The best film trailers don’t reveal too much of the film itself but tempt us just enough to check out the full feature. In recent years, trailers tend to show far too much and lack a sense of creativity and mystery.
Length is important too, a great trailer may last only a minute or so and give us just enough information to trigger our curiosity. Whereas a 5 minute trailer inevitably gives us too much of the film itself. Here I look at ten of the best trailers ever made, all of which are included in the article.
10. Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971)
Dario Argento’s wonderful 1971 film is given a special trailer. We hear screams as a series of eyeballs appear on screen. The camera pans into a puppet’s eyes as they light up before one of them is ripped out.
As people run in terror, we again cut to the puppet mask (which looks worryingly like Woody from Toy Story!) and images of syringes and dissolving faces. Lastly, after some horrific scenes from the film, we return to the puppet, whose face is pulverised.
While all this is going on the astonishing music by Ennio Morricone further distorts our senses. A terrific trailer, unforgettable!
9. Star Wars Episode 7 – The Force Awakens (2015)
The second official trailer for Star Wars Episode 7 created a buzz for the film unlike anything seen for years. The trailer felt like Star Wars, the authentic Star Wars, not the prequels with their over CG’d like appearance and their trade disputes, the real thing.
It tempted and teased us with Luke Skywalker’s voice-over, with new characters in a familiar world, it presented the Millenium Falcon fighting Tie-Fighters (better realised than the first trailer) and then, at the end came……..’Chewie, we’re home,’ our first glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca together again on the Falcon. Wow! A million fan boys were left grinning from ear to ear and we all felt like we were finally home.
8. Psycho (1960) (Featuring Alfred Hitchcock)
Alfred Hitchcock uses the trailer for his legendary horror to escort us around the set itself, while also offering us tantalising clues as to what happens in the movie. He takes us round the Bates’ Motel and the Bates’ family home, warning us of the ‘Dire, horrible events’ that took place. We end with Hitch pulling back the iconic shower curtain to reveal an actress (not Janet Leigh) who screams as a snatch of Bernard Herrmann’s score kicks in.
This trailer creates fantastic intrigue that is lacking in many trailers today. A marvellous little film in its own right!
7. The Thing (1982) – (original Ice block trailer)
We slowly move across the frozen wasteland before seeing and then approaching a frozen block of ice, as a howling wind howls forebodingly and the narrator informs us how the world may end. When we reach the ice block, it dramatically explodes and discover that this is a trailer for John Carpenter’s brilliant The Thing, which is ‘Coming Soon’.
6. An American Werewolf In London (1981) (original moorland trailer)
The camera pans up to a full moon, the music builds as blood seeps through the English moorland, reflecting the moon in its dark water, before a creature suddenly leaps into it with a scream and then a caption on screen informs us ‘From the director of Animal House…..a different kind of animal.’
The original trailer for John Landis’s An American Werewolf In London is a classic of the genre. Without showing a single frame of the film and dripping in brooding atmosphere, it grabs both our imagination and our curiosity.
5. Magic (1980)
This wonderful trailer for the Anthony Hopkins film Magic features a slow zoom into the movie’s creepy puppet (Fats), as (with tense music building) he spouts disturbing dialogue such as ‘Hocus Pocus! We take her to bed, magic is fun…….(and then a sneering) we’re dead!’ The narrator cuts in at the end ‘Joseph E Levine presents Magic, a terrifying love story.’
Simple, effective and incredibly ominous, this trailer is a perfect horror teaser and in many ways scarier than the actual film!
4. Alien (1979)
The camera races over an alien planet, the title of the film slowly appears before we are confronted with a strange egg shaped object. We see exciting, swiftly cut scenes from the film, with no dialogue as the fantastic trailer score by Jonathan Elias rings out and excites our senses.
Elias’s ‘wailing’ alien track makes the trailer in many ways and was re-used for Prometheus’s trailer years later, as well as several official Alien documentaries.
Lastly, exciting, swiftly cut scenes from the film, race by with with no dialogue before the last shot , which is of the Nostromo in space among some planets. ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ appears on screen. Brilliant.
3. The Shining (1980)
On screen we are shown the hotel lift doors from the film, as swirling, fly-like strings swarm around and scrolling text inform us that this is a trailer for ‘The Shining by Stanley Kubrick’.
More text scrolls upwards as we learn who the stars of the film are. As Wendy Carlos’s music becomes tenser and tenser, huge waves of blood begin to seep from the lift, covering the lobby and then the whole screen…..we are sold. Take my money!
2. The Birds (1963) (Featuring Alfred Hitchcock)
Trust Hitch to use his trailers for both some delicious black humour and a joyous creativity. Hitchcock provides us with some examples of humanity’s lack of respect for our winged friends, via hats, an egg, and a lecture on the extinction of bird types!
His black humour is evident throughout and he’s clearly enjoying himself! Hitch’s horror take on Through The Keyhole ends with a caged bird who pecks him through the cage. ‘Now, why would he do that? Most peculiar…..’ ponders Hitch. The eerie bird sounds from the film rise up and we cut to a terrified Tippi Hedren, in a clip from the film itself, warning us ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’
1. The Exorcist (1973) – The original banned trailer
This original, incredibly visceral Exorcist trailer was banned by film executives from cinemas after a few screenings because of the level of fright it induced in audiences!
It employs a superb score by Lalo Schifrin (a part of his rejected score for the film) that is just as terrifying as the flashing images of the demon and scenes from the movie that begin to attack our senses after 30 seconds. An incredible horror trailer for an incredible film!
Author Bio: Brian Gregory is a tutor by profession, who is now making his own short films (and their soundtracks) under the name of Gregory Films. He writes for several film websites, an online Beatles group, a monthly sci-fi magazine and will shortly be published in a new book on rarely seen horror films. His favourite directors would probably be Stanley Kubrick, Alan Clarke, Andrei Tarkovsky, Roman Polanski and Sidney Lumet.