Thursday, December 18, 2014

DVD Reviews: GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS Vols. 1-3



GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS
2007, Nucleus, £12.99, approx. 118m 35s, PAL DVD

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS 2
2008, Nucleus, £12.99, approx. 112m 33s, PAL DVD

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS 3
2011, Nucleus, £12.99, approx. 102m 52s, PAL DVD
 
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #171


Trailer compilations are nothing new, but DVD editions of them are always welcome for the way they allow quick access to viewers’ favorites spots. Exploitation fans will find plenty to satisfy their desire for cheap thrills in these releases, which offer a good cross section of genres. The art of how (and how not to) “sell the sizzle, not the steak” (as the great Dave Friedman put it) allowed not only for sometimes overly creative editing but also invigorating and occasionally hilarious ballyhoo from voiceover masters like Paul Frees, Adolph Caesar, and Ron Gans.

Each dual layer disc includes 55 trailers and the anamorphic presentations naturally vary in quality, with an occasional TV spot ringer or prevue lifted from a low quality video source. However, for the most part, the video and audio quality are quite acceptable. A few of the trailers have been recreated using footage from better sources, with new editing matching the original trailer cutting beat for beat. The original superimposed titles from the prevues are either added with video generated replicas or briefly cut in from the lesser source. Purists may be unhappy, but we were not distracted for the most part and this alternate form of presentation allowed for some spots to finally be seen at their proper scope ratios (MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE) or for the first time in decent quality (CAGED VIRGINS). Many of the spots appear on previously released compilations and others are included on the particular DVD releases of that title, but the GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS discs work in a few we do not recall seeing on any medium, like PANAMA RED, an attempt by porn director Bob Chinn of JOHNNY WADD infamy to crack the mainstream market with a PG-rated adventure.

Standouts on Volume 1 including the incredible rapping narration for DR. BLACK MR. HYDE ("A monster he could not control had taken over his very soul! A screamin' demon rages inside turning him into Mr. Hyde!"); the extra zesty and exploitative pushes US distributor Joseph Brenner gave to Italian pick-ups EYEBALL, TORSO and AUTOPSY; the terrific action oriented spot for THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (the US release of Bo Arne Vibenius' THRILLER); the strangely elegiac narration for the grotty made-in-Kentucky Ed Gein variation THREE ON A MEATHOOK; the desperate yet also masterful editing that turns portly comic Rudy Ray Moore into a kung fu master known as THE HUMAN TORNADO; and what seems to be every single solitary frame of carnage from DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. Volume 2 offers Lee Frost's outrageous actioner THE BLACK GESTAPO ("When they declare war, it's all out...all the way out!"); Cinemation's wild come-on for HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (with the full tilt Paul Naschy craziness made even more delirious via the fast cutting here); the hilariously misleading spot for CHAIN GANG WOMEN (which features only male prisoners); and the spectacle of seeing Pam Grier and Margaret Markov (and hearing Pat Starke and Yvonne Pizzini doing their voices) in New World’s cut-rate peplum, THE ARENA (with Ron Gans’ narration being sure to invoke their previous teaming in BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA, which turns up in Volume 3); a great looking spot for TENDER FLESH (aka WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH) which is currently impossible to find in a good quality uncut edition; and SNUFF, an abject lesson in how to transform an essentially unreleaseable movie into the most controversial item in ages.  Finally, the latest offering serves up NAZI LOVE CAMP 27 in a masterful use of the old "We can't show you this because it's too graphic!" ploy; Antonio Margheriti's cannibal fest INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS ("It's an epidemic of killing, turning the streets into a slaughterhouse and the city of Atlanta into a bloodsoaked graveyard!"); a piercing spot for Jess Franco's twisted erotic horror LINDA (aka LORNA THE EXORCIST), Femi Benussi as TARZANA, THE WILD GIRL ("She swings through the jungle as naked as the animals!"); the stark and exciting spot for MACON COUNTY LINE that undoubtedly helped turn it into one of that year’s sleeper hits; and the horribly edited but fascinatingly trashy spot for the Taiwanese horror/mondo yarn SUCCUBARE.

The discs (1 & 2 made it through the BBFC intact, while 3 was cut by 1 second to remove an instance of horse tripping as required by UK law) include featurettes, with volume 1 hostess Emily Booth (EVIL ALIENS) offering a lively 18m groundhouse theater experience overview written by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower, who turns up to handle similar duties in Volume 2. Thrower's talk (10m) covers his early trash movie going experiences, the rationale behind his celebration of fringe horror filmmakers in Nightmare USA, and the common selling techniques used in trailer narration. Finally, VW's own Kim Newman turns up for 15m on Volume 3 to assure us that there were indeed grindhouses in Britain, while expressing his love for some of the genres present (we are simultaneously surprised and not surprised to hear that Kim would happily line up for the latest Claudia Jennings or Jesse Vint southern fried actioners) and lamenting the loss of double bills.

Unusually for this sort of release, all of the trailers on each platter have optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, which performs the dual function of also allowing inclined viewers to enjoy their own brand of musical accompaniment while not missing out on the endlessly hyperbolic narration. Grindhouse poster galleries are also included, along with trailers for other Nucleus releases. The menus offer a nice montage of clips, but the cursor on volume 1 blends in with the backgrounds of some screens, making it difficult to tell which option has been highlighted.


[Volume 1 is now also available in the US in an NTSC formatted edition from Severin Films. My review of GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS 4 can be found here.]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Movie Review: A SWINGIN' AFFAIR



A SWINGIN’ AFFAIR
1963, Something Weird Video, (HF/+ VHS), (D/+ DVD-R), $20.00 ppd., 78m 12s 

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #97

Any movie that opens with surf music gods Dick Dale & The Del-Tones performing a live ren­dition of “Miserlou” immediately lands in our good graces, and this low-budget youth drama ends up being insignificant but amiable. William Wellman, Jr. (son of the famous NOTHING SACRED director) stars as Johnny Kwalski (sic) who, as middleweight boxer “Kid Gal­lant,” makes short work of his opponents and looks ready to tackle the professional circuit. However, Johnny is anxious to keep this a secret from his frat brothers at Ki Sigma because he hopes to make something more of himself and only fights to cover his tuition. Johnny’s mother (GIRLS IN CHAINS’ Arline Judge) cannot understand this goal or his attraction to rich bubblehead Leslie Hampton, whose father owns a steamship company that Johnny would love to join in an executive capacity. Sally, the girl he should be romancing, cares deeply for Johnny, but her working class origins conflict with his grand plans. Desperate to raise enough money to cover the frat initiation fee, Johnny agrees to a high profile fight that will reveal his identity to the world. When the purse falls short of expectations, he risks it all by betting on himself to win. 

While it does not ultimately amount to much (only Dick Dale’s performance footage will interest future historians), this general au­diences release from the exploita­tion-oriented Emerson Films offers moderate diversion. Considering their importance to the plot, the boxing sequences are too short and insufficiently covered, but the performances are fairly good (save for the actress playing Leslie, who is even more vapid than her char­acter) and it is amusing to see a movie of this type where a mother is against her son bettering him­self (“Johnny, you’ve changed so much—is this what a college fra­ternity does for you?!”). Teri Garr has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her bit part as one of the fraternity girls, while Dale gets a few lines of his own, in addition to crooning the title tune. The film is competently directed by one and done Jay O. Lawrence, who went on to be production manager for MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE and HOUSE OF THE BLACK DEATH talk about a step down! 

