“Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror!” I miss the old movie trailers; the ones that didn’t give away the whole damn plot of the movie and weren’t narrated by the same guy being forced to say the same stuff over and over again: “In a world where the rules were made to be broken, he made the broken rule!” What the hell does that even mean? Sure, some of them lied a little . . . okay, they lied a lot. Sometimes every single frame worth looking at was plopped into the trailer, making you think the entire movie was all blood and thunder. Sometimes the trailer had shots that would ultimately be censored, making it the only chance to experience the film as it was meant to be seen. Sometimes -many times – the trailer is better than the movie . . . or at least shorter.
With all the red-band trailers that offer wall-to-wall high points (the trailer for the Evil Dead remake probably has more blood that the entire Hammer canon), I limited this list to coming attractions that might actually have been seen by regular, ordinary people, or at least, the weirdos that would go to the 42nd St grindhouses (looking right at you, Black Saint!)
10. The Ghastly Ones (AKA Blood Rites)
Andy Milligan . . . hoo boy, where does one begin? If you were lucky enough to live somewhere that had drive-ins or the sort of low-rent, grimy sleaze parlours where the floors would stick to your shoes for reasons that you could only hope involved gum and spilled soda, you got to see a lot of low -budget horror and exploitation films shot with no money but a ton of creativity and energy. Also, you got to see Andy Milligan films.
Andy was . . . well, he was something. Pretty much a one man show, he did the writing, directing, and held the camera. His films are wretched, with only one (Blood ) worth the effort. He was ahead of his time, making actual film look as cheap and hard to see as the security cam footage that had yet to be invented. The trailer to The Ghastly Ones (1968; AKA Blood Rites) gives you everything the film has to offer: unpleasant and incredibly unerotic sex, fake but repulsive blood and gore, and cinematography that would have been improved if he had strapped his 16-millimeter Auricon sound-on-film news camera to a chimp, all shot on leftover film stock and processed on the cheap. As worthless as his films are by most movie viewing standards, they do offer a terrifying glimpse into a worldview. Milligan was an auteur in the purest sense of the word, making films that revealed his personal creative vision of the world, a world full of obese psychotic mothers, ugly misogyny, joyless deviance, and a view of humanity so bleak one begins to pray for a nuclear war or incurable plague. Yep. He sucks you right in. Find the book The Ghastly One: The Sex-Gore Netherworld of Filmmaker Andy Milligan, written by someone who was, remarkably, a friend. It’s the damn scariest thing you’ll ever read.
My dad is not a man who passes up an obvious good deal, so when my sister and her friends wanted to go to the movies and he saw that the drive-in was showing a triple feature, he didn’t need an engraved invitation to know an obvious bargain. Unfortunately the 3 movies were The Ghastly Ones, Headless Eyes, and Tender Flesh. The drive-in showed The Ghastly Ones first. That must have been one quiet car ride home.
9. The Wizard of Gore
Damn, the trailer for The Wizard of Gore (1970) lasts 5 whole minutes! That’s longer than the time I can watch an entire Andy Milligan film. One whole minute is devoted to some guy telling us about the trailer. He looks like he is being held at gunpoint by an armed assassin just out of camera range and flubs his lines. “You will see the most starchling scenes of their type ever filmed,” he tells us, presumably as a warning to those easily “starchled.”
Herschell Gordon Lewis is a curious figure in exploitation film history. A very cheerful man in person, who has a razor sharp mind when it comes to marketing, this former college English professor is best known for creating the splatter gore movie with a series of over-the-top grand guignol epics that stretched the boundaries of bad taste . . . stretched them, watched them snap, threw in some sheep’s blood, filmed it, and released it under 7 different titles – so, basically, one of the greatest men who ever lived.
None of that makes his movies any better. Sure, 2000 Maniacs is a lot of fun and knowing that his practical effects were 1000 percent more horrible than the actual events being portrayed make his films way more enjoyable than they ought to be – if I had to choose between having my tongue ripped out or having a rancid sheep’s tongue shoved in my mouth to simulate having my tongue ripped out, I’m going with option A – but for a guy who made nearly 40 films, he did not seem to advance one iota in his craft. His last films were as poorly made as his first, with occasional bursts of pure terribleness. The Magic Land of Mother Goose is a terrific film to put on when you want people to go home, delete your phone number, unfriend you on Facebook, and never bother you again.
The Wizard of Gore is Herschell Gordon Lewis’s ultimate film and the trailer gives you everything you need except for the mind blowingly weird twist ending. A hammy magician thrills customers with mutilations of women dopey enough to go up on stage. Then he fixes them and they go on their way . . . only to suddenly become mutilated again! Calling the effects cheap is an insult to those of us who do cheap effects. Would I ever dream of using real cow intestines as a substitute for human intestines? Okay, bad example, as I did just that, which makes it a genuine wonder that any of my actor friends still speak to me. Anyway, watch the trailer and you can tell people that you saw an H.G. Lewis movie without the bad feeling you’ll probably get from actually watching one.
