Top Trailers: ZOMBIE (1980 U.S. Trailer)

Zombie occupies a special place in the hearts of horror fans of a certain age. It was the first taste of Italian horror for some of these fans, one that was sold to them in a lurid manner not too different from the kind of sideshow come-ons you see at a carnival. In a time when horror films were learning the value of exploiting the power of gruesome makeup effects, Zombie became a “can you take it?” standard bearer for visceral shocks.

The film’s splashy U.S. theatrical release was the work of legendary exploitation film distributor Jerry Gross, whose memorable campaigns for I Drink Your Blood and I Spit On Your Grave revealed him to be a pro at selling grisly content to the grindhouse audience. He worked similar magic with Zombie and the result made some noise in the U.S. theaters. When Wizard Video released their big-box VHS of the title a little later, they stuck with Gross’s effective graphics and tagline: a gnarly close-up shot of the film’s most maggot-covered feature zombie accompanied a threat of a tagline: “We Are Going To Eat You!”

Those hard-sell tactics are reflected in the U.S. trailer for Zombie. It almost plays like a music video set to the synth-disco throb of Fabio Frizzi’s distinctive main theme for the film. The opening twenty seconds focus on graphics: the film’s threatening tagline punches the viewer right between the eyes, followed by a dramatic letter-by-letter reveal of the film’s title.

From there, we launch into footage from the film. There’s no attempt to set up the story or introduce characters. There’s not even any dialogue, unless you count screaming as dialogue. Most of the footage comes from the finale, so it’s a montage of the dwindling heroes throwing molotov cocktails and firing guns as zombies flood into the island hospital and the newly undead rise from the sickbeds. One title card appears in the midst of this chaos, popping up as a zombie takes a shotgun blast to the face: “If you loved Dawn Of The Dead then you’ll just eat up Zombie.”

After the fighting, the trailer moves into the final third of its hard-sell. There is a quick montage of zombies springing into attacks on three of our heroes. As with the rest of this trailer, the gore is suggested rather than shown but we see they’re going right for the throat (literally, in two cases) or at the face. At this point, the trailer cuts to the title card once more, followed by not one but two warnings. The first states that no one under 17 will be admitted due to the film’s violence and the second tells us that anyone who purchases a ticket will be issued a barf bag upon request.

It’s hard to imagine any self-respecting fan of horror’s grindhouse side not wanting to see Zombie after a trailer like that. It taps all the necessary pressure points for such a fan: it lets you know the film has a lot of visceral content, stepping right up to the line of showing it before stopping in a way guaranteed to make a gorehound lean forward, and draws a direct line connecting it to another shock-horror fave of the era in Dawn Of The Dead. The adults-only rating and the promise of a free barf bag provide icing for this unsavory yet tempting cake. 

If you’re of the right age, this trailer, like its parent film, will induce a wistful feeling of nostalgia for old-school shocks and the salesmanship that packaged them.  The horror scene could use more of both of those items today.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Zombie, click here.

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