How Much Shock Can You Stand? Top Horror Taglines Across The Decades

Revisiting some of the most outlandish exploitation horror slogans.

By Justin Lockwood · @HeyLockwood · September 21, 2021, 3:16 PM PDT
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Tagline captions artwork by Jason Kauzlarich

"In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream."

"Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them?"

"Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water..."

The history of horror is filled with memorable taglines, some as iconic as the films they advertised. (For those keeping score, those are from Alien, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974], and Jaws 2, respectively.) But great taglines weren't limited to great films — some terrific ones appeared in posters and trailers for forgotten features from B movies and exploitation fare spanning from the '30s through the '80s. This overview draws heavily from Drive-In Asylum, a great zine filled with vintage horror and exploitation ads and fun writing, as well as Richard Meyers' For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films (1983), Harry and Michael Medved's Son of Golden Turkey Awards (1986), and Jacques' Boyreau's Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters (2002).

"How Much Shock Can You Stand?"

This come-on was used to promote a package of chillers billed as "Nerve-Rama": Horror Hotel (1960), Slime People (1963), Creature from the Haunted Cave (1959), and Crawling Hand (1963). These triple and quadruple bills tended to have fun slogans attached to them, like this one accompanied by a cartoon of a terrified woman hawking the Universal flicks House of Frankenstein and The Mummy's Curse (1944): "HELP! I can't let my hair down since I saw this super horror show!" A 1970 double bill of the Sweeney Todd takeoff Bloodthirsty Butchers and Torture Dungeon (both directed by Andy Milligan) is headlined "Too Sensual to Miss if You're Curious! Too Terrifying to See if You're Yellow!" But a "Double Fright" of The Blood Suckers and The Liver Eaters (19 Sixtysomething) takes the prize with "So Shocking- It Will-- Sliver Your Liver!"

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"Turn bones and flesh into screaming, savage blood death!"

The Corpse Grinders (1971) tagline hit a new height in gleeful hyperbole. The film tells the story of cat food made from human flesh that transforms felines into bloodthirsty killers-- the slogan "Lotus Cat Food-- For Cats Who Like People" should've been a clue. "[This] ranks with the most repugnant things I have seen on screen," critic Donald J. Mayerson declared.

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"The Hand That Rocks the Cradle… Has No Flesh on It!"

1971's Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? had a great title inspired by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so it makes sense the tagline would be snappy, too. The Medved brothers nominated this for "The Most Idiotic Ad-Line in Hollywood History." Still, that sort of value judgment is highly subjective when it comes to over-the-top exploitation advertising. Shelley Winters stars as the title character, with Sir Ralph Richardson (Tales from the Crypt) co-starring in a modern-day variation on Hansel and Gretel filmed at England's famous Shepperton Studios.

"It's a Nice Place to Visit… But You Wouldn't Live Here!"

A clever catchphrase for 1972's Terror House aka Terror at Red Wolf Inn, in which a hapless college student's free getaway predictably goes wrong.

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"To Avoid Fainting, Keep Repeating, 'It's Only a Movie ...Only a Movie...Only a Movie...Only a Movie," etc.

A good tagline bears repeating, and the makers of Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham's trailblazing Last House on the Left (1972) landed on a great one. The seminal rape-revenge story pushed the limits of onscreen depravity with its graphic sexual content and violence. The text-heavy campaign (other slogans included "Can a Movie Go Too Far?" and "Warning! Not Recommended for Persons Over 30!") was so effective that distributors quickly put it into service selling everything from the murder mystery thriller The House That Vanished (1973), to Don't Open the Window aka The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, aka Breakfast at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1976), a mix of Manson style killings and zombie hijinks. The print ads utilized the same box of text with the "Only a Movie" print getting smaller and smaller into seeming infinity, while a creepy chorus chanted it aloud in theatrical trailers. Don't Open the Window also deserves mention for its added tagline directly below the title: "What Ever's [sic] out There Will Wait!" As Meyers dryly stated: "Don't open the window. Don't take a film called Breakfast at Manchester Morgue and rename it. Don't slap on the famous 'it's only a movie!' ad gimmick from Last House on the Left. Don't see the movie."

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"The first motion picture to require a face-to-face warning*

*Every Ticket Holder Must Pass Through THE FINAL WARNING STATION. We Must Warn You Face-to-Face!"

Schlockmaster William Castle would have been proud of this gimmick employed to sell Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve (1972). This gory shocker likely influenced the first Friday the 13th movies. The exploitation trickery didn't stop there; after the success of The Last House on the Left, it was re-released as Last House on the Left II "with all the violence edited out of its original release returned intact," wrote Meyers.

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"Pretty Sallie Mae Died a Very Unnatural Death! ...but the worst hasn't happened to her yet!"

Ed Gein inspired Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill, but 1974's Deranged hewed much closer to the facts of his case. Roberts Blossom (Home Alone) gave a terrific performance as strange, lonely Ezra Cobb, whose mother issues and fixation on cadavers ultimately lead to murder. This ad line hinted at the morbid content of the script, with Black Christmas director Bob Clark producing and a young Tom Savini contributing to the makeup effects.

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"Abby doesn't need a man anymore… The Devil is her Lover Now!"

The creators of this Exorcist rip-off not only capitalized on that film's mega-success, but they also aimed it at the Blaxploitation market. Blacula's William Marshall plays the exorcist, while Carol Speed is "a woman possessed!" The exorcism plays out in a bar. "With booze and blood flying everywhere, they wrest the demon from her soul," Meyers describes. "This was so similar to The Exorcist that the distributor sued Abby and won."

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"The film that could only be made in South America… where Life is CHEAP!"

It turns out all the cheapness was right here in North America, where the makers of Snuff (1975) took advantage of a rumor about an Argentinian snuff film to turn "a really rotten South American murder movie based on the Manson murders" (according to Meyers) into a cash-in by tacking on a four-minute coda supposedly depicting one of the actresses on set being murdered. Distributor Alan Shackleton ingeniously hired protesters to picket showings, generating plenty of free publicity, as well as "FBI agents" to ask who made the movie; the cast and crew credits were "kept secret." Meyers deemed Snuff "a lousy, lousy movie — but one of the all-time great exploitation movies anyway."

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"Let's Play Hide and Go Kill…!"

The Child (1977) was an offbeat variation on the tried and true creepy kids formula, wherein Rosalie has psychic control of the ghouls from the nearby cemetery. "The budget is super low, but The Child has an immersive, dreamlike atmosphere that keeps me coming back for more," Drive-In Asylum editor Bill Van Ryn wrote in the magazine's first issue.

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"There's more to the Legend Than Meets… the Throat!"

Would you expect anything less from a movie called Dracula's Dog (1978)? Actually, the alternate tagline for this film, in which José Ferrer tracks down both a revived servant of Dracula and the titular canine, may be even better: "Man's best friend is now man's worst fiend…"

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"They Rise at Night for More Than a Bite."

Cemetery Girls (1979) was a sexploitation horror flick originally called Vampire Hookers before it was sold to a new distributor. The amusingly suggestive tagline isn't as blatant as the original campaign's: "Warm Blood Isn't All They Suck!" Believe it or not, legendary actor John Carradine starred in this thing as a Dracula type.

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"Pieces: It's Exactly What You Think It Is!"

This priceless tagline for 1981's Spanish/American slasher, a favorite of director Eli Roth's, would have been enough, but they also threw in "You Don't Have to Go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre!" for good measure. Again, the Medveds dubbed that "Idiotic," but I'd call it ingenious.

"It's not human and its [sic] got an axe"

The campaign for Lucio Fulci's House by the Cemetery (1981) featured this zinger, among others. Fittingly kooky for a movie renowned for lines like "Anne? Mom says you're not dead. Is that true?" The tagline was reused for the 1983 slasher flick The Prey.


For more exploitation poster art and shocking taglines, check out Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters