Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tease Me, Thrill Me, Sell Me, Kill Me!

The complaint is a common one - movie trailers of all genres simply give away too damn much of the movie, with the worst culprits being those that edit a series of events in the same order of the movie. How many times have you sat through a coming attraction only to feel as if you've experienced the entire film? Because promotional departments love to treat audiences like idiots (I'm not saying that they shouldn't, mind you - having worked in movie exhibition for a time, I'm surprised that many moviegoers don't require instructions on the seats to face the screen), this is why ad campaigns seldom take chances, why one-sheets are often just a succession of big movie star heads, why so many titles are focus-tested to a banal cookie-cutter sameness. (Yesterday I saw the trailer for Extraordinary Measures, which should not be confused with either Desperate Measures, Extreme Measures, or even Lorenzo's Oil sans Lorenzo, even though they all deal at some point with saving the life of someone very ill, usually a child.)

Teaser trailers are different. Teasers show very little, and in so doing, challenge the folks in Marketing to come up with clever ways of promoting the flick, in some cases while the picture is still being shot and has precious little footage in the can to trumpet.
In a world ruled by The Jar, it would be decreed that all Horror films must be promoted with at least one teaser trailer, and tax incentives would also go to filmmakers and studios who make the teaser their only trailer. They're a natural fit for Horror, which is all about selling the Monster Behind the Door. When the door is opened...well, it's a Monster, yes, but never the equivalent of what your imagination was able to conjure. Teasers do the best job of this, all but hawking the line, "If you don't see this might die! And if you see this just might kill you!" Someone once asked me what I liked best about Horror movies, and I answered, in all seriousness, "The weeks before they open."

In many ways, teasers are the close second cousins to print ads and book jackets. Few movie campaigns equaled the impact of 1976 full-page newspaper ads for The Omen that said nothing more than, "Good morning. You are now one day closer to the end of the world." Brilliant - I get gooseflesh just typing that.

However, teasers are treated like the bastard second cousins to full-length trailers, and even with the advent of DVD and added features, they often get left off the disc. The brilliant teaser for 1983's Christine, which played a full year before the movie was in theaters, didn't find its way onto DVD until the most recent release, and I've been searching for the marvelous teaser for 1985's Lifeforce for 25 years now, after fortunate enough to see it only once (it set up the "Eyeball Looking at Earth" image that was the centerpiece of the campaign, which only made sense if you saw the teaser). And video emptor - cuts promoted as "teasers" on YouTube are frequently just the TV commercial. (But many kudos to you, Aussie Roadshow, for preserving everything that you have.)

I see there as being two kinds of teasers: 1) the trailer constructed around brand new footage shot exclusively for the preview, or 2) the trailer that consists of one scene from the film, taken out of context, yet still having a dramatic effect (the equivalent of a book excerpt). They need not be short, but they must play in theaters and not simply on TV. (This is why, as magnificently creepy as the 30 second spot for 1978's Magic is, it is a TV commercial and never played in cinemas, therefore...Hey, my blog, my rules.)

So here are a handful of teasers that fulfill the criteria, and then I'll open it up to you folks. Give me some of your favorites in Horror and Science Fiction, and we'll post them along with these. I've intentionally left a few biggies off of this list for now so you'll have some low-hanging fruit to pick. So what are you waiting for? Don't tease me...Tease me!


Scare Sarah said...

So true. It totally puts me off if I feel like I've seen it already!

Pax Romano said...

I thought I only dreamt the Christine promo - thank goodness it's there and not a fevered fantasy of mine.

I Like Horror Movies said...

One of the rare instances I remember in recent cinema, though the advent of the internet has detract greatly from the theatrical effect since many people have seen the clips online before their debut on screen:

Without question my favorite! I also included one for the Metroid video game which I thought was brilliant: