MAD RON’S PREVUES FROM HELL – reissue of 1987 VHS tape – DVD Review

by John Topping on September 8, 2010


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It takes so long to see the first preview in the DVD reissue of the 1987 VHS curiosity Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell that one begins to wonder if it will ever make good on its promise of showing them.  For the first ten minutes we are, ahem, “treated” to ventriloquist host Nick Pawlow and his zombie ghoul dummy Happy, a strictly amateur act, along with just-a-tiny-fraction-less-amateurish original footage of zombies  slowly and loudly (but mostly slowly) making their way into a movie theater to watch the previews (after grabbing some body parts at the concession stand to snack on) personally screened by mouth-foaming zombie projectionist Mad Ron.  With the right attitude and sense of generosity, the Zombie Grindhouse Cineaste sequences, if you will, can be looked upon as charming.  Or, more easily, not.  The ventriloquist act is unforgivably, irreconcilably awful.  And all of it is shot on grainy video with a budget that, adjusted for inflation, would be about a dollar.

And not a moment too soon comes the main attraction, the Prevues From Hell themselves – actual previews of coming attractions of cheesy, schlocky, quickly-made, cheaply-produced horror films (with a heavy accent on gore and depravity) that were a staple of drive-in movies in the 60s and 70s.  Initially it’s delightful, but the never-ending wall-to-wall onslaught becomes ultimately numbing.  Often extremely lengthy for previews, they have a hyperactive propensity for giving you every single one of their money shots:  eyes being gouged out, bodies eviscerated with the insides then being eaten by either zombies or cannibals, limbs hacked off by deranged madmen in clownish costumes, and screams, always the screams, the wide eyes, the blood splattering, the knives, axes, chainsaws, hacksaws, ice picks, scythes, and — always least spectacularly — guns, all set to heightened synthesized music informing you to be scared, shocked, or repulsed.  Whether the coming attraction being previewed involves supernatural elements or not, they are all of the exact same genre, what is now called Torture Porn.

One could use a small break from it all, just a little room to breathe, and the ventriloquist almost functions as that much-needed relief … but the infallible lameness of those sequences always prevents the duty from being fulfilled.  So, unless you’re testing your endurance, it’s highly recommended that you watch these in small doses and fast forward through all the non-preview footage.

The enjoyment factor, aside from nostalgia if you were aware of these films during their heyday, is simply laughing at them — the bad acting, the preposterous dialogue, the predictable situations, the shoddy special effects, the demented creative process of trying to think of new, original, and ever more shocking ways to kill and torture.  That some of them were meant to actually be scary to anyone older than 12 is a joke, and to imagine that a sizable audience was actually lured to these films based on these previews is a fairly huge shock in and of itself.

The cumulative effect, however, reveals a disturbing look into an aspect of the American psyche that was unleashed with the arrival of the MPAA ratings system, when strictly-adult fare could firmly be separated from family fare, an uncontrolled permissiveness was sweeping the country, and, for the first time, the limits of an audience’s taste and tolerance in cinema were a wild frontier being gamely explored.  In perfect sync with the blood bath on display is a relic of unambiguous misogyny, where beautiful young women get their violent comeuppance for the sin of being young, beautiful, female, and independent enough to venture into these situations.  The fact that the onscreen gore is so artificial makes the relentless playing out of such fantasies no less unsettling.  Of course, if you are a misogynist, well, you’ll be like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

It should be noted that, although the previews are taken from film – complete with scratches, dirt, dust, and soundtracks that POP – they are presented here as video transfers, so even on a pristine monitor you will see those jagged video lines of yesteryear.  Otherwise, as a collection, it is a rather remarkable grindhouse drive-in movie time capsule.  Titles run from the familiar — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, and Night of the Living Dead — to the less-remembered — Africa: Blood and Guts, Three on a Meathook, and Night of the Bloody Apes.  Lots of extras if you’re left still thirsting for more blood, including an excellent poster gallery.

johntopping @

Mad Ron’s Prevues From Hell gets unleashed on DVD on September 14

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