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Ad Nauseam (Book Review)

Growing up in Australia as a horror-loving kid in the late-70s, few things fed my imagination and excitement quite like that feeling when the Thursday newspapers arrived. Thursday was the day when the cinemas nationwide would update their programming so there was always a sense of anticipation in turning straight to the movie section to see what new films were opening up that week. In those distant pre-internet days, the first time you often heard of a cool-sounding new movie was literally on the day that it opened (and since many overseas movie magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, Cinefantastique and later Fangoria would take several months to reach Australian newsstands, we rarely got to read about many of them until they had already arrived and in some cases long gone).


In our white weatherboard family home, there were two newspapers that were regularly read. The Sun was published in the morning and delivered to our door by dawn, while the larger broadsheet Herald was the afternoon paper which my dad would bring home each weekday from work (in 1990 both papers would merge into the one daily Herald-Sun). Some of the newspaper stories I read at the time, and some of the images I saw within their pages, are still indelibly seared into my brain – the death of Elvis, the horrific tragedy of Jonestown, the haunting photo of a young female Buddhist immolating herself in protest, and the shocking murder of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane (an event which no doubt helped feed my burgeoning fascination with true crime, especially when it revolved around the fringes of Hollywood and celebrity).

But no matter what grisly news may have deflected my attention, I always found solace by turning to the entertainment pages and seeing the outlay of ad mats advertising the selection of movies currently doing the rounds at the local hardtops and drive-ins. A lot of the big event films like Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Alien (1979), etc. would have huge full page adverts announcing their arrival (or even their re-appearance), but even some of the more low-budget independent horror fare would still often get a nicely lurid and decent-sized ad in the papers, the perfect size for clipping out and pasting into a scrapbook (I would often colour my ad mats in with my set of Derwent colouring pencils, and tape some of my favourite ones to the back of the bedroom door).

A glorious double-bill of Squirm (1976) and Food of the Gods (1976), William Girdler’s nature amok classic Grizzly (1976), Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), the theatrical release of Tobe Hooper’s TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot (1979) and the Native American-themed vampire bat thriller Nightwing (1979) are just a handful of the horror ad mats I can vividly recall studying, saving and savouring. Looking back through them today is like taking a reflective roadtrip down your cinematic past, while also providing film writers and historians with valuable information on when and where a title actually played in any given part of the country, and for how long. While the large ad mats were eye-catching, the smaller ones were often just as effective and at times even more seductive because they somehow looked more seedy and mysterious. The tiny square ad mats were where a film’s visuals and selling points had to be stripped down to its bare essence.

Compiled by former Fangoria editor Michael Gingold (from his own collection) and published by 1984 Publishing in conjunction to Rue Morgue magazine, Ad Nauseum is a wonderful collection of over 450 horror-centric newspaper ad mats, focusing specifically on the 1980s, a decade when the grindhouse and the drive-in began their sad fade towards obscurity in the wake of growing home video dominance. But there were still plenty of fun times to have at the cinema back then, and as the pages of Ad Nauseam amply demonstrate, there was a staggering variety of genre fare still to be enjoyed on the multitude of cinema screens that still populated New York City (where all of the ad mats were culled from, since that is where Gingold spent his formative filmgoing years). Everything from the big horror hits of the era, including The Howling (1981), Evil Dead (1982), Return of the Living Dead (1984) and the Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elms Street films, along with more obscure far such as The Hollywood Hillside Strangler (1973, originally titled Hollywood 90028) and the delirious Indonesian actioner Lady Terminator (1989) are represented within the pages of Gingold’s lovingly-curated work.

Published as a large-format hardcover and printed on quality paper (though the illustrative material is, as expected, virtually all black & white), Ad Nauseum doesn’t contain an abundance of text. It doesn’t need too…the ad-mats tell most of the stories themselves. But the minimal text which does accompany the illustrations contains interesting tidbits and/or amusing anecdotes about the films being represented on the given page, as well as excerpts from original press reviews from the day, often by prominent critics like Vincent Canby, Janet Maslin, Roger Ebert and Rex Reed.

Rounding out Ad Nauseum is an interview with Terry Leven and Wayne S. Well, the president and artist respectively behind Aquarius Releasing, the New York-based distributor responsible for designing the promotional campaigns for many of the films featured in the book, including legendary 42nd Street titles like Make Them Die Slowly (aka Cannibal Ferox, 1981) and Dr. Butcher, M.D. (aka Zombie Holocaust, 1980), the latter of which employed the infamous “Butchermobile” flatbed truck to drive around Times Square. It’s a great way to end the book and puts a lot of the previous ad mats into perspective as well as providing an interesting insight into how these movies were approached by their distributors.

Personally I would much prefer a book like this if it covered the 1960s and 70s, but that’s purely because they are my favourite decades for cinema. Hopefully this book might inspire such follow-ups if it is successful (similar volumes covering ad mats for sexploitation and XXX films shown at adult cinemas would also be much welcome). But if you grew up devouring genre movies during the 1980s and Fangoria was your horror bible, then this is the book for you. You can almost smell the cheap newsprint wafting from its pages, and will be instinctively compelled to wipe the black ink from your fingers after reading it.

About John Harrison

John Harrison is a freelance writer and film historian based in Melbourne, Australia. His previous books include Blood on the Windscreen (an examination of the gory driver education films of the 1950s – 70s) and Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks. Apart from contributing regularly for publications like Weng’s Chop and Monster!, Harrison is currently working on two books, Wildcat! The Films of Marjoe Gortner and Rollin’ with the Punches, the filmography of Hollywood stuntwoman and actress Marneen Fields (whom he married in Las Vegas in 2016).

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