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Stephen Romano Presents Shock Festival
Stephen Romano's 2008 novel Shock Festival impressed a whole bunch of people with its exhaustively inclusive and realistic look at dozens of fictional exploitation directors, actors, crew, and their work from the 1970s and '80s. It's a horror movie history for those who know so much already they have to make up their own past realities, and it's got serious legs, as this three-disc collection points up. Stephen Romano Presents: Shock Festival DVD delivers 210 minutes of exploitation and horror trailers from the glory days, as well as 30 minutes of trailers for movies that never existed, those from Romano's book. For the heck of it, Romano's thrown in radio spots for over 300 movies from the same era. It's an embarrassment of riches for horror and exploitation fans with ADD - and let's face it, in this Internet age, that description fits pretty much all of us.
Despite enjoying my meager share of bountiful trailer extras on Something Weird or Alternative Cinema DVDs, (not to mention watching Terror In The Aisles about 25 years ago) Romano's Shock Festival is my first real trailer collection. As such, I can't speak much about the rarity of these trailers, but what I can do is examine the depth of my joy at sitting through these two-minute marvels, and my growing desire to check out the Alamo Drafthouse trailer collections currently available. That's probably unavoidable, since Romano did plenty of time working at the Drafthouse in the '90s. So, for my money, this chunky collection seems to be a perfect starting point for those looking to explore the merits of trailer after trailer. At the very least, you'll be able to add over 100 movies to your 'must see' list.
Disc One in the collection contains 100 minutes of exploitation trailers, plus a half-hour of fictional trailers handcrafted by today's indie filmmakers, and based on the non-existent movies from Romano's Shock Festival book. Coming first on the menu, the trailers from Romano's imagined movies set the stage well; with individual nods towards advancing the genre, they're modern simulacra of the real deal, based on an understanding of the real deal. We're talking Meta, and while interesting and entertaining in their own right - each whacked out, psychotronic trailer informs how you feel about the authentic trailers to follow. They set the bar high, and are of course largely blown away by the real ones, but they ask you to watch in a different way, adding overall to both base and lofty ideals regarding the appreciation of come-ons for movies like Invasion of the Bee Girls.
Romano created a wish list of trailers, then raided his own extensive collection, as well as Bill Lustig's, and others: the emphasis, in addition to digging up rarities and trailers emblematic of the grindhouse/ drive-in experience of the '70s and '80s, is on top-quality 35mm trailers, many of which look absolutely great. These aren't recut VHS trailers, they're the real deal, and are grouped thematically for a nice flow. When pristine trailers weren't accessible (notably in the crucial Invasion of the Bee Girls trailer) as much magic as possible was worked to bring you a watchable print. The effect is pure joy for multi-tasking, attention-challenged viewers such as myself. When you just want the shocks, the blood, and the fun - minus plot or anything that demands your mind to work, a trailer collection is the way to go, and Stephen Romano Presents: Shock Festival, a beefy three-disc labor of love, is superlative.
Of course there's much, much more. Disc Two offers up 80 minutes of horror trailers, also thematically grouped and transformative in their grimy onslaught. What the heck, there are also 20-plus minutes of vintage TV spots, remastered from original 16mm reels. Sam Sherman's Independent International Trailer Vault throws out an additional half-hour of sleazoid trailers, plus, you get hidden trailers and goodies on both discs, and finally, if you haven't had enough of four hours worth of visual vicissitude, Disc Three throws down over 300 radio spots in MP3 format for your computer or iPod.
Delightful when taken in small doses or in an orgy of wallowing, Stephen Romano Presents: Shock Festival is the perfect thing for the genre fan - it's like a huge box of candy, and only your self control stands in the way. There is, however, a dark side. As Romano notes, many of the movies on display have yet to make it to DVD, odds are plenty of them will never make it there. If, like me, this collection simply adds literally hundreds of movies to your must-watch list, you'll end up doing a lot of searching.
