I love DVD collections of old movie trailers. Since 2005, Synapse Films has been releasing volumes of classic grindhouse and drive-in exploitation trailers on DVD under the 42nd Street Forever and early this year unleashed their first Blu-ray edition in the series. One of those discs can provide an entire evening’s entertainment for the true connoisseur of cinema. Independent home video distributors understand the slim but still lucrative market value of a movie trailer collection. If you ask a bunch of people what their favorite part of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez B-movie double feature homage Grindhouse was, chances are most of them will say they loved the spoof trailers directed by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Rodriguez. Movie geek meccas like the Alamo Drafthouse and the New Beverly Cinema often program vintage trailers to go along with that night’s film selection. People still make their old trailer compilations for fun. Roth even talked about making a feature film in the form of a reel of trailers.
Trailers from Hell is a highly-addictive website where film directors, writers, and producers provide introductions and commentaries for the trailers to some of their favorite films. From beloved classics to obscure cult flicks, from Oscar-winning epics to kinetic blasts of pure psychotronic insanity, there is no vintage preview that the TFH crew will not unearth and gab about to the delight of movie geeks everywhere. They’ve even started releasing DVD collections of the finest trailers and commentaries on their site that they could secure the rights to through the amazing Shout! Factory, a true friend to film fans with expansive DVD and Blu-ray libraries (and this is the part where yours truly sheepishly raises his hand). So with that in mind I bring you Trailers from Hell! Volume Two.
The trailers and commentators for this volume are (in order of their presentation):
– Devil Ship Pirates and Stranglers of Bombay (in STRANGALOSCOPE!) with commentary by Australian B-movie maverick Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong, Turkey Shoot)
– The Creeping Unknown with commentary by former Spike Lee cinematographer-turned-director Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight, The Walking Dead)
– Deep Red and the 1957 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with commentary (in both English and Spanish on the Deep Red trailer) by director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth)
– Donovan’s Brain (featuring a young Nancy Reagan!) and The Invisible Ghost with commentary by Gremlins/The Howling director (and one of the masterminds behind Trailers from Hell!) Joe Dante
– Pit Stop with commentary by Jack Hill, who directed the movie along with drive-in gems like Spider Baby and Switchblade Sisters
– Gorgo with commentary by director John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House, An American Werewolf in Paris)
– Jaws and The Lineup with commentary by screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence)
– Last Summer and The Tenant with commentary by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt)
– Terror Firmer with commentary by director and irrepressible Troma Films honcho Lloyd Kaufman
– Flesh Gordon and Fire Maidens from Outer Space with commentary by director Mick Garris (multiple made-for-TV Stephen King adaptations)
– Godzilla vs. Mothra (aka Godzilla vs. The Thing) with commentary by director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary)
– Seven Days in May with commentary by Michael Peyser, the producer of several early 80’s Woody Allen films and a few excellent indies from a little over a decade ago like SLC Punk, Suckers, and Haiku Tunnel
– Premature Burial and Ski Troop Attack with commentary by legendary B-movie producer (and the director of both flicks) Roger Corman
You watch each trailer individually with or without the optional commentary or you can view them all in one 59-minute viewing.
Releasing DVD collections of Trailers from Hell’s site content seems pretty redundant since all the trailers and commentaries included here can still be viewed for free online and Shout! hasn’t bothered to include much in the way of added value supplements to make this disc a tempting buy to consumers (but they did throw in something you might find interesting – see below). Plus you get barely an hour of the main feature, whereas one of the 42nd Street Forever collections can offer up to – and often more than – three hours of trailers. The filmmakers’ commentaries are enjoyable to a point because with anywhere from a minute to three minutes on average there’s only so much background trivia and personal recollections each commentator can pack in such a brief running time. Most of these trailers are widely available online and on the DVDs and/or Blu-rays for their movies and we only get twenty of varying quality in image and content.
We get an eclectic mixture of beloved Hollywood favorites (Seven Days in May, Jaws), chilling sci-fi from the 50’s and 60’s (The Creeping Unknown, Donovan’s Brain), and some genuinely oddball choices like Flesh Gordon and Terror Firmer – the latter of those two being the most recent film on this set, having been released in 2000. All in all this is a good set but I can’t imagine there was a tremendous amount of demand for its release.
The trailers and accompanying introductions are presented in 1.33:1 full frame. The video quality of the introductions are excellent but the print quality of each trailer varies. Even the worst-looking trailers at still highly watchable so kudos to Shout! and Trailers from Hell for doing their best to preserve these classic previews.
Shout! Factory has included a 2.0 mono track for each intro and trailer. The commentaries come off sounding the best but the audio quality of trailers, which vary much like the picture, is at the least not loaded down with pops and distortion.
The only extra is an unusual one as it would be a reversal of traditional DVD content: Roger Corman’s 1960 cult classic Little Shop of Horrors, presented on DVD for the first time in anamorphic widescreen. We also get a trailer for the movie with – naturally – an optional commentary, this time from Dante, who started his filmmaking career cutting movie trailers for Corman’s New World Pictures throughout the 1970’s. Being a gigantic film buff Dante is a veritable wealth of information on the subject of Little Shop and he fills every second of the trailer’s two-minute running time with fascinating facts about the movie’s production and reception.
The film itself looks and sounds better than expected for a title that has been in the public domain and thus subject to countless bargain bin VHS and DVD releases with subpar A/V quality. The B&W picture is grainy mostly free of visual distortion. The 2.0 mono track is occasionally indiscernible in the dialogue but given that Little Shop was made for peanuts over five decades ago such discrepancies are easily forgivable. A little additional input from Corman himself would have been welcome though.
Trailers from Hell! Volume Two isn’t exactly a collection crying out for your hard-earned DVD consuming dollars, but if you manage to snag a copy cheap you’ll find your fair share of entertainment value. The real draw are the commentaries and it’s a pleasure to hear some of my favorite filmmakers wax rhapsodic about the movies that played a huge part in shaping their futures in cinema. Having the original Little Shop of Horrors on this disc is somewhat of a plus too. This one gets a very mild recommendation but I wouldn’t advise paying the full retail price.