“This man’s name is John Austin Frasier. He lived in Chicago, Illinois. He now resides at the state mental hospital. We are saddened to tell you that this tragic condition was brought on when Mr. Frasier attended the world premiere of our triple nightmare of horror program: Orgy Of The Living Dead.”
Do you remember the feeling? It’s something that can only hit in adolescence; an inner glow that truly mesmerizes the mind of a naive youth. Back when the allure of exotic horrors pulled at your tiny heartstrings and your parents forbade you to walk out of the corner video store with anything more taboo than Condorman, where could you go? Who could possibly provide you with the wonderful shocks that your ever-growing mind was craving?
Meet my friend, the trailer.
Things have changed since we were kids. Take me for example. After my parents discovered that the big boxes I was picking out were strictly not for my eyes (Dawn Of The Mummy, for example), the hammer came down. I was still allowed to take a look in the horror room of “The Video Store” (that was the store’s actual name, I swear), but no blood or sex was allowed. In other words, rentals were not an option. Knowing that my friends only had access to “classics” like Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning, I was at a loss. My obsessive itch for what lurked beyond those enormous, bewitching boxes needed to be scratched. And why not? What monster-loving ten year old could resist titles like The Mad Doctor Of Blood Island or Frankenstein’s Castle Of Freaks?
Then something happened. During a tag-along trip to the mall, my Mom let me peruse a rack of cheap VHS tapes on our way through the drugstore check-out line. A mysterious beast stood out, one that compiled an entire tape of little movie previews, just like the ones that greeted me on rental tapes! Only these weren’t normal movie previews. The tape was called Screen Scaries and promised “Non-stop explosive excitement! Your favorite terror filled moments from BLOOD-O-RAMA SHOCK FESTIVAL and a living dead extravaganza!” I begged and pleaded. Luck was on my side, as the box copy seemed to point out that the tape featured interviews and behind-the scenes features from horror films, in addition to the previews. I breathed a sigh of victory as my Mom said, “Well, as long as there’s no bad stuff in it.” But really, would the Fort Worth Star Telegram lend a blurb on the cover if it wasn’t good stuff? I think not.
Returning home, I ripped open the plastic and removed the $3.99 price tag, making a beeline to the living room. Screen Scaries entered the VCR and life would never be the same again. What unfolded before me was a 40 minute parade of werewolves, zombies, blood, sex, mad killers, screaming damsels, and panting narrators, in addition to some shot-on-video interviews with people like George Romero, Linnea Quigley, and Bobbie Bresee. To my astonishment, these trailers aimed to deliver exactly what was needed to get people in those seats — nothing was held back. With previews of films like Bloodeaters, The Twilight People, and Deadtime Stories, I got my fix and it left me reeling. After the initial shock and guilt wore off (after all, I wasn’t supposed to be seeing this stuff), my mind kept returning to a few trailers in particular.
Can a person really lose their sanity from watching a horror movie? At such a timely age, I wasn’t sure. After witnessing the straightjacketed freaks in mockumentary trailers for “Orgy Of The Living Dead Triple Nightmare Of Horror Program” and I Dismember Mama/The Blood Spattered Bride, I was even less sure. These trailers made it a point of not revealing a whole lot of footage from each of the films they were advertising. Instead, the viewer was blasted with a dose of faux-reality scares. This was absolutely shocking to me as a kid. I mean, who was “John Austin Frasier”? He used to live in Chicago…which is where I LIVE!! Would I go crazy from watching this tape? Would the cops come to MY house and put ME in a straight jacket, just like the guy in the I Dismember Mama trailer? I remained fascinated, watching the trailers over and over again, always imagining the extreme level of fright that each film could possibly contain.
Screen Scaries became legendary in my neighborhood, with good reason. Sure, my trailer interest was subsequently nurtured by tapes like Horrible Horror: Hosted By The Cool Ghoul Zacherley (“The Ultimate Party Tape!”) and Hallmark’s Creepy Classics With Vincent Price, but none ever came close to the hypnotizing powers of Screen Scaries. I’m sure the grue-stew of Terror On Tape with Cameron Mitchell might have given me a few nightmares, but I wasn’t allowed to rent it. Fifteen years later, this friend was all but forgotten, lost to the acquainted ghost of past memories. It might as well have never existed.
This past summer, my parents moved out of their house and into a new one. There was a bin of my old junk in the crawlspace, covered in cobwebs and drenched in dust. I procrastinated when called to “go through it all.” You know how it is. When I finally got around to it, my discoveries were mind blowing, if only to me. Packed amongst the fourth grade drawings and french Spider-Man comics, was — you guessed it — my copy of Screen Scaries. In a brief instant, one thousand forgotten memories flooded my brain, all of them very welcome. One thousand torments of pure kiddie shock.
The onslaught of memories not only sparked my interest in old trailer collections as an adult, but also raised some interesting questions. While most of the previews included on Screen Scaries were culled form the vaults of Sam Sherman’s amazing Independent-International Pictures, where in the heck did the strangest ones come from? Who produced these insane mockumentaries and where were they shot? Is John Austin Frasier OK now, and cured of his tongue-lapping psychosis? The world may never know.
When was the last time a movie trailer unequivocally riveted you to your couch? Ten years ago? Fifteen? Even more? Me too. Unfortunately, that magic is gone. Partly because we’re adults now, but mostly because the era in which this kind of other-worldly advertising once thrived has passed on; replaced by a stale lack of cinematic concern. I’m just glad my old tape managed to survive the years with me.