Trailers. They’re as integral to the movie-going experience as big screens and popcorn, and often get under our skin and linger even longer than the feature films themselves. This may be especially true of horror trailers, which delight in a delicate balancing act of scares and suspense. These trailers aim to get audiences clamoring for more than just a small taste, one that’s already left them intrigued and disturbed. Whether vintage or modern, successful horror trailers over time have employed many different techniques to achieve timelessness on par with the very movies they are teasing. Below, we’ve unpacked seven of the scariest sneak peeks that left us effectively spooked and dying for more.
1. Psycho (1960)
Psycho‘s unique trailer is as much an ad for virtuoso filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock as it is for the movie itself. Essentially presented as a documentary of real events, the director takes audiences on a macabre tour of the Bate’s Motel. Detailing Psycho’s murders (“You should have seen all the blood, it’s too horrible to describe”), Hitchcock remains vague about the victims, the killer, and the circumstances in which the crimes took place. Initially set to quirky, upbeat music, and ending on the iconic shower scream and Bernard Herrmann’s string score, the trailer leaves audiences with an almost unbearable morbid curiosity, while also showcasing Hitchcock’s one-of-a-kind directorial swagger.
2. Alien (1979)
This timeless trailer has no voice-over, no music, and no soundbites. Its increasingly quick cuts of a hatching egg and sweaty mayhem aboard a spaceship are set only to the drum of a racing heart, and a creepy, inhuman howl. This trailer was cut by Alien’s director, Ridley Scott, so it’s no surprise that it absolutely nails the film’s claustrophobic vibe and unsettling pacing, without ever even showing us the alien itself. It’s a masterclass in the power of suggestion, and History Of Horror host Eli Roth hailed it the scariest trailer he ever saw as a kid, prompting him to beg his parents to let him watch the movie. Afterwards, Roth remembers: “I went out in the lobby and threw up and said, ‘I’m going to do this to other people.’ I was 8 years old.”
3. Paranormal Activity (2009)
Like its found-footage predecessor The Blair Witch Project, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity deftly executes the shaky “home video” concept. This time the action is captured via a nanny cam that records an increasingly aggressive supernatural presence haunting a young couple in their home. With a budget of only $15,000, the film’s trailer did some shrewd heavy-lifting by incorporating the terrified reactions of a test audience, complete with documentary-style type over the footage noting the date of the original screening and teasing: “This is what they saw…”
4. The Conjuring (2013)
James Wan first established his very own supernatural universe with Insidious, but it was the second film in the franchise, The Conjuring, that gave us a trailer that took years off our lives all on its own. Showcasing many of the film’s most expertly deployed horror devices (a haunted house, a possessed family, a creepy music box), but without a ton of context, this preview leaves viewers gasping even more than many full length features. When the ghost hunters claim to “have never seen nothing like this,” you know it’s time to be very, very afraid… and lest you forget, the trailer gives you multiple unexpected flashes of a demon woman in a nightgown as a reminder.
5. Goodnight Mommy (2015)
This Austrian psychological thriller by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala benefits immeasurably from a trailer that leverages both the gorgeous and horrifying imagery from the film. You have the idyllic yet isolated countryside setting, the adorable yet inexplicably “off” twin boys, and the straight-up freaky mother figure with full-head bandages, recovering from an unexplained operation. The preview is unnerving even before the cockroaches come into play, and the children’s choir music it’s set to helps establish the spooky vibe. Everything is clearly not as it seems with this family, and the trailer promises a very twisted journey to uncover who or what the real evil is.
6. It Follows (2015)
Set to the same dark ’80s synth beats that dominate the movie’s soundtrack, It Follows’ trailer morphs from what feels like a nostalgic coming-of-age montage into a supernatural suburban nightmare featuring an STD like no other. Audiences don’t see “It” until near the end of the preview, and are warned that this murderous thing can take the form of anyone — including someone you know — making it all the more personal and terrifying. Featuring very few adult characters, David Robert Mitchell’s film and accompanying trailer give you the sense that these teens are alone in figuring out this very elusive threat—making you eager to root for them when you’re not hiding behind your couch.
7. The Witch (2015)
Unnerving from the get go, The Witch’s trailer pairs ominous music and sound bites to establish the characters (a family of banished Puritan settlers), and setting (“out in the wilderness” in rural New Hampshire). Dark and moody imagery (a shadowy campfire, a child with a rifle in a misty wood) work to build suspense, all leading to an epically disturbing crescendo when a game of peekaboo (shot from the baby’s POV) ends with said baby’s vanishing. Horrific without relying on jump scares, director Robert Eggers’ film and its trailer build a rich word of Jacobian-era evil with style alone. It’s a very impressive feat, resulting in a watch that is not for the faint of heart.
Want more horror in your life? AMC’s annual horror movie spectacular, FearFest, will begin on-air, online, and on AMC+, the company’s premium subscription bundle (currently available to Comcast Xfinity, DISH and Sling TV customers) on October 1 all the way through Halloween.
This year’s library of spooky selections features 91 titles (see the full list here), including horror franchises such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, Final Destination, Children of the Corn, Insidious, and many more.Read More