8. Africa Addio AKA African Blood and Guts
This trailer may make you angry.
The gang that started the mondo movie genre with Mondo Cane returned with Africa Addio (1966), an uncompromising look at the fall of colonial Africa and the bloodbath that followed. The documentary has a lot of graphic footage crammed into its 140 minute running time, so American distributors hacked it down to 83 minutes of wall-to-wall carnage and the makers of this trailer turned it into a loathsome series of human and animal slaughters that can appeal only to fans of geek shows and the guy who shot Cecil the Lion. As entertainment, it’s indefensible. As exploitation art, it’s brilliant.
Co-director Gualtiero Jacopetti found himself on trial after accusations that some of the executions were staged. He beat the rap but was later used as an inspiration by director Ruggero Deodato for the characters in Cannibal Holocaust – and then Deodato himself got put on trial after being accused of having made a snuff film. Crazy world.
7. Night of the Bloody Apes
The trailer for Night of the Bloody Apes (1969; English language version 1972) may be the nastiest of the bunch. It’s certainly the most nutzoid. Is that a word? Well, spellcheck isn’t giving me suggestions, so I guess it is. A mishmash of a monster on the loose, masked women wrestlers, fake but graphic gore, and lots of nudity, this film started out way less over the top than it ended up, with every additional reedit sending it further and further into the realm of the truly insane.
The trailer looks like someone gave a kid with ADD the remote control and let him randomly change the channel between Cinemax, Univision, and the Duke Hospital Security Cam. This must have come as quite the nut punch back in 1972, especially to the poor dopes who discovered too late that they had paid good money to see essentially the same movie they had watched a few years earlier under the killer title Horror and Sex, with additional eye gouging, scalp removing, and open heart surgery footage.
6. Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS
Justly maligned upon its release for its trashiness and bad taste, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975) managed to do the impossible: make producer David Friedman ashamed to see his name on a film. Its reputation is somewhat misplaced; despite rumors to the contrary, the eponymous Ilsa is not a character anyone would like or root for, though Dyanne Thorne’s performance is enjoyably over the top. The real star of the film is the gross effects work by Joe Blasco, which gets shortchanged in the trailer in favor of the sex and nudity that was the film’s main reason for existing. “Not for the squeamish or easily offended” we are warned – well, duh.
Nice to see the sets for Hogan’s Heroes being put to good use.
5. Carnage AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve AKA Bay of Blood AKA Blood Bath
First off: wow, how many great titles is one film allowed to have? And the filmmakers behind Carnage (1971) were originally going with The Stench of Flesh, so that would have been 5 great names.
Under any title this is the most influential movie you may have never seen. The great Mario Bava – the visual master who excelled at gothic horror, science fiction, and pretty much every other genre he tried (and he tried most of them) – set the template for every slasher film that followed with this, the ultimate slasher film. Everybody dies! And they die in ways that would be ripped off time and time again, with far less attention to lighting and composition.
The trailer for Carnage solarizes the hell out of Bava’s art and hides everything under eye-bleeding splashes of color. It may be the goriest trailer ever or it might actually be the producer’s home movies of a family picnic; who can say? Ridiculous on every level. I love it.
4. Three on a Meathook
This is the greatest trailer ever made.
Sometimes the marketing guys are stuck with a film that they know is going to do poorly if they try to sell it with a modicum of honesty, so they will market a tearjerker as a wacky comedy about a cat, hoping that they make a killing the first weekend before word gets out that it ends with a case of feline leukaemia virus and a doctor’s syringe. Or you have a piece of crap with 60 seconds of usable footage so every moment of it goes into the trailer. Hell, some trailers have stuff that isn’t even in the movie, a habit that baffles me. Anyone else watch Highlander Endgame, waiting for the scene where the bad guy demonstrates his ability to split in two? It was in the trailer but damned if it ever happened in the actual movie! Then again, a better question would be “Why did you expect anything better from Highlander Endgame, Bill?” and I reply “Shut up, imaginary voice in my head, we’re here to talk about Three on a Meathook (1972)!”
