The definition of a great movie trailer is equally ambiguous as the definition of a great film, and both have changed fluidly over the course of decades. It’s easy to forget that trailers from a few decades past were very stylistically different—which is to say, they weren’t uniformly full of Hans Zimmeresque BRAAAM sounds.
Horror trailers of the 1980s are an especially fun, campy time capsule to explore in 2014. It was the second golden age of the B movie, as cheapo horror flicks shed the naivete of ‘50s giant monsters and haunted houses to embrace a grimy, splatter-soaked aesthetic replete with neon, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. We dug through some murky Internet backwaters to find this eclectic collection of forgotten, cast-off and supremely weird ‘80s horror trailers, with an eye toward obscurity. Don’t look for Friday the 13th here: Today we celebrate the weird, the wild and the absurd.
The following are numbered but not ranked, and—it should go without saying—many of these are NSFW.
1. Schizoid, 1980
This particular Psycho rip-off shows admirable restraint by waiting a full six seconds before barging in with a riff on the Psycho shower scene.
2. Motel Hell, 1980
You know, Sandra, I’m beginning to suspect that this mom and pop isn’t entirely on the up-and-up! The corpse garden is overgrown, and there isn’t even a mint on the pillow!
3. Cannibal Apocalypse, 1980
Two minutes and eighteen seconds of people biting each other and blowing up. Zero suggestion of plot. One hilarious line delivery by the police captain. And a sprinkle of John Saxon.
4. The Burning, 1981
If you’re thinking of comparing this film to Friday the 13th—DON’T! As an aside: This trailer appears to be a clear inspiration for Edgar Wright’s fake “DON’T” trailer that was attached to Grindhouse.
5. Inseminoid, 1981
“The inconceivable is about to be conceived — INSEMINOID”
6. Evil Speak, 1981
Not now, Mom! I’m summoning Beelzebub on the COM-PU-TOR!
7. The Nesting, 1981
I don’t think the narrator has seen this movie, as he seems to be deliberately avoiding any direct description of anything. Nobody ever gets around to mentioning what’s nesting exactly, but “it’s the terror that hides inside your mind.”
8. The Loch Ness Horror, 1981
In tonight’s performance of The Loch Ness Horror, the part of Nessie will be played by a reject from the Island of Misfit Muppets. Enjoy.
9. Deadly Blessing, 1981
“We didn’t really have time to look up what an ‘incubus’ is, but we’re hoping you’ll bear with us. Please enjoy Amish Ernest Borgnine instead.”
10. Hell Night, 1981
This “trailer” is like a Readers Digest Condensed Movie—I especially like the full minute of exposition in the beginning to explain the whole backstory of “Garth Manor.”
11. Raw Force, 1982
Okay, so it’s your standard ’80s shoot-em-up ninja flick, nothing to see here … wait, are those zombies? The hell?
12. Scalps, 1983
Hilariously awful dialog in this Native American ghost horror film: “I’m feeling the evil in this ground—it’s alive with evil!” Also: “Look! It’s blood! And it’s coming from nowhere!”
13. Revenge of the Bogey Man, 1983
“A filmmaker’s dream becomes a nightmare”—is that the subtitle of a tell-all documentary about shooting this film? I defy you to explain anything going on here.
14. The Killing of Satan, 1983
This isn’t an official trailer, but I’m using this clip in favor of posting footage that doesn’t involve full-frontal nudity. There’s simply no way to leave this utterly insane Filipino film off the list. Where else can you SLAP A SNAKE IN THE FACE?
15. Splatter University, 1984
Is it a good idea to name-drop better horror movies in your trailer while simultaneously revealing who the killer is? It just sort of feels like it might not be a good idea.
16. The Galaxy Invader, 1985
“I saw my father take the spaceman’s gun. Michael, we’ve got to get those things back to the spaceman!” Geez, don’t ruin the awesome “spaceman’s gun” plot point for me!
17. Night Train to Terror, 1985
Synth rock, nerds in pirate clothing dancing on a train, Satan and bad stop-motion animation? It’s everything that’s good in this world.
18. Creepers (alt. Phenomena), 1985
“Hi, my name is Jennifer Connelly, and seeing as this is my first starring role, would it be too much trouble if my character’s name could just be Jennifer? Just one less thing to think about, you know.”
