My opinion of Stephen Romano is colored by a really unfortunate series of interactions between the two of us last year. As Shock Festival, the book, was starting to make the rounds and he was becoming a name on the horror circuit, he pitched Cinema Suicide for some work that involved a lot of erratic capitalization, pluralization with a lot of Z’s and use of the phrase “the buzza goes great guns” which won my 2008 Quote Of The Year award. The email rubbed me the wrong way but it wasn’t a total turn off. If this site had anything resembling a budget, I probably would have commissioned some art. I completely burned the bridges when I attacked Dread Central in their comments for being what I considered a corporate schill in an article that involved Romano and Richard Griffin. I operated under the stupid assumption that all publicity was good publicity and that a beef with Dread Central might raise my profile a bit but all it did was preserve one of my many asshole moments in internet history forever.
Though my target was Dread Central, I received an irate email from Stephen later that day claiming that I was smearing his name in the press, discouraging book sales and taking money out of his pocket, as though my attack on Dread Central was an attack on him, personally. It’s really unfortunate that any of this went down like it did. I never had a beef with Stephen. Even though he sent me a couple of spastic emails, I’m told that he’s a stand-up guy. I know people who have commissioned work from him and they can’t say enough good things about him. I like his posters quite a bit and his script for the Masters of Horror episode, Incident On and Off A Mountain Road, is the only episode of the bunch that I like. I’ve also come to learn through direct interactions with Steve Barton, Dread Central’s Uncle Creepy, that they’re also a right bunch of good people.
So basically, this story is about how I tried to gain some notoriety by being a dick to several really nice people and in the process, missed out on some prime opportunities to make some cool connections. I’ve managed to patch things up with Dread C and in the last several weeks, my name has been mentioned a couple of times over there but with the release of the Shock Festival DVD, a companion to Stephen Romano’s Shock Festival book, I’m hoping that I can make a friend of him. Stephen, if you’re out there reading this right now. Sorry about that business with Dread Central last year. Your DVD kicks ass and I’m about to tell the entire internet why they should buy it.
Shock Festival is like Spinal Tap, if you get my drift. The book, by Stephen Romano, is an exhaustive history of the grindhouse component, featuring profiles of movies, actors and directors that never existed. It’s doesn’t make a mockery of schlock, but this weirdo piece of fiction is a remarkably authentic examination of a world of cinema lost to the ways of dishonesty. Pseudonyms, alternate cuts, different titles for different markets all make it difficult to track down a comprehensive history of the exploitation movie, so Romano just made up his version of the story and I’m sure it’s not too far off the mark. To follow this up, the DVD expands his idea out into a trailer hound’s dream come true. Like the movie Grindhouse, Shock Festival takes some of the book’s running jokes and movies and turns them into fake trailers that you can watch. There are the giallo pieces Dead Bugs On The Carpet and its sequel. There’s an Amityville knockoff called Dark Night of the Demon House and a trashy, trashy hippie killers piece called Attack of the Sadistic Killer. There’s also hours and hours of real trailers, tv spots and radio spots, a couple of sets of commentaries, Romano’s poster art and some original music. This is a full service set.
I’ll get the negative out of the way immediately. There’s not much that you can complain about with this set. The faux trailers that the book is so well known for are actually a very minor piece of the Shock Festival DVD set. The running time isn’t quite an hour. Quality is also hit or miss. While most of them have been filtered through film damage effects, they wind up looking like they were shot by Jim Van Bebber (Good!) but cut by Guy Ritchie (Not good!) and without the context of the book to put it all into perspective, newcomers may feel left a bit left out of an inside joke. But you have been warned. This is a companion to a book so you may feel compelled to run out and find a copy.
There has been no shortage of official trailer reels out there for consumption thanks for the 42nd Street Forever discs that you can buy and so on, but none of them come with the additional perspective of Stephen Romano or Uncle Creepy, whom you can opt to listen to while you watch. The absolute span of the trailers is epic, as well. There is no less than five hours of trailers and tv ads plus a separate disc containing the original music for the presentation by MARS and over three hundred radio spots ranging from thirty to sixty seconds a piece. It’s a real work of art.
It’s disappointing that the fake trailers are such a small portion of the total package as the Shock Festival brand has come to embody this fictional biography of sleazy cinema but the sheer volume of stuff on these discs is staggering. Romano and Alternative Cinema have put together an encyclopedia for the video store age and even as jaded as I am, the reels include trailers for stuff I’ve never even heard of. It’s all backed by insightful commentary by a couple of folks who know what they’re talking about and love the source material so deeply and it’s rounded out with an amazing set of posters and audio. There have been plenty of exploitation trailer reels in the past but nothing even remotely close to what Shock Festival amounts to.