If you’re a card-carrying cult movie fanatic, you probably have a shelf or two of trailer compilations in your collection. As long as this subculture has had access to home video, they’ve been collecting and trading collections of coming attractions for their favorite films (and the obscurities they wish they could see). Trailer comps are to exploitation movie addicts are what mixtapes are to music obsessives – a travelogue that allows you to groove on the kaleidoscopic extremes of what your cultural obsession is capable of.
Some great trailer comps were produced in the VHS era – Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell might be the best – but it was the DVD era when trailer compilations really began to get their due from the marketplace. The 42nd Street Forever series in particular really brought the concept to a new plateau, starting with an independent set assembled by Ban 1 Productions in 2004 and later moving to the Synapse label in 2007. Synapse has produced a half-dozen of these discs, refining the formula as they developed the line into the standard-bearer for trailer compilations – including the addition of trailer-by-trailer commentary on Volume 3 (perhaps the best of the DVD series).
Synapse has broken new ground for the series once again by bringing it to the high definition format with 42nd Street Forever: Blu-Ray Edition. The idea behind this collection was to collect the best material from volumes one and two, which were done before the advent of the trailer commentaries, and add in some new material to sweeten the deal. The end result packs in a whopping three hours and forty six minutes worth of vintage trailers – 89 spots in all – covering all the different flavors of the exploitation spectrum.
Trailers come in themed batches – blaxploitation flicks, rape-revenge films, mondo movies, etc. – and cover everything from easily accessible kiddie fare like Super Fuzz to stomach-churning squirmfests like Shocking Asia. Thankfully, the themed nature of the trailer arrangement makes it easy for the viewer to skip past material they’ll find unappealing.
The programming offers a nice, even mix of stuff that classic status with trailer aficionados along with some intriguing obscurities. Classic stuff here includes Ms. 45, Shogun Assassin, Dr. Butcher M.D., The Green Slime, Rolling Thunder, They Call Her One Eye and several more. In the obscurity category, some of the most choice inclusions are forgotten teen comedy Van Nuys Blvd., skin-crawling roughie sleazefest Invitation To Ruin, Italian sci-fi/action hybrid Raiders Of Atlantis and the trailer for Italian Stallion, the retitled version of Sylvester Stallone’s pre-Rocky softcore quickie.
The new material also turns up some gems for devoted fans of this series. For instance, there’s a great trailer for Eye Of The Cat, a thriller with a unique feline hook from the screenwriter of Psycho, and a fun spot for John Carpenter’s first film, Dark Star (which stars and was co-written by future Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon). Also, keep an eye peeled for Taboos Of The World, a mondo movie with narration from Vincent Price(!), rape-revenge shocker Act Of Vengeance and a nice, sleazy trailer for the all-star women in prison epic Chained Heat.
Visual quality is excellent, particularly when you consider the rough-and-ready look common to trailer collections. There’s plenty of grain and scratches that reflect the vintage, no-negatives-available nature of this material, as well as the occasional faded spot, but the color and detail levels are surprisingly good here. Certain spots like Ms. 45, Star Crash and Matango really pop off the screen. Audio is 2.0 mono on these spots and they all sound nice given the nature of the source material. Besides, there’s a certain subversive pleasure in seeing exploitation trailers get upgraded to high definition.
There’s only one extra here but it’s a doozy: a commentary track for the entire program of trailers by Edwin Samuelson, Chris Poggiali and Michael Gingold. This is the same team that provided the commentary for volumes 3 and 4 of the DVD series and they make an excellent team. Each member of the team fills a vital role: Samuelson acts as M.C. of the track and keeps it rolling, Poggiali is the go-to man for facts on distribution and career history of filmmakers/actors and Gingold brings his decades of experience as a critic/journalist with Fangoria to flesh out the info, as well as goosing the track with the occasional lowbrow joke.
They trade comments back and forth with ease, ensuring there are only a few brief spots of dead air during the nearly four-hour running time, and all three do the occasional solo commentary bit on particular films, showing an impressive depth of research. The result delivers plenty of eye-opening facts even if you’re already a scholar about this stuff but it’s all delivered in a light, easy-going manner that makes it a fun listen.
Simply put, 42nd Street Forever: Blu-Ray Edition brings the series into the high-def realm in style, offering both a bump in visual quality and an array of valuable historical info via its commentary track. Even if you own Vols. 1 and 2 of the DVD series, this update is worth the purchase for that commentary track alone – and the joy of watching cheap thrills in high definition is a gift that will keep on giving for the schlock connoisseur.