Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back To 42nd Street

Synapse is back with its fifth wild, wacky, and macabre collection of grindhouse trailers packaged under its 42ND STREET FOREVER banner. I previously reviewed Volume 3 and Volume 4, and I'm pleased to say that Volume 5, which is subtitled ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE CINEMA, is just as insane and fun as the earlier volumes.

But first, what is the Alamo Drafthouse? Simply, it's a franchise of three "brew-and-view" movie theaters based in Austin, Texas and owned by Tim League. The Alamo is something of a Shangri-La for fans of cult movies with its regular revival showings of obscure exploitation pictures and a true dedication to preserving the history of these mostly forgotten treasures. 42ND STREET FOREVER, VOLUME 5 not only collects a diverse variety of drive-in and exploitation trailers from the Alamo's vast archive, but also contains a documentary about the theater and an audio commentary featuring League and two of his programmers, Zack Carlson and Lars Nilsen.

But first, the trailers…

• And what an amazing opening. A bearded Charlton Heston, resplendent in a velour tennis outfit with wide red collars, advises parents on the MPAA ratings system, talking about all the “fine, significant films” that have been rated G. Nice of Chuck to interrupt his game for us.

• A LIFE OF NINJA—“You expect me to believe the killer’s a ninja?” Scantily clad women, including some wrestling in mud, populate this crazy trailer for a dubbed Hong Kong flick backed by Stu Phillips music stolen from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Swordfights, sexual innuendo, flying ninja, glowing eyes, and a fighter big enough to fit Bolo Yeung in his loincloth make this picture a must-see.

• Angela Mao stars in STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS, which is voiced by one of my favorite trailer narrators (if anyone knows his name, please let me know). I’ve seen this trailer several times, but it’s cool, featuring lots of chopsocky action. Cinemation released it.

• “Viva Chiba!” Sonny looks quite natty, kicking tons of ass in a three-piece suit in THE BODYGUARD. Adolph Caesar narrates: “Faster than Ali! Meaner than Bruce Lee! Sonny Chiba, the Streetfighter, is the dirty, mean murder machine! The meanest, bloodiest, most violent, ass-kicking, arm-ripping mother yet!” The hyperbole actually isn’t too far over the top, as Sonny really does rip some dude’s arm right off!

• Shaw Brothers produced MAD MONKEY KUNG FU that introduces “three types of monkey boxing—a step beyond kung fu.” At the very least, it’s a magnificent title. It looks pretty silly though. “An action picture you cannot afford to miss!”

• Star Ross Hagen narrates WONDER WOMEN, which stars Nancy Kwan as a mad scientist transforming sexy babes into sexy babe robots. Hagen gets beaten up by lots of hot women in this Philippines production with shurikens, cockfighting, chicks shooting machine guns, Hagen as a Bond wannabe, and Vic Diaz.

• LUCKY SEVEN made me laugh with its cast of kung fu children smacking each other around and putting the adult actors through slapsticky action and odd pedophile jokes. I bet it’s not much fun for viewers over ten, but the trailer has some amusing moments, including real kids doing dangerous-looking stunts. The kids have names like Little Fatty, Bumpkin, and Little Chili. Some of the stunts are awesome.

• Want windsurfing, fake beards, and burly fisticuffs? Check out Franco Nero wrestling a shark in THE SHARK HUNTER.

• BIRDS DO IT, BEES DO IT—“The intimate story of animal courtship, mating, and family instincts throughout the world.” Yep, a David Wolper documentary about animals fucking. It humorously warns that it’s too explicit to ever be shown on television, but also urges the whole family to see it together.

• Boob fans need to see LET’S DO IT! about a guy named Freddy who attracts a lot of women. Director Bert I. Gordon’s idea of filmmaking is to point the camera at his starlets’ chests, not that I’m complaining (much).

• CHATTERBOX has a one-of-a-kind premise: a sexy young woman (Candice Rialson) wakes up one morning to discover her vagina can talk. And sing. Well. So well that she becomes a Hollywood star. Believe it or not, CHATTERBOX is really a sweet movie, but some believe the film’s outrageous premise helped kill the effervescent Rialson’s Hollywood career.

• DANISH LOVE ACTS—Well, what more do I need to say? The title is the concept.

• Character actor Harold Gould voices GROUP MARRIAGE, a Stephanie Rothman comedy with Claudia Jennings. The trailer contains fewer exploitative elements than you may expect, though enough to make it look intriguing. It does manage to get a car explosion in there.

• VIOLATED—A “hard-hitting, shocking” film with scenes “too powerful” to be shown, so the trailer is just narration of copy crawling over a dead woman. Wonder if any audiences were fooled?

• Girls dressed as clowns setting a man and his car on fire? I’m intrigued. It’s Harry Novak’s CAGED VIRGINS, which is a French thriller directed by Jean Rollin and distributed (dubbed) in the U.S. by Boxoffice International. Plenty of nudity and hammy acting.

• Sonny Chiba is back, along with Vic Morrow (!), in the goofy U.S./Japan co-production MESSAGE FROM SPACE, which was one of the first major STAR WARS rip-offs. Spectacle, not the stars, is the selling point of this colorful, action-packed space fantasy. Vic says, “I buried my career!”, which he probably thought was true.

• THE TERRORNAUTS is a British SF movie with unconvincing spaceship models and Dalek-like robots that threaten people. Looks kinda dull, actually, but the trailer delivers some campy laughs.

• MIND WARP: AN INFINITY OF TERROR—Better known as GALAXY OF TERROR, MIND WARP was one of several titles Roger Corman heaped upon this cheap SF thriller in an effort to find an audience. Fondly remembered by some fans today, it strangely isn’t on DVD, despite a name cast (Edward Albert, Sid Haig, Erin Moran, Ray Walston), some gore, a notorious worm rape scene, an unusual premise, and decent special effects. It was cool to see the trailer for the first time.

• MEGAFORCE proudly proclaims to be from the director of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and CANNONBALL RUN, which didn’t help this klutzy action pic become a hit. “The good guys always win! Even in the ‘80s.” Also not on DVD.

• ZEBRA FORCE looks surprisingly badass with lots of slow-motion if not exactly competent action sequences, stunts, and blood squibs. “The most deadly commandos ever to blast their way across the screen in a battle with the mob!” Sounds cool to me. I gotta see it, even though it compares itself (inaccurately, I’m sure) to BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION.

• BLAZING BATTLE—I have no idea what this wild action film is or what it’s about. It appears to be an Indonesian production about some badass wrecking havoc in the jungle during World War II. Fans of THE STABILIZER will probably get a big kick out of it, and I wanna see this one too. Explosions, impalements, and eye-gougings reign supreme.

• JAMES TONT: OPERAZIONE U.N.O.—This Italian Sixties spy spoof is presented in Italian with English subtitles, which means it may never have played in the U.S. Too bad. It looks fun with a gimmick Volkswagen that drives underwater, X-ray specs, a hand that comes out of a toilet, bikini babes, and a song that sounds hilariously like Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.”

• More Sonny Chiba in INTERNATIONAL SECRET POLICE: THE DIAMOND TRAP, a poorly but amusingly translated Sixties trailer with stuff blowing up real good.

• MACHINE GUN MCCAIN—John Cassavetes, Britt Eklund, Gena Rowlands, and Peter Falk star in this spaghetti crime flick that looks as though it delivers the violent goods. Cassavetes and Falk dub themselves, but everyone else appears to be a European actor dubbed by the usual gang.

• STACEY—“the James Blonde bombshell”—is an entertaining Andy Sidaris actioner starring the stunning Anne Randall, who didn’t make nearly as many movies as she should have. Fast cars, exploding signs, and many, many breasts populate Sidaris’ first movie, which he later remade as MALIBU EXPRESS.

• Anthony Eisley is spy Harry Sennett in LIGHTNING BOLT, a decent Italian spy flick that redeems its dull first half with a lively second half. Eisley wisecracks his way through the trailer for this “Technicolor supercharger.”

• Oh, no, not a Joseph Lai production! MISSION THUNDERBOLT is another goofy, confusing, and barely watchable mishmash of various unfinished films that filled video stores in the 1980s. Did this actually play theatrically? Sure looks like it. This one has a bad guy in a monster mask, a female assassin, hot tub nudity (“introducing Summer Coba”), and enough craziness to make me actually want to watch it. God help Godfrey Ho.

• THE 3 SUPERMEN IN THE WEST is one of many slapstick action movies about Italian superheroes who bounce on invisible trampolines and right wrongs. I’d like to know how they make it to the American West in this one, though the cringeworthy “humor” evident in the trailer doesn’t inspire me to find out.

• PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW packs more titillation into its trailer than most films do in their entirety. Drive-in fans will adore brief shots of ‘70s queens Joanna Cameron, Barbara Leigh, Joy Bang, Margaret Markov, and other beautiful women in this Roger Vadim-directed murder mystery with an all-star cast. Looks like a real blast.

• Gorgeous women jumping in slow motion? That’s what I took away from the PUTNEY SWOPE trailer. And a really funny song that must have interested audiences in this well-known X-rated comedy by Robert Downey.

• NORMAN, IS THAT YOU?—SANFORD AND SON’s Redd Foxx headlines this MGM comedy about a man in a mid-life crisis who discovers his son is a “Tinkerbell.” HILL STREET BLUES’ Mike Warren and Dennis Dugan play the gay couple, Pearl Bailey is Foxx’s wife, and Tamara Dobson is a hooker. Looks like it may be funny, though horribly dated.

• I’m not a fan of REDNECK COUNTY, which was also released as POOR PRETTY EDDIE, but the trailer delivers cheap thrills. Leslie Uggams is a singer who is stranded and brutalized and unable to find justice from a small-town mayor (Dub Taylor) and sheriff (Slim Pickens). Shots of Uggams undressing let you know where this movie is coming from.

