It’s the slasher film soiree!
Seeing a new preview in the theater used to hold an element of something special. Especially before the age of the Internet and when there were still surprises to be had when you settled into a theater seat, the lights dimmed and trailers for films you never knew were “coming soon!” played out. It goes without saying, when a trailer is expertly pieced together, you’re not only hyped for the film, but you want to see the trailer again and again. During middle school and high school, I’d often throw together trailer compilations on VHS, using a laserdisc player and VCR.
Some of our favorite previews are the perfect fusion of music, tantalizing visuals and imaginative editing. Some are elaborate. Others can take the minimalist approach yet strike a powerful chord. And some trailers are about the “moments.” This is everything Reel Fear is about: The trailers that drove us into the theaters to see the films they promoted, regardless of the film’s quality.
Each installment of Reel Fear will be broken up thematically, much like those old VHS compilations from back in the day.
Part 1: The Classic Monster Edition
Part 2: The Devil Made Me Do It!
Let’s welcome contributing writer Jeff Allard to the Reel Fear madness with his collection of slasher film trailer favorites!
Friday the 13th (1980)
Employing the talents of legendary voiceover artist Don LaFontaine (and giving the world its first taste of Harry Manfredini’s classic Ki-ki-ki Ma-ma-ma score), this trailer for the original Friday the 13th told audiences upfront it meant business by ominously counting off â along with big, blood red numbers filling the screen â a promised (or at least implied) twelve victims (Mrs. Voorhees actually only claims eight victims in this film â but who ever called out a horror trailer for not being entirely honest to the facts?). Other slasher pics prior to Friday the 13th â everything from Twitch of the Death Nerve to Black Christmas and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Halloween â had racked up plenty of brutally slain victims but Friday the 13th was the first to be so blatantly marketed as a “body count” film. Had Friday the 13th had a more traditional trailer, it would’ve been all about setting up the characters or the storyline. There would’ve been some mention of the history of Camp Crystal Lake and who these young camp counselors-to be are. But no, this trailer goes straight to the kills. Not a single character name is mentioned. There’s no way to even know who the movie’s main character is. By making the “star” of this trailer be its unseen killer, this trailer perfectly embodies the classic Friday the 13th aesthetic.
When a trailer begins with a skuzzy-looking dude running up on the hood of a car and firing a shotgun point blank at the people inside, that’s an attention getter. This is another trailer that said the hell with saying anything about the story â all people need to know is that a maniac is on the loose and he’s taking out as many people as he can. While it’s hard to watch an old trailer like this and not still see it through the eyes of the age I was when I originally saw it, I have to believe that even had I been older and more jaded when I first caught a glimpse of what Maniac had in store for viewers, I would’ve been taken aback. I think anyone who actually lived through the early ’80s will say that initially it was a real jolt to see horror movies taking the turn they did in those years. Exploitation films were nothing new but trailers like this one jumped out as a sign that the new breed of horror movies were stepping up their game. We’re much more numb to violence in films now but in 1980 when you saw a trailer like this one, it was like being physically threatened. You just didn’t know how far filmmakers were going to go any more. Movies were getting rougher and Maniac was arguably the roughest of the bunch.
He Knows Your Alone (1980)
The rap on slasher movies in the early ’80s was that they were anti-women and this trailer kind of sums up why. The almost minute and a half trailer for He Knows You’re Alone is all about vulnerable women being preyed upon. It isn’t about women fighting back, it’s about them being victimized and even the title of the movie gives the male attacker the obvious upper hand. To have a trailer end with a grown woman literally cowering in abject terror, curled up like a child, doesn’t make it look like the movie is making a statement about independent women. Or if it does, the statement is that women will always live at the mercy of sick men. The movie itself is much more feminist than it appears â if anything, it’s a criticism of pathologically possessive men â but its effective trailer best defines the controversial “women-in-peril” aspect of the slasher era.