Obviously video condition varies wildly, but most all original, exploitation, and horror trailers come in 1.85:1 ratio, with the exception of 1.33:1 TV spots and Sam Sherman's interview. Restoration and love mean that most of these trailers look as good as they possibly can, but of course film damage, heavy grain and other nods to the vagaries of time appear. About the only thing negative to be said is that aliasing seems to occur frequently, but it's a minor problem to be sure.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio in English comes standard on all features. Everything is mixed up front, commentaries are at an appropriate volume, and there's no reason to complain. Of course audio varies from trailer to trailer, due to age, but you'll be able to hear everything well even at lower volumes - of special audio goodness are the trailers narrated by the notorious Brother Theodore. Who knew he was in the trailer game?
In a sense, a trailer collection is like one giant extra, but this one has a number of genuine additional extras that exponentially expand its depth. Basics out of the way: Packaged in a standard keepcase with two-disc flipper insert, Shock Festival gets the identical slipcover treatment as well. Nothing in the way of closed captioning or subtitles is available. Inside the case, a ten-page Liner Notes booklet written by Romano details the genesis of his book, laudatory quotes, and insight into this collection, as well as great fictional poster art, and a listing of the trailers on each disc - in the neighborhood of 150 titles counting TV spots. A Collectible Poster (about 9 x 16 inches) displays more of that beautiful work.
As previously mentioned, a 3rd disc with over 300 MP3 format radio spots, as well as an Original Tribute Music Score (a number of short, evocatively titled pieces in the exploitation mold) by MARS/ Deadhouse music, allows you to bring authentic-sounding grindhouse glory with you wherever your portable MP3 player goes. Incidentally, back in the glory days of the '90s, I used to end up at Kinko's late at night, making band posters: More often than not, renowned noise artist Daniel Menche would be behind the counter, listening to loud horror movie trailer collections. Let me tell you, those were fun times.
A large auto-nav Image Gallery speeds by too fast, with MARS/ Deadhouse music playing - in fact all other menu and incidental music is supplied by MARS, just one aspect of the care and attention to detail found throughout this package. But seriously, if you want to enjoy Romano's fine faux posters - and be able to read all the lurid come-ons on each - you'll need to ride your pause button like a mofo. About seven additional trailers (one with commentary) appear as Easter Eggs on discs one and two. On disc two an 8-minute Sam Sherman Interview goes into some depth about his involvement in the world of exploitation movies and trailers.
The original, never-before-seen trailers cooked up by current indie directors come with a Commentary Track by Romano. Plus, both the selection of exploitation trailers and the selection of horror trailers come with Two Commentary Tracks each, for a total of five, count 'em, five commentary tracks on two discs. Romano does a track for each, and Uncle Creepy (who sounds an awful lot like a pitch-shifted Romano, if you ask me) does a track for each. Romano is up-front about not being trailer specific in his commentaries. He's well prepared for each track, and ranges all across the board with a love for all things grindhouse, plenty of stories about various genre legends, (John Saxon, Oliver Reed, etc.) and occasional discussion of the films on display. Romano's profanity-laced joy is infectious, it's like you're listening to the Urban Dictionary reference book of exploitation. You'll come away enriched, entertained, and ready to dig into VHS bins at out-of-the-way thrift stores to get those lost gems. Uncle Creepy is a tad more sophomoric, tends to lapse into silence since he's recording while watching the collections for the first time, and also swears up a storm. While his commentaries are less informative, and more tangent-laden than Romano's they're still highly entertaining, making you feel secure in your love of sleaze. Finally, there are Play All modes and Select-a-Trailer menus for each collection, so you can get all specific if you want to.
Stephen Romano Presents: Shock Festival goes above and beyond the call for a trailer compilation, with care taken in presenting the best quality 35mm trailers around. You'll see many of your favorites, and many from movies you've never heard of - about the only thing you won't see are a ton of chop-socky trailers, there are some, but not many. In all, you get about 150 horror and exploitation trailers and TV spots, not to mention over 300 radio spots in MP3 format ("Black Caesar - he comes to bury YOU!"). In depth, thoughtful commentary tracks, a low MSRP, and more additional goodies than you can shake a severed limb at mean - as far as trailer collections go - that Romano's earned the highly coveted DVD Talk Collector Series rating. Way to go, ghoul!