Michael Gingold’s new book, AD NAUSEAM: NEWSPRINT NIGHTMARES FROM THE 1980s, is not only a comprehensive document of what is undeniably one of the most important decades in the history of horror, but also a stunning display of horror fandom. The frequent Rue Morgue and Fangoria contributor here collects every newsprint horror movie ad he collected as a budding horror fan in the 80s, providing interested readers with hundreds of beautiful, often rare or unseen, images which range from the decade’s iconic designs to splashy, bizarre ads for since-forgotten films.
Read on for Rue Morgue’s interview with Gingold, as he discusses his memories of the 80s, his process, and his thoughts on the state of horror (and its advertising) today:
I just wanted to start by asking – were there any advertisements that you had to cut out of the book, or any hard decisions about what to put in?
Not really – one or two things that were more comedy than horror, like Teen Wolf or National Lampoon’s Class Reunion were more comedy than horror, so we left them out. We did want to keep something like Once Bitten in there so we could pull out reviews that said “Hey this Jim Carrey guy might look like he has a future as an actor.” But there was a lot of stuff, and there was a bit of concern about having so much, but we were able to fit pretty much everything in there, except for very few horror-comedy ones
And all of the ads that are included are part of your personal collection, which you saved from when they first came out?
Yeah, they’re all things that I cut out of newspapers all through the 80s, that I remember.
Many of the ads in the book haven’t been seen since they first came out – were there any films which you were glad to rediscover?
Just a lot of the smaller films, and some of the art for the major films which were different from the poster art that people are familiar with and a lot of other ads that were only seen in the newspapers, but weren’t the same as the posters.
I guess that those multiple perspectives is something that’s lost nowadays, when you have the same poster everywhere for the same film.
Yeah, and back at the time there were some movies that had multiple ads – either little teaser art which would appear in the papers before the movie came out, or movies that were out so long that they came up with multiple ads as the movie went on. For example, Gremlins played throughout the summer of ’84, and they came up with a whole bunch of alternate ads for that movie.
In your notes for one of the films you note your surprise that these types of schlocky movies could still play in multiple theatres across the New York area – how do you think this was different from the way horror was released in the 1970s or the 1990s?
It was pretty much started in the 70s – after Halloween came out in 1978, horror started booming, and a lot of independent companies were giving these films bigger releases, and you also had the dawn of the multiplex era, with a lot more screens available. So movies that would play in just a handful of theatres in the New York area are now playing in 50, 60, or up to 100 theatres in the New York area, and they found their way up to suburbia, which I guess they were doing in the 70s, but even more so. And when you move into the 90s, of course, you have the video revolution, which was taking its toll at the end of the 80s, and even more so in the 90s. Video kind of killed the theatrical business for low-budget horror films, and not as many were coming out in the 90s
So they became Direct-to-Video films, or something like that?
Yeah, exactly. And when you cross over the end of the 80s and especially into the 90s, you have a lot more Direct-to-Video films, first on VHS and then on DVD. Direct-to-DVD became a whole business unto itself later in the 90s, and that changed the paradigm yet again.
And I guess that that’s why your book is so focused on the 1980s – not just because it is what you had in your collection, but because that was the heyday of the print advertisement, and that way of distributing films.
For sure – there’s a lot of great stuff in the 70s as well, but this book is about the 80s because that was when I just started collecting them. I was 12 years old in 1979 when I first started, and I would have loved to have been around to collect the ones in the 70s too, but I wasn’t old enough at that point. But one I started to go out to more movies in the 80s I decided that I needed to cut every single ad that came out. I knew people who were collecting posters at the time, and I did that as well.
What do you think makes the print ad different, as a form of advertising?
Well, especially for the smaller films you had to be really bold and outrageous to get attentions – the stuff from Aquarius Releasing is a perfect example, where you have a lot of hyperbolic ad copy and really in-your face visuals that it must have been hard to get away with at the time. Certain ads copied the posters, which were also bold, like the ad for Maniac – if you look at that in the book I also have the New York Times version, which was a toned-down version of that ad. But the smaller films really needed to get the imagery and the tagline, because they’d really have to grab people’s attention, and also because there was only a certain amount of space, and some of them couldn’t afford to take out the full page.
So the art of the sell becomes part of it.
Oh yeah, exactly. And there’s some great taglines in there, and some really great, bold visuals.
One idea which runs through the book is that these ads were often better than the films they were advertising!
Yeah – some of the ads are fairly deceptive. There are a couple things in there like Almost Human, which wasn’t even a horror film, but was billed as one. You’d have fake sequels like The Day After Halloween and Beyond the Fog. Some of the ads were deceptive back at the time, but again they would do anything to get the butts in seats, and once you’re in Almost Human and you realize that it isn’t a horror film, then it’s too late – back then, there was no internet for the word to get around, that this was not what they were selling it as.
That’s definitely one of the ads that stands out to me in the book, and one of the great taglines – “IT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS”
Yeah, so even back at the time you’d only know the story after it came out – there were no pre-release booklets or anything other than the advertisement. Nowadays, horror film don’t come out without some kind of publicity, festivals, or some kind of word and it’s very rare that you could walk into a horror film today knowing absolutely nothing about it.
Another part of the book that was fascinating to me was all of the critical reviews that you collect, giving readers an idea of what these advertisements were up against, given the general disdain for the horror genre.
It’s funny – part of the motivation for that was, a while back, I went to see a screening of Friday the 13th, on Friday the 13th, and I was talking to a girl there who I believe was born the year after it came out, and if you look at the film from today’s perspective and go on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s now considered a classic of the genre that, back of the time, was basically called pornography by some of the critics. So it’s interesting to go back and see how some movies at the time were not as respected as they are now – One of the surprises was when I looked back at the reviews of Terror Train, which was generally considered to be just another slasher movie, and some of the individual reviews were very favorable towards it. And you can find favorable reviews towards things like Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and things like that – there were people in the critical mainstream who appreciated these things, but not as many as today.
One more part of the other parts of the book I’d like to touch on would be your review with Aquarius Releasing’s Terry Levene at the very end – How did you come in contact with him, and if that kind of insider perspective change your view of this era at all?
Not really! I mean, he pretty much admitted to me that it was all about the hard sell, and getting the message out there so you could get the audiences in there. That was really a fun interview. Chris Poggiali, my good friend and fellow genre fan got me in touch with him. Then I did the interview with him at his house and midway through he said ‘Hey, I should get Wayne Weil, my designer in here, and I had no idea his designer was still in the area so I went back and a second time, and I conducted an interview with the two of them, and they gave you so many great stories. One of my favorites is the movie that was not even an Aquarius film, the story about The House of Seven Corpses that was in there that Wayne tells, which he did for a different company.
How do you think made that style of advertising different from how modern horror is sold, or even how horror was sold in the 90s?
Well, the one thing that I have heard from a number of filmmakers is that these days, when you come up with a poster graphic for your movie, it has to read small, because it’s going to wind up on VOD where you have the little thumbnail, and it can’t be too detailed or abstract in its design, because you need that graphic which is inches square to leap out and attract attention. I guess that was sort of the case in the old days, with the companies that couldn’t afford a whole lot of newspaper space. There are a few ads in there that were really tiny in the papers themselves, and are actually reproduced larger in the book. But it’s all about that one image that’s going to get people’s attention. And they were more unique back then, I mean, so many horror posters look the same now, but back then the idea was to make them look as different as possible, to grab attention amidst a sea of other newspaper ads in there.
In your introduction, you refer to the horror films of the 1980s as representing “Possibly the genre’s greatest decade” – I was just wondering what makes the films of that decade stand out to you, as opposed to the films made in the 70s, the 90s, or now?
