If you grew up in the days before advertising became too hip for its own good, you know that commercials actually used to be kind of awesome. With that in mind, Bloody Disgusting and MySpace Horror contributor Chris Eggertsen recently spent countless hours on YouTube digging up some of the greatest T.V. ads from decades past featuring our favorite horror movie icons. From Freddy Krueger to Linda Blair, from Frankenstein’s Monster to Vincent Price, back in the day corporations successfully exploited the most cherished figures of our beloved genre to part Americans with their hard-earned cash. And let’s face it – we loved every minute (or, more appropriately, 30 seconds) of it. Now, read on to take a trip down memory lane and revisit the glory days of horror-themed advertising.
Just like a good song can remind you of days gone by, watching an old commercial can automatically transport you back to a specific time and place in your past. For horror fans, the best are the retro ads featuring our favorite scare-movie icons – either in character in the roles that made them stars or just shilling a product for an extra buck in their pre-fame days. Travel back in time with me now, as we dig through the trash of advertising culture to revisit some of the commercials that give the term “mad men” a whole new meaning.
Although I’m a child of the late `80s/early `90s, I actually don’t remember this ad for Freddy Krueger’s 1-900 hotline, which aired during the Dream Master/Dream Child days:
This shit is awesome. First of all, I love the disclaimer to “get your parent’s permission before you dial”, because all the kids totally did that before ringing up $280,000 on Mom and Dad’s phone bill just to hear a bunch of canned creepy noises while hiding under the bed with the receiver. Second, TWO FUCKING DOLLARS FOR ONE MINUTE, and FORTY FIVE CENTS each additional minute? Was there by any chance a rise in home foreclosures during the airing of this commercial? There were a lot of latch-key kids in those days.
The `80s/early `90s weren’t only great for me (this is before puberty kicked in, mind you) but also for Robert Englund, who became nearly as recognizable as the razor-gloved character he portrayed following the success of the Elm Street films. This 1990 promo sees him in full Vincent Price mode as the host of the seemingly short-lived “horror film highlight” show Shadow Theater on USA:
Speaking of Vincent Price, the venerable horror icon was hawking everything from VHS tapes to wine coolers later in his career, right around the time Englund began his rise to fame. In some ways it’s a little depressing to see the master reduced to hawking shit like Tilex mildew remover, but it’s hard to feel too bad for the guy when you consider he was probably raking in some major dough from all the endorsements. Though there were many to choose from, here are a few highlights from his product-peddling era:
1985 Easter Seals Halloween Coupon Commercial:
1985 Polaroid VHS Commercial:
1985 Sun Country Wine Coolers Commercial:
1978 Stay Alive Board Game Commercial:
Of course, Price wasn’t the only actor associated primarily with horror films that conspired with large corporations to part us with our hard-earned money. Case in point: this 1990 Oatmeal Raisin Crisp commercial with Anthony Perkins! What does a psychotic, cross-dressing mama’s boy have to do with breakfast cereal? Leave it to the experts, son.
Not to be outdone, even best-selling author Stephen King was getting in on the action. He was all like, “fuck artistic credibility – it’s the `80s! Time to shill for corporate America, baby!” Or something.
