U.S.A. | 2008
Donald Pleasence,
Lieh Lo
Richard Johnson, Stuart Whitman
Martine Beswick, Candice Rialson, etc.
| 101 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R1 - NTSC)
Synapse Films
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    8   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Rod Barnett
Synapse has gifted the world with a third DVD of out-of-control trailers from the past. Like the previous two volumes in the series, this one covers just about every genre of film that might have even possibly played in the grindhouse cinemas on New York's fabled 42nd Street. In the heyday of exploitation films it seemed that almost anything could happen. Not in a 'special effects can create anything' kind of way but in the 'if you could find the money, write a script and shoot a movie you could make it about anything in the world' kind of way. No more restrictions; no more censors; no more taboos. Like a butterfly breaking free from its chrysalis, the movie industry looked around and realized it was in an entirely new, wide open world. The shell had been broken and it was time to try new things. So the 1970s were a period of wing stretching, flying experiments and sad crashes as creative (and not so creative) filmmakers explored ideas that earlier times would have shunned. It was an amazing time to be alive, and while the films that come out of it might not have always been great they were almost always alive in a way movies today often are not.
    This collection of often mindbending trailers is for the true junk food movie fan. I can't imagine the average moviegoer seeing these bizarre films being advertised and feeling anything other than scorn. Modern audiences are far too 'cool' to be interested in movies this strange or cheesy unless you dress the story up in $100 Million worth of CGI and call it something like Transformers or Van Helsing. That's what exploitation films are today: big-budgeted PG-13 slabs of blandness. Which is fine, really. That leaves the joys of the kinds of films represented on this disc to those of us with an open mind and the desire to see something that might not fit into a neat little box. Or carry a family-safe rating to guarantee maximum box office. People like me want our cinema to be unusual weird even. We think movies should be unpredictable, with strange ideas and perhaps a threadbare kind of creativity that might denote a lack of money but never a lack of spirit. We junk food film nuts like our movies to surprise us! So bring on the murderous ninjas, duck the projectile vomit, hide from the mysterious, silent killer, swim away from the hungry fish and run from the sadistic bikers. This is an Exploitation Explosion and we're all going to catch a little shrapnel before it's over!
    The best thing about this disc is that for the first time that I'm aware of we've been given a commentary track for a collection of trailers. As crazy as it may seem, Synapse has gathered together Fangoria editor Michael Gingold, film historian Chris Poggiali and AVManiacs.com editor Edwin Samuelson to talk about the trailers as they roll across the screen. And as crazy as it sounds, it really works! Between the three of them the commentators seem to have some fascinating tidbit of information about every single movie represented on this DVD. This isn't just a group of guys BS-ing about the stuff they're watching these fellows came prepared. I found myself backing up to listen more carefully several times and often wishing there was more time to talk about some of the films on view. If there is to be a fourth volume of this series I would highly recommend keeping this idea around and if possible get these same three men to do the job. Even if its clear that Poggiali is usually doing the heavy lifting on the track, the other two contribute a lot and having them together adds to the fun. The fact that they can find fascinating information for every single one of the 47 trailers presented is incredible and very entertaining.
    Of course, the best thing about collections like this are the fresh discoveries. Any good trailer reel will have movies you had never heard of that you'll feel the urge to track down. Luckily, this one is no exception. Once again the clips have been grouped in loose themes such as martial arts, women in prison, cheerleaders, horror, etc. Each grouping has standout examples of the art of the trailer and at least one movie I can hardly wait to eventually see.
In the martial arts section I was happy to see Enter the Ninja with Franco Nero show up but it's the obscure Jaguar Lives! that looks like more fun. One of the early movies made in the wake of karate boom of the '70s, it tried unsuccessfully to make a star out of Joe Lewis. Yeah, I know... Who? I'm sure that not even the presence of Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence and John Huston make this a good movie. And I've heard from several people that The Stranger and the Gunfighter (1974) is bad as well, but the idea of Lee Van Cleef, aided by Lieh Lo of Five Fingers of Death (the promo for which is also included here) searching for a treasure map tattooed onto the backsides of various women entices me. The violent made-in-the-Philippines Sudden Death, starring scrappy Robert Conrad of Wild Wild West fame, looks like good trashy fun but the trailer is full of so many obvious spoilers that it probably ruins the movie. (The overblown, adjective-slinging narration is hilarious.)
