Grindhouse featured all kinds of gory trailers for all kinds of non-existent films. As Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving emerges, here’s a look at what happened to the others:
In 2007, when the singular minds of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez combined forces for what became known as Grindhouse, a double bill event of old combining the former’s Death Proof and the latter’s Planet Terror, little did they realise the element that would most captivate audience’s attentions – the trailers.
Grindhouse slipped into cinematic vernacular to describe the now defunct theatres in the United States during the 1970s that would play double bill features of exploitation movies, the kind Tarantino and Rodriguez grew up devouring, as the former explained to Rolling Stone: “I would chase films all over California — “My god, Rolling Thunder is playing on a triple bill with The Howling in Long Beach!” My local theater was the Carson Twins Cinemthey showed all the kung fu and blaxploitation movies. This little Italian family owned and these big-ass Samoans were the ushers. If anybody tried to steal candy from a kid, they’d send the Samoans in there.”
Their attempt to recreate this age of exploitation gave us Kurt Russell as a homicidal stuntman and Rose McGowan as a vengeance seeking badass with a machine gun leg, amongst other things. Both directors dialled into the aesthetic but importantly wanted to recreate the experience of attending such a lurid combination of films.
Hence the trailers. Specially shot segments that played before each movie that teased films that didn’t exist, but entirely fitted the realm of Grindhouse exploitation. The idea came from Tarantino, much to even Rodriguez’s surprise: “I didn’t even know about it until I read it in the trades. It said something like “Rodriguez and Tarantino doing a double feature and Tarantino says there’s gonna be fake trailers.” And I thought, “There are?””
Rodriguez certainly entered into the spirit of proceedings, developing a trailer based on a script he had written as far back as 1993.
Machete featured Danny Trejo, hard man Mexican ex-con turned talented character actor who appeared in Rodriguez’s Desperado in 1995, and who the director fully intended to play the titular main character in a feature film that, by the time of Grindhouse, he’d never got around to actually making. The trailer promises, in a severe voiceover brogue, “Action. Suspense. Emotion.” as Rodriguez flings our way an orgy of bone crunching violence, gunplay, sex, explosions and the thrilling sight of Trejo cresting a blast on a bike while firing an attached Gatling gun.
Having loved fucking with the wrong Mexican as part of this presentation, Rodriguez took the plunge for his next picture, 2010’s Machete, which expanded the core idea of ex-Federale Isador ‘Machete’ Cortez as he is betrayed and left for dead, in part by Jeff Fahey as smooth criminal businessman Michael Booth—reprising his role from the trailer—embarking on a violent quest for vengeance. Audiences and indeed critics received it well, and Rodriguez did well by fans in how he promised, James Bond style, that Machete would return in Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again, two sequels, the first of which he made (to less adoration) in 2013.
Most intriguingly, Rodriguez started Machete Kills with another fake trailer for a prospective sequel called Machete Kills Again… In Space, which would serve as a further Bond allusion, to Moonraker, and the extremity of pulp storytelling going to increasingly outlandish places. As of 2023, the film remains unmade. Danny Trejo stated in 2022 when asked: “Send an email to Robert Rodriguez and tell him to stop being afraid and do it!”, while Rodriguez affirmed this year that he still feels he owes it to fans to round off a Machete trilogy. More action, suspense and emotion… in space… might yet be on the cards.
Werewolf Women Of The SS
Once the Grindhouse trailer was fully propagated, Rodriguez claims the ideas flowed: “I made Machete. I shot lobby cards and the poster and cut the trailer and sent it to Quentin, and he just flipped out because it looked so vintage and so real. He started showing it around to Eli Roth and to Edgar Wright, and they said, ‘Can we do a trailer? We have an idea for a trailer!’ We were like, ‘Hey, let them shoot it. If we don’t get around to shooting ours, we’ll put theirs in the movie. If theirs come out really great, we’ll put it in the movie to have some variety.’ Then Rob Zombie came up to me in October at the Scream Awards and said, ‘I have a trailer: Werewolf Women Of The SS.’ I said, ‘Say no more. Go shoot it. You got me.'”
Despite Machete and other trailers eventually getting full movies, Zombie’s Werewolf Women Of The SS remains perhaps the most talked-about, most sought-after Grindhouse film that never happened.
As gruesome as each trailer is, Zombie’s orgiastic take on Nazi exploitation horror is a wonder to behold. Udo Kier, Germany’s finest cult export, is Franz Hess, commandant of Death Camp 13, who embarks on a gruesome, secret Nazi plot to create female Schutstaffel (or Protection Squad) werewolves. Zombie admits he had two schlocky concepts going into the project. “It was either going to be a Nazi movie or a women-in-prison film, and I went with the Nazis. There’re all those movies, like Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS, Fräulein Devil, and Love Camp 7 – I’ve always found that to be the most bizarre genre.”
