Synapse Films

Once again, the blessed corrupt souls at Synapse Films have taken the oft-harrowing task of entertaining grindhouse fanatics in hand. The result is the fifth entry in the 42ND STREET FOREVER trailer compilation. But, this time, there’s a bit of a change in the regime. As the subtitle of this volume implies, VOLUME 5 consists of trailers culled from the vaults of the famed Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX.

I myself have never been to Texas (as of this writing). I never found a reason to go. My late grandfather -- who served in WWII and Korea, and whom I love dearly -- was born and raised in Texas. And still, that wasn’t enough for me to warrant so much as an inkling of a thought devoted to visiting Texas. But then I heard about the Alamo Drafthouse. At last, I have a reason. And for any other folks that have been looking for a bona fide excuse to head over to the Lone Star State, your ship has finally come in.

But back to the DVD, kids. 42nd STREET FOREVER: VOLUME 5 - ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE CINEMA gathers together 50 vintage trailers and promos -- all from the Alamo Drafthouse and all re-mastered in High Definition.

For its inaugural grindhouse relic, VOLUME 5 begins with a 1970s-era promotional piece explaining the ratings system of the time. But it’s no ordinary ratings system piece, kiddos -- no siree -- this one is done by none other than Charlton Heston (in CinemaScope, nonetheless). On a tennis court. Heart to heart and face to face with the camera, as if he were telling a teenager how he should smoke weed.

Incidentally, you may want to break out the weed because following Chuck’s rating system PSA, we dive straight into several wacky Asian martial arts flicks. The first, the literally-translated and illiterately-worded A LIFE OF NINJA, appears to be one of those Godfrey Ho-style movie mash-ups wherein two entirely different and unfinished flicks were edited together in order to create one entirely incomprehensible mess. Regular kung-fu fans will no doubt recognize the familiar voice of narrator Adolph Caesar, who did many a dubbing job for countess Hong Kong flicks through the 1970s and 1980s (I just love how he says “Nin-jer”).

NINJA is followed by more mind-numbing thrills and chills, beginning with as STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS. While DRAGON MASTERS may have a great title, feature some fab-a-roo stunt work, and boast the tremendous talents of Angela Mao, it’s a rather forgettable trailer. Sonny Chiba’s THE BODYGUARD, on the other hand, is completely memorable. It’s a timeless example of the kind of action-packed trailer that distributor Terry Levene would cut together for his own Aquarius Films (and also voiced by Adolph Caesar). The highpoint of the trailer has a chorus of men chant “Viva Chiba!” Classic, baby, classic.

What’s this? More kung-fu madness? You bet! While MAD MONKEY KUNG-FU (also voiced by the Adolph Caesar -- the man must've been very busy) exited my mindset faster than the trailer for STING OF THE DRAGON MASTERS did, the following look at WONDER WOMEN succeeded in being more memorable. Featuring B-Movie prince Ross Hagen, WONDER WOMEN is a prime paradigm of the 1970s exploitation genre, furnished with a bevy of babes, Nancy Kwan as a mad doctor, Filipino action, a brief shot of Vic Diaz, and an assortment of ass-kickings. How can you go wrong with this?

The last entry of this martial arts-oriented kick is LUCKY SEVEN, which has to be seen to be believed. In it, seven kids go up against the crooked Chinese mobsters who have taken over their neighborhood (or something like that). Scenes of actual child actors kung-fu fighting the big actors -- and getting the shit kicked out in the process -- will have your jaw on the floor and your hand on the phone, ready to call Child Support Services.

A thirty-someodd-second black and white advertisement pops its head in the door next, to announce that this theater is cooled by a state-of-the-art scientific air conditioning cooling system thingy. A drawing of theater patrons in Eskimo coats with icicles protruding from the ceiling exemplifies how state-of-the-art and scientific it really is.

Well, nothing breaks the ice formed by a state-of-the-art and scientific air conditioning unit than a trip to the warm waters of the Atlantic. Or is this the Caribbean? No, wait -- when Franco Nero’s on-hand as THE SHARK HUNTER, it doesn’t matter where the body of water is…all that matters is that Franco Nero can kick the back-end of any man, woman, or fish.

Just when you think you’re getting revved-up for an all-Italian set of trailers, the makers of VOLUME 5 toss in a nature documentary. Yes, you read that right: a nature documentary. The title in question is one BIRDS DO IT, BEES DO IT from 1974. This “intimate story of animal courtship, mating, and family instincts throughout the world” was made by one David L. Wolper, the same lad who brought us THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLES. Although it claims that it will never be shown on television due to the shocking nature of the film (obviously, nobody in the 1970s ever thought Pay/Cable TV would become the only TV someday), the film’s narrator urges parents to bring their kids in anyway (after all, it’s nature!).

With a name like BIRDS DO IT, BEES DO IT, it seems only fair that the next trailer is entitled LET’S DO IT! One of the many god-awful early 1980s sex comedies (most of which have now become popular cult items -- somebody explain that one to me, please), LET’S DO IT! tells the tale of Freddie (Greg Bradford, who later joined the porn industry on the production side of the camera), a young lad who is so worried about making his woman happy in bed, that he can’t get it up. Written and directed by none other than Bert I. Gordon!

LET’S DO IT! leads the way for an onslaught of sexploitation trailers, starting with CHATTERBOX (1977): the story of a woman with a talking (and singing) vagina. I think watching my significant other shake her head in disbelief was more entertaining than the trailer itself, which features Candice Rialson, Rip Taylor, and Professor Irwin Corey.

DANISH LOVE ACTS is one of the many “educational adult films” that “art houses” frequently carried in an age when pornography was just plain evil (now we have “the Internet”). The trailer is the most graphic of all previews included in this compilation and will delight any and all fans of bouncing breasts. Next up is a look at GROUP MARRIAGE, Stephanie Rothman’s dramedy with Victoria Vetri, Claudia Jennings, Jayne Kennedy and the proverbial outrageous gay couple as comic relief.

As we enter into the “rougher” nature of sexploitation films, we find ourselves with the none-too-descriptive teaser trailer for VIOLATED!, which according to the IMDb is directed by 1950s exploitation maestro Albert Zugsmith and starring the legendary Rene Bond and Ric Lutze. The trailer consists of nothing more than a still (probably taken from another film) and a rolling title explaining that the movie is so shocking that the management cannot show you any footage of it. This was a customary procedure for many a fly-by-night distributor who bought an overseas film and didn’t have their hands on the print when it was time to start marketing it. Fortunately, the folks who assembled the preview for Jean Rollin’s CAGED VIRGINS did have their hands on a print of the movie they were marketing: and this long look at the bizarro S&M vampire flick tends to overstay its welcome.

Hungry? How about a tasty BBQ beef sandwich, made with James River Beef with Barbeque Sauce? We put the “foo” in “food” by offering you the most unappealing of crap, marketed in a racist-looking can. And it’s available now folks -- at our concession stand!

Moving on, we enter the world of cheesy science fiction. First up is Japanese production company’s Toei’s “contribution” to the motion picture world, following the enormous success of STAR WARS: the epically wacky MESSAGE FROM SPACE. Boasting the one and only Sonny Chiba, spaceships with sails, swordfights, glowing mystical walnuts, and Vic Morrow in one of the most embarrassing outfits ever, MESSAGE FROM SPACE defies the imagination (I’m only referring to the trailer, incidentally) and was later remade as LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI.

THE TERRORNAUTS was the only feature film to be written by famed sci/fi writer John Brunner. Unfortunately, the budget for THE TERRORNAUTS must’ve been about two quid, since it boasts some incredibly bad special effects. Simon Oates and Zena Marshall star.

Turning the intensity up to 11, we dive into the nearly color-ridden trailer for MIND WARP (aka GALAXY OF TERROR), the infamous Roger Corman-produced science fiction/horror film that has become something of a cult legend since its 1981 release. The premise of the ALIEN-inspired film has a group of astronauts being terrorized and killed by their own worst nightmares. Erin Moran, Edward Albert, Sid Haig, and Robert Englund are amongst the story’s doomed astronauts. A graphic trailer, MIND WARP offers audiences a glimpse of the film’s most notorious moment: a woman being raped by a giant slimy space maggot. Needless to say, this one should be on everyone’s Christmas Wish List.

A short teaser for the box office bomb MEGAFORCE pops up to inform you “The good guys always win -- even in the 1980s!” And then, without so much as a hint of transitional material, VOLUME 5 jumps to the action genre, starting with a blaxploitation-looking vehicle known as ZEBRA FORCE. ZEBRA FORCE has a group of soldiers declaring war on the mob -- and it delivers a lot of B-Movie fun in the guise of explosions, shootings (including a badly scarred one-armed man in the back of a van with a machine gun mowing the bad guys down), killings, and a car chase that promises to be the most daring since BULLITT or THE FRENCH CONNECTION (ahem).

Indonesia’s BLAZING BATTLE brings us an action-packed look at World War II-era Asia, as the brave men of Indonesia fight the invading Japanese soldiers. If you’ve ever wondered just how much Indonesia hates Japan, just have a peek at this trailer: our hero runs about, impaling, fighting, and gouging out the eyes of the enemy. Looks like a fun film to me!

