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DEAD GIVEAWAY: OF HORROR TRAILERS AND SPOILERS – A RANT

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 | Opinion

Have you ever had a semblance of interest in a movie, only to watch its preview and discover that you accidentally just ruined the experience of watching it in full? How were you supposed to know the studio would give away the twist in the trailer? How were you supposed to know every plot point and piece of exposition would be laid out in full? It’s not your fault, you were just curious! Someone stop the madness!

Well I for one am tired of it and here’s a rant to prove it!

I’m the kind of person that loves to arrive at the theatre early so as to catch the trailers prior to the feature (even if I’ve already seen them). Since I was but a wee lad, viewing the coming attractions was paramount to my theatrical enjoyment. I would waltz down the sticky aisle (sometimes losing a shoe to the grave of coagulated cola), nestle into the split fabric and lopsided cushioning of an auditorium seat (before all this fancy-schmancy cleanliness, digital projection and lumbar comfort of reclining chairs) and prepare for that wondrous green glow of a sneak peek.

I remember my eyes widening during the preview of STARSHIP TROOPERS. Bug-blasting, carapace-nukin’ mayhem placed to the epic orchestral percussion of Immediate Music’s “Code Red” while Johnny Rico belts out “Kill ‘em all!” ‘Member ALIEN RESURRECTION? Then you should ‘member its bloody fantastic trailer which soothed viewers into a false sense of security with a child’s rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” before obliterating the solace with a grand ensemble of music (oddly enough the same used for ol’ Roughnecks’ trailer mentioned above) punctuating moments of dynamic camerawork, pure terror and the stretching, hissing maw of the iconic alien! And what of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN you might ask? Well, that deserves recognition too! The movie might’ve bombed (though I loved it), but no one can deny the visual and aural bravado of its two-minute tease.

Trailers such as these (as well as many, MANY others) not only gave me goosebumps and lifted the hairs on the back of my neck in excitement—but made me wonder and contemplate at where such imagery would lead. Who would live? What would be left of them? How does the battle culminate? What other sort of sinister creations are hiding in the other frames of celluloid? Will I ever find my shoe? The what-ifs were countless and endlessly enjoyable as I was placed on pins and needles of willful ignorance until the flick finally released and my overdriven enthusiasm and hypotheses might be put to grateful rest. These trailers didn’t just entertain, but engaged me. Just as there’s an art to storytelling, there’s an art to depicting said story’s synopsis (visual or otherwise) as well.

Nowadays, for every few and far between great trailer, there are dozens of awful, no good, very bad ones. With all of the social networking occurring now, studios are forgoing finesse in favor of immediacy and conveying the most amount of information in the least amount of time (hell, even teasers are now preluded by teasers informing you of the teaser you’re about to be teased with!). That, and they want to cater to the majority demographic that needs everything spelled out for them—at the cost of viewers who want to be intrigued, but not have the whole damn thing laid out in chronological order. The current marketing trends have sacrificed tact and ingenuity in favor of a kitchen-sink perspective that greatly hinders the appeal of a movie before it even come out. 

So let’s take a look at some offenders (in no particular order) that had me wondering just what in the world the studios were thinking. And yes, of course spoilers are to follow, so circumvent if you’ve somehow managed to miss any of the following flicks and/or their previews.

MA – Just over the dark horizon is the newest addition to Blumhouse’s ever-burgeoning collection of horror franchises both good and oh-so-bad. Lo and behold, MA’s trailer wants you to know everything about it before actually witnessing the thing. While it would have been proper to simply tease viewers as to the sinister machinations of “Ma”, the trailer ups the ante of idiocy by showing key character demises (that vehicular manslaughter bit is sure gonna be out of the blue in the feature, right!?) before practically giving away Ma’s motive by displaying backstory as to their parents’ past relationship with her (hmm, totally wonder why on Earth she’s doing such cruel things now). MA might have three rules for anyone under her roof, but the studio should have tacked on a fourth: Don’t spoil your own movie.

PET SEMATARY (2019 Remake) – Yes, it was tedious. Yes, it was misguided. Yes, it was all around awful and totally unnecessary. But you know what, maybe—just MAYBE—the feature could have been a tad more surprising had the trailer(s) not revealed every alteration from the original book/movie. I’m also pretty sure directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer weren’t too pleased about their few and far between moments of bland reversal (the only bits they attempted to put an unremarkable spin on) being fully depicted in the previews. Still, gotta love Jason Clarke and John Lithgow for giving it their all. They deserve far better material.

GRETA – A new film by Neil Jordan? And what, it’s a blend of thriller and horror? Well, drop my robe and call me Dil! I was intrigued until the spoiler-spewed trailer told me that I should set my expectations to low. A talented editor could have presented this movie as a quirky dramedy albeit with hints of something disquieting at the heart of it all. How great a shock that would’ve been when GRETA inevitably went full genre and the crazy hit the fan! But they chose to patch it together this way, with nearly every twist and turn on full display. Whoa, do you think like, there’s any question as to Greta’s sanity now? The movie is watchable in a yell-at-the-screen kinda way due to the sheer irrationality of its characters, but if you’re expecting anything good, well, both I and the trailer have already forewarned you.