I think that the 70s was another great decade – Halloween opened up the opportunity for more of these films to get out and get more exposure than they would have in the decades before. You have the rise of a company like National Embassy which hired really great filmmakers like John Carpenter and Joe Dante, and they gave their movies huge advertising – bigger than most of their competitors. For a while, they were really kind of ruling the scene, they got so much great stuff out there. It was unfortunate that they got bought by Norman Lear, became Embassy Pictures and then folded pretty quickly. But, in the 80s I think that the difference was that you had a lot more product and a lot more opportunity for up and coming filmmakers to get stuff out there. Certainly the 70s was just as significant a decade, but the 80s really saw a divide with people like John Carpenter and David Cronenberg and even George Romero after Dawn of the Dead getting a chance to make movies with a bigger budget than he would have got in the 70s.
And there’s also horror being imported from outside of the United States, from people like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
Yeah, well that was back at a time when a movie like Fulci’s Zombie or even The Beyond, though it was cut down and released as 7 Doors of Death, could play at 100 theatres, or even nation-wide. And Argento, I mean a lot of his stuff in the 80s kind of got short shrift, and I don’t even have it in there. Tenebre was cut up and re-titled Unsane, and it never even got a wide release in New York, so I don’t have an ad for it in there. I think it just played on 42nd street. Fulci actually got more exposure because House by the Cemetery got a big release in New York, and there was Zombie and 7 Doors of Death and so on. It’s interesting to think, talking to you now, that Fulci got much more exposure in the 80s than Argento did. The only Argento film I can think of that got a decent release was Creepers, and that was, you know, like two thirds of Phenomena. We didn’t even get the whole thing until years later.
It’s interesting to see how these films are re-interpreted for an American audience, and how they’re advertised!
Well, obviously your 42nd street audience didn’t want to see a quote unquote “Foreign” film, so they anglicized the names in all of the ads, like the notorious “Louis Fuller” who directed 7 Doors of Death, allegedly.
Definitely – One of the things I love about the book is how, in addition to touching on the big releases of the decade that everyone remembers, you also touch on a lot of the smaller films that aren’t remembered anymore.
Oh yeah – there’s lots of great smaller stuff in there – there were a few films that I had forgotten about, and some ‘A-Ha!’ moments, about film that did get a theatrical release, but has since fallen into obscurity
One element of the genre that your book draws attention to is the strong link between horror and comedy. A lot of the ads and taglines are overtly comedic, and you had mentioned earlier the wave of horror-comedies which emerged in the decade. What do you think connects these two genres?
Horror and comedy are both about a set-up and payoff – it’s just a different reaction from the audience. A lot of directors talk about how they’re two sides of the same coin. The ones we left out were overt comedies that just had horror themes. There’s nothing actually horrifying about Teen Wolf, other than how terrible it is. It’s a comedy about a werewolf, not a werewolf film. Same with something like The Howling, which is great, but it does have satirical elements to it. The best films of that decade were movies like Re-Animator and Evil Dead 2 and films like that, which were not big box office hits that did not do nearly as well as their competitors, but endure because they’re such great films, and people discover them on video and they take off from there.
And I guess both horror and comedy, in the two films you just mentioned, but many others as well, are based on the idea of transgression, and the idea of challenging respectability.
I mean, Re-Animator is the perfect example. The quote-unquote ‘Giving Head’ scene is the ultimate example of something that’s horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
At the end of the book, you write that the art of the print advertisement has been lost, and I was wondering what you think the genre has lost in the transition from the 80s to now, when movies are marketed online, or with the same ad across the country?
