How “Do you want to build a snowman?” can sound super creepy

Movie trailers have the difficult task of luring audiences in with interesting characters, diverse plots, and gripping storytelling techniques.  Most big-budget movies have successful trailers that introduce everything the audience should know when deciding whether to buy tickets on Friday night.

The average length of most trailers is around 2 to 3 minutes.  The tone of the movie is explored through the cinematic techniques that editors use to indicate to the viewer what they should expect.  For example, horror-movie trailers share several themes.  They usually begin with longer, establishing shots.  A voice over of either a narrator or the protagonist introduces the situation and the routine of the characters.  Disturbia (Caruso, 2007) dedicated about half of the trailer to establishing the characters and relationships.  They used feel-good and comical music to create a tone of a comedy.  However, the thriller aspect quickly appears with the introduction of the antagonist.

The antagonist, or “monster,” in these thriller films, is usually introduced by hints.  The music begins to come to a crescendo.  Some films use orchestral strings to create a full-bodied threat, like Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991).  Others use a slower, creepier music-box style.  Both induce the same feelings of anxiety in the viewer.  As the music crescendoes, the trailer reveals more information about the antagonist of the movie.  Horror-movie trailers often use the suggestive power of montage to really drive the point home.  The trailer for Misery (Reiner, 1990) quickly cuts between images of the antagonist and protagonist (a psycho fan and a famous writer, respectively) in high-energy situations.  The trailer cuts between a hand reaching for a knife, a car pulling into the driveway, the protagonist eyeing the door, the antagonist holding the knife, the protagonist begging for mercy, the antagonist swinging a sledgehammer up- and then the scene cuts to black.  This trailer is an excellent example of how the audience is left filling in the blanks.  They are intrigued enough to go see the movie and experience the entire horrific scene, yet already know exactly what to expect will happen.  These fast cuts and strategic montages successfully entice the audience to want to know more.

Finally, the trends of re-cut trailers follow the trends set by their respective genres.  When a re-cut trailer is turning a family-friendly Disney adventure into a horror flick, they use quick cuts, creepy music, and strategic (and intriguing) montages.  For example, the Frozen re-cut trailer below automatically sets the tone with the shrill, high-pitched music.  The saturation of the original film has been lowered tremendously, and primarily dark scenes are used.  The audio is hardly synced at all, allowing for the creator to use certain phrases out of the original context.  When Anna asks her sister “Do you want to build a snowman?” in the original film, it was primarily taken as cute and hopeful, nothing more than a child wanting to play.  The creator, however, has looped it and added echoing effects to create a discordant and unsettling voice over.  The music becomes faster as the cuts do, and the montage sequences leave the audience filling in some pretty horrific blanks.

The trailers I viewed: Wreck-It Ralph, Silence of the Lambs, Misery, The Faculty, Disturbia, Jaws, Insidious, Frozen, Moana

The re-cut trailers I viewed: Frozen (family adventure to horror), Tangled (family adventure to horror) and How to Train Your Dragon (family adventure, except the protagonist has been transformed into the antagonist).

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