In the underappreciated 1993 movie Matinee, John Goodman plays a producer of B-grade horror movies with a penchant for the theatrical. Set in 1962, he’s out to promote his new film Mant, about a man who turns into an ant after being exposed to radiation. Goodman’s character touts the movie as being presented in “Atomo-Vision and Rumble-rama,” heightening the moviegoing experience.
While Mant isn’t a real movie, it’s indicative of the kind of horror movie that reflected the atomic fears of the time. Not only that, but the “Atomo-Vision” offered to theatergoers is reminiscent of real-world stunts like Smell-o-Vision, used for the 1960 movie Scent of Mystery, and Hypno-Vista, used to sell the 1959 movie Horrors of the Black Museum.
While horror isn’t a genre that everyone enjoys, it is one that is a relatively accurate barometer of what frightens society at any given point in time. Looking back over the last century, one can see how horror evolved from the gothic romance of the 20s to the monster-centric 30s, the Red Scare allegories of the 50s, the nihilism of the 70s, the lone-killer slasher fears of the 80s and so on.
It’s also a genre that regularly innovates how those movies are being sold to audiences. With Halloween here, it’s a good time to look at how a handful of horror films have pushed the boundaries of movie marketing in various ways.
One of the all-time horror classics had a straightforward message for the audience: Don’t come late. Director Alfred Hitchcock was insistent that moviegoers arrived on time, in part because the death of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) comes so early in the film and he didn’t want anyone to miss it.
He also was so concerned with what we now casually refer to as “spoilers” that he did most all the publicity for the movie himself, keeping both Leigh and Anthony Perkins on the sidelines, so they didn’t spill any secrets. The “no one late” policy also had the effect of making sure there were no distractions on the experience, keeping the audience hermetically sealed for the entire film, creating a unique and complete experience.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Remember the internet in 1999? It wasn’t a speedy experience. I have clear memories of loading the QuickTime video of the first Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace trailer then going to dinner. Only after that stretch was the video ready to play uninterrupted.
Still, it was enough to help sell The Blair Witch Project in what was, at the time, a wholly innovative way. A website that was loaded with police documents, news-style interviews and more all had people debating whether the events of the movie were fictional or based on real facts, a sense heightened by how the filmmakers engaged in guerrilla tactics involving “missing person” flyers at Sundance and more.
All of that was in service of a movie that also innovated in its use of the “found footage” technique that’s been used by many horror films since.
Despite how prevalent the internet became in everyone’s life in the years following Blair Witch it would be almost 10 years before another horror movie really harnessed its power for an impactful campaign.
The first trailer for Cloverfield came out of nowhere in front of the first Transformers movie in 2007, but the official campaign quickly became secondary to the alternate reality game that was run online, starting with 1-18-08.com, teased at the end of the trailer. That site contained mysterious photos of … something … but also offered clues to mysteries that were unlocked by forum members and other online denizens.