(The celebration of student trailer analysis continues. My blog batteries are nearly recharged, and I’ll be posting again Thursday.)
In rebooting the successful Halloween horror franchise, movie marketers had a daunting task cut out for them: appeal to the franchise’s die-hard following while attracting a broad new audience. It was an effective effort on both fronts, with the trailer offering new plot insights and familiar back-story for franchise fans, as well as compelling, contemporary scares for new audiences and more casual fans. The success of the trailer and broader marketing campaign can be seen in the film’s impressive box office numbers, which broke numerous records to become one of the most successful slasher movies of all time.
The trailer is divided into three acts and follows a mostly-linear story progression. The trailer begins with the murders that started the original film. Graphic headlines are splashed across the screen as a news anchor describes the shocking events. This short first act (running just 22 seconds) concludes with a shot of a young (10 year old) Michael Myers who is in custody for slaughtering his family. As he turns to face the camera, the iconic white hockey mask is momentarily superimposed on his face.
The second act covers the intervening years: the failed attempts at therapy and the ill-fated transport of Michael Myers that leads to his escape. It ends with Michael’s adoption of the white mask to cover his hideous facial burns, a monumental moment for fans of the franchise who have waited since 1978 to learn its origin.
The trailer makers focus two of the three acts on back-story. Hard-core “Halloween” fans will appreciate and be intrigued by new insights into the history of Michael Myers and his descent into utter madness, none of which was explained in the original film. Broader audiences will be attracted to the positioning of the film as a slasher with a legacy and a plot as well as the gore and scares they expect.
In the first two acts, there is a marked absence of music. Instead, a slow pulse can be heard beating, creating an element of suspense, which is intensified in the trailer’s violent third act. This third act of the trailer, running 1:04, uses quick-cutting and sound design to deliver the terror and thrills expected by horror audiences in general.
In act 3, Michael dispatches four victims and observes a young couple having sex, as he slashes his way through another bloody Halloween night. At a few points, this act recalls familiar scenes from the original, such as the attack on the boyfriend wearing the bed sheet and the dramatic fall from the balcony of the Myers’ home. These shots work for new fans, but are expressly designed to appeal to fans of the franchise.
The third act also reveals that the ultimate target of Myers’ rampage is his only surviving sister. This is a plot twist that was not revealed to audiences in the original film, but only in the sequel. Obviously, this raises the stakes for the sister, and almost certainly would have increased interest in the story among test audiences, for whom Myers’ killings are now seen to have a motive and a trajectory, however insane.
It should also be noted that the copy assists in positioning the film as something different and unique, which is typically appealing for audiences of genre. The copy reads: “This summer / Rob Zombie / Unleashes a unique vision / Of a legendary tale / On August 31 / Evil / Has a destiny.” The use of language such as “unique vision” and “evil has a destiny” suggests that there is more plot and purpose to this film than in other slasher movies. The use of the word “destiny” seems intended for fans of the franchise, suggesting that their understanding of the original film is not yet complete.
It is not easy to design a trailer for such a well-known franchise, since it must appeal both to devoted fans and unfamiliar audiences. To its credit, this trailer presents just enough new information and backstory to draw fans of the franchise, while providing accessible and compelling horror fare for new audiences. It is also unique among horror trailers in that it frames the film as a horror movie with a strong plot and backstory. It is no surprise that the film broke box office records during its opening weekend.
[GUEST BLOGGER: Patrick Smith is currently pursuing his MBA in Marketing and Entertainment Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. His interest in media production began in high school, where he raised capital and produced an independent film parody of the horror genre. He later went on to produce television advertisements for political causes in Canada.]
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.