Trailers–a.k.a. previews and/or coming attractions–have been a longtime passion of mine. Since I was a kid I’ve always endeavored to arrive at the movies early to catch the previews. My trailer love reached its apex in the early 1990s, when I worked in a multiplex and was able (though just as often forced) to watch countless trailers over and over in their preferred setting, the big screen. Much of the following list, you’ll find, emanates directly from that time, and that’s certainly no accident.
The following is a selection of 18 horror movie trailers I particularly like (other, non horror-related favorites include the trailers for A BOY AND HIS DOG, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE COMMITMENTS, TOYS, and, perhaps my favorite trailer of all time, CLIFFHANGER). Fake trailers of the GRINDHOUSE variety aren’t included, and neither are those shitty fan-made trailers you find on YouTube.
The reasons I dig these trailers are myriad, but there is one all-important constant: I’ve viewed them all on a BIG SCREEN at one time or another. Thus, the trailers for the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH may be considered classics of the form by many but don’t make the cut, as I’ve never seen either projected on an actual movie screen.
You’ll find, of course, that the movies advertised aren’t always that great, which is likely a prime reason the trailers are so effective: the people who put these things together were trying to make crappy films seem exciting, which required an extra effort. It’s said you can’t polish a turd, but with movie trailers you very nearly can, creating a succession of images that (for me at least) linger in the mind, even after the movie they’re culled from fades.
So here they are, my favorite horror movie trailers (complete with YouTube links if they exist):
You can’t go wrong with this amazing teaser, a wordless succession of slime, fire, gunshots and sheer terror, set to deeply eerie, foreboding music. The movie is a fave and so is this trailer, a veritable nightmare on celluloid.
The 1989 BATMAN is widely viewed as the first modern blockbuster. What people appear to have forgotten is the film’s wonderfully innovative pre-release trailer, which I believe is largely responsible for drawing audiences to the movie.
I’m referring specifically to the teaser released in late 1988, pieced together by producer John Peters. Lacking music, special effects and fancy editing, it’s genuinely striking in its minimalism, perfectly encapsulating the film’s noirish visual style while seeming to promise something new and exciting. The movie, alas, was neither of those things.
This preview for the crummy Eric Red flick BODY PARTS (1991) is everything the film isn’t: taut, shivery and compelling. It was even somewhat innovative in the way it starts out as a straightforward recounting of the movie’s plot only to devolve into a fractured montage, a format that’s become quite common in today’s coming attractions but wasn’t back in the early 1990’s. I’ll say this: of BODY PARTS the film I remember very little, but have never forgotten the trailer–especially that guy laughing maniacally near the end.
1993’s THE CEMENT GARDEN was an unremarkable adaptation of Ian McEwan’s disquieting novel, but this trailer is something else entirely. I don’t know who put it together, but it’s one of the creepiest damn things I’ve ever seen.
It can almost be taken as an avant-garde short, with its near-wordless procession of sepia-toned images that convey an overwhelming sense of fear and apprehension. It concludes with a teenaged boy and girl facing each other and a man shouting “Julie, he’s your brother!”
This trailer, for Elem Klimov’s 1985 Russian masterpiece COME AND SEE, is a rarity in this grouping in that it’s not a coming attraction, having been put together over a decade after the fact. It’s a wordless compilation of the film’s most striking imagery set largely to the sounds of–get this–the monolith chant from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY! Sounds crazy but somehow it works, in a trailer that’s nearly as powerful and horrific as the film itself.
I only caught up with this trailer recently–just last week, in fact–but it was love at first sight. The Japanese horror/comedy/musical HAUSU (1977) is one of the most insane films ever made, and this preview follows suit. It’s wildly discordant and plain crazy, with images of severed fingers playing a piano and cheesy animated segues, all set to a horrendous disco tune–in short, perfection!
I’ve heard it said that the real measure of an effective trailer is how much it makes viewers want to the see the movie it’s promoting. If that’s true than this Americanized promo for the 1994 Japanese flick THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO ranks extremely high, as after seeing it I was all-but counting the days until the movie’s release!
The film for the record is a pretty good one, but this trailer is an astounding and altogether unique amalgamation of historical drama and hallucination, a bit like SHOGUN meets ALTERED STATES.
This 1982 trailer has stayed with me over the years for two reasons: 1). The sight of the late Dominique Dunne screaming “What’s haaaappeniiiiiiiiing?” and 2). The closing voice-over: “POLTERGEIST…it knows what scares you!”
I’ve been unable to find this teaser for POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE on YouTube, which is a shame.
I must have caught this fast and furious montage at least a dozen times back in 1986, and it admittedly took my pre-teen self several viewings to recognize one simple fact: that its blindingly intense succession of monsters and mayhem was culled entirely from the first POLTERGEIST!
Perhaps the most iconic horror movie trailer of all time. I’m not sure it captures the mood or events of PSYCHO (1960) all that well, but it’s definitely striking. It consists of “The Fabulous Mr. Alfred Hitchcock” taking us on a jaunty tour of the film’s locations (note the impossibly deep imprint on Norman Bates’ mother’s bed, which looks as if it was occupied by an 800-pound person), and concludes with a shot of Janet Leigh screaming in the shower.
This short and elegantly simple trailer is as iconic in its own way as PSYCHO’S, and there’s an excellent reason for that: once viewed (preferably on a big screen, of course!) it can never be forgotten.
All we see is this: an elevator opening to disgorge a torrent of blood with credits rolling over it, accompanied by overpoweringly ominous music–which, it turns out, is more than enough!
I can’t recall where I first saw this. I do know I was a little kid at the time, and that this trailer has stayed with me (particularly the voice-over line “His only chance to break the spell is in a stone…but which stone, and where?”) as much as THE SHOUT (1978) itself, which is a longtime favorite. The trailer, in fact, encapsulates nearly everything great about the film, particularly its dreamlike atmosphere and overall sense of understated but vivid horror, accentuated by a deeply shivery music score.
Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND was just okay, but this colorful and atmospheric preview is a superlative gothic extravaganza: macabre, foreboding and quite trippy.
Another impossible-to-forget teaser, showing only Arnold Schwarzenegger (looking particularly TERMINATOR-like) silhouetted over an outer space backdrop and some rudimentary animation. Of course, the best thing about this 56-second wonder is the endearingly solemn voice-over intoning, “Your mind…it is the center of life…it is everything you hear…everything you see…everything you feel…it is everything you are! How would you know…if someone stole your mind??” Good question.
This 1988 film is a longtime guilty pleasure. Had it lived up to the oft-kilter brilliance of this irresistibly nutzoid trailer, with its eye-popping procession of doll’s heads, crashing model trains, sparks and a knife-wielding Theresa Russell, it would be a legitimately good (perhaps even great) film on the order of BLUE VELVET.
To clarify, the trailer I’m referring to is not the one currently streaming on YouTube and other sites. That trailer (which incidentally is pretty impressive in its own right) appears to be the British one, whereas the preview I have in mind features a pulsing rock soundtrack and an American accented voice-over. It played the U.S. art house circuit back in ‘88…and I’ve been searching for it ever since.
TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS
This jam-packed preview is stunning, and easily the highlight of the 2009 SHOCK FESTIVAL trailer compilation DVD. Viewing said DVD took me back to my initial childhood-era viewing of this particular trailer, a breathtaking swirl of magic, monsters and daring do.
Unfortunately I was also taken back to the 1983 film it was advertising, a cut-rate RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK wannabe exhibited in cheapo 3-D. The film was never released on DVD, for which I can’t say I’m too disappointed, but I am glad the trailer has been preserved (although it doesn’t appear to be online yet).
I’ve always liked the David Lynch helmed big screen transposition of TWIN PEAKS. I also really dig this Lynch-compiled trailer, which is scary, darkly lyrical and bewildering, and makes excellent use of Julee Cruise’s wistful tune “Questions in a World of Blue.”
Further proof that nobody can cut a trailer like David Lynch, who again creates a stunning marriage of music and image, this time set (partially) to the rockin’ opening strains of the metal tune “Slaughterhouse” by Powermad. This trailer perfectly captures the flavor of Lynch’s 1990 movie: extroverted, outrageous and (of course) wild.