42nd Street Forever: Volume 1 (2005)
By: Liam Ronan on August 15, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Synapse Films (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.78:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 1.0. 128 minutes
The Movie
Tagline: Weird, wild, and crazy theatrical trailers from around the world.
Country: USA
Red light districts are nothing new. The Times Square area of New York has always had a heavy rep for debauchery and grime, but from the sixties through to the early nineties, it was a true paradise for fans of scum cinema. Anyone familiar with the pages of Sleazoid Express, Bill Landis' and Michelle Clifford's first hand account of life on the Deuce, will already be aware of 42nd Street's rotten landscape of decaying grindhouses, outrageous sex shops, 24 hour gun stores, tourist junk emporiums and sleazy arcades.

The cinemas along this short stretch of grubby sidewalk were just a few minutes from Broadway, but they specialised in films that the mainstream movie houses turned their noses up at - gay and straight hardcore pornography, uncut mondo movies, European gore flicks, sado-roughies... New York's finest examples of freak lifestyle found their spiritual home on the Deuce and made it their own.

Certain areas of the grindhouses were no-go areas for the casual moviegoer. It wasn't advisable to visit the toilets or linger too long in the darkened corridors and doorways lest you attracted the attention of muggers, drunks or slumming gay porn stars offering to sell you a piece of stardom. But it was the experience of watching films with an audience mostly made up of hustlers, whores, pimps, junkies, weirdos, hobos, perverts and Lord knows what else that gave the Times Square movie viewing experience such a kick. If the films didn't deliver, the crowd would yell, throw food, tear up the seats and generally wreak havoc until they got what they wanted. Needless to say, the cinema owners went to great lengths to book titles that would keep their audiences happy, and the outrageous ways in which these films were marketed was an art form in itself.

This unique slice of American subculture came to an end in the early 1990s as the twin epidemics of crack and AIDS reached critical mass, and City Hall set out to clean up Times Square. After the Deuce was sold off to developers and the bulldozers moved in, Sleazoid Express found itself becoming a reluctant testimonial to the guilty pleasures once available on 42nd Street. Thankfully, it has now been joined by this great two-hour long collection of trailers for some of the craziest flicks ever to play to paying audiences.

The first in a planned series from Synapse, even the sleeve artwork of 42nd Street Forever remains faithful to the grubby realities of a Times Square grindhouse - look past the ticket booth, past the lurid posters and faded art-deco glamour and you'll notice dubious stains on the foyer walls. It's good to know that Synapse have gone the extra mile in the realism stakes!

The trailers cover a broad mix of genres in an effort to capture a flavour of the entertainment that was once available on the Deuce, so biker movies, chop sockey cheapies and obscure giallos rub shoulders with the likes of po-faced porno flicks, bizarre Japanese sci-fi and second-rate blaxploitation movies.

The ones that stand out for reasons both good and bad include Shocking Asia's squirm-inducing sex change footage, the jaw-dropping tastelessness of thalidomide kung fu epic The Crippled Master, the laughable sex-on-a-rollercoaster pseudo-art of Panorama Blue, the extreme 60s dummy gore of The Undertaker and his Pals, the oddly endearing Thunderbirds-sfx and memorable wah-wah theme tune of The Green Slime, the foggy-end-of-pier slashings of The Flesh and Blood Show, the unique gay biker antics of The Pink Angels ("I never really knew my father. He was always in drag.") and Ginger, an amazingly sadistic private investigator who ties one suspect up, strips naked and threatens to castrate him with piano wire if he pops a boner, the poor bastard.

But the absolute highlight has to be a long trailer for a double bill of I Dismember Mama and The Blood Splattered Bride. Filmed on location at the Bijou theatre, it takes the form of a fake TV news item and features a reporter interviewing patrons as they leave a screening from which the police have just dragged out a man driven insane by what he has seen on screen. The Times Square freakshow really springs into life here - as one interviewee says, "I noticed this guy droolin' and talkin' to himself all the way through it. Well naturally, I didn't think nothin' about that."

I could have happily done without the Secret Africa trailer, a mondo movie featuring an extremely distressing shot of a small child undergoing an enforced scarification ceremony - even the most jaded viewers will find this bit particularly unpleasant. But willing audiences paid to watch these flicks, and the scope of depravity on offer here demonstrates the anything-goes atmosphere of 42nd Street in its grimy prime.

For anyone even remotely interested in the cinematic underbelly, this is more fun than frenching your granny.

Useless trivia: The very last film to play on the Deuce was Falling Down at the Rialto in 1992. In a sentimental touch, Sleazoid Express remembers that the Rialto audience was captivated by D-FENS, the deranged character played by Michael Douglas, because they could relate to him as one of their own!
Scratches and print damage are common throughout the running time, but they don't distract from your enjoyment and can be forgiven as many of the trailers date back to the 1960s and early 1970s (the best looking of the bunch is probably Werewolves on Wheels, which appears crisp and colourful). They even add to the grindhouse atmosphere. Whaddya want from a bunch of sleazeball dirty pictures, anyway?
Presented in Dolby Digital mono only, but this didn't spoil the viewing fun - the furniture is hardly going to reverberate around the living room when you're watching a vintage 60s trailer for the likes of Matango: Fungus of Terror!
Extra Features
None whatsoever, and it's a missed opportunity. With so many hustlers, crooks, showmen and shady characters involved in the running of the Deuce grindhouses, an overview of the 42nd Street movie-going experience from the likes of Bill Landis or Michelle Clifford would have been a welcome addition.
The Verdict
Groovy. A great night's entertainment and perfect for parties... although unless you want your guests to leave in a hurry, you might want to fast-forward the Secret Africa and Shocking Asia trailers. Roll on volume two!
Movie Score
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