It’s awards season, and as always one genre is horribly overlooked across the board: horror movies. I will talk about this to anyone who will listen. Why Toni Collette didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Hereditary. Why neither Suspiria nor Bones and All got Oscar nominations but Luca Guadagnino’s non horror offering Call Me By Your Name got a win and three nominations. Yes there are great exceptions – Kathy Bates won best actress for Misery, Ruth Gordon best supporting actress for Rosemary’s Baby – but given horror films live and die by the acting it’s a horribly overlooked genre.
So, in the spirit of celebrating my favourite film genre, here’s my own hall of fame… because horror films actually live and die by TWO things…. The acting and the marketing. So, please indulge me in my horror movie marketing fall of fame.
The Exorcist (1974)
A PR masterclass. The Exorcist’s release sparked a global wave of media coverage. People being carted out of the cinema in ambulances after fainting. Outrage from the church who called for the movie to be banned. Rumours of on set deaths, hauntings, and mysterious figures showing up in the film reel that weren’t on set. Queues went round the block to see it, and when they did a 25th anniversary rerelease I couldn’t get to the cinema fast enough.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The movie that invented found footage also invented viral marketing. In the early days of the internet, a website appeared detailing that three film students were missing in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while filming a documentary about the local legend of the Blair Witch. More and more people became fascinated by the story with blogs and theories cropping up. An hour long ‘documentary’ ran on a cable sci-fi channel about the mystery of the Blair Witch. When the film was released the lines between reality and fiction were totally blurred. There were no credits beyond the names of the three actors and the film started with a thank you to their families for allowing the release of the film.
There’s ripping up the rule book of movie marketing, and there’s ceremonially burning it in a giant wicker statue. Cloverfield did the latter. I still remember vividly seeing the trailer in the cinema. Forget everything you know about trailers… this was a two minute clip taken (more of less) directly from the movie that started with someone’s leaving drinks and ended with the statue of liberty’s head smashing into the middle of a Manhattan street. The most ‘rip up the rule book’ thing though was at no point in the trailer did it include the name of the film or the release date. Cue mass intrigue, rumours about what this film was and when it would even be out. The sheer guts and belief of the marketing to spend a fortune on distributing the trailer without telling people what the film was called. Legendary.
The old days of PR stunts – when you could just mess with members of the public with no concern about the fact that seeing a woman telekinetically smash a man against a wall and push over tables in your local coffee shop might just leave them a bit scarred…. Maybe the people in the coffee shop were actors, maybe not, but either way this glory period of ‘scare the beans out of members of the public’ is one of my favourite horror movie marketing tropes.
And so, to the present day. M3GAN is without doubt one of my favourite new film releases of all time. The most enjoyable two hours of cinema in a very long time. A murderous doll for the TikTok generation. Her iconic dance moves from the trailer sparked endless recreations and millions of views. M3GAN dolls appeared all over the place, from premier screenings to NFL games. Long live the M3GAN cinematic universe.
I could go on… from unmarked VHS tapes being left on people’s cars for The Ring to the creepy planted ‘Smile’ fans at sporting events in the US, horror movies may get overlooked at awards season, but when it comes to marketing they are truly undefeated.