DON’T BREATHE – Yet another entry in the long line of home-invasion flicks, DON’T BREATHE attempted to reinvigorate the category by having its rascally thieves contend with an owner that happens to be blind, but fully capable of taking on the criminals. Good. Done. All you need to know. Unfortunately, the studio thought “Why stop there, why not just give away the big, story-altering twist so that the audience has legitimately nothing to be surprised about, nor look forward to when they watch it?” Ten high-fives and a raise later (for whichever exec got this passed), we get this:

UPGRADE – Now, this sci-fi journey into body-modifying grisliness was fantastic—don’t get me wrong. However, the trailers did a dirty deed by not only showing every action sequence and their respective culminations, but the spoilerific demise of several of the story’s key villains. Because why let the audience wonder how a bout/chase sequence might turn out when you can just blow it all on the preview?

BLUMHOUSE’S TRUTH OR DARE – Not to be confused with the equal suckage of other films TRUTH OR DARE (2017), TRUTH OR DARE (2013), TRUTH OR DARE (1986) or TRUTH OR DIE (see what it did there?), Blumhouse’s iteration was a travesty from beginning to end. While that was to be expected given the PG-13 rating and the movie’s overreliance on sheer plagiarism, some of the shock might’ve been retained for the feature had the plot-point heavy preview not shown several of the slasher-fodder protagonists die, and the attention grabbing moments (like the hammer-hand-hit) not been shown in their entirety. Maybe leave something to the audience’s imagination? I double-dog dare ya.

DREAM HOUSE – Similar to what DON’T BREATHE committed, but on a much more profoundly fallacious level, DREAM HOUSE didn’t just show it’s massive twist, it explained it too. Honestly, the switcheroo is actually quite tip-top (the rest of the presentation not so much), but with it unveiled here, there’s legitimately zero reason to invest in the full feature. You just saw it all.

VELVET BUZZSAW – The writer/director of NIGHTCRAWLER?! Gyllenhaul?! Paintings coming to life and butchering their viewers!? Color me expectant! *clicks trailer* Crap, just saw the majority of the ending and half the starring cast killed. 

ANNIHILATION – For a movie that wanted its audience to use their ol’ noodle in order to unravel its complexities, the trailer was pretty much its antithesis and voided the guessing game with one soundbite from Natalie Portman (tacked at the tail end of the trailer) directly stating what the antagonistic force is doing. Hint: it’s not annihilating! Cool, would have been better to come to that conclusion while watching the story slowly unravel itself, but whatever, guess the studios always know best.

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – And because we’re on the topic of bits-of-plot-revealing-audio-ya-should’ve-left-out-of-the-trailer-but-instead-chose-to-put-at-the-tale-end, why not include BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE? What’s that Mr. Bridges? You wanna tell us what you AREN’T? Yes, this isn’t horror, but it was sure as shit marketed as such (the trailer practically screams IDENTITY). To be fair, even if the trailer had removed this detail, I couldn’t have hated the final, bloated misfire any less.

QUARANTINE trailer boardroom meeting:

Two execs converse while playing paper football across the table; others watch or prod their phone screens in boredom.

Exec 1: “Hey, what about that trailer?”

Exec 2: “Huh?”

*Flicks football*

Exec 1: “You know, the one about containment? Container?”

Exec 2: “Oh, Quarantine?”

*Flicks football back*

Exec 1: “Yeah, that one.”

*Flicks football too hard; goes off the table*

Exec 2: “Dammit! Eh, I don’t know. Just tell an editor to cobble it together and put the ending in there.”

Exec 1: “Really? Like, put the ending of the movie at the end of the trailer?”

Exec 2: “That’s where endings go.”

*Shrugs.*

Exec 1: “Whatever.”

One of the execs finally looks up from his cellular device.

Exec 3: “Why not put the ending on the DVD cover too?”

THE LOVED ONES – Great movie. Careless trailer. If you haven’t seen it, forego the click below and just watch it now (though be warned, it’s a vicious little ditty). A potentially righteous last-act revelation regarding a most-vicious hoard is made weightless by the trailer’s insistence on giving it away. Such a punch of a plot point could’ve been gut-worthy, but instead, this preview just rendered it a sucker.

US – This actually is one groovy trailer and the full movie measured an “alright” on my own cinematic Richter scale, but I’m sure the cellar-dwellin’, rabbit-rompin’ finale could have been more jarring a transition had the otherwise excellent preview (love that “I Got 5 On It” cover) not overindulged with the basement/tunnel’s revealing imagery. Jordan Peele wanted his cast to view certain horror movies in preparation for the role, one of which was the original MARTYRS, a brutally raw experience in which a twist comes by way of a hidden basement/tunnel section of torment. Knowing this, I can’t help but feel Jordan’s own tunnel concept would have been far more jarring had the trailer withheld depicting until people were good and seated for the full flick. Not to mention, a slap on the wrist to whoever thought de-masking Pluto in the trailer was a good idea. Still, a pretty damn fine preview.

There are of course many, many more trailers that can be added to the list and there are also other hip inclinations (like taking classic songs and remixing them to sound dark/melancholy) that can be skewered, but for the time being, I’ll leave it at that. Now, to cleanse your palette, here are some of my personal favorites. Previews edited with precision, great music and just the right amount of surreal and/or savage imagery to make one want to invest in the full thing. They are crafted with care, creativity and respect to the people watching them (and have stellar music to boot!). Hopefully, more studios can learn from the likes of these (as well as their mistakes) and in the future, begin to trust the audience’s intellect a bit more. In turn, creating a more engrossing and thoughtful experience for all.

So without out further ado, some gems. Hope ya’ll dig.

MANDY

GREEN ROOM

YOU’RE NEXT

STARSHIP TROOPERS

ALIEN RESURRECTION

FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

THE RAID 2 (okay, it’s not horror, but it is one hell of a genre piece with one exceptional teaser).

Bryan Yentz
Is a cinematic fanatic, writer and artist with a soft-spot for all things horror.