I picked up Mike Mayo's "Videohound's Video Premieres" as research material for a film-related project I'm working on and am pleased that it's providing me with more fun than expected. This is my first taste of the Videohound library and I'm glad to say it's almost as entertaining as it is thorough, and helpful beyond compare. Author Mike Mayo (who's also the pen behind VideoHound's Horror Show) does himself proud here, and while the book isn't perfect, it's an amazingly overlooked must-have for people who love these kinds of movies.
In short, this is mainly a collection of mini reviews of films that were primarily released on video in the United States. The author's definition is quite broad, so while you get a lot of obscure fare like Leapin Leprechauns and Flesh Gordon 2, expect to see some familiar cult titles like Reservoir Dogs (yes, even that one had a limited release). It's all about the reviews for the most part, with no room for essays, but Mayo provides sidebars to highlight his personal favorites per genre and subgenre, and also excerpts from interviews he's done with filmmakers and producers of these sorts of pictures.
A potential subjective drawback of the book is its age: published in 1997, it would require a second edition to include a sampling of the estimated 9600 video and limited release titles that have been made since. It's incomplete as is: Mayo admits early on that it's impossible for a single book to encompass every single film that would fall under his definitions; and while admirably thorough, I think that any reader would be able to think of at least one title they've seen that isn't reviewed in here ("Where's Wizards of the Lost Kingdom?" was one of my first thoughts as I flipped through the pages). With that said, I love the era of film it generally encompasses: most of these movies are from the 80s and 90s, during which low-budget fare alternatively tried to imitate and creatively outdo the larger blockbusters on a grand scale. Mayo does a commendable job of sifting through the mountains of mulch and using his rating system to identify films that he feels generally rise above the low average.
I don't entirely agree with Mayo's personal ratings, especially when it comes to action and martial arts flicks (he likes his Don Wilson films; we can never see eye-to-eye), but even if you disagree 100% with his reviews, the real service this book does viewers is providing a record of so many obscure features. Sure, no book can match the breadth of the Internet, but even years of prowling Amazon, eBay, and IMDb had not introduced me to the weirdly wonderful likes of Amanda & the Alien. Basically, it's easy to find anything with the web at our fingertips, but the book proves that a helpful suggestion still goes a long way when it comes to movies.
Take note that the name of this key phrase of the title is "video premieres," not necessarily "direct to video." What this means is that while there are certainly a great many of the latter variety here, the catalogue also includes movies that received a very limited theatrical run (including ones from decades ago, like the director's cut of A Streetcar Named Desire) and ones that were released theatrically overseas but got the DTV treatment in North America, like The Street Fighter. I'm not sure I can call it a genuine complaint, but I think this sort of skewers the rating system a bit: especially in the action genre, when you have friggin' Hard Boiled in the game (followed by a mini-essay on the talents of Jon Woo), something like Tough and Deadly has greater difficulty getting recognition.
Nevertheless, the book rises above its faults through its premise alone. It's such a neat little companion to have. Wanna watch a movie but you don't know what? - just pick up the book and open it to a random page, which will provide you with a short literary teaser of a potentially entertaining film you didn't know existed and which you can probably pick up for a couple of bucks these days. Even on the toughest nights, repeating the process will generally garner you a good one within ten tries. The world of film is wilder and more diverse than Hollywood and the mainstream tend to admit, and Videohound's contribution is opening readers' eyes to that. Buy it!