1985 Stephen King American Express Commercial:
Sadly, some of our fave horror actors didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. See this 1987 Count Chocula breakfast cereal commercial, where 30 years after his death Bela Lugosi’s likeness was being used to help contribute to the burgeoning childhood obesity epidemic:
Hey, at least Boris Karloff wasn’t being whored out in a similar manner for General Mills’ Frankenberry cereal, which succeeded in turning the poo of American children all over the country bright pink in the 1970s: http://www.blogadilla.com/2007/07/13/urban-non-legends-frankenberry-stool/. No, see, he was too sophisticated for that. Karloff made a stand by promoting products that…um, possibly contributed to the butane tank explosion-related deaths of several people:
Boris Karloff Ronson Comet Lighter Commercial from the late 1960s:
Sadly, Karloff died in 1969 at the ripe old age of 81, meaning he wasn’t around to reprise his most famous role as Frankenstein’s Monster in this 1971 Orange Shasta ad, in which they inexplicably call the character “Igor”:
Or this one in 1991 for Pepsi and Doritos:
Perhaps no movie monsters have been more popular as hucksters than the giant, building-stomping variety, with both King Kong and Godzilla making appearances in a multitude of T.V. ads through the years. Here’s a classic Ford pickup commercial from 1977 starring our favorite oversize ape, clearly aimed at the pitchfork-waving country-bumpkin demo:
My favorite, though, is this classic 1972 Volkswagen Commercial, done by legendary stop-motion animator Dave Allen:
The spot aired only once on television before it was pulled by VW executives, who apparently decided they didn’t like the image of an ape driving their car. Uh, maybe should’ve thought of that before you filmed the commercial, guys.
As for Godzilla, apparently the secret to defeating the fire-breathing behemoth is by tempting him with sugary processed foods, as in this Honey Nut Cheerios ad from 1990, which I have to say was really a missed opportunity to brutally finish off that annoying bee character:
The giant lizard also appeared in this 1985 spot for Dr. Pepper tied in with the release of Godzilla 1985:
Aww, Godzilla burped cause he drank too much soda pop! In’t it funny, America? No…no, it’s not. But hey, leave it to soulless corporations to overestimate the appeal of a belching movie monster, as in this Pepsi commercial aired during the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, which effectively raped and pillaged the legacy of my favorite movie creature of all time:
Well, it’s not like it was the first time the acid-spitting xenomorph so artfully designed by H.R. Giger was used to sell a product to kids not even old enough to see the movie. Aren’t mixed messages great? “No, little boy, you can’t see our dirty, violent film because it will certainly corrupt your unformed mind, but by all means line our pockets by buying the toy!”
Alien action figure commercial from 1979:
Ok, so this next one isn’t really a commercial, but it may as well have been considering Mr. Voorhees only showed up on the Arsenio Hall show to promote 1988’s Jason Takes Manhattan. Not only is this one of the most awkwardly drawn-out talk show segments ever, but I love the hilarious clip of Jason on a crowded street in Manhattan menacing two young adults (erm, teenagers) while everyone else just continues to walk around like there’s nothing happening:
Speaking of Jason, long before Betsy Palmer appeared in the first Friday the 13th as his psycho, revenge-driven mama, she was shilling for Lux Dishwashing Soap in this 1972 commercial (which she’s somehow still terrifying in):
Another horror icon, the lovely P.J. Soles, did this ad for Soft & Dri Deodorant in 1977, which aired sometime after the release of Carrie and before her most famous role as the doomed Lynda van der Klok in Halloween (she’s the graduation speaker at the very end of the ad):
Oh, PJ, I do love you, bad acting and all.
Another pre-fame commercial to tempt your taste buds is this Ideal doll ad (presumably from the late `60s) featuring the oh-so-innocent Linda Blair, before she became legendary for spewing pea soup and masturbating with a crucifix:
“Won’t Chrissy’s party dress look beautiful on Kerry?” Honestly, the scariest thing in this commercial that hideous polka-dotted jumpsuit.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and our girl Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (nee Cassandra Peterson) was riding high on a wave of success, having successfully transitioned her character from local television host to internationally-recognized pop culture phenomenon. This segment aired during the MTV Halloween Special in 1986:
She even landed an endorsement deal with Coors Light in the late `80s and again in the early `90s. This classic ad aired around Halloween in 1993:
It’s been a great trip through the past, everybody – I hope you enjoyed the ads as much as I enjoyed researching them. But before I go, I do have one more commercial to share with you that is truly terrifying. That would be this Hertz ad from 1989 starring scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis and…well, let’s just say that at least Michael Myers was only a fictional murderer: