VHS Revival revisits those halcyon rental days, when promotional trailers often provided more of a thrill than the movies that followed.
What do you miss most about the good old days of home video?
Cover art is something that stands out – it made that oh so joyous experience of choosing your rental all the more joyous. Choice is the second thing that springs to mind. Sometimes you would arrive home on a Saturday evening and be thoroughly disappointed with a movie that promised so much and delivered so little. But that was part of the fun, particularly when you unearthed the kind of gem that you couldn’t wait to rent again.
One thing that could never disappoint was the series of similarly-themed trailers that teased you into your night of viewing. If one obsolete profession ranks as the most disheartening, it is that of the trailer voice-over guy. That son of a bitch could sell you on anything, not matter how cruddy. There were plenty of lacklustre films out there, but sub-par trailers were few and far between.
In the second of a series of articles, VHS Revival looks back at some of horror‘s most exemplary trailers. This time we are focusing on the best trailers of the horror franchise. How many do you remember?
The Evil Dead (1981)
At a time when slasher movies exploded onto the mainstream, director Sam Raimi became infamous for a different kind of ‘Video Nasty’. One of the 72 films banned by the BBFC, supernatural horror The Evil Dead is a grungy effort that oozes malevolence, featuring a series of gruesome sequences that left the censorship boards reeling. Unlike the majority of its banished peers, the movie is a low-budget triumph in the tradition of Romero, Hooper and Carpenter, introducing a young, up-and-coming director of considerable talent.
The trailer pulls no punches in the graphic stakes, delivering the kind of relentless, non-stop horror that typifies the movie, placing a strong emphasis on the film’s sound design, which is just a devastating as its often hideous visual elements. There is no voice-over in this particular trailer – none is needed – and Raimi’s iconic speeding POV takes centre stage. If you want to experience the movie in a nutshell, this is your chance. A grue-filled explosion of visceral terror that features some of the genre’s most notorious images.
Oh, and a bite-sized portion of THAT scene.
Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
Back in 1982, the Friday the 13th franchise had already grown stale. In 1980, Sean Cunningham‘s original gave us the vengeful wrath of Mrs. Voorhees, a crazy little lady looking to teach a bunch of negligent teens a rather brutal lesson. Two years later, the supposedly drowned Jason reemerged looking for some vengeance of his own, but a peephole sack just didn’t cut it, and Paramount were facing the prospect of putting the franchise to bed in its infancy. Luckily for us, the Reagan-era 3-D fad put a stop to that, reviving the series for long enough to give Jason his iconic hockey mask. The rest, as they say, is history.
Strangely, Friday the 13th Part 3 doesn’t focus much on the 3-D element asides from a deliciously subtle pun from our on-form voice-over guy ― yes, the series was capable of subtlety (at least on this occasion). By now, Jason was already being advertised as the movie’s pseudo-protagonist, and the questions on everybody’s lips were: how many people are going to die, and how gruesome are those deaths going to be? Whoever was responsible for the trailer was more than aware of this, so much so that they even tally the amount of deaths that appear in the movie, with a tantalising countdown that gives us the briefest glimpse of each character’s death.
“Jason: you can’t fight him. You can’t stop him. And now, you can’t even keep him on the screen!”
Back in 1986, James Cameron gave us a sequel for the ages. Following the unbridled success of his mainstream debut The Terminator, the director was entrusted with following Ridley Scott‘s space-bound masterpiece Alien, a task that was almost doomed to disappoint. Eschewing the slow-building tension of its predecessor, Aliens turned to blistering action in order to sidestep the inevitable comparisons, and it worked a treat. Pitting an artillery-heavy marine core against an entire colony of screaming Xenomorphs, this was balls-to-the-wall filmmaking of the highest order.
Smartly, the trailer follows a similar philosophy. The voice-over guy has a single line at the very end of the trailer, but until then it relies on dialogue to tell the story, as our arrogant crew quickly begin to realise exactly what they’re dealing with. This kind of approach was a rarity back in the 1980’s, and it really sets the trailer apart as frenetic editing and the pulsating sound of the iconic motion tracker pushes us towards a frenzied crescendo. This unique approach also lends the trailer an added level of reality, perfectly encapsulating the isolation and futility of the movie’s setting.
“Aliens: this time it’s war!”
