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Do Horror Trailers Show Us Way Too Much?


horror trailer

Though an altogether underwhelming film, there was one image in Devil's Due that will stick with me as the years pass by and the movie fades from my memory; the image of the demon seed forcefully pushing up through our ill-fated mother's belly, eager to prematurely escape her womb and wreak havoc on the world.  An awesome image, for sure, though one that I must admit had little to no impact on me, as I watched the movie.

Why not, you ask?  Because I had already seen that moment play out 50 times prior to the night I found myself in the theater.  The scene was in every trailer and TV spot for the film, and so not only did I fully expect its arrival, but I quite frankly yawned and rolled my eyes when it finally came - been there, seen that.

What we're here to talk about today is horror movie trailers, and the way that they all too often spoil the excitement of watching the movies they're promoting, in their pursuits to make sure that we want to see the movies being promoted.  From a business standpoint, it makes total sense; show the best scenes from the movie, so that nobody will be able to resist buying a ticket.  But does this strategy have a negative impact on the viewing experience?  And is showcasing a film's best moments really the best way to generate excitement for that movie?

According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, an organization that represents over 30,000 movie screens around the world, the answer to that last question is a resounding no.  As reported by Newsarama, NATO has just released new in-theater marketing guidelines for theaters across North America, intended to encourage studios to effectively promote their films, while at the same time preventing them from turning their trailers into spoiler-filled summaries.

The new guidelines, which are voluntary, recommend maximum trailer lengths of two-minutes, with a maximum time of five months between the theatrical exhibition of a trailer and the release of the film.  The new guidelines take effect on October 1st of this year, and NATO hopes that distributors will abide by them, if only to stay in good standing with the theaters that are a part of the organization.

While the guidelines don't specifically state anything about spoiling key scenes from movies, the point here is that trailers that overstay their welcome and show way too much are clearly a problem.  Though perhaps this is true nowadays more than ever, spoiler-heavy trailers are neverthless nothing new in Hollywood...

This here is the original 1980 trailer for Friday the 13th, which literally counts down every single kill scene in the film.  Though it's an awesome trailer, at least looking back on it nowadays, it essentially plays out like a concise rundown of everything that happens in the movie, to the point that you would know how and when most of the characters die, before ever buying a ticket to see it.  Effective marketing?  The box office numbers point to yes.  But this trailer is essentially the equivalent of live tweeting about major character deaths on The Walking Dead - and we all know how much that pisses people off!

A trailer spoiling kill scenes is one thing.  A trailer that gives away major storylines and even plot twists is an entirely different one.  Above is the original 1976 trailer for Carrie, which spells out the entire story of the film; Carrie's a telekinetic girl with a crazy mom who gets invited to the prom by a handsome popular dude, wherein she's voted queen of the prom, gets pig's blood dumped on her, kills everyone in the school and then goes home to kill her mom.  No need to read the book or see the movie, because this long-winded trailer lays it all out for ya.  What fun is that?

As far as more recent trailers go, this one for Paranormal Activity comes to mind.  A large majority of the fun of the film is not quite knowing what you're getting into, which this trailer did a hell of a job in trying to ruin.  The trailer takes the angle of putting us into the theater as the first audience to see the movie watches it play out, and proceeds to essentially show us an abridged version of what they saw.  Based on this trailer, we not only know that Katie gets possessed but we even see her kill her boyfriend towards the end of it, which really hurts the overall scare factor of watching those spooky moments play out for the first time, within the confines of the movie.  Hard to be scared when you know exactly what to expect.

Cutting together trailers is no doubt an art form, and while it's easy for editors to pull exciting clips and toss them together, the best trailers - in my opinion - say a whole lot without showing much at all.  There's a fine line between hinting at things and outright spoiling them, and a couple trailers come to mind as being some of the most effective we've seen over the years - effective both at making you want to see the movies, while at the same time retaining their mysteries and secrets.

One of my all-time favorite horror trailers is this one for The Exorcist, which was actually banned for being too scary - because, ya know, a scary trailer for a scary movie is a bad thing.  This is a perfect example of a trailer telling you everything you need to know and nothing that you shouldn't know going into the movie, and it serves to effectively evoke the whole vibe of the film, allowing your mind and imagination to fill in the gaps.  It would quite frankly be impossible for any horror fan to see this trailer in the 70s and not want to immediately rush out and see the movie, which goes to show that trailers can be incredibly effective without really showing you anything at all.

Another fantastic trailer was this original one for Alien, which again refrains from spoiling anything about the movie.  Though the trailer would've perhaps been more exciting had they shown the titular monster and iconic moments like the chest burster and face hugger scenes, it's the restraint that makes this one so chilling and effective.  We know that it's about some evil creature terrorizing people on a spaceship, but that's all we know - and that's all we should know, going into a movie like Alien.

Quite frankly, I've always been more of a fan of teaser trailers than full trailers, and if it were up to me, teasers would be all that was shown online and in theaters, in the weeks leading up to the release of any given film.  Teaser trailers oftentimes show very little footage from the movies themselves, and sometimes they don't show anything at all - as is the case with the brilliant one above, for Jason Takes Manhattan.  Rather than pulling clips from the film, they instead decided to shoot brand new footage specifically for the teaser, which is way more effective in making you want to see the movie than any existing clips could've ever been.  Of course, this particular trailer is single-handedly more awesome than the entire movie itself, but that's neither here nor there!

The bottom line is that there are other ways to entice audiences into seeing movies, rather than showing them a highlight reel of the most exciting moments from it.  Unfortunately, the latter has become the norm for movie trailers, and if you're asking me, it most definitely has hurt the moviegoing experience.  All we should know going into any given movie is the general plot, and a sense of what we can expect from it, and overlong trailers do nothing but feed us way more than we need to be fed.  Too much of a good thing isn't necessarily a good thing, as they say.

But that's just my opinion on the matter.  I would love for this post to turn into a discussion about movie trailers, so feel free to leave a comment and let your voice be heard.  Would you rather see a great trailer that shows everything or a more mysterious one that retains the film's secrets?  And what are some of your favorite and least favorite trailers?  Sound off below!