Fireball 500 and Thunder Alley(MGM Home Entertainment, 6.7.2005)
As the mood of America changed, AIP shifted their Beach Party machine onto the NASCAR racetrack with Fireball 500. But without the ocean, the happy go lucky nature of Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and Harvey Lembeck vanished into the deep fryer. This was not the escapist fare of 1965. Frankie plays a stockcar racer traveling between NASCAR ovals. When he drops by a small track in North Carolina, he ends up feuding with a local favorite played by Fabian. This is perhaps Fabian's finest AIP movie role -- he plays a hick prick -- as he was clearly born to flash a shit-eating grin. To earn a few extra bucks, Frankie runs moonshine and the trouble begins. Annette works at a carnival and sings a song before slowly fading into the background.
This isn't simply a Beach Party film relocated. When Avalon and Lembeck fight, there's no slapstick or Himalayan finger trick to freeze up Eric Von Zipper. In the deep south, they go for blood as they smash around the set. There's even death in this script. Frankie and Annette have left the carefree era and entered the world of harsh mortalities.
Thunder Alley has Fabian as a stockcar racer who blacks out during races. He gets help from Annette, a stunt-driving gal, because he's got to get back to the big race. It's rather cheesy story-wise but there's unexpected harshness when Fabian attends a party where the kids down liquor and let their libidos hang out. This is not family fun.
This Midnite Movie Double Feature represents Annette's AIP swansong and the end of an era for the indie studio. The good clean fun of sea-and-sand was over. It seemed like a smart move to turn to stockcars as the next craze but it would be 30 years before NASCAR went from regional to national. Neither of these films would prove as successful as the earlier, surf-flavored formula.
This DVD is essential viewing for fans of NASCAR due to all the vintage cinemascope images of Daytona and Richard Petty's 43. But for those picking it up with the promise of Frankie and Annette having a romp on gasoline alley, you're on the wrong track. The only bonus features are trailers and, for some reason, both trailers have music and effects tracks but are missing the announcer's audio. -- Joe Corey