I know this is too late to be of any comfort to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, but I was rather looking forward
to Grindhouse. After all, many of the films that ran for years in the grubby movie houses of New York's 42nd Street were the mainstay of Britain's video shops in the early eighties, before the Bright Bill clamped down on the nasties and took away all our fun. The idea of recreating a double bill from the golden age of cinema sleaze, complete with fake trailers and all, sounded rather appealing. Unfortunately, American audiences disagreed, and the film died on its arse domestically. As a result, the rest of the world will only get to see Grindhouse in a re-edited form as two distinct features, making it virtually impossible for us to watch it in its original format.
Which is a shame, because I suspect that'll mean the fake trailers will get lost along the way. Tarantino and Rodriguez obviously love these things, and even ran a competition at South by SouthWest inviting people to make their own. (If you only watch one trailer out of these two collections, then Hobo With A Shotgun has to be the one.) After bingeing on dozens of affectionate recreations, you start to wonder how neat it would be to have collections of real exploitation trailers available on DVD.
Well, Synapse Films are way ahead of you: back in late 2005, they started releasing the 42nd Street Forever DVDs, each one containing over two hours of lovingly restored trailers for the sexiest, violentest and daftest films ever made. To date, three of these DVDs have been released: I can wholeheartedly recommend, er, two of them.
I originally picked up 42nd Street Forever: Vol. 1 during our 2005 New York holiday. What better souvenir of the Big Apple could there be than a DVD celebrating a part of the city's cinema heritage, one that's been lost since the Disneyfication of Times Square? The disc consists of 47 trailers for a bewildering variety of films, which make you wonder just what sort of people inhabited those 42nd Street grindhouses back in the day. The obvious genres are represented, of course: plenty of horror and gore, a smattering of softcore porn, miscellaneous varieties of Asian action (mainly kung fu and rubber monsters), and some fine-looking blaxploitation flicks (including a couple of reminders of the days when you could actually use the N-word in a movie's title, a detail which the cover copy quietly glosses over).
But it's the other stuff that intrigues even more: the sort of films that were obviously bought by a distributor as part of a job lot, which they somehow managed to sell to the passing cinemagoer. There's a fascinating range of sex films which suggest that grindhouse audiences could masturbate to anything, from the highest-falutin' Scandinavian arthouse drama to the lowest-browed European sex comedy. (And on the subject of the latter, it's astonishing to discover that this was deemed worthy of retitling for an American release.) There's the curious sub-category of 'educational' grumbleflicks, featuring a biology lecture at the end to justify the bad behaviour beforehand. There are cheesy travelogues from Asia and Africa, revelling in the 'shocking' aspects of local culture and gawping National Geographic-style at the bare-breasted natives. And there are strange little anomalies that refuse to fit into any category, such as the distressingly cheerful voiceover on the trailer for The Rape Of The Sabines (featuring "the handsome Roger Moore").
42nd Street Forever Vol. 2: The Deuce is literally more of the same, but it works better as a package. The budget for this second collection manages to take in the trailers for some undeniable exploitation classics, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Rabid and Ms 45. As for the rest, they're wittily assembled by genre into themed clumps: fast cars, bad girls, terrible monsters, Bond parodies. The unspoken links between consecutive films are fun to spot, and the surprise shifts from one genre to another are also delightful.
The third volume, however, is a little more problematic. 42nd Street Forever: XXX-Treme Edition is, as the name implies, entirely dedicated to hardcore porno trailers (and this is where the YouTube clips tail off, in case you were wondering). One of the key tricks used by several of the trailers on Volumes 1 and 2 is the promise that the film contains many scenes of unspeakable depravity, but such scenes simply can't be shown in a trailer. In the hardcore market, however, the trailers are made up almost entirely of those scenes of unspeakable depravity, meaning that the XXX-Treme Edition is literally a two-hour-plus cavalcade of money shots. After a while, it's impossible to associate what you're seeing on screen with any form of human sexuality, as it comes to resemble nothing so much as an earthquake in a butcher's shop window.
There are occasional flashes of wit - for example, the cum-stained-rags-to-riches story of Blonde Ambition has a few laughs - but for the most part, it's a humourless procession of gynaecological closeups. It's made even more wearing by its narrow historical and geographical focus: whereas the earlier DVDs had trailers from many countries spanning several decades, this one is almost exclusively drawn from 1980s American porn. For one thing, nobody needs that much Ron Jeremy in their life: for another, the films all look and sound virtually identical, with the same bad hair, harsh backlighting and cheesy synth soundtracks. By the time we get to the climactic double bill of The Devil In Miss Jones III and IV, we have trailers that look exactly like Billy Idol videos with more cock.
That aside, if you look forward to the trailers as much as you do to the main feature, and can appreciate the art of selling trashy films by shamelessly selecting all the good bits, then these DVDs are unmissable. In these YouTube days, a lot of this material is effectively public domain now: but having these trailers gathered in one place, and being able to watch them on your telly, is a rather fine thing. Just be careful with that third volume, is all. Particularly if you buy it using the Amazon link below, and they start sending you mails along the lines of "we've noticed that customers who bought 42nd Street Forever: XXX-Treme Edition also enjoyed..."