Last week, on a day when I just didn't feel up to doing any work, I decided to put together a DVD compilation of old action movie trailers from the Eighties. No good reason; I was just feeling down and thought it might cheer me up, which it did.
For me, this was a golden age of action cinema, mostly because you could actually still go to the theaters to see low-budget "B" exploitation and action films. Companies like Crown International, Empire, New World – and especially Cannon – could still get theatrical distribution in those days.
I can vividly remember seeing a lot of these movies when they came out. I remember watching American Ninja and Invasion U.S.A – among others – with my pal Bill Crump on our weekly "Bad Movie Nights," at the Waterville Cinema Center (it's a church now). I also remember seeing Revenge of the Ninja my first week in New Jersey when I went down there for art school, and seeing 9 Deaths of the Ninja in the same mall theater shortly before I moved back to Maine. The appeal was strictly visceral – it didn't matter that the stories were basic and predictable or that characters were paper thin cliches or that the acting was terrible, it was all about flying fists and feet, bombs, bullets and boobies.
They don't call 'em exploitation films for nothing, you know.
Now, the descendants of those second tier studios and their product tends to be relegated solely to cable and home video... and, well, that stuff's just not as much fun on the small screen.
Of course, I watched an awful lot of these movies on cable TV and VHS, too. I have a friend named Mark Gerardi who used to waste lots of weekends in the late Eighties with me, sitting on my sofa, eating super-sized drive-thru orders of Chicken McNuggets and watching double and triple features of cheesy action films on tape.
We used to have apartments in the same building, and around noon on Saturday, he'd call and wake me up and ask if I wanted to hang out. After the usual "So, what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?" exchange failed to come up with anything new or compelling, we'd usually head for the local video store a few blocks away, and stock-up on VHS tapes.
Of course back then, our local video stores always had two sections devoted to the genre among the shelves. There was always the ACTION section (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, etc.) and the CLINT, CHUCK & CHUCK (Eastwood, Bronson & Norris ) area. Sometimes, there'd be a MARTIAL ARTS shelf, too. I think we watched every tape in those sections – many of them repeatedly.
By the mid-90's though, most of these kinds of movies were going strictly direct-to-video. One after another, the surviving action icons – Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal – moved out of theaters onto the rental shelves. Seeing them in a movie house wasn't even an option. And, consequently, I think the budgets dipped a little lower and the production values got even worse. Instead of shooting for cheap in Hong Kong or the Philippines, they filmed even cheaper in Canada or Czechoslovakia.
I have collected a lot of my favorites on DVD over the last ten years, but a lot of stuff still isn't available on disc. Still, I probably have more than would be considered healthy.
Anyway, I've been feeling nostalgic of late, and even after assembling my 50 trailer disc, I still wanted to ramble on about these movies a bit, and that's what a blog is for, right?