December 05, 2012

"THE SCARIEST FILM IMAGINABLE" - radio ads from the 1970s

My YouTube playlist of how the movies were sold with sound...

This year's long term project has turned out to be listening through all my old audio cassette recordings. Besides reviving huge dollops of nostalgia, reminding me of music I'd forgotten, I've found that I used to keep rather a lot of radio adverts for movies, marking their initial release in the UK.

TV ads were often too expensive for the distributors to pay for every week, so many films would have radio ads instead. Against considerable odds, like having no images to work with, these can still be very effective at conveying action, excitement and horror. Though for some reason, trying to make funny ads for funny movies rarely succeeds.

Jaws 2 is a good example of these as short bursts of excitement - a great combination of dramatic narration, dialogue, sound effects and music. 

There's completely ridiculous hyperbole in the voiceovers, often reading out the classic taglines off the posters, "The lucky ones died first". Plus dialogue, music and sound effects (not always taken from the movie). These radio 'spots', together with just a poster, could be all that was needed to send me scurrying to the cinema that week. I've usually used the UK release poster to illustrate each clip.

In the 1970s, the UK often debuted films around six months after the US. The wide release was further delayed by being shown exclusively in London for a few weeks before opening around suburban London cinemas. The ads sometimes pinpoint the year they were first seen in the UK (I've included the month and year if I noted it back then). Interestingly Zombies: Dawn of the Dead only hit the UK in June 1980 (two years after its widely-quoted official release date on IMDB). 

The fun ad for Friday The 13th is an example of the publicity gained from opening the film on an actual Friday the 13th. I love the way they drop in the "X" rating at the end - certainly carries more punch than "18" would do a couple of years later.

Nostalgically, many adverts even mention the London cinemas that they first played in (many of which are no longer there), and give an idea of how wide the initial release was.

Double-bills were still very common with shorter movies, at the end of the 1970s, but were often made up differently for each cinema. Sometimes they were presented as a 'package' and the same two films played across the country. But note the disastrous change in tone as the music changes between Tentacles and Mr Billion, or from Damnation Alley to Thunder and Lightning.

The later ads, starting in 1980, sound like a lack of care is going into them - or maybe it's the movies! This one for North Sea Hijack uses a poor choice of dialogue clips, slackly leaving in some unexciting pauses, Roger Moore apparently stumbling over his lines. 

The one for J. Lee Thompson's WWII adventure The Passage still makes me laugh. Christopher Timothy trying to stir up excitement with a ghastly little script, the overacting in the movie leaping out of the radio "Where is the Bergson family?". Admittedly, listening to this through the years, I succumbed to its hard-sell charms and eventually saw it.

There are also ads that you could only get away with at the time. The superdeep voice for Death Wish paraphrases the story as, "He got himself a gun and went hunting for muggers". The atrocious 'kung fu' noises overused for the Bruce Lee double-bill. And I doubt the script for the softcore Bilitis would get daytime play nowadays.

Patrick Allen (Alien), Ed Bishop (Twilight's Last Gleaming), Michael Jayston (Apocalypse Now) are among the recognisable voices pimping the adverts that were made in the UK. But often big-budget American films provided their own trailers, leaving a British announcer to tack on local details at the end. 

You'll hear Mel Brooks (High Anxiety) and Michael Winner (The Sentinel) as rare examples of directors who personally recorded their own adverts. I'd also love to know who the very, very deep voice was in this classic one for Rabid...

It was unusual that London's Capital Radio ran adverts, but they were also the first to broadcast in stereo. Many films weren't even screened in cinemas with stereo audio at the time! To catch these off the radio, I'd leap at a tape deck and 'pause punch', usually missing the first couple of seconds. As you'll hear. Sorry, I was as fast as I could.

Also included are a couple of mono trailers, like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. These have been culled from old complete radio shows that surfaced online as examples of how jingles, ads and DJs used to sound.

I've not finished sweeping out my archives and still have much 70s radio to listen to. So I hope to add more to this playlist - it contains all my movie-related adverts in one continuous playback. Enjoy...


  1. Jaws 2 is a really great example! I loved it's ridiculous voiceovers!

  2. I watch all the Jaws films repeatedly and I never get tired of them. Of course there will never be one as good as the first installment but any of them with Roy in it are terrific.