often misleading poster out in the lobby. Almost without exception, the more successful genre pictures of the 1950s had really, really good trailers. Let's not discuss contemporary trailers - they give me a royal pain for a number of reasons I won't plague you with right now.
Before viral marketing and cookie-cutter formulas there was a thing called "Showmanship", or, when the emphasis was on something other than quality, "Ballyhoo". Back when a trailer had hair on its chest, we'd be inundated with hard-sell voiceover and text promising thrills the movie couldn't possibly deliver. If a man and a woman in the movie had even the most chaste bodily contact, big words would jump off the screen about "Savage, naked emotions laid Raw!" Outright hype, hokum and unsubstantiated claims shouted that the film in question was the greatest this or that, or the most "whatever" you've ever seen before. How many times have we been assured that we "won't believe our eyes', or that some hero or monster was "the mightiest of them all?" My favorite BS text standard was the claim that "Generic self-important social issue film" was "the most important movie you'll see this year, or any year". An unnamed Biblical epic that I wouldn't embarrass by naming it threw out the astounding boast that it was "the most impressive movie you will ever see!"
The Trailers from Hell site has by now passed 400+ entries or so. Volume 1 presents twenty of the most popular titles, mostly eccentric genre spectacles. Five genial director "Gurus" host four titles each: Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright. Here's the rundown:
Blood and Roses
The Curse of Frankenstein
Curse of the Werewolf
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Horrors of the Black Museum
Mighty Joe Young
Phantom of the Paradise
Scream and Scream Again
3 on a Meathook
The Valley of Gwangi
That's a good Sci-fi, horror and fantasy playlist, a variety mix with a selection of special rarities. The trailer for The Valley of Gwangi is an elaborate no-voiceover mini-epic consisting almost exclusively of Ray Harryhausen special effects, while the oddball Green Slime is as psychotronic a head-scratcher that ever was. The selection features plenty of class and a bit of gore. The dazzling trailer for the 1967 Peter Cushing film Corruption is cut faster than anything new that I've seen. It's likely that few viewers have seen any moving images from Roger Vadim's rare 1960 Blood and Roses, and the trailer is packed with exotic and erotic vampire moments. For sheer tastelessness there's nothing to compare with the shocker Horrors of the Black Museum, and the trailer for Paul Bartel's Private Parts was probably too edgy to show in any venue more prestigious than a grindhouse.
The host commentaries provide the real added value, cramming a wealth of information, humor and insights into the two- to four- minute trailer running times. Each personality shows up for a few moments before the trailer starts, and then remains off-screen as it plays -- no MST3K silhouette vandalism here. Genial Joe Dante shows affection for his quartet of classic-era shockers, and Eli Roth gives us an interesting viewpoint on Alfred Hitchcock's long, bizarre trailer for The Birds. Natural clown John Landis communicates his fondness for both oddball titles (Green Slime) and childhood favorites (Mighty Joe Young).
Embellishing this treat of a disc are some genuinely 'special' special extras. The Haunted Ship is an oddball "Toontown"- style cartoon positioned somewhere between the silent and sound eras -- it seems designed to be playable even if your Prohibition-era movie palace hasn't yet updated to sound on film. The Headless Horseman is a full-on retelling of the Ichabod Crane story by renegade Disney artist Ub Iwerks.
Best of all is the full 1933 feature The Vampire Bat, an independent horror film filmed on studio-quality sets with stars like Melvyn Douglas, Fay Wray and Dwight Frye. Lionel Atwill shows up as a kindly doctor, but doesn't stay kindly very long. The big surprise is that the quality of the print sourced, and its audio, are actually quite good -- The Vampire Bat stopped playing on television a long time ago, and this was my first opportunity to see it.
Artwork, menus, packaging details and other frills are nicely turned out by artist Charlie Largent in the same attractive style seen at the Trailers from Hell website (before their recent slight re-design). Vintage trailers have a special glory and it's difficult not to become excited by these arresting coming attractions. The Best of Trailers from Hell delivers their dramatic text blurbs and over-sold voiceover scripts full force: "The Evil Embrace of the Powers of Darkness!"
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the
2010 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.