19. The Dungeonmaster, 1985
The trap of Rat Spit, the slime boar! The ordeal of the ice monsters of doom! The attack of the samurai sentinel!
20. The Mutilator, 1985
The clichés are strong with this one. It’s even got “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!” It lets you know that they’re on a collision course with wackiness. And also death.
21. Deadly Friend, 1986
“The director who unleashed Freddy, Wes Craven, now brings you his most frightening creation,” … which turns out to be a smiling blonde girl who menaces mean old Mama Fratelli from The Goonies.
22. Deadtime Stories, 1986
Featuring the very best actors we could find at the bus depot last weekend!
23. TerrorVision, 1986
“The Puttermans are just a typical American family” … who live in the old Pee Wee’s Playhouse set, judging for their lighting and decor.
24. Dolls, 1987
This might be my favorite trailer on the entire list. What DOESN’T it have? People getting shot by doll guns, larger-than-life killer teddy bears, detachable eyeballs, it’s all there.
25. Street Trash, 1987
For the first 50 percent of this trailer, it looks like a playful gross-out comedy about a tribe of quirky street people. And that’s when tainted booze makes hobos start exploding into mists of colorful goo.
26. Aenigma, 1987
This trailer seems to be some sort of experiment geared toward discovering whether covering a woman in snails will provide an effective alternative to explaining what the hell is going on. As it turns out, it does not.
27. The Gate, 1987
I love the nerdy kid casually announcing “You got demons” like an exterminator looking for rat droppings. Also, how awesome is all the claymation?
28. House 2: The Second Story, 1987
Opens medicine cabinet in an angry huff “Look! It’s a prehistoric bird!”
29. Watchers, 1988
Okay guys, sizzle your movie idea for me: “Well, okay, so it’s basically Michael Ironside vs. a psychic dog. It’s pretty much your standard Ironside vs. dog movie.”
30. Robo Vampire, 1988
Not an actual trailer, but I couldn’t resist the siren call of Robo Vampire. It’s got everything—hopping Chinese vampires, a hopping Chinese vampire that is also a gorilla, a plastic Robocop, and the line “Since Tom’s dead, I want to make use of his body to make an android-like robot, Mr. Glen.” To which the obvious reply after 1.5 seconds is “Alright, your application is approved.”
31. Grandma’s House, 1988
I honestly wasn’t expecting the trailer for a film called “Grandma’s House” to involve this degree of groping and explosions, but that’s what I get for making wild assumptions.
32. 976-Evil, 1988
Yeah, you might want to get that pay phone serviced. Could be a liability if it keeps exploding people.
33. Hobgoblins, 1988
It’s always a good idea to start your horror movie trailer off with a bang … but failing that, a senior citizen walking slowly into the middle distance works just as well. But please note: It’s probably not a good idea for the voiceover to use the word “gremlins” in the trailer for your Gremlins rip-off.
34. Slugs, 1988
“A place that had never known evil.” You know, until the tiny slugs started biting people with their adorable little teeth. I have serious doubts whether slugs, in any conceivable situation, should really be able to qualify as evil. “Ornery,” maybe.
35. Society, 1989
It’s the horror movie where the entire human condition is the villain! And also an anthropomorphic finger man, because sure, alright.
36. Tetsuo the Iron Man, 1989
Pure, concentrated WTF. Doesn’t even attempt to hint at a plot beyond “Inside the flesh of an ordinary salaryman, terrible things have started to take place…” I now have serious questions about life in 1980s Japan.
37. R.O.T.O.R., 1989
Everything about this trailer is incredible, beginning with its immediate self-contradiction: “25 years in the future, the ultimate weapon against crime will be the judge, jury and executioner. But here, the future has already arrived, 25 years too soon.” Or, “we wanted to set the movie in the future, but that would have required a budget.” I just love everything they chose to include—someone cut together this trailer and said “Make sure you get that shot of the robot awkwardly walking through some plastic folding chairs in there! It’s key to his character.”
38. Elves, 1989
I love the total lack of articulation in the elves’ faces. They all look like they got caught in mid-sneeze.
39. C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D., 1989
“With Larry Linville of MASH and many other popular stars (shows your grandparents).”
40. Parents, 1989
“Now, there’s a new name for terror” … and it’s “Randy Quaid.” The takeaway is of course that you never eat meatballs when served by Randy Quaid. That’s just a no-brainer.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. You can follow him on Twitter.