In last week’s Slashback column, we took a controversial look at the cultural impact of the slasher genre through the eyes of two of its most famous detractors: film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. It’s interesting to note that when the pair ran their notorious SNEAK PREVIEWS “Violence Against Women” episode in 1980, the slasher boom was just beginning to gain momentum; indeed, if box-office numbers are any indication, slashers reached their peak of popularity the very next year — much to both critics’ consternation, I’m sure.
Even so, Roger and Gene were already keenly aware that the wave was cresting soon, particularly after the smash success of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, so it’s obvious slasher movies already had their hooks (and knives, and saws) in audiences long before Michael Myers began his killing spree in 1978.
I’ve examined several ‘70s proto-slashers in detail via this column, and I’m certainly not done covering that decade. But for a change, with this installment, I’d like to focus on the advertising for some of genre’s scariest, spookiest and sleaziest titles released before HALLOWEEN changed movie history. Then, of course, I’ll move on to the far more prolific ’80s… but that’s another story.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does contain some of my personal favorites from the years leading up to the genre’s Golden Age.
BLOOD AND LACE (1971)
Not to be confused with Mario Bava’s proto-slasher BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, this grindhouse quickie is not only one of the earliest films to employ nearly all of the slasher genre tropes (not to mention a massive body count), but it’s also got a dubious reputation as one of the sleaziest PG-rated films of all time… and for those reasons alone it’s worth a full review in a future column, so be on the lookout for that.
THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW (1972)
Notorious UK sleazemeister Pete Walker is well-known for landing several his films on the “Video Nasties” censorship list, and this is one of his seediest early entries. It’s also his first venture into the slasher domain, and while it trots out most of the plot conventions we’ve come to expect from the genre, it’s actually fairly tame in the violence department, especially compared to his 1976 follow-up slasher SCHIZO.
One of the most entertaining aspects of ‘70s horror trailers is often hilariously urgent narration, and giallo auteur Sergio Martino’s I CORPI PRESENTANO TRACCE DI VIOLENZA CARNALE was graced with one of those hilariously intense voice-overs when it was picked up for US distribution under this much simpler title. It’s ironic, then, given the stateside promoter’s over-the-top advertising, that the US version was heavily edited to remove most of the original film’s graphic violence.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
This gets my vote for the most legitimately scary trailer on this list, and even four decades after its premiere, it’s still absolutely chilling. In addition to more visual shocks, Director Bob Clark used well-crafted sound to convey overwhelming suspense and terror… and the trailer demonstrates that technique as well. It’s also refreshing to watch a trailer that plays out its scares at a more deliberate pace, as opposed to the machine-gun editing style of modern film advertising.
DEVIL TIMES FIVE (1974)
You can’t get much more ‘70s than former child-star Leif Garrett, who plays one of the five preteen psychopaths of the title. The deadly quintet manage to escape their asylum handlers, and soon torment a winter cabin full of obnoxious adults in a series of bizarre games. By the way, almost all of the kids’ inventive kills are depicted in the trailer, so be prepared for a large serving of spoiler salad.
Similar in tone and hyperbole to the trailer for TORSO, this flick is also a repackaged giallo (originally titled GATTI ROSSI IN UN LABIRINTO DI VETRO) from Italian genre journeyman Umberto Lenzi (best known for the controversial CANNIBAL FEROX), but feels even more like a traditional slasher than its predecessor, including an early example of killer-point-of-view photography, a creepy crimson-hooded villain, and oodles of nudity.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
The only film on this list to be loosely based on a real-life serial killer’s rampage [which you can read all about in this article], Charles B. Pierce’s major-studio breakthrough has a certain veneer of legitimacy that the others lack… but regardless, the trailer is still as gritty, creepy and exploitative as its peers.