VHS Revival looks back at some of cinema’s most absurd taglines.
Taglines are an essential part of any promotional package. Along with posters and teaser trailers, their aim is to sell a movie without giving too much away. A great movie tagline says an awful lot using very little. It is clever and memorable, and along with its accompanying image sells a picture to its potential audience by establishing tone and genre, giving you an idea of what you might be able to expect, while unlocking your imagination to what might lie beyond.
However, there are some taglines that are just plain ridiculous. That’s not to say they’re not effective. The fact is, some movies are just plain ridiculous too, and they require a tagline of absurd proportions to sell its product’s tongue-in-cheek formula. Others, on the other hand, are just plain bad.
In the first of an ongoing series, VHS revival looks back at some of cinema’s most harebrained promotional snippets.
Tagline: You know the drill.
Movie: The Dentist 2 (1998)
The 90s was a dull period for horror fans. With the exception of rare gems such as Wes Craven’s Scream, a movie that succeeded as a self-reflexive vehicle that poked fun at its many predecessors, decent scares were few and far between. This was in large part due to the 80s VHS boom, and the genre’s inevitable oversatuartion. Having watched the formula bled dry, all fans could do was lie there as a box-fresh explosion of MTV style flicks dragged them kicking and screaming through the commercial wringer.
In 1996, Brian Yuzna unleashed a new kind of villain onto the B-movie landscape, tapping into one of our most cringing fears. Having caught his wife cheating with the pool boy, Dr. Alan Feinstone sought vengeance on his dental clientele as his mask of sanity began to slip, and two years later, having escaped the mental institute he had been confined to, Feinstone would assume the identity of a retired peer with the intention of resuming his inimitable style of dentistry.
The Dentist 2 is a sleazy little number with the kind of sadistic, lowbrow humour its tagline so shamelessly conveys. This is an example of an effectively lame promotional quip, which, in spite of it derisory qualities, deserves more than a little credit for its flagrant audacity. But don’t get too excited. This is probably the most humorous element of the entire movie.
Tagline: This time it’s personal.
Movie: Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Here we have yet another tagline that falls into the deep sigh category, although this time the joke is on those responsible. Unlike our previous entry, it is not the actual words that make this promotional snippet so laughable, but rather their relation to events featured in the movie. There is nothing remotely witty about this one, or even smirk inducing. On the surface it is no different from any other run-of-the-mill action hook, but then you swim beneath the surface.
In 1975, Steven Spielberg would create one of the most iconic characters in movie history, a razor-toothed killer known as Jaws, a relentless menace who only served to heighten the misguided fears of holidaymakers the world over. The movie’s inestimable success would inevitably spawn a tidal wave of lousy sequels, and none worse than 1987‘s laughable effort Jaws: The Revenge, a film so badly received it succeeded in killing the franchise for good.
It is one thing to portray a shark as a vicious killer beset on a singular rampage. Every species is capable of betraying the laws of its nature, and sometimes hunger can get the better of anyone. But to suggest that an ancestor of the original shark could stalk the relatives of its prey more than a decade later is bordering on the heretical, and the very notion of such a condescending premise is something I took very personally, although not as much as the movie’s total lack of entertainment value. In an era of movie reboots, it is perhaps an indictment of Jaws: The Revenge that nobody has yet dared to revive the franchise.
Well, at least something good came out of it.
Tagline: When a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add Ice.
Movie: Cool As Ice (1991)
Just add Ice, as in Vanilla Ice. You remember him, right? He was the floppy haired, corporate douchebag who took rap to the youth of white, middle class America, and was later hung by the ankle from an apartment building by infamous rap producer Suge Knight, who was not best pleased with his baggy trousered shenanigans.
Of course, this kind of widespread resentment didn’t bother his record label, who thought it wise to take Vanilla to the silver screen with a vacuous and creatively inept MTV clone of Marlon Brando’s The Wild One.
Cool As Ice is one of the most contrived and condescending corporate endeavours ever put to celluloid, and – thanks in large part to the our chin-stroking, faux philosopher – one of the most bizarrely entertaining pieces of garbage to ever grace the bad movie wasteland. So contradictory are its characters that it is sometimes difficult to understand who exactly we are supposed to be rooting for, and with lines like ‘Drop that zero and get with the hero’, junk film aficionados are sure to have a field day.
Not to be outdone by the movie’s relentless and wildly cynical onscreen marketing, those responsible for the tagline encapsulate its unremitting cornball sleaze with typically ruthless aplomb.
Stop! Hammer time!
Wait a minute . . . well, you get the idea.
Tagline: It happened to someone who knows someone you know…You’re next.
Movie: Urban Legend (1998)
While we’re on the subject of soulless, box-fresh 90s horror, here is one of many insipid stalk and slash forays which, while instantly forgettable, helped to launch the career of Jared Leto, who would go on to become an Oscar winning actor. That being said, whatever happened to final girl Alicia Witt’s mainstream acting career? Where the hell is Michael Rosenbaum, or even Tara Reid for that matter? Whatever they’re doing – directing, writing, bottomed out on booze and cocaine on Hollywood Boulevard – it would be a step up from this kind of disposable fodder.
Urban Legend plays on our fear of…well, urban legend. We’ve all heard those tall tales as children, like the one with the axe-wielding maniac hiding in the back of your seat as the gas attendant strains to alert you to the murderous presence who will inevitably separate you from your head. Scary stuff! Or how about that one where the kid mixed popping candy with coca-cola, only for a chemical reaction to cause his stomach to explode. Well, that’s not very scary, or even believable, but that ones in here too. In fact, they make an entire scene out of it.
Riding the success of Scream across distant and fruitless plains, even a cameo from the great Robert Englund can’t save this one, and to add to the underwhelming production we are treated to one of the most laborious and downright confusing taglines I have ever had the displeasure of reading.
So it happened to someone who knows someone you know? I’m sorry, I have absolutely no clue who you’re talking about.
Tagline: Why are they putting seatbelts in the theatres this summer?
Movie: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Excuse me? Is that like…a genuine question? Of course it isn’t. It’s a joke, right? Like: Why did the chicken cross the road? Apparently, it was to get to the other side. So the chicken, however primitive his task and stupid the joke, actually had an aim. But what is the aim of this question exactly? Surely not to sell the latest Star Trek movie?
I can kind of figure out what those in charge of marketing had in mind with this particular tagline, at least in the loosest of terms. Star Trek is a film about outer space, and in space there are spaceships, and like any vehicle spaceships need seat belts. Seatbelts are also synonymous with speed, and speed in cinematic terms means fast-paced action. So we have spaceships and we have seatbelts and we have fast-paced action, which surely begs the question: Why are they putting seatbelts in the theatres this summer?
Okay, I’ll let you have that one, but unless you are planning to actually put seatbelts in the theatres this summer, there are going to be a lot of disappointed children, while Star Trek nerds across the globe may very well riot, or at the very least send your arse into warp drive so you can promptly buy and install some.
Maybe a simple and more effective tagline would be better suited for all parties. But hey, you’re the experts here. Who am I to tell you how to do your job?
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut