Since the dawn of cinema, movie trailers have been promising thrills, chills and laughs for the price of an admission ticket, and I’d argue that they’re the most culturally significant form of advertising in modern media. In fact, some say that previews have evolved into an artform in and of themselves, often overshadowing the very films that they’re meant to publicize as fans speculate over barely visible details and split-second cuts.
After all, a great trailer doesn’t necessarily guarantee a great feature, and the anticipation of a fun time at the movies can often be more entertaining than the experience itself. That’s why we’ve come up with this list celebrating six of the best horror movie trailers, as an effective teaser can be just as (if not more) memorable than a completed film, and it’s fun to look back on the ones that scared and/or entertained us the most.
This list is obviously based on personal opinion, but it’s worth mentioning that we’ll be selecting trailers regardless of the finished film’s overall quality. As usual, don’t forget to share your own favorite horror trailers in the comments below, as there are plenty to choose from.
Now, onto the list…
6. Cloverfield (2007 Teaser Trailer)
While the Cloverfield franchise is now best known for retrofitting unrelated movies into its convoluted cinematic universe, the original film benefited from the element of surprise back when it was first announced. Coupled with a viral marketing campaign that tied it into J.J. Abrams’ other projects, this 2007 teaser managed to entice audiences with the promise of a unique Found Footage disaster movie without actually revealing what it was about.
Clearly influenced by post-9/11 paranoia and ending on an unexpected John Carpenter reference as Lady Liberty’s head recreates the iconic Escape From New York poster, this trailer proves that spoilers aren’t necessary to market a movie. With a hit like this one, it’s no wonder that director Matt Reeves would later take over huge franchises like Planet of the Apes and even the upcoming Batman reboot.
5. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1989 Theatrical Trailer)
While I can’t speak for David Blue Garcia’s upcoming sequel/reboot, I think every entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is fun in its own strange way. That’s why I appreciate the sheer batshit insanity behind this 1989 teaser for Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, which sees everyone’s favorite cannibal take on the role of King Arthur as he receives an Excalibur-like chainsaw from the Lady in the Lake.
Filmed before the studio had even hired a director (or finished the script, for that matter), this infamous teaser was only meant to reassure audiences that Leatherface would be back for another round of homicidal shenanigans, but it ended up promising an Army-of-Darkness-like horror/fantasy adventure that sadly never materialized.
4. Maximum Overdrive (1986 Stephen King Teaser)
“I just wanted someone to do Stephen King right”. Those are bold words coming from a man who infamously criticized Stanley Kubrick’s filmmaking skills, but I can’t help but smile when I see Stephen King gleefully announce his first (and last) feature. From bazookas to giant Green Goblin heads, Maximum Overdrive has it all, and this trailer promises the kind of B-movie extravaganza usually reserved for over-the-top parodies.
While it’s not exactly a masterpiece, the movie actually delivers on most of the heavy-metal carnage suggested by the preview, so I’d say that this iconic teaser isn’t at all misleading. The trailer also benefits from recycled John Carpenter music from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which I think is just as cool as the finished film’s AC/DC soundtrack.
3. Paranormal Activity (2009 Audience Reaction Teaser)
Presented as a home movie from hell, the original Paranormal Activity isn’t your average horror flick, so traditional marketing techniques likely wouldn’t have been enough to sell tickets. That’s why the studio suggested focusing on audience reactions instead of the scares themselves when selling the picture, making for a memorable trailer without resorting to spoilers.
The genuine screams and terrified faces do a better job of advertising the experience as a thrilling theme park ride than any single scene ever could, making this a brilliant trailer for a ground-breaking Found Footage movie. It’s also a great example of why these films are usually best enjoyed in theaters, so it makes sense that future entries in the franchise would also rely on audience reaction teasers.
2. Psycho (1960 Hitchcock Theatrical Trailer)
Six minutes might seem a little excessive for a movie trailer, but this promotional blast from the past somehow manages to hype up the then-upcoming Psycho without showing a single scene from the movie. Relying on spooky atmosphere and Hitchcock’s reputation as a master of suspense, this glorified real estate visit is a memorable piece of standalone media even if you’re not a fan of the 1960 thriller.
The gloomy hallways of the Bates Motel speak for themselves as audiences traverse the house alongside the legendary director, with viewers filling in the horrific blanks as Hitchcock describes the awful things that happened within these walls. It’s a real shame that studios no longer trust celebrity directors to market their own movies, as I’d love to see contemporary masters like Ari Aster and Jordan Peele present their work in new and creative ways.
1. The Shining (1980 Theatrical Trailer)
Stanley Kubrick. Jack Nicholson. Shelley Duvall. Stephen King. Need I say more? Sometimes, the legendary talent behind a movie should be enough to sell the picture without spoiling any of the details. Couple that with the nightmarish image of a river of blood gushing out of an elevator and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one of the greatest movie trailers of all time.
A minimalistic masterpiece when it comes to establishing tone and atmosphere, this infamous trailer remains the gold standard for cinematic marketing, and I wish more modern horror flicks had the guts to take this simplistic approach to advertising. And the best part? The finished film actually lives up to the hype. Even if Stephen King doesn’t agree.