Welcome to the School of Trailers, lesson 1: how to make a proper badass trailer.
It’s simple, really. You take a bunch of badass actors. You show them one at a time on black background, wearing badass, military clothes. You put badass weapons in their hands, and make them strike a really badass pose. And you get a badass voiceover introducing them with some badass facts about them. If you don’t have time to hire an orchestra, or even a guy with a synth, you can steal the soundtrack right from Rambo: First Blood Part II. You can, I swear to Colonel Trautman. Then you top everything with the main star. If you can’t have Sly, Arnie or Chuck, you go with the next best thing: Nick Nolte. I know the man also made some pathetic chick flicks with Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts, but trust me: when he does his job, he’s up with the best of them. Still not sure? Add mirror shades and moustaches, and les jeux sont faits. Want more??? Fuck off, you cheeky greedy bastard…
Laying down the template for many, many mad affairs to come, 1988’s Fresh Horses could very well be the first example of Tennessee Williams-lite drama that’s actually set in the North. From here onwards, any starlet wanting to be taken seriously would start to drop her g’s and act as a runaway from a broh-kan, you-can’t-fix-me nameless town. Or, for that matter, any pretty boy wanting to account for more than being a pretty boy would just try the junkie/bookie/victim/angel/lunatic angle.
So, let’s get to the plot, fast:
“A Cincinnati college student breaks off his engagement to his wealthy fiancée after he falls in love with a backwoods Kentucky girl he meets at a party. She says she’s 20, but he finds out she’s 16 and married to an abusive husband.”
Yeah. Everything you need to know, tidily compressed into a 1’ trailer. Except Ben Stiller. And the abuse-y bits. Neat.
Ringwald gives off a distinct “Southern Gothic dame lost in a maze of negatives” vibe here, which should never, ever sound like a backhanded compliment, but it sort of does.
For more special guests, I asked the gang over at I 400 Calci - the very professional Wim Diesel stepped up first with his take on 1985’s Runaway Train…
You shall trust blindly any film whose cast is made of such ugly mugs that Eric Roberts is placed in the kind-at-heart slot.
The priest who taught us Religion in high school spent four years screening us movies so that we’d start asking ourselves questions about religion at large - come our final year, he’d stroll in with a bunch of clear, manifesto-ey answers leading up to Jesus (who was not James Caviezel at the time). His plan was wrecked by the fact that in your final year you only think about finals and your own fucking business, but you can’t imagine how bad we had it in the meantime: The Program, No Way Out, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Alive (this one, maybe, to help us familiarize with the “communion = cannibalism” metaphor), Guess Whose Color Is The Man Who’s Coming To Dinner, yada yada yada. One day, I think it was our sophomore year, priest walks into class with a movie called “Thirty Seconds To The End” (one of those rare cases of non-faithful Italo adaptation working better than the original title, as I’d find out much later), whose plot bears a vague resemblance to Locked Up, but with no Sly in sight and certainly with no Tom Sizemore being a snitch. So: charismatic inmates, ‘staches aplenty, local dudes acting heroic, a monumentally evil warden (not quite reaching to Sutherlandian proportions, but he could hold his own), a million tons of snow, an unstoppable train speeding into the unknown, boxing matches, helicopters, and redemption (which I learned from watching a tough-as-nails prison flick - Scorsese’s got nothing on me). Trailer bares it all, if you can make it past the first minutes of raving quotes. Who’s going to get it in the end? Every synopsis online can tell you that (guess that after 20+ years no spoiler policy applies), but you better drag yourself to the video store, stock up on beer and nachos and get ready to cry like a little bitch. EDWARD BUNKER wrote this one. There you go.
A quintessential rite of passage for any girl born between 1965 and 1980, depending on the mood, John Hughes’s Pretty In Pink becomes a) the reason why an awesome soundtrack was put together; b) a very Eighties take on the Cinderella paradygm; c) the lowest common denominator for anything connected to nostalgia; and d) all of the above.
It also makes for a classic trailer, in its own right. The opening credits montage of Molly Ringwald getting dressed and ready for school [i.e. is the chick flick equivalent of the other Eighties staple, the “hey, let’s go grab some guns” action montage] is spliced throughout the whole thing, acting as a visual refrain to the Psychedelic Furs’ lyrics for the title song. Every possible subplot is explored, as far as the teen characters are involved (guess that poor Harry Dean Stanton not letting go of his deadbeat wife didn’t resonate at the box office), while the main plot is, well, laid bare. At least the third act resolution is left as a guess.
