I’ve said it before, but I firmly believe that movie trailers are an art in their own right. Horror trailers are particularly tricky, because so much of the genre’s appeal lies in what the audience doesn’t know and can’t see. There’s nothing worse than a creature reveal within the last 10 seconds of a trailer, a last ditch effort to draw viewers in. The best horror trailers spark your curiosity, provide a bit of a jolt, and give you something memorable, be it a title, an image, a music choice, to fuel your anticipation:
10. Exorcist II: The Heretic
Sean Fallon hipped me to this gem. I have no idea what’s happening in the trailer but it all looks magnificent and dangerously trippy. It’s such an odd turn from the first movie that Exorcist II begs to be watched, regardless of its quality.
The entire trailer rides of the power of Nicole Kidman’s line delivery at the start, and what power it is. I actually prefer this trailer to the film itself, because it promises a mystery more interesting and foreboding than the end result. The film is still good, but the trailer manages to tap into a quietly frightening intensity that the film couldn’t maintain throughout its runtime. And it goes without saying that Park Chan-wook’s direction is something to marvel at.
8. The Exorcist
Sure, the trailer’s narration is a little dated but the footage plays wonderfully with our expectations by showing us very little of what the other characters are seeing. Other than a brief glimpse of Regan near the end, the film doesn’t give away any of its money shots or best moments. It creates interest and provides a brief glimpse at the characters and their relationships but details very little of the story.
7. The Shining
Talk about restraint. We’d never see a modern trailer like this for a major release. The studio was confident enough in the director, cast, and familiarity with Stephen King that it created an effective teaser that tells you absolutely nothing about the film but demands you watch it. It’s truly a beautiful piece of marketing.
A trailer that opens and closes with a scare is pretty noteworthy. While the Italian trailers for Argento’s films run over three minutes, the U.S. trailer for Suspiria keeps things brief, choosing to focus on the imagery and music instead of the story and characters. The result is a trailer that gives you just enough without becoming boring or repetitive. Also, that pulsating title-card is really something.
5. Rosemary’s Baby
The quiet calm of this trailer slowly builds uneasiness, and that feeling only grows as the camera moves closer and closer to the black carriage on a hilltop. We expect to get a look inside, the trailer keeps us at a distance, promising terror but not delivering on it. It’s an incredible sales pitch, one that promises us we’ll like what’s inside the box without giving any indication as to what it is.
4. The Thing
I get chills just from watching this trailer. It perfectly captures the sense of isolation, desperation, and paranoia of the film while showing very little of the film’s monumental effects. I can’t imagine seeing this trailer in 1982 and not feeling compelled to see what Carpenter had up his sleeve.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
While the movie itself ended up being a letdown, the trailer sure built up my anticipation for it. The creatures ended up being a bit silly once the film fully revealed them, but here they’re mysterious and sinister, and promise something not seen in horror films before. While we expect the jump scare at the end of modern horror trailers, here is one of the most effective because it comes after you’ve prepared yourself for it, just when you’ve begun to wonder if it will come at all.
2. Evil Dead
What a way to silence the doubters. Even though the title cards are unnecessary and somewhat intrusive, this trailer promised that Sam Raimi’s creation was not only safe but also potentially brilliant. It’s full of fantastic shots, showing off first-time feature filmmaker Fede Alvarez’s fantastic attention to detail and practical effects. And speaking of those practical effects, the trailer manages to give away hype-worthy gore elements while withholding the entirety of the film’s awesome climax.
1. The Conjuring
The Conjuring had one of the highest opening weekends of all-time for a horror movie, and this trailer was responsible for a large portion of that box office gross. Instead of blowing through a montage of horror moments in the film, The Conjuring trailer slows things down and gives us a simple premise of a game and a perfect delivery. This trailer could be a short film and it still would be one of the most effective horror films.
Bonus-So bad, it’s amazing: Play Misty for Me
Words can barely describe how much I love the pure absurdity of this trailer. It’s so over-the-top, so awkwardly edited, so filled with quotable lines that it feels like one of those fake trailers attached to Grindhouse. It’s a ridiculous trailer but the repetition of “Play Misty for Me” is effectively creepy and the shot of Evelyn in the woods in perfection. Horror thrillers have given us no shortage of pyshco-lover stalkers, but Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut offers one of the best.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures