A Special Announcement: The wild extremes of Group I International trailers will amaze you like nothing you’ve ever watched before!
Regulars at the New Beverly know that a typical double-feature is 2/3 of the total evening’s enjoyment; the remaining 1/3 is from watching the trailers. Whether they’re directly promoting upcoming attractions, or thematically tied to the film, actor, or director being showcased, our audiences love watching vintage previews. A recent Grindhouse Tuesday show that offered two full hours of trailers was a sell-out event, with applause breaks for select logos of long-departed distributors.
Los Angeles-based exploitation distributor Group I did not achieve the notoriety of other immortal genre film studios like New World Pictures or Cannon Films. However, they stood out through their special style of trailers that promised more to theater audiences than they were likely to get!
Trailers claim to show us the meatiest, most enticing moments of upcoming features, in the hopes we’ll come pay for more. And while we love ‘em, we usually know the movie being sold likely can’t live up to its hype.
David Friedman, the carnival operator who later produced infamous classics like BLOOD FEAST and ILSA SHE-WOLF OF THE SS, referred to this as “selling the sizzle, not the steak.” And as his own inspiration P.T. Barnum observed with visitors to his museum of oddities, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”
An unheralded master of this special kind of humbug was producer/director Brandon Chase. From his beginnings working with genre pioneers like Barry Mahon (producer of The Wonderful Land of Oz) and Bill Sargent (producer of The T.A.M.I. Show), to his apex as president of Group I International Distribution, Chase developed a fun manner of selling films: if he had something as weak as lemonade, he made it look as strong as limoncello.
His template literally began with the trailer for his 1963 directorial debut, Girl in Trouble, with a card and narrator declaring “A Special Announcement from the management of this theatre about an unusual motion picture event!”
If the images and lurid narration that follow weren’t enough to grab you, your ability to withstand moral turpitude was challenged:
“If you are easily shocked, or easily embarrassed, don’t see this film. But if you can look at a segment of life in the raw, with no holds barred, with those things usually whispered about brought to the screen with all their shocking reality, then see GIRL IN TROUBLE.”
Then, under black screen so you know they’re dead serious, they pulled out a verbal velvet rope:
“Because of the abnormal content of the film GIRL IN TROUBLE, which will be shown in its original uncut version, children under 16 will not be admitted, with or without their parents…Special police will be on duty to enforce this order.”
In all likelihood, Chase lifted this conceit from another great showman, the just-recently departed Herschell Gordon Lewis. The trailer for his groundbreaking classic BLOOD FEAST, released earlier that same year, put a stern-faced host onscreen to deliver a similar content warning, all but demanding that every child and weak-hearted adult flat out leave the auditorium before they see something they won’t be able to handle.
Lewis would use some variation of this cold opening on subsequent trailers for TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME, and THE WIZARD OF GORE. But Chase would take the concept and make it his own long after Lewis initially retired from making films in the early ‘70s. If anything, Lewis probably chuckled at seeing someone else run with his marketing idea and one-upping him.
Chase’s 1970 directorial follow-up, Threesome, took advantage of the relaxation of morals laws in Denmark, and while there is no trailer available for viewing online, author Jack Stevenson, in his book From Scandinavian Blue: The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s, describes Chase using the same hype formula from Girl in Trouble:
“The film was clearly tailored as an export item and had only a single closed screening in Denmark before crossing the Atlantic to lay siege to America, where it was billed as the next stage in the evolutionary process begun with I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW)… ‘THREESOME,’ shouted the ad copy, ‘is the first film made in Denmark since that country abolished all censorship. THREESOME was seized by U.S. Customs and [was] finally released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office without a single cut!’ Being seized by U.S. Customs was a badge of honor for foreign sexploitation films, but it was not surprising that THREESOME emerged from the process uncut since, like the other two films, it contained no actual scenes of hardcore sex.”
The sizzle worked its siren song again. By the time moviegoers found out there was as much steak in this movie as a 7-Eleven taquito, it was too late.
Chase mostly left directing behind when he and his wife, Threesome co-star Marianne Thorsted, created Group I Films in 1974 to release outside product. But he kept on using his proven trailer style to sell those films, with some added tricks.
On certain trailers, there would be generous nudity, but then a plethora of random “CUT” cards inserted among the footage, suggesting there was even stronger stuff not being shown!
Conversely, they could also whet moviegoers’ appetites by showing absolutely nothing from the film!
In arguably their greatest trailer, for the 1976 Swedish “bored fiancée” drama LIZ, a combination of salacious prose, fake testimonials, and a statement from a gent claiming to be its producer (who, less than a minute earlier, was presented as a patron at its screening!) are cut together into a gleefully shameless come-on.
“George Sheperd” may be an English translation of actual Liz producer Göran Sjösted, but this man ain’t him!
Not only did Group I recycle lurid tag lines like “Banned in 30 countries,” “Uncut with nothing removed,” and “Those who would be offended or embarrassed by total nudity and sexuality,” they even recycled their so-called audience reactions!
Actors offering their scripted opinions on the 1971 Yugoslavian womanizer drama The Rogue aka The Stud got repurposed into a trailer for the 1972 giallo Amuck!
Even when the movie had zero erotic content, the ads got perved up. When Starcrash director Luigi Cozzi’s 1976 terminal illness tearjerker The Last Concert was released by Group I in 1978, they sold it as a sexual obsession thriller called Take All of Me.
Shortly after releasing their two biggest hits, Alligator and The Sword and the Sorcerer, which were strong enough to go out with conventional advertising, Chase phased out of the film business in favor of manufacturing Swiss watches and breeding race horses.
While selling precision timepieces to the affluent may seem completely different from selling grindhouse fare to groundlings, Chase could easily have been talking about either business when he described to a reporter what it took for an independent like him to get noticed against deeper-pocketed competitors:
“The biggest challenge was to focus in on the best advertising and promotion for what we do. We couldn’t hit with a shotgun, we’d have to hit with a rifle.”
When it came to selling strange, sexy movies, few hit the target as consistently well as Brandon Chase and Group I International!