• MOONRUNNERS looks like every DUKES OF HAZZARD episode you’ve seen. Which is because it was the inspiration for the popular CBS show. Kiel Martin and Jim Mitchum are the fun-loving cousins who drive fast, love hard, and have tons of fun in the ‘shine business.

• THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is a black-and-white Czech film that doesn’t really seem to fit the 42ND STREET FOREVER format. It’s an expensive-looking fantasy that appears to be, you know, good. Neat visual effects and imaginative art direction.

• THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE—You may get whiplash going from the extravagant Jules Verne film to this cheapjack kiddie flick with acting and production values on the level of a typical VD film. The graphics use the BEWITCHED font.

• PINOCCHIO’S BIRTHDAY PARTY looks even cheaper and more idiotic than MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE, if such a thing is possible. Scary puppets and stop-motion animation mix with bad live-action performers, including a chipper fairy who comes across as squirmingly erotic. What is wrong with me? Won the Children’s Film of the Year award at the 1974 Atlanta International Film Festival! I wonder what else competed there.

• More kiddie nightmare fodder in THE MAGIC KITE about, I think, a weird monkey man who takes some kids to China. I’m afraid. Xerox released it!

• THE SECRET OF MAGIC ISLAND compares itself to PETER PAN and THE WIZARD OF OZ. Its cast of singing animals is more creepy than enchanting. You gotta see the “villainous space-age monkey!” “In wonderful color!”

• How did the Burroughs family lawyer miss this one? KARZAN, MASTER OF THE JUNGLE is a terrible ripoff of You Know Who. See the bad actor pretend to wrestle a rattlesnake. See the coordination-challenged fight scenes. Johnny Kissmuller, Jr. (!) is Karzan.

• A Lee Majors Viking movie? Who bankrolled this? I actually saw THE NORSEMAN at the drive-in when I was a kid, but fell asleep and never saw the end of it. Majors should never be allowed anywhere near a period piece. Deacon Jones (!), Cornel Wilde, and Jack Elam co-star in this adventure by the director of THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.

• SORCERESS—Jack Hill directed and disowned this fantasy he directed for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It isn’t very good, and it recycles James Horner’s very familiar BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS score. The trailer is amusing though, and features sexy twin sisters fighting topless, animated lightning bolts, zombies, and an incomprehensible story. I’d watch this movie. If I hadn’t already seen it, that is.

• TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM teams up over-the-hill stars Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, John Carradine, Louis Hayward, Broderick Crawford, and more in a hokey-looking old-fashioned horror flick. “Are they alive, or are they dead?” Is he talking about the monsters or the old actors?

• One of many sleazy flicks to capitalize on the Charles Manson murders was THE MANSON MASSACRE, which received this short spot showcasing chanting young women. “Uncut, uncensored!”

• Joan Collins stars in THE DEVIL WITHIN HER, which finds a nun going mano-a-mano with a baby in his crib. AIP released what looks like a silly EXORCIST ripoff.

• SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK—Dead rock stars on Alcatraz come back to life to haunt teenagers. Or something like that. Devo provided music, and Toni Basil is in it.

The self-serving documentary REMEMBER THE ALAMO is a real strokefest that plays like Synapse head Don May was paying off a bet. The Alamo Drafthouse seems like a great place to see a movie though.

The two previous 42ND STREET FOREVER collections featured entertaining and informative commentary tracks by Edwin Samuelson, Chris Poggiali, and Michael Gingold. This one features the navel-gazing Alamo Drafthouse gang that appears to know less about the films than their predecessors. They're enthusiastic however, and I highly respect their efforts to collect and preserve genre trailers and films of this vintage.

Like the others in the 42ND STREET FOREVER series, and I hate to sound like a busted 45, this DVD is essential for fans of this type of film.


Matt Farkas said...

Wait - you've never seen Requiem for a Vampire (aka Caged Virgins)? And you even sneered at the free copy I had offered you in trade 3-4 years ago?!

Have you never seen any Rollin films? You don't know what you're missing, my friend....Unless, perhaps, you do! ;-)

Marty McKee said...

I did?!? I have no memory of that. No, I've never seen any Rollin. They look arty and boring, although CAGED VIRGINS does appear to deliver the sexy, violent goods.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Do yourself a favor and check out the kick-ass Synapse DVD of GRAPES OF DEATH. One of the extras is an extensive interview with Rollin, serving as a nice crash-course introduction to his work.

Rich D said...

I've seen MAD MONKEY KUNG FU. (The Region-3 Celestial Pictures DVD release sits on a shelf within eyesight.) And it is silly fun.

christian said...

I was a frequent visitor to ye olde Alamo Drafthouse and recall well many of these awesome trailers. It was there I saw PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW thanks to Tarantino's fest. Ah, Austin dazed and confused!