The past weekend involved a very interesting experiment for me… and before I explain that, I’ll open with a mildly controversial statement: if there’s any medium in this world I find more entertaining than a great horror movie, it’s a great horror movie trailer.
I’ll even go there and suggest that there are probably several dozen trailers or teasers which I consider more effective — in conveying scares, suspense or just a creepy atmosphere — than the movies they’re designed to promote.
Trailers, teasers, TV ads and radio spots have always held a mysterious, almost magical power over me — long before I was old enough to understand how they were made, I would often feel a chill come over me when the deep voice of an ominous narrator [usually one of the voice artists I commemorated in this article] began what for me was a clear warning: you might not like what they’re about to show you in the next 30 seconds…
Little did I know back then, as my young self shivered at these concentrated, hyperbolic mini-versions of upcoming horror films, that a tiny seed had been planted. That fear evolved into curiosity… then into fascination… then obsession. No matter how often they might return in my nightmares, when an ad for a new horror film came on, I had to drop what I was doing and watch, absorbing every detail.
Now let’s fast-forward (pardon the pun) to the home video era — when my teenage self could be found nearly every Friday night browsing the massive, constantly-expanding horror section of Crown Video, my town’s biggest and most popular mom & pop video shop. Crown stood high above the pack for many reasons, but their horror section was what mattered most: the owners were major horror buffs, and ordered what seemed like every horror title — regardless of age, quality or content — and it was from this expansive library that my horror film education advanced to a whole new level.
Another aspect of Crown Video that I cherished was their constant broadcast of promo reels from video distributors, which were usually just compilations of theatrical trailers for the latest batch of new-release titles, screened on an old-school projection TV so large you could see its glow from outside the store.
I suspect the owners also edited together their own horror trailer compilations — because every October that big TV would come alive with hours of promos that mixed ads for home-video releases of the latest NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels with vintage theatrical spots for HALLOWEEN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and DAWN OF THE DEAD.
Before that time, I’d never seen a decent-quality compilation of horror trailers on a single tape, and even in the pre-internet days of tape-trading and collectors’ conventions, homemade trailer reels were usually disappointing.
But then the internet happened, and obsessed horror trailer fans around the world realized just how vast their numbers were. That rising tide also coincided with the availability of more affordable video formats… and for the first time, collectors no longer needed a telecine projector and/or a chain of clunky VCRs to create their own compilation reels.
Now, thanks to countless horror blogs and YouTube channels, even the most obscure horror trailers (or previously-unseen edits) have emerged from private collections, and over the past decade or so, numerous distributors have cleaned and remastered horror, sci-fi and exploitation ads for slick DVD and Blu-ray compilations.
If you’re a trailer junkie like me, you already know the majority of these promos are considered public domain, and therefore the same trailers tend to pop up across multiple competing discs… but even so, a few compilations stand out, thanks to their creators’ obvious passion for the material. Among these are Synapse’s multi-volume 42ND STREET FOREVER series, and Stephen Romano’s SHOCK FESTIVAL, a three-disc companion piece to his novel about the glory days of exploitation cinema.
But a relative newcomer to the trailer-comp game, GarageHouse Pictures, has already risen to the top of my list with their newly-minted TRAILER TRAUMA series… and their latest Blu-ray offering, TRAILER TRAUMA 3: ‘80s HORRORTHON, is without a doubt the crown jewel in my trailer library.
While I knew instantly I had to pick this one up ASAP, I found myself forced to set it aside for a short while. Believe me, the urge to rip off the shrink-wrapping and fire up the Blu-ray was almost impossible to resist… but I wanted to devote my undivided attention to this collection.
Since the box copy noted the two discs comprised more than seven hours of non-stop trailers (more than 250 in all), I knew the only proper way to experience them was in a single, non-stop marathon viewing.
I was hoping for the perfect window of viewing opportunity… and lo and behold, last Thursday I came down with a very intense and nasty case of the flu, whereupon it dawned on me how I’d be spending my time for the next couple of days.
The first night was surreal, to say the least… I was slightly delirious from a 102-degree fever, so I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust my eyes. But either way, I witnessed things on that dark night I’d never seen before.
The discs are divided and organized in unique ways — both chronologically and alphabetically. Disc 1 is comprised solely of trailers and teasers from 1980 and 1981 — and considering those years represent the absolute peak of the slasher genre’s Golden Age, this group is extremely slasher-heavy.
