The Fascinating Story Behind Edgar Wright’s ‘Don’t’ Trailer

Cannibals in the Don't trailer
Dimension Films

Grindhouse, the 2007 double feature project consisting of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, was an interesting experiment. The goal was to create a movie experience that harkened back to watching two exploitation films in dilapidated 42nd Street theatres and drive-ins. To accomplish this, they hired some of their filmmaking friends to produce fake trailers for action and horror flicks that seemed like relics from the 1970s and ‘80s. Sadly, Grindhouse tanked at the box office, but from those ashes, the trailers rose like a phoenix.

Five trailers were produced for the Grindhouse experiment, all of which focus on a different subgenre of disreputable cinema. Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a holiday slasher that takes place during the titular holiday. Robert Rodriguez’s Machete is a Mexploitation actioner about an assassin who gets the women and kills the bad guys. Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun follows a trigger-happy vagabond vigilante who’s tired of street thugs. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S. is based on a true story about Adolf Hitler’s minions creating piano-playing lycanthrope soldiers during World War II. Finally, Edgar Wright’s Don’t is a tribute to Eurocult nonsense.

As of this writing, Thanksgiving, Machete, and Hobo with a Shotgun have received their own full features, showing that Grindhouse’s legacy as a flop is undeserved. The film essentially spawned its own quasi-cinematic universe of throwback exploitation films that have their fans. Unfortunately, Werewolf Women of the S.S. and Don’t won’t receive their own fully realised films. Still, the latter was only ever envisioned as a collage of brief, mindless insanity anyway. 

What Is Don’t All About?

At first glance, Don’t appears to be a good old-fashioned haunted house story. However, the trailer drags viewers through a freakshow featuring all kinds of demented horrors. Every scene features a new character being confronted with a bizarre atrocity, ranging from the demonic to the cannibalistic. What’s more, the trailer was designed to confuse viewers.

Anyone who’s seen Wright’s films knows that he’s a stickler for details. His beloved Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) is loaded with Easter eggs, in-jokes, filmmaking techniques, and thematic connections that unite all three movies to some degree. Don’t, meanwhile, gave him a rare chance to cut loose and make something without having to worry about the bigger picture.

In the making-of featurette, which can be found on the Grindhouse Blu-ray, Wright explained that the unfocused nature of the Don’t trailer was a freeing experience. “To do something without continuity and just be throwing in a different idea and different actor in every single shot is great. [I had] a whale of a time.” That said, the intentionally confusing nature of Don’t was inspired by the bizarre promotional campaigns for the exploitation movies of the 1970s.

Don’t Is an Ode to Nonsensical Distribution

The entire Grindhouse project is a love letter to the scuzzy exploitation films of the 1970s and ‘80s. However, that love went beyond simply trying to recreate the thrills, chills, and spills of sleazy splatter movies; the thinking that went into the creation of movies of this ilk also inspired the filmmakers involved with Grindhouse. For example, Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the S.S. is a Naziploitation number that culminates with Fu Manchu (Nicolas Cage) making an appearance. But what is a Chinese pulp character doing in a trailer about German soldiers and lycanthropes, you ask? Zombie was inspired by Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. repurposing sets from Hogan’s Heroes and working a story around the props available to the filmmakers. So, Werewolf Women of the S.S. is essentially what would happen if a filmmaker only had access to Nazi uniforms and Chinese sets and had to find a way to bring them together.

Edgar Wright’s Don’t trailer is the product of a similar geeky mindset. In the 1970s, distributors like American International Pictures picked up European films, renamed them something with the word “Don’t” in the title, and released trailers that offered no semblance of plot but an overabundance of style to attract viewers. That’s why Don’t is an over-the-top fever dream of meat cleaver-wielding brides, basement-dwelling man-babies covered in feces, possessed school children, stabby mutants, pervy axe murderers, and zombie flappers.

Wright was particularly inspired by international promotional campaigns for Jorge Grau’s zombie film Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead, which was released as The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue in the United Kingdom. However, it was put out as Don’t Open the Window in the United States, despite windows having no real significance to the story. While these campaigns can be considered misleading, Wright is fond of their charms. As he told Empire, “I thought it would be funny to make an American trailer for a Euro horror film and just strip it right down to Don’t.”

Edgar Wright’s Don’t Features Some Familiar Faces

The trailer for Don’t features Edgar Wright regulars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Frost plays the aforementioned man-baby who hangs out in the basement, covered in feces, playing with dolls, and eating toddlers. The idea for the character stemmed from ’70s horror cinema’s un-PC treatment of people with learning disabilities, and Frost was more than happy to throw his all into the part. “Honestly, it’s probably one of the things that I’m most proud of,” he told Empire. “I loved him as a character, I think he had legs. Not the ones he was eating. I think there’s somewhere for him to go.”

Pegg, however, is virtually unrecognisable as a knife-wielding lunatic, and this was by design. Wright wanted Don’t to be separate from his other work, so he hid his most famous collaborator under layers of prosthetics and gave him a one-second cameo. Jason Isaac also makes an appearance, and he was brought on to the project due to being unable to star in Hot Fuzz.

Other cast members include Mark Gatiss, who does his best impersonation of Roddy McDowall in The Legend of Hell House. Elsewhere, Michael Smiley plays an axe murderer, and singer Katie Melua makes an appearance as a woman who witnesses her friend being massacred. On casting Melua, Wright explained the films that inspired Don’t often cast pop stars and children’s television presenters in gritty roles. Melua jumped at the chance to be part of it, as she’s a massive horror fan and thought it would be fun. Or maybe it was the closest thing to crazy she’s ever been…

Edgar Wright Is Happy for Don’t to Remain a Faux Trailer

Once upon a time, Edgar Wright would have jumped at the chance to turn Don’t into a real movie. In a 2007 interview with Fangoria, he said that he and Eli Roth were open to making Don’t and Thanksgiving as a double feature, provided that Grindhouse made enough money to convince Hollywood executives to fund such a project. Sadly, that never happened, and Thanksgiving took on a life of its own.

These days, though, Wright likes the idea of Don’t being an obscure trailer that can only be found on Blu-ray releases and the annals of the internet. “I was really bummed out that Don’t didn’t make it to UK cinemas,” he told Empire. “But maybe it’s like a lot of horror films at the time that grow in legend because of their unavailability. Maybe Don’t has become exactly the film that it was destined to be.”