Way, way back in the magical time of the 1980s, VHS cassettes opened up a new, exciting world where films could suddenly be copied & distributed among nerdy weridos looking to sidestep the interference (and profits) of the movie studios that owned them. That role has, obviously, been filled by the Internet in recent years, so it’s hard to imagine just how exciting this development was at the time. It was suddenly dirt cheap for independent producers to churn out schlock & put it directly in the hands of fans. Special interest markets like skateboarders & pro wrestling nerds all of a sudden had a way to record & distribute their favorite content among like-minded geeks. Not only was a new market of nerdom opened for media junkies that allowed them to trade & curate content once impossible to own at home, but there was an element of danger & piracy involved in the process, which afforded the underground video market the same inherently dorky cool as phrases like “the dark web”.
Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell could have only existed in this sleazily magical time when underground VHS trading was a dangerous-feeling form of nerdy fun. Less of a documentary & more of a straight-forward compilation, Prevues from Hell assembles a montage of movie trailers from horror’s drive-in, grindhouse era. It’s an endless assault of in-bad-taste horror advertising from the 1970s loosely stapled together by stale comedy bits that should feel familiar to anyone who’s ever caught a television broadcast hosted by an Elvira or Morgus-type. The film seemingly assembles every Fangoria & Rick Baker fan in Pennsylvania in an ancient cinema to serve as the audience for this cavalcade of schlock trailers & evil ventriloquist-MC’d wraparound segments. The monster make-up is fairly top notch for a straight-to-VHS horror compilation, but this connective tissue is ultimately a painfully corny diversion from the film’s main attraction: advertisements for long-gone coming attractions. That is, unless someone really, really wanted to see gags like a dummy handing his ventriloquist operator a severed finger & quipping, “Get it? I’m giving you the finger! I’m giving you the finger!”
As for the film trailers included in Prevues from Hell, there’s an interesting variety on display: cult classics with wide appeal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Night of the Living Dead, Argento’s Deep Red, De Palma’s Sisters); grotesque films I wish I could erase from my memory (The Wizard of Gore, 2000 Maniacs, The Last House on the Left); forgotten gems I’d love to track down (The Corpse Grinders, Cannibal Girls, Flesh Feast); and nasty-looking works of depravity you’d have to pay me to watch (Africa: Blood & Guts, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, etc.). The most interesting thing the film’s endless montage of grindhouse trailers does is set up Prevues from Hell as a cultural relic from two separate eras of cult cinema. It’s not only an artifact of the underground VHS trading era of the 80s & 90s; it’s also a comprehensive tour of the carnie huckster style of advertising that defined the drive-in era of horror trailers. A lot of schlock producers at the time threw all of their weight into the advertising end of their product, promising the world in the trailers & having very little pressure to actually deliver a quality product once tickets were purchased. The claims in these ads are outrageous: “The most blood-chilling motion picture you’ve ever seen!” “The most shocking ordeal ever permitted onscreen!” “The world’s first horror movie made in hallucinogenic hypno-vision!” The spirit of larger than life hucksters like William Castle & David Friedman are alive in every ad. Any one of these producers could’ve enjoyed a second life as a self-hyped politician. And, sadly, because these trailers are primarily from horror’s nastiest era, the 1970s, they do a pretty good job representing the gleeful depictions of sexual assault that make a lot of these works much more enjoyable to digest in 90 second clips that they’d be as full-length films.
Of course, everything about Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell is obsolete in 2016. You could most likely find each & every one of these trailers (if not the films in their entirety) uploaded to YouTube in some form and a very helpful Letterboxd user has assembled the full list of titles the film compiled so you don’t even have to bother with the corny wraparound segments to track down what made the cut. Modern documentaries like Corman’s World & Electric Boogaloo that function like similarly-minded schlock clip compilations provide enough talking head interviews & historical context to make their trips down horror advertising memory lane worthwhile in an informational sense, but Prevues from Hell provides no such context. For instance, who is Mad Ron? Although he’s shown twice in the film I honestly have no idea who he is or what he contributed to the production. Does he own the theater where this was filmed? Is that how he obtained the trailer reels on display? Does that even matter? Prevues from Hell is only an educational experience in that it’s a glimpse into two long-gone eras of horror’s past: the grindhouse drive-in 70s & the underground video swap 80s. Otherwise, you’re probably better off skimming YouTube & assembling your own Prevues from Hell off the cuff.