It was only about three years ago that I first wrote about Joe Dante and his distinguished company’s marvelous web site Trailers From Hell. Back in July 2007 I was very excited about the possibilities of this new site devoted to horror, science fiction and exploitation movie trailers, and in the interim it seems an awful lot of people have joined in my enthusiasm. The site recently collected another honor from the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, named for the acromegaly-afflicted star of such popular Universal B's as House of Horrors, Jungle Captive and Pearl of Death, where Trailers from Hell was named Best Website for the second consecutive year. But while awards and recognition are wonderful things indeed, and extremely important for sites like this one to remain healthy and grow their audience, the honors are not what is most exciting about Trailers from Hell these days.
Over the past three years the site has expanded its roster of original Grindhouse Gurus (including Dante, Edgar Wright, John Landis and Mick Garris) to include an impressive roster of names from across the vast expanse of exploitation and mainstream cinema. Some of the names gathered under the Trailers from Hell umbrella to share their thoughts on a spectacular collection of movie previews include screenwriters Larry Karaszewski, Josh Olson, Howard Rodman and directors Allan Arkush, Katt Shea, Alison Anders, Stuart Gordon, Michael Lehmann, David DeCouteau, George Hickenlooper, Neil La Bute, Jack Hill and Eli Roth, among many, many others. And that collection of trailers itself has grown into quite a library—nearly 400 titles at this writing, with more added every week, with the range of genres spanning from B-horror and sci-fi like The Green Slime, Destroy All Monsters and The Fiendish Ghouls to big-budget mainstream Hollywood fare like El Cid, Written on the Wind and Cool Hand Luke. Of course, the emphasis is on horror, sci-fi and exploitation, and just a glance at all the available titles is to disappear into a click-fest of movie geek happiness, a virtual guarantee of at least two hours lost, time you might have spent perhaps more constructively, but probably not having nearly so much fun.
And recently, as if the dangling carrot of hearing Edgar Wright wax on about the trailer for Michael Winner’s The Sentinel wasn’t enough of a come-on, the surfing experience at Trailers from Hell has just become even more seductive—now the preview for each film has an active comment field where you can leave your own impressions, either about the trailer or the observations of the guru who is there to guide your journey through two-minute time warps of such pictures as I Was a Teenage Werewolf or Shogun Assassin. And if seeing the trailer for Freebie and the Bean or Hell Up in Harlem stirs your desire for more, TOH now features buttons that will lead you directly to sites where you can buy official one-sheets and DVDs of the movies in question. Trailers from Hell has really evolved from simply a grand good time to a very special kind of bliss for exploitation fans.
But wait, as the carnival barkers on late-night TV love to insist, that’s not all! Now the good folks at Trailers from Hell have put together a collection of 20 of the best and most representative of their catalog of preview horrors on a DVD entitled The Best of Trailers from Hell Volume One, and it truly is a gem. You get Dante’s voluminous knowledge applied to such classics as The Curse of Frankenstein, Blood and Roses, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and perhaps most memorably, William Castle’s The Tingler-- He describes in detail the practical application of the movie’s “electric shock” Percepto gimmick and also notes that Vincent Price takes the first on-screen LSD trip in cinema history, before quickly adding that unfortunately Castle as a director was no Roger Corman, “so the whole thing just comes off kinda silly.”
John Landis, assuming various identities such as Hammer house director Terence Fisher, Swifty Lazar and Pigmeat Markham, introduces the sumptuous visual treat of Curse of the Werewolf from Dante’s rather beat-up personal print of the trailer (“Werewolves tend to like to hurl burning bales of hay at the howling mob—Look, there he goes!”), Paul Bartel’s Private Parts, the classic Willis O’Brien adventure Mighty Joe Young and Kenji Fukasaku’s memorably awful 1969 sci-fi opus The Green Slime, which is so mesmerizingly bad that it seems to hamstrings even the garrulous and reliably funny Landis, who is in such awe of its intense degree of cheese that he seems, for once, genuinely at a loss for words, which is, in this context, its own kind of comedy.
Hostel’s Eli Roth and The Stand’s Mick Garris check in with some great previews as well. Roth seems most at home, not surprisingly, with the gruesome shocks to be had from the previews for Squirm and Three on a Meathook (he also features The Birds and Forbidden Planet, whereas Garris lets out his inner stop-motion dinosaur geek for a look at Ray Harryhausen’s The Valley of Gwangi. Garris also grooves on David Cronenberg’s Rabid, the “groundbreaking” Hypnovista grue classic Horrors of the Black Museum and even American International’s Scream and Scream Again, which featured a poster that was far more memorable and exciting than the movie itself.
The Sentinel gets the Wright Stuff treatment in this hilarious Trailers from Hell highlight.
But the highlight of the collection of trailers featured on Volume One has to be Edgar Wright’s howlingly funny tribute to the cinema of Michael Winner, specifically his disgustingly outré post-Exorcist scare picture The Sentinel. Watching the trailer with Wright, you get a hilariously detailed trip through every vulgar misstep made by the director in this shockingly ugly and unpleasant, yet somehow very watchable religioso horror movie, from Sylvia Miles (“Have a hat and noisemaker for the party!”) to Winner’s indefensible choice to have the denizens of hell represented by a gathering of extras and performers with real-life ghastly deformities. And what’s more, Wright gives you the skinny on where he tips his own hand to The Sentinel in his brilliantly funny trailer parody Don’t! from 2007’s Grindhouse experience. Wright’s geeky enthusiasm is as infectious as Dante’s at its best, and he makes a real ride out of checking out the goodies inside the trailers for Silent Running and Corruption, with special awe and reverence reserved for Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, whose trailer is rhythmless and undistinguished but extra-long enough to give Wright plenty of time to sing the movie’s praises in his very funny way.
If this were all the Trailers from Hell DVD had to offer it would be quite enough. But Dante and friends go the eager consumer a couple of notches better by including a couple of vintage cartoons-- Ub Iwerks’ The Headless Horseman (1934), complete with a Castle Films logo that will give certain of us ex-Super 8 print collectors a bit of a thrill, and John Foster and Manny Davis’s The Haunted Ship (1930)— and best of all, the full-length 1933 Majestic Pictures horror classic The Vampire Bat starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas and Dwight Frye. The Vampire Bat was a staple of the weekend horror movie show I watched as a kid, Sinister Cinema out of Portland, Oregon, and cueing it up on the Trailers from Hell DVD I felt instantly transported back to the pre-VCR days of staying up late and eagerly soaking up whatever old classic Victor Ives and Jimmy Hollister cared to offer up. The Vampire Bat is juicy stuff—the director, Frank Strayer, who made 85 movies from 1925 to 1951 and whose best-known work outside of this little gem is the bulk of the Blondie movie series starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake, displays an eagerness to utilize his camera in surprisingly expressive ways. The movie casts an eerie spell that earns it a proud spot in standing with its contemporaries coming off the Universal lot around the same time. It’s a real treat to be reintroduced to this nearly forgotten horror title, and who better to bring it back to our attention that the gang at Trailers from Hell.
My ravenous appetite is now officially whetted for the second volume, which I’m hoping won’t be too much further down the road. But for now this terrific DVD is the best possible introduction, for those who haven’t already made Trailers from Hell a daily indulgence, perhaps even an addiction, to the playfully scholastic approach Dante and his stellar cast of crazies take to this most enjoyable and disreputable branch of film studies.
(You can order your copy of The Best of Trailers from hell Volume One by clicking this convenient link.)
Josh Olson and Howard Rodman Jr. wax ecstatic over the trailer for Charley Varrick
Joe Dante in his element riffing on She-Demons