Judge Erich Asperschlager suffers from Plentiful Trailer Stress Disorder.
"You won't believe your mind."
There are more ways than ever these days to find information about movies. The proliferation of film news blogs and viral marketing provide a steady stream of content, to help fans maintain their excitement from the moment a movie is announced to 12:01 a.m. on release day. The centerpiece of the blockbuster ad campaign is, as it has always been, the movie trailer. In recent years, trailers have mutated into a cumbersome stew of teasers, teaser trailers, exclusive clips, and international versions that run a few milliseconds longer than their U.S. trailer counterparts—all of which can be viewed in varying levels of HD on YouTube, Facebook, and your choice of ad-supported smartphone app. By the time a savvy movie fan sets foot in the theater, chances are they've already seen the funniest jokes and biggest moments. It's all too much.
It wasn't always this way, of course. Until recently, access to movie trailers was limited to people who had already paid their money to a movie theater or their local video rental shop. With fewer opportunities to pre-sell viewers on upcoming movies, the people who made those trailers had to try harder. This was especially true for an entire substrate of B-movies and exploitation flicks that didn't have the luxury of a big marketing push. The coming attractions were these films' only chance to grab a restless crowd's attention. With a raw desperation that would make a midway barker blush, these trailers promised the big laughs, thrilling action, and sleazy sex. Some of these trailers have been lost, discarded like the ephemera they were meant to be. Thankfully, many have survived due to the efforts of film preservation groups like the American Genre Film Archive, who have partnered with Drafthouse Films on the feature-length collection of low-budget come-ons Trailer War, now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
Trailer War is loosely organized into sub-genres like sci-fi, kung fu, blaxploitation, crime, and erotica. Its whopping 46 segments can be viewed individually or via the preferred "Play All" option. No opening credits. No bumpers. Nothing but two hours of trailers in front of a movie that never starts:
• Stunt Rock: A potent mix of kick-ass stunt footage and wizard-related rock played by the band Sorcery.
• Argoman, the Fantastic Superman: Italian superhero fun with cheesy outfits, sub-Batman fight sequences, and a hovercraft.
• Inframan: The "ultimate man" meets the "ultimate spectacle" in this noisy Chinese cyborg flick.
• Voyage of the Rock Aliens: This Canadian sci-fi musical is a personal favorite, starring Pia Zadora at the apex of a love triangle with her rebel boyfriend and a New Wave humanoid from space.
• StarCrash: Come for Joe Dante's trailer for the infamous Italian Star Wars rip-off. Stay for the skimpy outfits.
• Animal Protector: David Carradine as a rogue commando in one of the few action movies funded by an animal rights group.
• Eunuch of the Western Palace: Although there's more to this trailer than graphic castration, I couldn't tell you what that is.
• The Tongfather: Kung fu gangsters fight about drugs in this slickly edited teaser.
• World War of Kung Fu: Wartime intrigue and fighting. Lots of fighting.
• The Man from Hong Kong: "Jimmy Wang Yu IS The Man from Hong Kong!" George Lazenby is the bad guy. Also, fighting.
• Con El Odio En El Piel: This Mexican film's complete lack of subtitles is more charming than its depiction of violence against women.
• Black Samurai: In which Jim Kelly, agent of D.R.A.G.O.N. (Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations) kicks Satanic cult ass.
• Force Four: The story of super team of black martial artists, led by the spectacularly named Warhawk Tanzania.
• Force: Five: In this film (unrelated to Force Four), "five deadly martial arts commandos" played by real martial artists infiltrate an island cult.
• Sister Street Fighter: Sonny Chiba and Su Shihomi deliver "instant death" and "the most deadly battles" in this bloody good trailer.
• Golden Needles: Joe Don Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, and Burgess Meredith are searching for the title Needles, which offer everlasting life, when placed into "seven forbidden pressure points."
• Mitchell: Joe Don Baker as a loose cannon cop, before he ever heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
• Maniac Cop 2: Sweet supernatural serial killer cop movie, dubbed in French for some reason.
• Mad Adventures of "Rabbi" Jacob: Semi-Semitic slapstick, courtesy of France.
• Partners: Paramount presents Ryan O'Neil as a straight cop pretending to be gay and John Hurt as a gay cop pretending it's okay to be in this movie.