And so we shall. The late William Girdler will always be one of genre film’s great “what ifs,” leaving behind an impressive number of quirky, low-budget films before meeting an untimely death in a helicopter accident. His greatest triumph, The Manitou, has been known to make grown men weep at its awesomeness. This earlier film is one of the lowest budgeted attempts to tell the Ed Gein tale but man, what an amazing title: Three on a Meathook! That’s poetry right there, my friends. You know what’s in store for you when you go see a movie called Three on a Meathook. It practically sells itself. Good thing, because the movie itself is pretty sorry. It cost $20,000 and every cent is right up there on the screen but you can’t really make a great movie for $20,000. You could make 4 or 5 Andy Milligan movies for $20,000 but all you will have for all that hard work will be 4 or 5 Andy Milligan movies.
In what has to be an attempt to get fired or some kind of performance art/suicide note, the writer of the trailer seems to be auditioning for the chance to write for Ingmar Bergman and/or smoking pot for the very first time. “A child’s world robbed of joy by a secret conspiracy of suspicion and fear. Dwelling like a lodger in the mind, insinuating its presence in every heartbeat. Holding a blacklight to the dreams of childhood.” “Suspended in time by a puppeteer with blood on his hands. Little broken dolls that go on dancing. After the music has stopped. Three . . . on a meathook.” Every trailer should be like this; the more marginal the movie, the better. “Alone. Forgotten. Stranded in a Godless abyss of pain and ennui. The Rats Are Coming, the Werewolves are Here.”
3. Make Them Die Slowly (AKA Cannibal Ferox)
One of the all time great titles, Make Them Die Slowly (AKA Cannibal Ferox ) gets one of the all time goriest trailers, 4 minutes of all the stuff that people still talk about. The trailer warns you that there are 2 dozen disgusting and repulsive scene of barbaric torture and sadistic cruelty, and anyone scoffing at such ballyhoo will soon be choking on their popcorn. After a few yawn inducing shots of gangsters slapping the crap out of people, it’s off to the Amazon for castration, brain munching, gut stretching, and the use of breast hooks. Can’t say you weren’t warned! The narration is subpar porn quality but it’s the graphic hijinks that brought the crowds.
There’s no real art to this trailer, just a series of high spots that almost make watching the movie unnecessary, not that it was ever going to be one of those movies one watches while nervously wondering what would happen next. “Gee, I wonder if this cowardly drug running dickweed is going to die, slowly?” asked nobody ever.
2. Zombie (AKA Zombi 2)
Simplicity itself: the letters Z,O,M,B,I,E flash on the screen, followed by nothing but shots of zombies, people shooting zombies, and people being killed by zombies. At least nobody could demand their money back with the claim that “Hey! Nobody said there would be zombies in this!”
The trailer for Zombie (AKA Zombi 2 ) also promises that you will be provided with a barf bag. There were a few films that promised that, most notable Mark of the Devil; those barf bags go for around $30 on eBay if in mint condition, probably a little less if they were ever used.
- The Worm Eaters
Ted V. Mikels movies make Herschell Gordon Lewis movies look like Michael Bay movies. The “so bad it’s still bad” production The Worm Eaters (1977) was directed and written by star Herb Robins, who apparently likes to eat worms.
You can tell yourself that Ted V. Mikels spent money to get realistic looking worms for his cast to munch on instead of just getting them liquored up and feeding them actual worms. Sure, tell yourself that . . . whatever lets you sleep at night.
For me, this is the most disgusting trailer conceived by man. Look, I have no problem with the idea of eating worms. When the global economy collapses or the EMP takes out the grid or the Ben Carson/Bernie Sanders team sweeps the electoral college, we’ll all be exploring alternative sources of protein. But dang, do the decent thing and put them in a sausage or wrap them in bacon. Munching on globs of slimy nightcrawlers? Blech! And as bad as the gooey worm munching is, the repulsive closeup of the toothless goobers doing the munching would convince a John Birch Society member to advocate fluoridating the local reservoir.
Seemingly a movie made for 8 year old boys, even they would tire of the joke after 20 minutes. Do yourself a favor and watch the 90 seconds of the trailer instead. Better yet, watch something, anything, else.
Special Mention: I Eat Your Skin/I Drink Your Blood
In a classic bit of exploitation marketing, the two unrelated films I Drink Your Blood (1970) and I Eat Your Skin (1971) were put together and became staples of the grindhouse circuit, largely on the basis of this classic but misleading trailer. Only shots from I Drink Your Blood are featured – a wise choice because the much milder and virtually bloodless I Eat Your Skin has little to offer.
But depending on where you actually saw the movie, it’s likely that few of the gory highlights seen in the trailer actually survived the haphazard censorship that saw projectionists given carte blanche permission to snip out as much offending footage as it took to escape an X rating. Had the film managed to be seen as intended, I suspect its reputation would have been as one of the seminal horror films of the time.
Note the great use of music and tone to achieve a very creepy vibe. Watching Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, and this film really drives home how influential that taboo busting few years of the late sixties and early seventies was in changing the face of horror.