Welcome to Classic Creepy Commercials, Volume 7! (It was either this or another edition of Five Spooky Action Figures. The folks on Twitter voted for more commercials. If you would’ve preferred to read about plastic Draculas, blame them. #notmyfault)
Larry P. generously provided the first four ads in this batch, while The Mysterious Spencer tossed in the fifth. Thank you, guys!
Coca-Cola “Monsters of the Gridiron” Commercial! (1993)
Oh, boy. If I covered every last nuance of Coca-Cola’s sprawling Monsters of the Gridiron campaign, we’d be here forever. Instead, I’ll give you the basics.
In Monsters of the Gridiron — at heart a contest but really so much more — various real life football stars were turned into horrible Halloween monsters. And holy cow, they were CREATIVE!
It wasn’t just like, “Hey, let’s take this quarterback, put him in vampire makeup and call him Vlad Pigskin.” There were devils, scarecrows… even giant snakes! All of the actual players took part, and photographs of them in their monster disguises live on in promotional Monsters of the Gridiron trading cards. (Note to self: Find those fuckers on eBay.)
Even if you never dug deep into the promotion, you’ve gotta remember the TV commercials, which featured football players morphing into macabre creatures. You didn’t have to care one bit about football to love this. I sure didn’t.
Peanut Butter Crunch “Zombies” Commercial! (1998)
From 1998, this commercial is an infant compared to the ones I usually feature. Even so, it has all the charm of Halloween ads from the golden age of over a decade prior.
The conceit is bizarre and beautiful, and I’ll explain it in the way that I suspect an ad exec pitched it to Quaker Oats:
“We’ll start with zombies rising from the grave. HUNGRY zombies. People will think they’re after brains, but here’s the twist: THEY WANT CEREAL!”
Having worked on a promo or two in my day, I’ve always preferred simple ideas done well to “clever for the sake of it.” That’s one reason I love this commercial. Another reason is that it has zombies going apeshit over Peanut Butter Crunch. That’s an even bigger reason, actually.
So, there’s these kids freaking out because zombies want their breakfast, right? They yell for Cap’n Crunch’s help, and because Cap’n Crunch has bat hearing, he immediately responds. You’re expecting him to smash the monsters and drive them back to the graveyard, but instead, he just carries in enough cereal for everyone. It’s the happiest ending I’ve ever seen. I’m going to watch this commercial whenever I feel down. I’m going to show this commercial to the bereaved and infirm.
Tales from the Crypt Trading Cards Commercial! (1993)
Yes, Tales from the Crypt trading cards really existed! I have several packs, and they’re what you’d expect them to be: Laminated photos of the Crypt Keeper that stick together until you meticulously pry them apart with the one fingernail that you haven’t chewed.
If I didn’t own the cards, I’d swear this was some parody lifted from an old TFTC episode. Even the biggest trading card sets rarely had TV commercials, and this was no cheap production! They had the real Crypt Keeper, the real Crypt Keeper’s voice, and to dissuade any theories that they just redubbed existing Crypt Keeper footage, our hero actually holds up the cards, as if to say, “NO EXPENSE SPARED.”
Assuming this ad ran on weekday afternoons between chunks of cartoons, that’s exactly what I love about it. My fascination with horror-themed commercials stems mostly from the memories of what great gateway drugs they could be, and how they were little windows into a universe that I was too afraid to visit.
Surely there were kids who saw this commercial but never dared to watch Tales from the Crypt. I love that they had to imagine the entirety of TFTD lore based on this one goofy trading card promo. It’s like how I grew up thinking the fifth Elm Street movie was exclusively about a giant gothic stroller.
Critters Movie Promo! (1986)
Vintage movie trailers are all over YouTube, but I much prefer finding the television cutdowns. Nostalgia plays a part, because while I saw tons of horror movie TV promos as a kid, it’s not like I went to any movies that would’ve been prefaced by a Critters trailer.
Sometimes, the cutdowns are just better. Many “moody” trailers that originally went without voiceover suddenly had nonstop talking, with scripts hastily written around montages that were never meant to have them. I know that doesn’t sound like it’d improve things, but in many cases, it somehow did.
And then came the endings! Regular movie trailers didn’t have to do much business on the backend, where a TV promo had to cram fucktons of shit. You’d have these guys — and usually different guys, desperately trying to sound like the original VO artist — speed-reading through titles and ratings and debut dates and pleas for us to check our local listings. (I guess that doesn’t sound like it’d improve things, either. You’ll just have to trust me. Or watch that Critters promo, which does it so crudely that it’s almost adorable.)
Critters, if you’ll recall, was one of the many attempts to “do Gremlins without Gremlins.” Actually, it’s the best of those “ripoffs,” trashy and gory but still playing out with the notion that it’s neither of those things. If you want a horror movie filled with maneating monsters that could potentially pass as family entertainment, Critters is perfect.
It’s also a special movie for me. Without it, there’d be no Harley.
Spider Stompin’ Board Game Commercial! (2000)
If it’s fair to piece the history of this game together after one brief look at its image search results, Spider Stompin’ began as an arcade game, which looked like a cross between Whac-A-Mole and Dance Dance Revolution. Then it was shrunk down into this battery-operated quasi-facsimile from Toy Biz. The end.
In Spider Stompin’, kids fought over who could step on the most spiders. It looks like fun, but I’m not sure I can support something that made our unnatural spider hatred even more intrinsic. On the other hand, these weren’t “real” spiders, and they seemed to rather enjoy being stepped on.
The claymation sequences in the ad were very Vinton-esque. Wonder if he had anything to do with it? I hope so, if only for the chance to envision an expanded Will Vinton universe where the California Raisins move in next to giant spiders who constantly try to bait their neighbors into stepping on them. When the movie comes out, they’ll call it Raisin’ Heck.
I may do one more batch of Creepy Commercials before Halloween. Let’s assume I will, because the thought of closing the door on this for another year is just too painful.