There’s a huge loss in creativity. There’s a homogeneity to the posters for horror films now – I can’t stress the number I’ve seen where the graphic is basically a screaming woman lying down and reaching out to you – I’m thinking about Quarantine and lots and lots of other ads– or a house with roots growing out of the bottom, or something like that. But there’s some need for designers to have their ads look like all of the other ads, and I don’t understand that. And there’s a real sameness to the taglines, too. How many have we seen one that says something like “Some Doors Shouldn’t Be Opened” or “Some Lines Shouldn’t be Crossed.” God, I hate that kind of stuff. I see it and think, “Really? That’s the best you could come up with?”
It’s safer, and there’s less of an attempt to use comedy, or find a way to really grab people.
Exactly – Think that the idea of an ad is to make something seem unique, and the ads and posters for horror films these days seem devoted to making each film seem like every other horror film that has come out in the last couple years.
And all of these ads promise the same type of horror film, while the ads you collect in your book promise such a wide range of films, and so many different types of moviegoing experiences.
The ironic thing is that today there is a great variety of horror coming out – it’s just that when it comes to marketing and advertising there’s some reason that they’re trying to play it safe and not be nearly as aggressive or showy as in the 80s. But you have the trend now with people like Marc Schoenbach of Sadist Art Designs and The Dude Designs who started out doing retro posters for movies that didn’t exist, but are now being hired out to do 80s-style advertising for their films – it’s an encouraging trend that’s coming back.
Are there any movies in the book that stand out to you as favourites? Are there any in particular that you think should be rediscovered?
Geez, there’s so many. Someone else asked me that question recently, and it’s difficult because so many of the movies in the book have been revisited, and are not as obscure as they used to be. The rise of Blu-Ray especially has allowed so many of these films to be rediscovered, and to get them more attention than sometimes they had back then – I’ll have to think about that – there’s so many, and I’m trying to think of one that hasn’t already been celebrated somewhere.
Another interesting choice in the book is the use of the long spread for Jaws: The Revenge to open and close the book, and I was just wondering if there was any reason in particular you thought that that film in particular encapsulated what you thought the book represents.
Well, that was absolutely the publisher’s choice – I wasn’t aware of that until I saw the final copy of the book. I think that the idea was to play off of the tagline, “This Time It’s Personal,” because it’s a collection of all of my personal reminisces of all of these horror films in my childhood.
Did your perspective on the era change at all when constructing the book?
Today, when you’re a Horror journalist like I am, you feel like you’re in kind of a bubble, because you go to festivals to see these films, and you talk to other critics and other people who go to the festival – you’re seeing some great stuff, but there’s this whole world where 99.9% of the general public doesn’t go to see these films. You can forget what it’s like to be an audience member back in the 80s, when you weren’t aware of these films until they opened, and you were going out and discovering them for yourself.
Which is something that streaming and other forms of home video have killed in a way – you’re still watching stuff you haven’t seen before, but you’re not going in blind in the same way.
Again, there’s so much publicity about them. But every so often you get something that really gets discovered in the VOD sphere – I’m thinking of something like The Taking of Deborah Logan, which didn’t get a huge push when it first came out on disc at the time, but once it got onto Netflix people started discovering it and the word got around, so that kind of word-of-mouth success can still happen, it’s just that now that 0.01% of us who gets to see these movies at festivals will spread the word around online, and by the time these movies come out, everyone on the internet in the horror field has been praising it, so it’s more a matter of anticipation to see it than surprise that can suddenly be sprung on you when you open up the newspaper.
And there’s less space to be intrigued by a title or something – there’s more research on the audience’s part
Yeah – when Re-Animator came out, no one knew what that meant, until they went to go see it. I think there had maybe been a Fangoria article, and maybe a couple other things, but a lot of people who went out to go see just another horror film discovered it as they saw it. Even then, it wasn’t a huge hit when it opened and it found its audience later on video.
Was there anything else you wanted to add about the book?
Well, I just wanted to say how great it was to introduce the book at Fantasia Festival, and be able to do that little presentation to the crowd there, which were the first audience for the book. Just from my memories of being back in the 80s and seeing these ads and collecting them – being able to share that in that presentation was a lot of fun!