    There's a set of 'killer children' moves, with The Night Child (1975) looking very interesting; the evil kid in this one is played by Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy little actress from Deep Red and Baron Blood. 1974's Devil Times Five multiplies the mayhem in yet another trailer filled with an astounding number of spoilers. The strange mash-up of Carrie and Willard entitled Jennifer (1978) looks fascinating but without the commentary track you would never know that deadly snakes play a key role in the film.
    In the horror area there are several choice clips, including the amazing Italian Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door that is supposed to be getting a DVD release from Code Red later this year. The anthology film The Uncanny has a bad reputation but the presence of Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence and killer cats makes it a must-view. Antonio Margheriti's Killer Fish sports The Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors, facing a school of piranha for stolen money. And Cornel Wilde stars in and directs Shark's Treasure, which looks like a big comedown from his classic The Naked Prey. (Still it's Cornel Wilde so it's got to be worth a look.) The 'killer animal' theme is continued with The Pack, in which Joe Don Baker defends his family against vicious, flesh-hungry dogs on an isolated island.
    The cheerleader selection is eye-popping and although I generally have little interest in the genre, Summer School Teachers looks incredibly sexy and fun. It'd be great were it to get a DVD release some time so I could find out if it lives up to its fine trailer. Closely connected is the 'nurse' genre that flared up in the '70s; this disc gives us trailers for Night Call Nurses, The Young Nurses and Candy Stripe Nurses. Each looks like fun but I wonder if the best bits (and pieces) are given away in these entertaining clips. WIP pics are given their due via the likes of Chain Gang Women and the nudity-filled Prison Girls.
    In addition to carnal coeds, incarcerated cuties and naughty nurses, the sexploitation genre is further represented by a pair of "Happy Hooker" films: The Life and Times of Xavier Hollander (1974) and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980). The former is the edited softcore version of an unauthorized porno flick that got into legal trouble with the real-life Xaviera Hollander (an erotica author and sex advice columnist); the latter represents an embarrassing episode in the careers of Martine Beswick (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), comedian Phil Silvers, and Adam West (TV's Batman).
    As a horror film junkie I have to admit being most intrigued by the preview of The House By the Lake (AKA Death Weekend, 1976). An obvious attempt to steal from Last House on the Left (at least in the marketing campaign), it seems like a possible hidden gem. The trailer does a good job of making it look tense and the fellows on the commentary track were quite positive about it. Add it to the long list to hunt for.
NOTE: The disc also includes trailers for The One-Armed Executioner, Lightning Swords of Death, Patrick, Phase IV, Bug, Alligator, Demonoid, Blood Beach, Hot T-Shirts, Cheerleaders' Wild Weekend, Gorp, King Frat, 1000 Convicts and a Woman, The Penthouse, Survive, Guyana: Cult of the Damned, Seven, Scorchy, Savage Streets, Convoy, High Ballin', From Noon Till Three, Lies and Tattoo.

As you would expect the print quality varies from trailer to trailer with most looking surprisingly good. Even the ones that have seen better days are intact, with the scratches and slices adding just the right touch of grindhouse flavor. The disc was transferred in high definition, so it looks as good as possible and there is only the occasional (and expected) pop or snap in the strong mono audio track. Besides the already mentioned fantastic commentary, Synapse has also included as an extra about 12 minutes of television spots for a few of the movies as well. These are presented windowboxed and in some cases are very different from their theatrical brethren.
    Synapse has knocked another one out of the park with this release. I eagerly look forward to Volume 4!