For fans of horror, exploitation and general oddball films, the 1980s was an era of exploration and discovery. With the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film as a guide, locating various films of interest meant going to your local “ma and pa” cassette rental store, and hoping to one day walk in and see the likes of MARK OF THE DEVIL, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THREE ON A MEATHOOK, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE and dozens of others magically appear on the shelf (and they eventually would, without warning as this was at a time when the internet was still a thing of fiction). Assorted sleaze such as NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES, FLESH FEAST and THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE were definitely going home with me, as was just about any other low-brow piece of cinema I could get my paws on. The 1980s may mean something else for you, but for me, seeking out these older, less than acclaimed works of cinema is a big part of why I remember that time so fondly.
In 1987, my local Royal Video (well, the nearest one since I belonged to three of them within driving distance) stocked an enticing colorful VHS box for something called “Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell” that I would immediately be taking advantage of my membership for, along with whatever genre-related non-mainstream fair that was to be the night’s entertainment. Years and years before many a wonderful offbeat trailer compilation could be easily found on DVD (the only format that seemed to embrace the art of the “coming attraction” in an extensive manner), “Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell” proved right up my alley, a celebration of grindhouse/drive-in horror and exploitation from the previous two decades (in 1987, most of the latest efforts weren’t cutting the mustard for me, and it only tended to get worse). A treasure to behold, especially since there was nothing else like it at the time, it’s finally arrived on DVD evoking a certain bygone nostalgia, and gratifying those collectors who've had a rough time seeking out a legit copy of the rare tape over the last 23 years.
The introduction and wraparound segments really set up the droll mood for the array of graphic gore, bouncing breasts and gaudy ballyhoo that’s present in these coming attractions. Shot in an around the historic Landsdowne Theater in PA with what can be deemed as primitive video equipment by today’s standards, our on screen hosts are ventriloquist Nick Pawlow and his ghoul dummy Happy Goldsplatt who hang out in the projection both (adorned with some great horror movie posters). The drooling, demented (and mute) “Mad Ron” (Ron Roccia, who served as producer along with James F. Murray Jr.) works the projector as an army of hungry, living dead (Romero-inspired walking corpses) sloppily stumble in to watch the show. These well-made up ghoulies do everything from squeezing the blood from a severed extremity into their carton of popcorn, to giving hickeys as only the undead could. All these in-between shenanigans work, especially in the case of the talented Pawlow who bickers with green-fleshed, off-color (and we mean in another way) Happy, who are seen in between trailers but only actually interrupt one (WILDCAT WOMEN), appropriately enough, to make an excitable observation about “3-D titties”!
A mix of actual theatrical trailers (including many “Red Band” selections which means, anything goes) and shorter TV spots, the other titles in this timeless collection are (and don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you want to be surprised while viewing it): AFRICA: BLOOD AND GUTS, SILENT NIGHT EVIL NIGHT (BLACK CHRISTMAS), BLOOD AND LACE, BLOODEATERS, BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES, CANNIBAL GIRLS, HOUSE OF EXORCISM, BEYOND THE DOOR, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, TORSO, DERANGED, LADY FRANKENSTEIN, FLESH FEAST, GOD TOLD ME TO, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES, I DISMEMBER MAMA/THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, ILSA: THE SHE WOLF OF THE S.S., “Orgy of the Living Dead” Triple Feature, LOVE ME DEADLY, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, MAN FROM DEEP RIVER, CARNAGE (TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE), THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT, THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE, DEEP RED, SISTERS, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, VAULT OF HORROR, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE CORPSE GRINDERS, THE GHASTLY ONES, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE MUTATIONS, THE MANIACS ARE LOOSE (THE THRILL KILLERS), THE UNDERTAKER AND HIS PALS, THE WIZARD OF GORE, THREE ON A MEATHOOK, HORROR ON SNAPE ISLAND (TOWER OF EVIL) and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS.
As this was originally produced for 1980s VHS standards, the video quality of the wraparound segments have that old style camcorder look (which actually has a sort of charm to it here), and the trailers themselves are presented the way they were in 1987. Some of the trailers have since been presented elsewhere on DVD in better-looking (and in some cases longer) versions on their appropriate DVDs, but it’s the presentation and the fact that all these previews fit so comfortably together that makes this assemblage an eternal winner. Quality is perfectly acceptable, but don’t be expecting anamorphic enhancement and some of them have been through the mill (i.e. the grindhouse effect), are faded, or just downright jittery. But trust me, none of that should or will detract from the fun you’re gonna have with this entertaining, blood-soaked party ride. It’s great to realize that most of the titles here have actually been released on DVD (or are coming soon, like in the case of CANNIBAL GIRLS) over the years, but one major missing piece, due to MGM/Fox sitting on it year after year, is BLOOD AND LACE, which has never even been available on home video in any form in this country. What a crying shame!
Virgil Films has secured a number of extras for this DVD premiere, including a section of great promo trailers that help emphasize the screaming and general sensationalism of the trailers om display. During the course of the promos, it’s nice to see Nick Pawlow and Happy return here for a brief 2010 appearance to endorse the DVD, and there’s an odd misprint that quotes director William Girdler (who died a decade before the Mad Ron’s Prevues VHS issue) stating, “The best trailer compilation ever assembled”, which was obviously supposed to be credited to Keith Crocker of Cinefear Video. “Sinister On Set Hijinx” (7:51), is exactly that; behind-the-scenes video footage of bloopers and other on-set frivolity. More original behind-the-scenes video can be found with “Fiendish Behind the Scenes” (10:17), which mostly focuses on the makeup and special effects by Jay Kushwara and Jordu Schell (who would go on to work as Lead Character Designer for James Cameron's AVATAR). “Morbid Deleted Scenes” provides a long trailer for BLOOD FEAST and shorter one for THE LEGEND OF THE WOLFWOMAN, which were excluded from the main feature. There are two still galleries included, one which showcases poster art from the films represented in the trailers, and another which is made up of candid color photos from the set. The DVD’s credits, as well as two Easter Eggs round out the extras.
For more information about MAD RON'S PREVUES FROM HELL on DVD, visit the Virgil Films Website. (George R. Reis)
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