Halloween II (1981)
The excitement of seeing the Halloween saga continue didn’t last long. In fact, it pretty much ended as soon as the not-terrible-but-lackluster Halloween II was released but initially, the prospect of seeing “More of the Night HE Came Home!” seemed sweet. Being a pre-teen in 1981, I hadn’t even seen the original Halloween by the time the second movie was due out but I was still stoked to discover that a sequel was on the way. With Friday the 13th Part 2 having just been released in May of ’81, the idea of slasher sequels was still, incredibly, a novel idea. And as the sequel to the film that kicked off the slasher era, the one film of its ilk that fans and critics agreed was a masterpiece, Halloween II seemed to have the built-in advantage. With the slasher genre rapidly approaching burnout by 1981, the time was right for Halloween and Michael Myers to come back and school all the pretenders that had followed in the original’s wake. As it turned out, Halloween II came off as being just as much a weak imitation of Halloween as any rip-off but the sight of Michael Myers back in action in this trailer was a rousing occasion for the newly minted generation of slasher fans.
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
The trailers and TV spots for this movie terrified me as a kid (which I attribute mostly to the killer’s unnerving Darth Vader-esque heavy breathing). Thanks to sparse ads that were mostly limited to shots of people screaming or gasping in fright as the light mounted on the killer’s helmet gave them the last surprise of their lives, I didn’t know anything about the plot of MBV or who this maniac in miner’s gear was (only that he sported one of the greatest slasher villain outfits ever) but I was certain he would be outside my bedroom window or lurking in my basement at some point. Watching the commercial embedded below today, it’s amazing to me to see how basic it is. There actually is a plot to MBV and there are engaging characters but you’d never know that based on this ad. Before I was old enough to see slasher movies, I believed that they must feature nothing but killing from beginning to end and ads like this were the reason why.
Visiting Hours (1982)
This movie about a feminist activist (Lee Grant) being stalked in a hospital by the attacker who originally put her there is lousy, even with the likes of William Shatner and Michael Ironside on board, but every so often I feel compelled to give it another shot just because I remember being so spooked by this trailer at the time. By the way, when did horror trailers stop making great boasts like “so frightening you may never recover!” or “if this one doesn’t scare you, you’re already dead”? I guess it became regarded as a corny practice but I think horror movie ad campaigns still need that kind of hyperbole.
In Curtains, the killer sports a creepy old lady mask that makes all other creepy old lady masks obsolete. There’s also a sad-eyed doll included for good measure. The slasher fad was winding down by the time Curtains came along (causing this film to fall into relative obscurity) but this eerie trailer proved that some good shivers were still in store. You can see that with the body count genre having fallen from favor that more attention was paid to selling the atmosphere and psychological suspense of Curtains rather than just making it about the kills.
Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
This was the last slasher film of the ’80s to really outrage socially concerned nitwits. In this case, I can almost sympathize with the vehement reaction because, man, the ads for Silent Night Deadly Night left parents with a whole lot of ‘splaining to do about why Kris Kringle was icing people with an axe, a gun, a knife, and any other lethal weapons that he could fit in his sleigh. A killer Santa had already made a bloodthirsty appearance in the original Tales from the Crypt so maybe the makers of Silent Night Deadly Night thought that precedent was on their side and they wouldn’t get into any hot water by portraying a psycho St. Nick but boy did they underestimate how insanely heated parents and politicians could get in the ’80s. As much as that was a knee-jerk, backwards time, I kind of miss those days. At least all the hysteria and hand wringing from authority figures made it feel like horror movies were really getting under people’s skin. Thanks to Silent Night Deadly Night, they were offended, appalled, and damn it â Something Had To Be Done About It! These days, forget it â even the recent torture porn fad didn’t get a lot of flak. When movies could get angry protesters to picket theaters â that was like Christmas for horror fans. Silent Night Deadly Night wasn’t much of a movie, but it was a perfectly marketed one.
Source: Intro: Ryan Turek, Selections: Jeff Allard