• Amuck: This trailer uses reverse psychology with a "special announcement" warning about all the sex and nudity, and outraged audience members saying things like "I've never seen so much sex and nudity."
• Big Guns: Brutal violence and heavy drama in this story of a hitman trying to get out of the business.
• Mr. No Legs: A fairly standard action movie, except for the legless enforcer with a shotgun-equipped wheelchair.
• "Adults Only Snipe": Not so much a trailer as an introduction to more adult fare like…
• Lola's Mistake: Rebel teen sexpots party with name actors in this titillating mash-up.
• Nightmare Honeymoon: As the slogan says, "Please, do NOT see it with someone you love."
• Don't Answer the Phone: Rapey, violent story about a serial killer who stalks women foolish enough to answer the phone.
• The Scaremaker: A college party takes a killer turn when coeds are stalked by a murderer dressed as a giant teddy bear.
• The Mutations: Donald Pleasance in a thriller about killer, mutated freaks.
• Deranged: More serial killing, featuring a wacked-out old guy who lives in a farmhouse and wears human skin.
• Shoot: A group of businessmen on a hunting trip have a deadly encounter with another group of businessmen hunters.
• Dead End Drive-In: Post-apocalyptic thriller about undesirables imprisoned in a drive-in.
• Who Saw Her Die?: Shocking, violent, atmospheric, Italian.
• Amin, the Rise & Fall: The true-ish story of notorious dictator Idi Amin.
• H.O.T.S.: Female college sexcapade with Danny Bonaduce and a grizzly bear.
• The Beach Girls: College girls surprise "Uncle Carl" with a drug- and nudity-fueled beach party.
• Nudes on Tiger Reef: This nudist movie promises to blow the lid off a secret caribbean resort for the Hollywood elite. "There's nudes all over the place."
• The Boob Tube: This sexy X-rated soap opera satire lives up to its name.
• Northville Cemetery Massacre: This movie pits bikers against cops against "law-abiding citizens" exercising their right to bear arms.
• Amazing Grace: A really old Moms Mabely stars in this comedy about Moms Mabely being old.
• The Lawyer: A trailer fragment starring a legal Barry Newman.
• The Electric Chair: The most memorable part of this Prohibition-era trailer is the guy who keeps yelling "The Electric Chair!"
• Women in Cell Block 7: According to this trailer, the hardened female criminals of Cell Block 7 are "lesbianas insaciables!"
• Penitentiary: This prison movie features male inmates taking part in a boxing tournament.
• Thunder Cops: A magical martial arts movie, bursting with gun-toting girl gangs, zombies, multi-armed demons, and an exploding head.
Trailer War is a curated trip down the side roads of cinematic history. The forty-plus films represented here might not make up an AFI list of best anything, but these tantalizing shorts are wildly entertaining in two to three minute bursts. Some will inspire you to rummage through discount DVD bins in search of the full films, while others are more than enough insanity on their own. Together, they tell an unsanitized cinematic story you'll never see in an Oscar clip reel. What they lack in production values, they make up for in enthusiasm and all-around awesomeness.
It would be easy to knock Trailer War's widescreen 1080p presentation, but anyone coming into this expecting pristine prints and natural colors probably isn't going to be interested in the kinds of movies represented. The quality of these trailers ranges from bad to terrible, but that's what makes it so great. None of these movies would get made now, so why should they look like they were made yesterday? The 2.0 Stereo audio is likewise true to the source material.
Trailer War comes with a small but worthwhile collection of extras, including a fun feature commentary with Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson; an interview with genre master Joe Dante discussing his experience cutting trailers (12:42); "Behind the Scenes at the American Genre Film Archive" (4:25); and the trailer for Trailer War. If you navigate all the way to the left on the Blu-ray menu, you can also access a 7-minute Easter Egg of "Untitled Nude Clips" that was originally assembled by a Mexican projectionist for personal use.
Trailer War is a collection of some of the strangest trailers ever made, for movies that would have been forgotten if not for the efforts of the Alamo Drafthouse and its related film distribution and archive entities. It doesn't matter that these trailers aren't for everyone. It only matters that someone realized they were worth saving.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Drafthouse Films
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.