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Back in 1987, Clive Barker‘s triumphant directorial debut brought his literary cenobites to life in a relentlessly bleak affair which brought sadomasochism to the mainstream. A year later, the inevitable sequel was spawned, one that took us deep into the realms of hell for a visual Grand Guignol of practical effects terror. Although it lacked the tragic conflict of its antecedent, the movie was an audacious departure which sacrificed narrative for something which bordered on the avant-garde.
If this is hell, then the trailer does a rather fine job of depicting it. This is wall-to-wall screams and images of human anguish, with a tantalising glimpse of much of the movie’s fantastic set design, a domain of grandiose dread presided over by the iconic Pinhead. It also features a nifty spinning title which seems to contain our condemned cast like the infamous Lemarchand’s box, with a blistering glimpse of the divine torture that is synonymous with the series.
“Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Time to play!”
Child’s Play 2 (1990)
No character screams franchise quite like Chucky. In 1988, Tom Holland gave us the kind of wise-cracking antihero who could give Arnie a run for his money, the Austrian oak instead replaced by Brad Dourif‘s irresistibly sadistic voice work, and, in the ultimate irony, a murderous crook trapped inside the body of a freckle-faced ‘Good Guy’ doll. We would wait two years for the inevitable sequel, one that increased the volume on Chucky’s gleeful malevolence, with livelier puppet animation, a whole plethora of heartless quips, and a variety of bloodshed to rival Voorhees at his most creatively brutal.
The trailer is all about our pint-sized psycho, and what an introduction our latest marquee attraction receives! The opening is pure genius, as a Good Guys jack-in-the-box ominously winds itself, only to be crushed by Chucky’s stomping foot as the murderous doll promptly proclaims, ‘Sorry, Jack. Chucky’s back!’ From there it is frenetic editing and all-out mayhem as we get a glimpse of his latest rampage, a sequence of tongue-in-cheek violence that even includes a cheeky nod to Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho. Director John Lafia holds nothing back in the creative murders department, and we even get a glimpse of the movie’s best death as a sleazy corporate exec is put on the conveyor belt and fitted with a brand new pair of peepers.
“Child’s Play 2: keep an eye out for it.”
Halloween III: Season of the Witch – Teaser Trailer (1982)
An anomalous entry in the Halloween franchise, Halloween III: Season of the Witch holds absolutely no relation to the infamous ‘Shape’, cashing in on the title in order to sell tickets. The initial idea was to ditch the Myers character and produce a different seasonal tale every year with a different plot and cast of characters. Of course, money talks and evil walks, and inevitably the much more profitable Michael would be dredged from retirement, while Tommy Lee Wallace’s horror oddity about a crazed mask manufacturer looking to rid the world of children would fade into relative obscurity.
Season of the Witch was given the full trailer treatment, but this 46 second teaser is much more effective; in fact, it’s absolutely terrifying. The concept is simple, an eerie lullaby is accompanied by children’s laughter as an indistinct shape begins to take form, gradually becoming a mask that almost rivals that of Myers himself. But the most unsettling part are the eyes that suddenly appear in the mask’s blacked-out eye holes, as the trailer’s sinister voice-over guy proclaims, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch: the night no one comes home.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
By the time the whole censorship frenzy had began to simmer, the slasher movie had grown particularly stale. That was until Wes Craven redefined the genre with his once in a lifetime creation. Fred Krueger was not your average stalk-and-slash executioner. Lacking the physical stature of his barbarous counterparts, he was a very different entity, a sadistic child killer who used his dreamworld omnipotence to toy with his prey, thriving on the very essence of fear. His burnt face, striped jumper and filthy hat screamed iconic, and his razor-fingered glove ― a phallic extension of his evil ― sealed the deal.
It’s hard to imagine just how refreshing this trailer must have been to the slasher-worn audiences of the mid-’80s ― a testament to the movie’s game-changing concept and unbridled creativity. It’s all on show here, from the wonderful practical effects and dreamworld transitions to Charles Bernstein‘s seething synth score. Plus, we get our first introduction to one of horror’s most iconic figures, back when he largely clung to the shadows and every glimpse of his evil sickened you to the core. The voice-over guy also plays his part here, providing Krueger with the kind of sinister menace he so richly deserves.
“The kids of Elm Street don’t know it yet, but something is coming to get them!”
Inevitably, it wouldn’t be the last time.
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