Horror fans who were born after the year 2000 may find it hard to believe that the only way to discover what film was opening at your local theater on any given weekend was by perusing the entertainment section of your local newspaper. If you were lucky, you would have found a new horror film that was coming to your favorite cinema, and if you were really lucky, the listing would have been accompanied by an advertisement featuring lurid, sensational artwork promising (but not always delivering) an hour and a half worth of thrills and chills.
These ads are the subject of Michael Gingold’s new book Ad Nauseam: Newsprint Nightmares of the 1980s and for anyone who became a fan of horror movies in the ’70s and ’80s, it is a veritable trip down a dark memory lane. In this exclusive interview, Gingold (the former Editor-in-Chief of Fangoria) discusses the origins of his book, some of his favorite vintage ads, and his thoughts on the state of the horror magazine.
Horror News Network: Where did the idea for Ad Nauseam come from and how did you accumulate all of these ads?
Michael Gingold: I started collecting the ads in junior high school when I started to become a horror fan, although at first, I was terrified of horror films. I remember going to see a double feature with my friends when I was nine years old and it was Godzilla vs. Megalon and Bug. I stayed for Godzilla, but I was too frighted to see Bug. After that experience, I think the transition happened when I saw the remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was rated PG, but probably would be an R today. That was one of the first films that really scared me.
From there, as I became a fan, it was cheaper and easier to collect ads rather than posters (even though today I have an extensive poster collection) so I would clip them out of the newspaper and save them. At the time, I thought I was the only person clipping them from the paper, but now that the book has been released, many people have told me that they used to do the same thing. Before the internet, one had no way of knowing what other fans were doing, but I luckily saved them and I guess it is one of the benefits of being a hoarder! There are a lot of books dedicated to poster art, but there weren’t any that focused on print ads, and it turns out a lot of people were interested in seeing them.
HNN: Many of the ads contain art that never appeared on posters and were produced for print advertising only. Why were the ads so essential in the 80s?
Gingold: In the post-Halloween world, independent films and low budget horror films had a chance to to make money and get distributed around the country, especially in the big cities. The ads were a way to grab the attention of movie goers and get them in the theaters with ads that displayed explicit images; subtlety wasn’t part of the marketing plan. Although these films were often associated with 42nd street grindhouses, they did play in the suburbs as well, and the ads helped bring attention to them and you also didn’t have to risk your life to go see them.
A lot of the artwork only appeared in the newspaper ads and are very hard to find today. These variants went further than the posters could in some cases, before the advent of Photoshop and the Dimension Films style of poster that were pioneered in the ’90s, that featured faces of the young cast members instead of the lurid images that were found in early ads.
HNN: You decided to keep the bottom of the ads advertising the theaters that the films would be shown at as well.
Gingold: Yes, we wanted to keep the locations at the bottom of the ads intact so people could remember some of the theaters that were famous for showing these films (and those that have now been closed for years).
HNN: Are there any theaters that are long gone that you remember seeing these horror films in?
Gingold: One of my favorites was the Criterion Theater in Times Square. Downstairs, the theater had a number of smaller screens that was nicknamed “The Criterion Dungeon” and they would show second run features and exploitation films. I first got to see John Carpenter’s The Thing there (which shows how quickly its theatrical run ended) and even Lady Terminator. It was a cool place to see movies and a great place for horror.
HNN: After the glory days of the early 80s, when do we start to see a decline in terms of print advertising for horror films?
Gingold: When the slasher trend was in full swing in the early 80s, it gave the horror genre a bad name and the advertising changed to a more subtler style to avoid protests and controversy. A lot of the independent distributors and theaters also started to close at this point and the home video revolution with a lot of direct to video releases hurt the ad budgets, or diverted the dollars to other mediums.
HNN: When you were assembling the book and reviewing your old clippings, was there one ad that stood out to you?
Gingold: Yes, I was always surprised with how Troma initially marketed The Toxic Avenger. The advertising originally sold it as a slasher film and I’ve never understood how that decision was made. I’ll have to remember to ask Lloyd Kauffman the next time I see him about why they decided to go in that direction with the ad, which really misrepresented the film.
HNN: You are well-known for your work as a horror journalist. How do you feel about the return of Fangoria?
Gingold: I am incredibly excited about the return of Fangoria magazine and that it is going to be kept alive as a print publication. The people that own it love the magazine and the genre. It is also being marketed differently than it has in the past. It isn’t a news magazine as much as a film journal; something that you can put on you shelf and then go back to time and time again.
HNN: Do you think long-form horror journalism still has a place in the 21st century?
Gingold: Yes. While you can get news on the internet and from websites, you rarely get in-depth stories. I just conducted an interview with the director of the Suspiria re-make (Luca Guadagnino) for the next issue of Rue Morgue and the interview runs close to 4000 words in length. Those types of interviews and stories are hard to find on-line.
HNN: Speaking of horror re-makes, and especially with the new Halloween film in theaters, how do you feel about them?
Gingold: It seems like the ones that I am most upset about are often times the ones that I end up liking the most! I remember seeing Ringu and being very impressed with it, and then heard that they were making an American version of the film. I initially thought “How dare they!” but I in fact enjoyed The Ring. There have been some real misses like the re-makes of The Fog or Prom Night, but then there are those films like The Ring or Let the Right One In that are successful and worth seeing.
I just saw the new Halloween film and I liked the new take on the material, but I also recently hosted a showing of Halloween H20 at the Alamo Drafthouse in New York and it was really an honorable attempt to bring the franchise back to the basics and was really more about suspense than gore. It is definitely getting a second chance these days.
HNN: You mentioned the Alamo Drafthouse. Do you think theaters like the Alamo and others are helping keep forgotten and hard to find horror films alive?
Gingold: We have seen a real increase in the amount of repertory theaters opening up across the country and it is gratifying to see people come out and support these films. The favorite period of worship these days is certainly the 1980s, but these theaters like the Alamo can run programming that you can’t find anywhere else, like a Shaw Brothers horror series. They allow fans to discover some real hidden gems.
HNN: Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on?
Gingold: I am continuing to write for the new Fangoria, Birth.Movies.Death, and Rue Morgue and I have another book that I am currently working on. I can’t reveal the details yet, but I hope to be able to soon.
Ad Nauseam: Newsprint Nightmares of the 1980s is currently available at finer book stores everywhere.