Off the Shelf…Drafthouse Films’ ‘Trailer War’

From the deepest darkest pit of forgotten film reels comes Drafthouse Films’ latest time capsule feature. Trailer War is simply a collection of off-beat, hokey and trailers for some of the film world’s oddest flicks. Although cast off, they are not trash. After all, films like these are what have influenced scores of filmmakers, most notably Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, for decades. War is a patchwork of advertisements for films the likes of which have seen by only a handful of modern day film audiences or people from the time of the film’s release. But this presentation isn’t just a brainless compilation of trailers lined up end to end for 110 minutes. No, there’s a little more to it than that.

First you have to realize one thing. Before YouTube (and even with it now actually) these are some off-the-wall and hard to find trailers. So it takes resources and patience to even assemble these two/three dozen or so B and C grade flicks that time forgot. Also without an narrative or “intermission” to break them up it can just seem like one long series. Thankfully the editing goes a long way. Martial arts flicks are grouped together as are the monster movies, exploitation movies and so on. So there really is a rhythm and some skill in the presentation even if on the surface it doesn’t appear that way.

So if the trailer didn’t help you might still be asking, “What else is offered in this mixed bag of resurrected film schlock?” The answer: literally everything. Lasers, mutants, magicians, nudity, animal rights activists, robots,  kung-fu, motorcycles, violence, David Carradine, maniac killers, explosions, etc. there’s no shortage of genre film elements and standbys. If you like late night movies and cinema that borders on gonzo film making then Trailer War is just what you need. Only thing that’s missing is either the MST3K crew providing hysteical commentary of introductions by Joe Bob Briggs or Elvira. It’s a lot of fun to revel in how bad cinema was back then but similarly exhale with a sigh of relief to see just how far cinema has come.

Watching these play out on screen, if you thought today’s movies were weird and some so bizarre that it’s impossible to believe they got made, Trailer War exhumes titles that those who made them probably wished were lost forever. Add to that the significant wear and signs of age these are trailers of a rare vintage but very much products of their time. In fact, I bet you’ve never seen a “pink band” trailer or one that feels the need to explain that the trailer was “edited” for content but still shows nudity have you?

There’s no shortage of eye-popping characters, and a slew of campy delights. And like the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (which shines a spotlight on some very good but hard-edged Australian films), some of these films go for the throat. For those who want some kick-ass action, Trailer War  caters to, among may others, the kung-fu aficionado with titles like The Tongfather, The Man From Hong KongSister Street Fighter, but the talented editors throw in some Westernized fares along the same lines that swap lousy dubbing for American actors/martial artists. Golden Needles, Force Four, Force Five (not a sequel in any way, though it is odd the trailers play back to back) and trying to mix blacksploitation with marital arts gives us Black Samurai.

While this could have been a bottom of the barrel collection of the worst movies ever there is a slightly high(er) brow approach to Trailer Wars. The film (mind you this is using the term very loosely when describing Trailer Wars) showcases some movies both outside the purely Grindhouse level of film but also a look at films you might actually want to watch out of morbid curiosity (like Voyage of the Rock Aliens and The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob). Some of these are poor rip-offs of mainstream (or cult) classics such as Clash of the Titans, The Road Warrior and Star Wars and in that respect, it’s funny to hear the narrators’ attempts to sell a film that will most likely, even in its respective time or country of origin, will still likely be terrible.

On the unexpectedly bright side we’re treated to a handful of obscure or overlooked films like Big Guns with Aidan Delon, The Scaremaker with Hal Holbrook, The Mutations with Donald Pleasence (well that does look pretty awful), Mitchell with Joe Don Baker and, I shit you not, Partners starring Ryan O’Neal and John Hurt as gay police officers are definite surprises and ways of mixing it up. Some might be good (especially when thrown up against things like Eunich of Western Palace, Mr. No Legs and Inframan) these bargain bin titles look at best tolerable and oddly fun, but at worst like utter train wrecks. Hey but then again, remember Michael Caine was in Jaws 4. So it’s not a stretch to think of good actors in bad movies now is it?

G-S-T RULING:

For the entire run time Trailer War is like a grand Chinese super-buffet that serves up all sorts of greasy delights that will either shock, or awe, or both. Fans of the Alamo would eat these titles up all day long and that is without a doubt the target audience for this collection. But for those on the fence (or those who get a kick out of checking out terrible trailer on YouTube), the trailers of  the B-grade hit-n-miss features within are enough to satisfy the curious with just a peek and without loosing too many brain cells on each film’s full run time. In the vein of Drafthouse’s earlier release, Miami Connection, you won’t say you didn’t have some fun watching Trailer War. Although nearly 2 full hours of trailers gets a little repetitive it is what it is so having a few cold ones close by helps some of these go down a little easier.