With even the most obscure horror movies now available on Blu-ray, collecting VHS tapes is mostly for the diehards. (Course, you’ll never convince me that watching something like Ghoulies doesn’t “hit different” on videocassette!)
Still, there is one unsung aspect of those old tapes that gives ‘em an advantage over all other formats. Many are loaded with weird, rare promos that were left behind as the films jumped onto discs and digital.
These would run before the movies, and they usually weren’t the sorts of spots you’d ever see on television. They pop up often enough to make every old horror tape a potential treasure trove, even if it’s of a little-loved movie that’s already on every streaming platform.
Below are five killer promos that I discovered in my tape collection. Enjoy!
Found on: Jason Lives VHS (1986)
I don’t know if it’s possible to watch that spot and not immediately want to track down the two Scream Greats videos. The first was essentially a Tom Savini doc, with behind-the-scenes footage from the films he worked on. The second, which is even more up my alley, dealt with the “real life” versions of Hollywood’s takes on satanism and witchcraft.
The spot runs for two minutes and comes off more like a featurette than a promo. I assume it was tacked onto a number of videos, but I found it on my copy of Jason Lives. Interestingly enough, this Scream Greats promo is arguably gorier than anything in that movie!
Hellraiser II Soundtrack!
Found on: Hellraiser II VHS (1988)
If you were gonna do a promo for the Hellraiser II soundtrack, you kinda had to throw it on this videocassette. Where else would you put it? Even if they could’ve gotten that gory footage past the censors, I doubt anyone had the budget to run a HELLRAISER II SOUNDTRACK COMMERCIAL on television.
Like the movie, the score was big, loud, gothic and heavy. Not something you’d listen to while jogging, unless you would count running from the physical manifestation of death as “jogging.” I love that shot of the Cenobites giving us their fuck-me eyes under a Crescendo Records logo. I could see them opening for Whitesnake, with Chatterer on bass.
Never seen Hellbound: Hellraiser II? It’s a good one! I only watch it once a decade because it’s pretty disgusting and there’s a scene with bugs, but if you can picture Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a Hellraiser movie, it’s somewhere in that area.
Freddy Krueger’s Hotline!
Found on: Freddy’s Dead VHS (1992)
Many of you have heard of Freddy’s old 900 number, if only because I still mention it five times a month. The hotline popped up in the late ‘80s and was heavily advertised on television.
This spot is from a few years later, and you’ll notice that it features a different 900 number. My guess is that they took the recordings from the original Freddy hotline and worked them into a second version, specifically meant to promote Freddy’s Dead.
The updated hotline was actually advertised right on the 3D glasses audiences received with their Freddy’s Dead movie tickets. (Still have a pair? Check the left temple. It’s under the ad for House Party 2.)
In truth, Freddy’s spooky stories were just a way to avoid legal issues. They were *really* selling raffle tickets, with callers getting a crack at everything from signed gloves to Fangoria subscriptions.
This spot is well-remembered by Elm Street fans, since nobody who rented Freddy’s Dead could watch the film without seeing it first!
“Video: It’s What You Wanna Watch!”
Found on: The Blair Witch Project VHS (1999)
DO NOT SKIP THIS. It’s the most delightfully cheesy thing you’ll ever see. While ostensibly belonging to Artisan Entertainment, it plays out like a generic PSA about… uh… renting videos?
Frustrated by the garbage on television, Tony and Terri zip over to Not-Quite-Blockbuster, where the possibilities are endless! The spot feels like a Saturday Night Live skit, right down to the completely unharmonious jingle: “Ohhhh VIDEO — it’s what you wanna watch!”
I couldn’t love it more, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Especially not the movie montage. That shot of Sharon Stone’s skirt-flirt blends wonderfully with the background music, which sounds like something you’d hear during a Wheat Thins commercial.
My favorite part is when Tony clearly mouths “holy shit” while holding up a Terminator 2 video, like he can’t believe his good fortune. This spot is the gift that keeps on giving, and it’s so amazing that it ran before The Blair Witch Project, of all things. Way to set the mood, Tony and Terri!
Freddy vs. Jason Soundtrack!
Found on: Freddy vs. Jason VHS (2003)
I don’t think anyone needs a description of the Freddy vs. Jason soundtrack, so I’m gonna use this space to share a weird memory associated with the film. Indulge me, please?
In August of 2003, New York City had a famously huge blackout. At the precise moment that blackout hit, I was in the middle of an interview with VH1. They were thinking about using me as a “talking head” on one of their thousand nostalgia shows.
I would’ve been terrible at it. They surely gleaned that from the interview, where I uniformed provided one-word answers while fiddling with a hangnail. I was actually relieved when the blackout hit, even though it meant walking down forty flights of stairs with Important TV People I’d only met ten minutes prior.
The next day, I was supposed to trek back into Manhattan to see a special screening of Freddy vs. Jason, a day before its official release. Scored four tickets from an old gig. My friends were amped, and so was I, because I rarely had the chance to be the “cool guy” in our crew.
Well, the blackout raged on, and the screening was canceled. We instead went to a sushi restaurant in the nearby mall — one of the few places around with some degree of power — and stormed out midway through because they kept serving us food with gnats in it.
So, because of that blackout, I missed the chance to be on VH1, lost an opportunity to see Freddy vs. Jason early, and probably ate five gnats. Seventeen years ago, and it stings like it happened yesterday.
Oh well. We finally saw the movie a few days later, in a regular theater. Loved it then, still love it now!