The action turns incredibly silly with an Italian-language trailer (with English subtitles) for the James Bond spoof JAMES TONT: OPERAZIONE U.N.O. (1965), a mind-numbingly goofy look at a film that has -- for some unexplained reason -- never found its way to America. Italian actor Lando Buzzanca is secret agent James Tont, who drives around in a mini gadget-laden auto (which works underwater -- a good 12 years before Roger Moore did it in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), shooting a mini-gun with his teeth, and fighting the bad guys while a female vocalist sings an English-language rip-off of the GOLDFINGER theme, Goldsinger!

Back to the action world again, we are treated to the Japanese Export trailer for INTERNATIONAL SECRET POLICE: THE DIAMOND TRAP (1960s), featuring a young Sonny Chiba (billed as Shinichi Chiba). Any attempt at seriousness in this trailer is put to shame by some poorly (and hilariously) translated title cards, reading such “Engrish” tripe as “Destroying the international black market of diamond” and “Firing the gun for talking revenge for my killed friend!” Go ahead, figure that one out.

MACHINE GUN MCCAIN is one of the great Italian gangster films to feature a prominent English-speaking cast, including John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, and an appearance by Gena Rowlands. The trailer is a delight to behold, but nowhere near as fun as the next one, Andy Sidaris’ STACEY. Sort of like a while version of blaxploitation, STACEY stars Playboy Playmate Anne Randall as a gun-toting, breast-baring action heroine with a passion for fast cars. A must see (and not just for the breasts).

The trailer for another 007 spoof, Antonio Margheriti’s LIGHTNING BOLT (1966) (originally titled OPERAZIONE GOLDMAN), is played as a serious action film by its U.S. distributors. Anthony Eisley and Wandisa Guida (aka Wandisa Leigh) are featured going up against the bad guy, who is trying to take over the world from an underwater lair (again, long before THE SPY WHO LOVED ME came out) and has people frozen inside the walls of his catacombs. Several fight scenes are reminiscent of Margheriti’s later mini-series, YOR: THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (which was featured in 42nd STREET FOREVER: VOLUME 4).

Towards the beginning of this compilation, we were featured to a trailer that looked like it was a Godfrey Ho cut-and-paste job. Here’s the real deal: a preview from MISSION THUNDERBOLT (1983), which is about as wild as can be. The trailer, staying true to Ho’s Copyright Infringement style of filmmaking, features a badly looped “Run Like Hell” from Pink Floyd’s THE WALL.

Forget any notions you may have that Italian filmmakers are among the best and brightest, because THE 3 SUPERMEN IN THE WEST is, one of several god-awful “comedies” that Italy cranked out over a 20-year period. In this one, the three leotard-clad individuals are portrayed by George Martin, Sal Borgese and Frank Braña (in one of his few “good guy” roles), and the story has the Supermen transported back to the Old West, where they hop around a lot and kick cowboys in the ass. Seriously, that’s all they do in this trailer. It’s really bad, so view this one at your own discretion.

A 10-second snipe reading “Our Next Attraction” takes us to PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (1971), the Gene Roddenberry-scripted comedy/thriller wherein high school girls are being murdered. Starring Rock Hudson (as a philandering high school coach), Telly Savalas (the state policeman), Angie Dickinson (the seductive substitute teacher), Keenan Wynn (the sheriff) and Roddy McDowall (the principal).

Next up is the odd trailer for Robert Downey, Sr.’s PUTNEY SWOPE, which starts out with a group of women dressed in revealing clothing and bouncing up and down in slo-mo. Then, the preview cuts to one of the many politically-incorrect ads that are featured in the movie itself -- which left audiences scratching their heads in bewilderment in 1969 and still does forty years later. It is followed by NORMAN…IS THAT YOU?, the 1976 comedy (based on a play from 1970) wherein star Redd Foxx discovers his son, Norman (Michael Warren), is gay -- and promptly tries to “straighten” him out with a hooker.

A brief journey to the South begins as a popular singer (Leslie Uggams) takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque and winds up in REDNECK COUNTY (aka POOR PRETTY EDDIE). The magnificent Dub Taylor is on-hand to strip and paw the pretty starlet in a bar full of patrons, including Michael Christian, Slim Pickens, Shelley Winters and Ted Cassidy (without his Lurch makeup on). Following REDNECK COUNTY is MOONRUNNERS, the James Mitchum/Waylon Jennings vehicle that spawned the hit series THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. All of the fun that the series is still well-known for is featured here, although on a much more adult level.

