There's a feeling when you attend a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse that this is a place where film is truly adored. It's a business, sure, but first and foremost, it is a house designed to share in the communal love of the movies – regardless of who made them, their "quality," or the even the condition they're currently in. The Drafthouse, and especially two of its programmers, Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson seem to have an open-door policy when it comes to films: Any and all are welcome, especially those that have been shunned, rejected, or otherwise deemed unwatchable at one point or another. In fact, without the efforts of the Drafthouse, its programmers, and, in particular, its Weird Wednesday screenings of off-kilter fare, such as the new-to-Blu-ray-release of 'Miami Connection,' a great many B movie releases that are simply a joy to watch would undoubtedly wind up relegated to the dust bin of history.
At times, it can feel a little like the neighbor lady who took in a single stray animal and, slowly, over the course of several months, or even years, her entire house transitioned into a menagerie of slightly used, loveable, but tragically abandoned beasts that would have been forgotten were it not for her substantial efforts. In effect, that is precisely what 'Trailer War' is: a collection of well-used, often haphazardly discarded miscreants of celluloid that are now being offered one more chance to shine.
In one sense, 'Trailer War' works as a digital archive, an exploration of cinematic tackiness, peculiar misfires and out-of-the-ordinary homeruns that have earned a certain amount of respect amongst those with a penchant for unusual cinema. On the other hand, the disc simply serves as a handy collection of trailers to enjoy at the push of a button. It comes jam-packed with all the sensationalistic voyeurism, exhibitionism and exploitation one would expect from these kinds of B movie extravaganzas. These were films full of lurid entertainment: gunplay, nudity, over-the-top martial arts and science fiction elements, too. All of this typically meant putting a premium on spectacle over story – not too different from Hollywood blockbusters of today, really. But there was also a real sense of place for most of the movies featured on the disc. Whether it was apparent when they were first made, or it became more obvious after decades had passed, each film feels less like it was handpicked to be a part of this collection, and more as though it earned a right to claim membership to a very exclusive club.
There are 46 total trailers contained on the 'Trailer War' Blu-ray. That adds up to nearly two hours of exploitative excitement in 2-3 minute increments. But what's really special about the collection is that this disparate ensemble of picture show outcasts somehow manages to feel more like an anthology of dysfunction, rather than a discombobulated assortment of cinematic abnormalities. There's a throughline – an abstract one, but a throughline, nonetheless – in the films that have been chosen, and in the way they've been arranged on the disc, so that in viewing all 46 in one sitting, the viewer is treated to an arc that begins with a hint of Shaw Brothers (actual and otherwise) madness, and ends with the more explicit, sexualized content like 'The Boob Tube' and 'Amuck.'
In between, the disc offers a chance to see trailers for such forgotten gems as David Carradine's 'Animal Protector' (which may be one of the best trailers in the bunch), and other treats like the all-star martial arts team-up of 'Force Five' or a French dub for 'Maniac Cop 2' – which, sadly, was not given the subtitle: 'Maniac Harder.' Along the way, 2x4 lovers and cinephiles alike will get a kick out of the Joe Don Baker double bill, consisting of 'Golden Needles' and 'Mitchell,' while international fans will surely recognize a slightly weary-looking Alain Delon in 'Big Guns' a.k.a 'No Way Out,' playing a mafia hitman far removed from the attractive chameleon he became famous for in 'Purple Noon.'
Altogether, 'Trailer War' does its best to make sure there's something for everyone – provided you've a natural inclination toward exploitation films of the past 40 years. It will help if you like watching paunchy mustachioed men performing poorly timed roundhouse kicks, and other vaguely karate-esque moves on equally rotund, middle-aged dudes, or seeing women run around in various stages of undress, while a hazy sense of offensive leering hangs over the proceedings. If this sounds like something you'd get a kick out of, then the vast majority of these trailers will be right up your alley.
Whether these trailers encourage you to seek out and watch the films they advertise, or you manage to get your fill with the brief introduction/highlight reel of these appetizers, 'Trailer War' will have done it's job as long as you've been entertained. This is a great collection of film odds and ends, and a wonderful way to make a larger audience aware of the American Genre Film Archive – which, like the films it is seeking to preserve, may have gone unnoticed without the help of this disc. Chances are, many of these films had already been long forgotten, but thanks to Drafthouse Films and AGFA, they'll all get a brief second (or perhaps first) moment in the sun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Trailer War' comes from Drafthouse Films, and is a single 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keep case. Unlike 'Miami Connection' there's little fanfare to be had, but that's okay, the disc is still put together quite well. The top menu has a great soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood for the out-of-control antics that'll take up the next two hours of your life. Moreover, the menu is easy to navigate, and, thankfully, comes with the ability to either play all of the trailers at once, or pick through them to find the one that will scratch a particular itch or needs to be shown to friends, family or strangers you've pulled in off the street.
It's difficult to quantify the image quality on 'Trailer War,' because the condition many of these trailers are in differs due to their age, and when or where they were produced. Additionally, the 25GB disc isn't exactly trying to set any reference standards with its MPEG-2 transfer. Still, the idea here isn't necessarily the quality of the trailers themselves, but the quality of the image that is showing the mostly rundown characteristics of the various prints.
To be fair, the dirt, scratches and abundant graininess that would otherwise tarnish a disc's reputation, manage to become the star attraction of the image, to a certain degree. A large part of the appeal of these movies is the way they look as though someone found a film reel in a dumpster, a dusty garage, or any place that smells like a basement, or a van with a half-naked female Viking airbrushed on the side. Yes, many of these films are beaten up, but they've withstood the test of time, and now Drafthouse Films is presenting them on a Blu-ray that highlights them for exactly what they are: outcasts, in almost every sense of the word.
As such, the trailers' status as outcasts is properly maintained, since the disc accurately shows just how low budget many of these productions were. Some, like the 'Ultraman' rip-off 'Inframan,' actually look pretty great, having the kind of grain one would expect of a film that old, but it also manages to have quite a lot of fine detail present in the transfer that is as good, if not better than seeing it on screen at your friendly neighborhood Alamo Drafthouse. Others, like the ridiculously well edited 'Amuck' also boasts some great detail, along with bright, vivid colors that makes it one of the more remarkable-looking trailers on the disc.
All in all, 'Trailer War' is a mixed bag when it comes to the image. All the trailers essentially look great in their respective dilapidated glory, so, in that regard, the disc is quite good. For those expecting each trailer to have been painstakingly remastered, though, you'd best brace yourself for some disappointment.
As with the image, the sound mix on 'Trailer War' is really intended to show these films as close to their original presentation as possible. Because of this fact, Drafthouse has only given the disc a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, which, despite what many may think with their highfalutin' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes, is really all the audio anyone enjoying these trailers will need.
Again, like the image, the degradation, or initial low quality of the sound recording and mix is to be considered a part of the actual appeal of 'Trailer War.' Here, everything sounds like it would from the backseat of a dingy downtown theater, or if you'd dubbed the compilation yourself by placing Scotch tape over the tab on an overused VHS. In essence, the retro quality of the sound is exactly what this Blu-ray was hoping to achieve. Because of this, you can expect to hear little surround sound, as the mix is pushed almost exclusively through the front channel speakers. LFE is not really present, though there are some occasions where some adequate bass will come through following an explosion, punch or gunshot of some kind. The music is almost deliberately tinny and hollow sounding, which adds to the flavor of the experience, but will do little to impress audiophiles who take great pride in their home theater setup. On the plus side, dialogue is usually very easy to understand, as it seems there's been at least some effort put in to remove truly problematic hissing and scratches on the trailers' audio.
In the end, this isn't the kind of mix that's going to impress anyone, but it certainly gets the job done. There is so much going on in all of these trailers that, for whatever reason, the more anemic they sound, the more enjoyably cheesy they all seem to be.
This is like a less depressing, less traumatic version of the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials, encouraging those who love film to give these castaways a chance – because, sure, they're a little chewed up, they're unruly, but they're just as capable of making movie lovers happy as that shiny, new copy of 'The Avengers.' Compilations don't really come around much, and good ones are even more rare. The folks at the Alamo Drafthouse have done a tremendous job in not only finding some of the best to show on this Blu-ray, but also in how they've managed to raise the profile of the American Genre Film Archive in the process. With picture quality that shows all the right dings and dents these trailers have incurred over the last few decades, and sound to match, this Blu-ray showcases the trailers in loving fashion. But it's the commentary by Nilsen and Carlson, in addition to the Joe Dante interview that illustrates how some people can appreciate these exploitation films for the unique entertainment they offered. As such, 'Trailer War' definitely comes recommended.