Which makes me think of another trailer that made the rounds back then (video release, maybe? dunno), this one with an unusually Duckie-heavy slant. Did wacky borderline obsessive third wheel sell more than star-crossed class-transcending teenage love? Really? Oh, ok.
If you never saw it as a grownup, be sure to check out The Spader in all his own sniveling glory. He looks so much better with the benefit of some distance.
“And you… are the Devil’s spawn… evil from the moment of conception!”
Truth be told, I’ve been wanting to see Flowers In The Attic for a lo-o-o-o-ong time, i.e. since it came out in 1987. But my usually loose cinematic morals came to a a yet-to-be-explored grinding halt, and I couldn’t work out the courage to ask any unsuspecting babysitter and/or relative as a companion.
Back to the now - I honestly have no idea how V.C. Andrews’ neo-Gothic saga (that went on and on and on even beyond the grave) was ever deemed a “sure bet” at the box office, given that “incest”, “captivity” and “borderline non-con” were the novel’s biggest draws: much like Valley Of The Dolls, the trailer is built as a collection of money shots (Bible-thumping Grandma! Attack dogs! Blonde ingénue! Child abuse!), while the Ominous Voiceover informs us that, yes, way more oh noes lie ahead. But everything would be revealed as watered-down Andrews, much to the fans’ dismay.
On a lighter note, I suspect that Kristy Swanson’s ubiquitousness in the mid-Eighies could be connected to her passing resemblance to a cheap, discount-ready Barbie doll clone - they sure came in handy when it was time to fool around with experimental hair treatments.
Somebody must own the DVD somewhere. Make me a copy and win my trashy, no-good heart.
Random wisdom from YouTube commentators: “When I first saw the house in the trailer it reminded me of the home described in FITA I’m like! OMGSH FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC BECAME A MOVIE!”
Confession time: I never managed to sit through more than 10’ minutes of Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire, even though at a certain critical point of my pre-teen years a local cable network was playing it on a daily basis. Had I known my pre-teen self was so in tune with the global zeitgeist, I could have tried to get some money out of it. Oh, well.
As Jonathan Bernstein would say, the amount of times St. Elmo’s was showcased on pay-per-view channels might suggest it was a hit movie (it wasn’t) and/or it somehow conveyed the spirit of the time (it didn’t). What it actually managed to do was:
b) introduce general audiences to the notion that Judd Nelson’s perf in The Breakfast Club was mostly a stroke of luck;
c) mindfuck us into embracing the fact that Demi Moore would be around for a loooooong time;
d) give many of us our first shot of Young Actors Overcompensating For Being Desperately Out Of Touch With Their Peers.
To this day, I suspect it mostly works like a Brat Pack yearbook. And the “interconnecting storylines” thing (which is edited all out of sequence here) was hardly a new trick in the Eighties. Still, two things cannot be denied: the script set the template for ensemble TV dramas such as Melrose Place, and the theme song’s clip was still on the air months after the film had died at the box office.
I adore this movie. Really. I love it way more than I ever loved people in my own family. It kept me company for years, fed my then-budding heterosexual tendencies and pretty much worked as a how-to handbook for future interactions with the male end of the spectrum.
That would explain everything, wouldn’t it.
Pacino at the time had been missing from the big screen for four years following the Revolution débacle, and his presence was not grounds for hype-building in itself - hence, the emphasis on the plot, rather than the NYC setting, or the fact that this is a solid procedural cop thriller, but also presents a fairly bleak view in terms of both genre and gender roles. But I digress…
Trailer does a bang-up job at setting up Ellen Barkin as the potential killer; remember, this happened a couple years after Fatal Attraction became a box office mega hit, not to mention a huge source of anti-female backlash, as Susan Faludi memorably argued. From that point of view, insisting on the is-she-or-isn’t-she angle proved both “right” (it’s the key element of the plot) and inspired (it’s also the key “personal” arc for the Pacino character).
Oh, and I love the almost-subliminal use of “Sea Of Love”, which turns out to be the biggest clue the killer leaves in his/her wake, not to mention the leitmotif of the whole damn score (down to the Tom Waits cover on the end credits). But how sneaky, haunting and straight-up gorgeous is Barkin’s voice repeating “what are you looking for…”, over and over? This is the stuff conceptual artists were made of back then.
Looking back, it was the beginning of my lifelong romance with the writing of Richard Price. And that was good.