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When (Misleading) Movie Trailers Betray Us

by Michele Zwolinski

When I was younger, I thought the absolute best job in the world would be to make movie trailers. Yeah. Cowgirl, firewoman, and astronaut-ninja-princess were all vetoed in favor of putting together movie clips in such a way that viewers would gasp in shock and wonder and fight each other to death getting in line to see movies that I selected just the right soundtrack for (yes, I thought that decision would be up to me. Life was happier before I learned about copyrights and shit) and edited to perfection. I gave up on that dream when I dropped out of college (the second time), not that a CC in Michigan offered such courses, but lately I’ve been thinking maybe I should go back for a third shot, because editors these days just don’t seem to appreciate the responsibility they have.

How many times, fellow horror fans? How many times has a trailer sucked you in, only to have you shell out $18 for a ticket just to have you end up throat punching a stranger in anger when the movie BLOWS? Off the top of my head I can think of a gazillion trailers that have straight. Up. Lied. Do you remember the DECEPTION that was the trailer for Paranormal Activity 3? So many scenes that weren’t even in the fucking movie?! I was so pissed! The trailer…not in good faith–and I…

nancy the craft

Whew. Deep breath. I’m back. You just have to understand how excited I was for that movie because of a bullshit trailer that lied to me.

But it’s really not the first time, is it? And it certainly won’t be the last. In my humble opinion, here are a few of the trailers that made a movie look far too good. And not in a “just doing my job way”, but in a “irresponsible to the audience” way.

The Houses October Built

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I feel really bad about this one, because one of the first posts I ever made to this site was about The Houses October Built. I was so excited! Like a kid in a candy store, or, well, me on Halloween. Clowns, haunted houses, the coin flip of the found footage…sigh. It could have been great. But, as you may or may not know, it was not. It was actually one of the worst things I’ve ever done to myself. From a mildly promising beginning to the peak that just never came, this movie couldn’t hold my attention, and I don’t know that anyone could watch this beginning to end without at least one nap halfway through.

The Babadook

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Whether you were pleased with the final product or not, it’s hard to argue that the trailer was miles ahead of the movie. The Babadook was infinitely scarier when it was a gravelly voice in the dark, and the climax of the movie was much more tolerable when it was spliced into fragments and not being passed as an actual climax. And depending on where you fall with quasi-ambiguous endings, one could argue that the terror was entirely sucked out of the movie itself in the last ten minutes.


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Ugh. As far as overselling it…Jesus. I was really excited for this movie, thanks to the trailer. And then I was thought, “No, Michele. It’s PG-13. Don’t even bother.” And then I watched the trailer again. And then I decided I was being a movie snob. And then I watched it. And then I lost those 89 minutes of my life forever. FOREVER. The trailer made Ouija look horrifying, quick paced, and most of all, interesting. It was roughly 0% of any of those things. It was the kind of movie I would use to introduce a skittish tween to horror, as softcore as off brand vanilla ice cream. No. Vanilla frozen yogurt. There was definitely not the level of terror and mayhem implied by the trailer.

Paranormal Activity 3

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Perhaps the worst of the worst, as I’ve already said. I know I wasn’t the only one who was pissed–viewers took to social media in droves to express their frustration (which is nothing new for horror fans, but this was at least a semi-legitimate complaint). The vast majority of this trailer wasn’t even in the fucking movie. That, my friends, is bullshit. This blatantly fraudulent fuckery is apparently an attempt to surprise and, theoretically, horrify viewers more effectively. The trailer provides the overall central plot line in a way slightly more engaging than just advertising, “Hey, the third installment of the series is coming out. Come see it if you’re into that kind of thing” without giving away any key scenes, and actually very few minor scenes, either.

But…does it work? Creating scenes specifically for trailers means no wasted jump scares, no chance of any hidden twists being given away too soon (we all know that one horror nerd that can’t fucking wait to spoil newly released movies and will study intently each individual frame of a three minute trailer just to get a leg up on the ending), but still entice the viewer into actually paying to see the movie with a reasonable expectation of the general story. In theory, it should work. Upon some introspection, I’ve concluded that it’s an eensy bit possible that I simply don’t like trailers too far removed from the actual movie only because that’s not how I’m used to it being done. It’s very possible there’s other fans out there that love it.

Conversely, it’s just as possible that misleading movie trailers are only pissing off and possibly alienating fans. It’s 2015–everyone shares shit on social media, trailers for any movie can be found on YouTube and tweeted or Facebooked or that Google Plus thing that nobody really ever uses and shared millions of times; advertising is all but done for the studios. Why bother creating an entirely new movie for the sake of marketing when that appears to be the least of concerns?

It goes both ways, too. Some movies are edited to appear less rad than they are. Event Horizon looked more like a modernized retelling of the sci-fi flick 2001: A Space Odyssey than the ball of terror it actually was (do you know what the crew was doing in that recovered footage? Do you?). The Cabin in the Woods had a standard, by-the-books trailer that didn’t even hint at the steaming pile of awesome Joss Whedon bestowed upon us. That, too, seems irresponsible.

So, because I know you’re just dying to tell me how wrong I am, I invite you to sound off in the comments. What trailer do you have beef with? Or do you like it when trailers intentionally leave out/add huge plot points or scenes? Where and how should I go die because I don’t know anything about horror? Let me hear it, and shit, maybe we’ll end up writing a post together.

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