If you haven’t heard of the Trailers From Hell series and you consider yourself a film geek, you’re missing out on a really, really cool idea. Trailers From Hell (this is the second volume, for those keeping score at home) gathers up a bunch of old movie trailers– generally exploitation films– and lines up different genre directors to provide them with commentary. You might have, say, Guillermo Del Toro telling you about The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or John Landis telling you about Gorgo while its trailer unspools before you. Pretty cool idea, right? Well, the bigger question is, should you purchase Trailers From Hell? Or is this a series better digested in smallish, online clips? Read on for our full review, after the jump…
When the opportunity to review Trailers From Hell arrived, I leaped at the opportunity. Here’s a series that some of my favorite online movie critics and film-geek-friendly writers have been raving about for some time (I’m thinking of HitFix’s Drew McWeeny, for instance), and I’d simply never come across a physical copy of the film while visiting my local DVD retailer. I heartily accepted the mission, popped the DVD into my player as soon as it arrived, and…well, it was good. Parts of it were great. But worth raving about? Mmmmyeah, I dunno. Maybe volume one was better?
Here’s the setup: the package includes a small army of trailers for old movies, genre-heavy stuff (horror, fantasy, sci-fi, screwball comedies, and the like), and each trailer is introduced– and commentated upon– by a director you may or may not have heard of. You can watch all the trailers in one, long gulp…or you can skip around and watch the ones that really interest you. As it turned out, I was more interested in 65% of the package than I was with the other 35% (but more on that in a moment), but if you’re gonna watch Trailers From Hell, I’d encourage you to sit through the entire thing. Maybe each and every trailer (or director) won’t do it for ya, but maybe you’ll learn something interesting. And what film geek couldn’t stand to learn a few more things about the industry they love?
The thing is, I really think that Trailers From Hell is a great idea. Most of the films featured here are films that I’ve never heard of, but some of them are films that I’ve heard name-dropped by directors and film-geeks over the years, so it was certainly interesting getting a peek at them. John Landis covers Gorgo, for instance, and that’s a film I’ve heard referenced on several occasions. Turns out, Gorgo looks a lot like the sorta thing that was probably very inspirational and cool to a generation of film geeks that preceded me, but to me….it just looks like the kinda thing that Mystery Science Theater needs to be taking care of (and, as it turns out, they did; if you’re gonna watch Gorgo, I bet that’s the way to go).
It’s entertaining to hear these genre directors talk about the film trailers in question, but for me, the overall package was hit-or-miss. The directors I really admire and whose work I regularly watch (guys like Guillermo Del Toro, John Landis, Joe Dante, and– to a far lesser extent– Mick Garris) were a lot of fun to watch and listen to, but the directors I’m not familiar with– and there are a number of them here– fell a little flat for me. I’m always open to hearing out a new argument or listening to an informed person speak about something they’re passionate about, but I gotta confess that listening to (forgettable director’s name here) talking about (movie you’ve never heard of whose trailer looks about as enjoyable as a boot to the crotch on Christmas) didn’t light my fire. Perhaps I’m not as big a fan of the exploitation/fantasy/cheesy-horror genre as I thought I was?
Like the first edition of the series, this volume of Trailers From Hell features a full-length film in addition to all the trailers/commentaries. On this disc, it’s Roger Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors. If you’ve only ever seen the Rick Moranis/Steve Martin version, I highly suggest that you check this one out: it’s a completely different beast, and a wonderful addition to Corman’s filmography (side note: Corman also appears as one of the talking heads on the disc, talking about Ski Troop Attack and Premature Burial!; both of his segments are worth listening to). I suppose that the masterminds behind Trailers From Hell think that the package isn’t strong enough to stand on its own without the addition of an old film, but I’d have to disagree: I’ll probably end up showing Trailers From Hell Vol. 2 off to a few of my heavily film-geeked friends at some point, but I’m almost positive that I’ll never have a reason to break out Little Shop of Horrors.
Trailers From Hell‘s central idea is strong enough without the bonus-film, is the point. It is, however, kind of cool that they’re offering the film in anamorphic widescreen for the first time. Y’know, if you’re into that kinda thing.
I’ll maintain that the idea behind Trailers From Hell— the brainchild of Joe Dante– is a great one, and there was definitely a large portion of Trailers From Hell Vol. 2 that I actively enjoyed watching. But it’d be disingenuous (not to mention kinda poseurish) of me to claim that the whole thing was a slam-dunk. I’m sure that there’s a large portion of the film-geek population that would be overjoyed with every last addition found here, the type of people that can rattle off the filmography of every director that appears onscreen and provide tidbits of information about every last film trailer they introduce. But my film-geek cred simply doesn’t run that deep, and I found myself getting a little antsy during some of Trailers From Hell‘s segments.
All of that said, I’d definitely recommend the series– perhaps starting with Vol. 1– to anyone that considers themselves a fan of film in general. Even if there are dull moments or films you’ve never heard of or directors whose work you’re not a fan of (or even familiar with), a large portion of the package is devoted to films you have heard of and directors you probably worship. Besides, Trailers From Hell is just a really cool idea, and one that deserves support. With that in mind, I offer up my final grade:
My Grade? B+