Hi-ya, hi-ya, hi-ya! An intermission promo for Flavo’s Shrimp Rolls rolls us right into a round of fantasy films, starting with THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (VYNÁLEZ ZKÁZY), a 1958 Czech fantasy from Karel Zeman. Filmed in “Mystimation,” Zeman’s unique approach to combining live action, animation, and cutouts obviously went on to inspire Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. The fantasy fun soon comes to an abrupt halt with THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE (1964), a horrid-looking piece of no-budget California-grown trash. An ugly and large-bottomed boy is granted three wishes from a magic tree. Scenes of an old hag in witch makeup and a department store Santa Claus being “magically” held captive in an open chair by the young protagonist will only add to your Seasonal Holiday Depression.

More bottom-of-the-barrel family “fun” is presented in PINOCCHIO’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (1974), a Canadian film from Ron Merk. Merk was successful with importing the German stop-motion animated version of PINOCCHIO in 1968, so he purchased three more animated shorts from DEFA Studios and packaged them with some new live-action footage. The whole thing has a weird, unshakable XANADU feeling about it.

1958’s THE MAGIC OF THE KITE (CERF-VOLANT DU BOUT DU MONDE) whisks two bored French children away to China via the titular object, which comes to life dressed like a monkey. More enchantment is to be found on THE SECRET OF MAGIC ISLAND (UNE FEÉ…PAS COMME LES AUTRES), one of those legendary “lost” films that many movie buffs are anxious to see. In it, we witness a cat and duck riding together in a hot-air balloon, an evil space-age monkey capturing a duck and doggie with a trap door, an all-bird choir, and a carnival for animals. The captivating trailer from the 1956 movie is followed by another intermission promo, this time advertising a Texas-sized hot dog and schooner.

B-Movie adventures are only a “Skip” button away, beginning with the unbelievably bad 1972 Tarzan rip-off, KARZAN: MASTER OF THE JUNGLE (check out the “K” in the title credits), starring a blonde-actor (who can’t do the Tarzan Yell very well) who is billed as “Johnny Kissmüller, Jr.” in order to confuse golden-age Tarzan fans with actor Johnny Weissmuller. So bad, it makes TARZAN, THE APE MAN look good by comparison. Charles B. Pierce’s THE NORSEMAN (1978) follows -- an Arkansas-made Viking epic with an even-more-embarrassed-than-usual Lee Majors prancing about with his co-stars, all adorned with plastic armor and weaponry. Equally humiliated actors Mel Ferrer, Cornel Wilde and Jack Elam are also featured. It was released by AIP.

Sorcery is added to the “Sword” equation, resulting in SORCERESS (1982), another schlock-fest produced by Roger Corman and directed by Jack Hill (who was fired) and Jim Wynorski (who took over for Hill). Two bosomy blonde twins (Leigh Harris and Lynette Harris -- who appear completely naked, bless ‘em!) are endowed with more than just big boobies: they are also given the powers of sorcery and the martial arts, which will come in handy when they grow up to fight the big bad wizard guy.

In the early 1970s Bing Crosby’s production company decided to make a retro retread of films like HOUSE OF WAX and the films that inspired it. TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973) was the result. It starred Ray Milland and several other washed-up “old” actors such as Elsa Lanchester, John Carradine, Maurice Evans, Louis Hayward, Broderick Crawford, and Patric Knowles. It was soon forgotten by all. Even the video store that carried it when I was younger had a hard time renting it out to bad movie aficionados such as myself.

Despite it not being an actual theatrical trailer, a TV Spot for THE MANSON MASSACRE (1972) is nevertheless a rare look at an almost obscure film based on the infamous crimes of the Charles Manson Family. I once had a dirty, banged-up poster for this film, which I discovered in the dirty, banged-up backroom of a theater that I worked in as a teenager. I also had a poster for THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (aka I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN), a 1975 supernatural horror rip-off of both THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY. Joan Collins, Ralph Bates, and Donald Pleasance star.

Lastly on the list of trailers for VOLUME 5 is SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK, the 1988 rock-n-roll horror film featuring singer Toni Basil (“Mickey”) and music by Devo. True to the grindhouse experience, all of the previews and bumpers here contain scratches, burns, cuts, etc. Every trailer either is presented in anamorphic widescreen format and contains mono stereo sound.

Bonus Materials include an Audio Commentary with Alamo owner Tim League and programmers Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson. The commentary is entertaining enough, but not as thorough or as spontaneous-sounding as the track on VOLUME 4. The real treat here is REMEMBER THE ALAMO, a thirty-minute documentary about the Alamo Drafthouse. Owner League and programmers Nilsen and Carlson give us the history of the cinema and reflect on some of the wilder times they’ve had. The DVD comes with an insert with a poster art montage on one side, and a bio of the Drafthouse on the other. (Adam Becvar aka Luigi Bastardo - luigibastardo@gmail.com)