Horror movie trailers are notorious for being so similar to one another – often times a family is trying to start a new life, and then all of their lives are threatened. There are some tried and true ways to make a movie trailer creepy and unsettling, and most horror movie trailers utilize those exact methods.
In the beginning of the trailers, the shots are usually a few seconds long. Shot transitions involve normal cuts to one another, and the pacing is relatively calm and slow. These shots tend to highlight the normalcy of situations. Furthermore, the shots often have a somewhat calm tone, or the characters depicted start out somewhat calm. The characters are often in a normal situation, or they are starting a new job, moving into a new house, or otherwise starting a new phase of their life. Then, there is usually a moment that sets the creepy tone of the trailer. From that moment onward, the shots last about a second long, and get progressively shorter as the trailer builds up tension with increasingly creepy images. Because these shots last so little time, the viewer isn’t able to get a good look at what is happening, making each shot feel even more intriguing and unsettling. Transitions between these shots are either simple cuts or fade to black and fade back in, almost like blinking. At the end the trailer there is sometimes one or two last shots that last a couple seconds, completely pulling back from the tension that the trailer has been building. Most trailers averaged 2 minutes, ranging from about 1 minute to 2 and a half minutes.
The use of children’s music runs rampant in horror movie trailers. Multiple trailers used children’s lullabies, slowed down, or echoed, to create a creepy effect. If children’s songs were not used, a song with generally creepy vocals was used, or orchestral music with a daunting tone. Once the pacing of the trailer started to build, many trailers utilized a heartbeat sound, or used music that replicated that sort of tension. This is especially good at building tension when paired with the “blinking” transitions mentioned previously, as with each “heartbeat,” the trailer flashes a new shot. Furthermore, as the trailer builds up tension, the trailers use high-pitched, discordant music that resembles screaming.
Typography is used increasingly near the end of the trailer, especially during the quick cuts between shots. The trailers usually cut back and forth between the typography and the shot, often flashing one or two words, cutting to a shot, and flashing one or two more words. The text was almost always on a dark background, and while the font could vary greatly, trailers usually use very few words each time words are shown.
Surprisingly, most of the recut trailers use clips of characters visibly speaking in the original films, and often utilize some of the most famous lines. They use these lines to play on the quirks of the characters, playing them off as insanity. Characteristics that would be endearing in the normal version of the film are used as a tool to ramp up the creepiness of the film. Furthermore, these recuts only give us the location of what is going on, and a hint of the things that are happening, similar to normal horror movie trailers. Most recut trailers used some sort of voice-over, though most were not direct narration but an overlay of other dialogue from the film. A Forrest Gump recreation used lots of voice over and text to give the viewer an idea of what the film was about. The Willy Wonka recut trailer used seven instances of typeface appearing on the screen, about half of those were in the last few seconds, as the music climaxed and the trailer was at its fastest pace.
Trailers: The Boy, Hush, Clown, Lost Creek, Child Eater, Siren, Ouija: Origin Of Evil, Clowntown, The Suffering
Recut Trailers: Dumb & Dumber (recut comedy to horror), Forrest Gump (recut comedy drama to horror trailer), Willy Wonka (recut fantasy to horror trailer), Mrs. Doubtfire (recut comedy to horror trailer)