While most of the content here is available in other compilations or on YouTube (in varying degrees of quality), there were still some entries which captured my attention; even in my foggy, virus-ridden funk. I marveled at a clean theatrical trailer for the seldom-seen mummy movie THE AWAKENING, an atmospheric promo for THE BOOGENS, and a red-band advance teaser for SCANNERS — which is nothing more than the film’s infamous exploding-head scene in its entirety. (I couldn’t believe they actually got away with that one.)
Disc 2 is divided into individual release years — spanning 1982 through 1989 — with each year’s titles alphabetized. While my affection for old-school horror tends to drop off drastically by the end of the ‘80s, there’s so much gold in this mountain of trailers I actually considered revisiting titles like DEEP STAR SIX and NIGHTFLYERS (both of which I haven’t seen since they came out in theaters).
While dozens of these entries can be found online or on earlier compilations, I was still surprised to encounter alternate versions that I’d never seen in any other collection: a strange, footage-free teaser for WOLFEN that is little more than a grainy photo of Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL); an alternate theatrical trailer for the absurd shot-on-video slasher BOARDING HOUSE; a surreal teaser for National Lampoon’s slasher parody CLASS REUNION; a rare good-quality trailer for EYES OF FIRE [more info on that movie here]; and a gorgeously chilling advance promo for 1982’s THE SENDER that should have set the bar for movie teasers to come.
Also in this batch are the first trailers I’ve ever seen for TERROR IN THE AISLES (itself a horror compilation), Tobe Hooper’s FUTURE-KILL, early Troma release IGOR AND THE LUNATICS, killer-baboon epic IN THE SHADOW OF KILIMANJARO, gory bug-fests THE NEST and BLUE MONKEY, creepy revenge psychodrama THE LADIES CLUB, and the mega-campy thriller SCREAM FOR HELP. I was also surprised to find trailers for films I’ve never even watched, or even heard of — such as HEAVEN BECOMES HELL and RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD (don’t ask). I suspect that a few of these are best left unseen, but feel free to enlighten me on their qualities if you disagree.
Amid the avalanche of new, rare and alternate theatrical trailers in this collection, it’s still worth pointing out that one of the most memorable gems is one you’ve no doubt seen a dozen times before — the advance theatrical teaser for POLTERGEIST, released several months ahead of the film’s June 1982 premiere. Even 35 years later, it’s still capable of raising goosebumps:
When the first rays of sunlight began to creep into my room of healing, I realized two things: first, I realized how well this 7-plus-hour marathon distracted me from my physical pain; and second, since that discomfort was already robbing me of uninterrupted sleep, I might as well begin a second viewing — because each and every one of these trailers is accompanied by audio commentary from genre writers, filmmakers, historians and more.
Participants include director Ted Geoghegan (WE ARE STILL HERE); legendary Fangoria alumni Michael Gingold (now a Blumhouse contributor) and Tim Ferrante; aforementioned artist & author Stephen Romano (who also created the awesome package art); Exhumed Films’ Dan Fraga, Harry Guerro and Jesse Nelson; Temple of Schlock’s Chris Poggiali; film historian Dan Buskirk of the Fun2Know Podcast; James “Jimmy Terror” Harris of DocTerror.com, and author Grady Hendrix (MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM), whose coverage of the 1985 trailers is so hilarious that I’m hoping he gets more commentary work ASAP.
Each contributor brings a true fan’s enthusiasm, as well as a wealth of trivia and historical background for each film involved. The genre influences that inform Geoghegan’s work are evident in his play-by-play, while Gingold brings his usual encyclopedic knowledge to bear; Romano’s sharp cultural perspective informs much of his track, though he also gushes like a superfan (his memories of watching ALIENS in a theater are fantastic).
Even if the trailers themselves are familiar (though, as I mentioned, slightly different than you might remember), the commentary injects new life into these ancient artifacts, instilling each one with the spirit of a long-gone era where each movie ad seemed to have a distinct tone and personality of its own… which was often spookier than the product it was shilling.
This is far from a comprehensive collection of ‘80s trailers, but much of what’s missing here can be found on the two previous TRAILER TRAUMA collections… which, if you’re interested, I might discuss in a future article.
Combined, those earlier discs total between 5 and 6 hours; maybe after I recover (from the flu, not the trailers), I’ll be ready for another all-nighter… but will you?