Per Zombie’s penchant for casting familiar players in his dark and twisted horror pictures, Werewolf Women’s trailer features his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie (as SS officer Eva Krupp, alongside Sybil Danning as her sister Gretchen), and crams the screen with grotesque experimental imagery, screams, blood, gore and over the top camp, and sexual imagery in the vein of the films he mentioned above. In the coup de grace, cult legend Nicolas Cage features briefly as Sax Rohmer’s now politically incorrect supervillain, Fu Manchu. Quite where he would have featured in the plot is anyone’s guess, but it’s a great use of non-copyright material.
Rumours abound that Zombie could follow films such as The Devil’s Rejects and his grimdark version of Halloween with this lurid romp, but by 2013 Zombie admitted the project was off the table: “That was originally the plan and we certainly spoke about the spin-off movies at the time. Of course, they ended up doing Machete, but the others fell to the side. I would still love to make it but it is probably never going to happen because I do not own the rights. The whole Grindhouse thing is owned by Dimension. It is a shame because it would have been a great movie – but when Grindhouse did not pan out to be the success that Dimension were hoping for that was pretty much the end of it.”
We could yet still see Don’t, Edgar Wright’s paean to 1970s British horror (my personal favourite of the trailers), in which a sleazy American voice (an intentional move, to try and present the trailer as re-cut for an American audience) says phrases such as, “if you… were thinking… of opening that door…” followed by an aggressive “DON’T!” A refrain that builds and builds from the opening moment through a series of escalating, gruesome segments in a creepy old manor house featuring a who’s-who of British cinematic and television talent, many of whom remain popular fifteen plus years on: Jason Isaacs, Matthew MacFadyen, Nick Frost, Mark Gatiss, Simon Pegg, Rafe Spall, the list goes on.
Wright discussed how he intentionally scratched the film in order to present it as being neglected by projectionists in a rougher age of cinema, and some of the inspirations: “In the 70s, when American International would release European horror films, they’d give them snazzier titles. And the one that inspired me was this Jorge Grau film: In the UK, it’s called The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. In Spain and in Italy, I think it’s called Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead. But in the States, it was called Don’t Open the Window. I just loved the fact that there isn’t a big window scene in the film—it’s all based around the spin and the voiceover not really telling you what the hell is going on in the film.”
Wright was at this stage on the verge of releasing Hot Fuzz, the second in his Cornetto Trilogy, and the film that served as a springboard to a successful 2010s. Moving straight onto Don’t would have turned his career away from Hollywood movies Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and Baby Driver, but years on, with cult horror exciting audiences and driving strong box office returns, it’s likely that Don’t would work like gangbusters. But would Wright ever consider it?
At the time it was considered as a Grindhouse sequel, with he and Eli Roth teaming up to present Don’t and Thanksgiving as an offering, after the first movie: “We’re talking to Dimension about it. I think they’re still trying to figure out Grindhouse 1 before we think about Grindhouse 2, but I’ve already been working on the outline for it and I would do it in a heartbeat.” When the Grindhouse original pairing failed to set the box office alight, so evaporated Wright’s film and he moved to other projects. If you… are thinking… this wouldn’t still be awesome… DON’T!
Hobo With A Shotgun
One trailer, outside of Machete, that did evolve into a film was Hobo With A Shotgun, an inclusion that had an entirely different origin story from the rest. Nova Scotia filmmakers Jason Eisener, John Davies and Rob Cotterill won a trailer-making competition from Rodriguez at the South by Southwest film festival, featuring actor David Brunt as the gun-toting homeless avenger. It played on Grindhouse showings in Canada and entered production as a feature, with yet another cult figure in Rutger Hauer as the main character, finally released in 2010.
The last on the list, appropriately, is Thanksgiving from Eli Roth, perhaps understandably the most grotesque trailer in a gallery of schlock, and the Grindhouse connection that has taken over 15 years to finally become a reality in 2023. (You can read our review of Thanksgiving over here.)
Backed by a gruff voiceover flatly intoning quips such as, “The table is set… the festivities have begun”, Roth – at this point shooting Hostel: Part II – unleashes a genuinely traumatic and weird trailer about a serial killer dressed as a Pilgrim who embarks on an orgy of slaughter. Heads roll during daylight parades, cheerleaders fall on knives aimed at their vaginas, body parts are attached to turkeys which are then sodomised. It’s icky stuff. Roth remembers: “We had the whole movie worked out: A kid who’s in love with a turkey and then his father killed it and then he killed his family and went away to a mental institution and came back and took revenge on the town. I called Jeff (his friend, who played the Pilgrim) and said, “Dude, guess what, we don’t have to make the movie, we can just shoot the best parts.”
In the end, Roth did of course make the movie, with Thanksgiving due for release on the 17th November at the time of writing, and we can only hope it’s a tenth as disturbing as his faked trailer was. If so, we’re in for a vicious ride. Sadly, we never got to see ‘Trailer Trash’, an idea he had with Tarantino about a film made up of trailers such as this, which sounds like a hugely fun concept given how much the Grindhouse trailers still, to this day, are fondly recalled by horror fans – perhaps to an even greater degree than either Death Proof or Planet Terror.
Fingers crossed that one day Thanksgiving, Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun are joined by more of these comic slices of dark cinema.
You can find A J. on social media, including links to his Patreon and books, via Linktr.ee here.