Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
If nothing else, the release of Tarantino and Rodriguez's two-film Grindhouse project
last year delivered an appreciation and awareness of 1970s' trash cinema to a new generation,
as the respected auteurs nailed their cultural allegiances to the mast. They took as their
inspiration a corner of filmdom which, despite a stubborn coterie of fans, had hitherto been
viewed at best a guilty pleasure and, at worst, crass exploitation without any redeeming cultural
value. Hard on the trail of this release have come the cultural coat-trailers; smaller producers
and companies who have woken up and discovered that, yes, somewhere in rusty cans down in the
cinematic basement they still have prints of titles which kept jaded eyes open two decades or
more ago in the fleapits on New York's famous 42nd Street, but since consigned to guilty pleasure
limbo. Ham-fisted horror fests, cockeyed kung fu, jump-in-fright giallos; films often just as badly
spliced and diced as the heroines they tormented, with all their bedfellows have made their appearance,
brought back into daylight after years of contemptuous neglect by all save the few who kept the video
light burning. A brief tour of the major online retailers shows how far things have come on, with
proud releases of previously obscure 'two-fers', or the refurbishment and fresh release of old minor
cult favourites which (sometimes) shine and play out like new, especially amidst the over hyped,
bloated message-laden modern studio product.
Given the ways things are moving, at least in DVD land, Grindhouse Trailer Classics is surprisingly one of the first compilations of its sort to appear. There's always been a small collector's market for this sort of thing, items usually handed around between fans, on third-generation video copies - typically so in the UK during the dark days of the 'video nasty' panic, when most knew secretly that the establishment's overweening fear of cheap horror titles as the end of civilisation was just barmy. The success of such a compilation as this springs from the way the industry worked at the time back in the US where the films were actually shown. With few exceptions, the likely profit of much exploitation was predicated on the exciting premise created by bally-hoo rather than any word of mouth after viewing, when the producers of such financially and creatively challenged product were in effect obliged to "sell the sizzle, not the steak." It meant trailers often better, and more satisfying than the full-length product, as the best bits naturally were all included to be sure and lure in the punters. The sometime disappointment of those contemporary filmgoers in this respect is thus our gain, as the two hours or so of such material on offer here is chock-a-block of those best bits, and moreover presented in mostly better condition than we might expect from such ephemeral items.
Some of the titles here are enough to bring back a real sense of cinematic nostalgia (at least to those who old enough to remember the dying days of exploitation on video in the 1980s): Ted V. Mikels' The Corpse Grinders (1971) for instance, the trailer of which proudly presents the grinder - the real star of the show as it seems - almost like a useful household appliance in demonstration as it takes in the body of an under clad model; or the same director's Doll Squad, another trailer far more exciting than the feature it represents, and which was something of a precursor of Charlie's Angels. Some are outright hilarious. Notably, that for The Thing With Two Heads (1969), a title in which we find an acutely embarrassed Ray Milland, playing a racist who finds his head unexpectedly stitched onto the body of black soul brother on the run from prison. Part of the fun here lies in watching Milland's face, which seems as much in pain from the obvious nadir in his career as from the operation. The aficionados of crazy combat will especially welcome the appearance here of Master Of The Flying Guillotine (1975), a personal favourite of mine, martial madness featuring a deadly hat box device thrown out with rotating knives, as well as a fighting swami with extending arms, seen briefly here, and all sorts of supporting lunacies.
One or two trailers are for films of quality and which can be recommended to those who wish to look beyond the tasters for a full-length investigation. They include Demme's cult women-in-prison flick Caged Heat (1974), the stylish Shogun Assassin (1980) (incidentally another included on the DPP's ludicrous 'nasty' list at the time) or Fulci's zombie piece de resistance, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), a promo of which incidentally without reference to its notorious eye penetration moment. Others are for those infamous films the non-availability of which, for a decade or so, at least in the UK gave them a unique attraction. That for I Spit On Your Grave, the notorious rape revenge film, which can still only be seen uncut on import, is actually quite restrained. Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS (1975) revels more in its controversiality, beginning as it does with naked women hanging upside down alongside a camp swastika flag. One of four films made by exploitation actress Dyanne Thorne in the 1970s as the ubiquitous Ilsa (another, Ilsa, Harem Keeper Of The Oil Sheiks, 1976, also appears here but lacks the impact of the first) this is a sadistic title which still excites comment today, as the recent huffing and puffing about its belated, uncut, appearance in the UK market testifies.
All in all Grindhouse Trailer Classics is good value and certainly gives an entertaining tour through the undergrowth of cinema, one politely trodden down for too long. Reflecting the profile of British market from which is springs it contains mostly horror and violence, by way of topic and no hardcore. But, if nothing else, it shows what has been lost by the increasing sophistication and political correctness of modern cinema when, very often, filmmakers have forgotten some of their roots - those which after all lay just as much in the grind house as the art house. And, two or three decades later after the event, ironic distancing means discussions over sexism and violence of such trailers and their na�ve showmanship, are growing more of historical interest than of contemporary value. Accompanying the selection on this DVD is a 15-minute introduction to the genre by one Emily Booth, called Bump 'n' Grind (which also plugs a book on the subject for those who wish to read further), as well as a gallery of poster art.