The 35mm B&W source ma­terial has a few scratches, speck­les, and splices occurring mostly at the reel change points. A small projector damage mark is visible in the middle of the screen but not overly intrusive. Print wear causes some mild scratchiness in the au­dio but the sound is otherwise passable. A handful of trailers run after the feature, including the AIP favorite THE COOL AND THE CRAZY, REVOLT IN THE BIG HOUSE (with Robert Blake and Timothy Carey), and Larry Buchan­an's FREE, WHITE AND 21 and HIGH YELLOW. The DVD-R has no menu but is SP mode and of­fers 19 randomly placed chapters.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS



SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS
1968, Something Weird #ID6066S WD VD, DD-1.0/MA/+, $24.95, 82m 27s, DVD-A

By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #69

While Herschell Gordon Lewis is best known among cin­ematic trashpickers as “The God­father of Gore,” he regularly dabbled in other exploitation genres, and this amusing entry in the biker movie craze was one of his biggest commercial suc­cesses. “The Man Eaters,” an all­ girl motorcycle gang wreaking havoc in South Florida, stage races along an abandoned air­ strip with the winner getting first choice of the meat in “The Stud Line.” When member Karen (Christie Wagner) breaks the girls’ golden rule and becomes attached to one man, she is given a choice: drag him behind her bike or suffer that fate herself. The real trouble begins when a rival male gang tries to take over their turf, leading to increasingly brutal tit-for-tat reprisals. 

As one would expect from a Lewis picture, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS doesn’t flinch when it comes to violence, showcasing a decapitation, a severe case of road rash, and all manner of anti­-social activities. The proceedings are comically tame in every other area, however, featuring ridicu­lously toned-down language (“Dirty Mother...Fuzz!”), abso­lutely no drugs, and (despite a surfeit of innuendo and implied lesbianism) a fully clothed orgy where piggyback rides are the height of debauchery! Every­thing finally wraps up with an unbelievably contrived “Crime Doesn’t Pay” ending of the sort that was once mandated by The Hays Code. Frequent Lewis crew member Roy Collodi cameos as a bartender who makes the mis­take of angering The Man-Eat­ers main mama, Queen (Betty Connell). The soundtrack in­cludes some music recycled from the director's A TASTE OF BLOOD. 

The source material has some worn sections and colors fluctuate between pale and reasonably vivid. The flaws that pop up (an intermittent flicker, flash frames signalling the end of a shot, the film running at the wrong speed) are the fault of the cinematography and editing, which are pretty awful even by Lewis film standards. Cropping is occasionally apparent, but not a major issue; the sound is okay within the limitations of the original recording. Lewis, Mike Vraney, and (very faintly) Jimmy Maslon provide a commentary track, with the director revealing that all of the girls (with the ex­ception of THE GIRL, THE BODY AND THE PILL’s Nancy Lee Noble, who plays gang mascot “Honey-Pot” ) were real bikers; that American International sub-distributed the picture in some territories on the bottom of a double bill with THE BORN LOS­ERS, the first of Tom Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” films; and that the working title was MAN-EATERS ON MOTORBIKES, also the name of the memorable theme song (“Bug off or you’ll find that you have blown your mind!”). Lewis also recounts how the experience of being hit in the crotch with the aforementioned papier maché head during filming launched him on a single-minded quest to discover the detergent that could out-muscle his infamously hard-to-clean stage blood. The discus­sion also devotes a fair amount of time to JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, another JD picture the director made shortly after this one. The opening minutes of the conversation are marred by some annoyingly loud interference. Supplements consist of the the­atrical trailer (narrated by Lewis), the familiar Lewis Gallery of Ex­ploitation Art, and BIKER BEACH PARTY, an 11m 28s short (with the SWV watermark) about a New Jersey gang called The Aliens. It is narrated primarily by a member who says “you know” eight times per sentence and shares personal philosophies like “Jesus died so we could ride.” For those confounded by such undiluted truisms, a more eru­dite commentator helpfully ex­plains “Don’t let it snap your mind: you’ve got to groove with the bike crowd to know where it’s really at.”