The trailer is one of the most important parts of the cinematic experience, giving audiences a taste of what to expect and how to feel about the upcoming film. There’s an extremely thin line between showing just enough and giving away the entire movie, especially when it comes to horror.
When the line’s crossed, the main complaint is often that “all of the scary parts were in the trailer,”—something that happens often enough to prompt some (myself included) to stop watching a trailer after the first few moments, or to avoid them altogether. If I’m hooked by the premise and the tone of the trailer within the first minute (the ideal trailer runtime), I’d rather not ruin it by continuing.
Thankfully, not all trailers are bad, and some are even perfect—setting the tone for the movie without revealing anything major, and setting the viewers up for a terrifying experience. Below, we’ve gathered a list of 13 of the best.
This list kicks off with a classic. Psycho has one of—if not the—most unique trailers in horror movie history. Rather than using scenes from the movie, we’re given a tour of the Bates Motel and house by director Alfred Hitchcock himself. The events of the movie are alluded to enough to keep the audience intrigued despite the departure from the norm, and overall, it’s equally as revealing as it is withholding.
The Conjuring (2013)
Another departure from the standard trailer style, the first look at this haunted house movie is an extended scene from the film. It immerses viewers immediately into the action (without giving the plot away), and leaves them wondering what else in store besides this terrifying scene.
The Shining (1980)
This trailer is as intense as the Kubrick classic itself. There isn’t much going on overall, but it’s a slow burn that pays off in a big way, culminating in an entire set filled with blood played over an increasingly oscillating, dissonant, and anxiety-inducing music. If I knew nothing of the movie, this would have drawn me into the theater to see where all that blood was about.
If this trailer for the 1975 classic ended when the girl gets pulled under, it would have been perfect. That intense, deep-voiced narration over the fast-tracking underwater POV shot is perfect for setting up this movie. What comes after she’s pulled under is a nice cherry on top, and even features one of the most classic lines in horror history.
The Exorcist (1973)
It’s only fitting that one of the most terrifying movies of all time also has one of the most terrifying trailers. What’s even more impressive, though, is that it manages to be terrifying without giving away barely any of the film’s many iconic scares.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
This trailer, with visuals of the audience reacting, was the best thing that could have happened for Paranormal Activity. It seemed like this was going to be the scariest experience of all time. Now, whether or not the film actually delivered is a different story…
It’s not immediately clear what’s happening in the first few shots of this trailer, but once we get the title screen, we’re treated to some intense, silent sequences set to creepy music reminiscent of screaming in the distance.
What really works for the trailer (and the film as well) is that everything seems so pedestrian and normal. This makes the ghostly events even more personal, relatable, and unnerving.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Just as dirty as the movie, this trailer leaves a disgusting, uneasy feeling in your gut. Interspersed with what appears to be real crime scene photos, viewers know immediately that this movie is going to be intense.
The Babadook (2014)
Before The Babadook was considered a modern horror classic, this trailer introduced audiences to the Babadook with a book. From there, we see a woman and her son ruthlessly terrorized. Luckily, the full movie didn’t let us down.
The Witch (2015)
If A24 knows anything, it’s how to make an excellent trailer. Whether or not the movie ends up living up to that trailer is irrelevant. The Witch, for example, wouldn’t prove to be as consistently intense as this trailer made it seem, but I only know that because the unease that the trailer left me with is what enticed me to go and see it. Can’t really ask for anything more.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Back before found footage films were commonplace, there was The Blair Witch Project—one of the trendsetting films for the subgenre. Extremely unique for its time, it’s only fitting that it was introduced in a terrifying way.
The Scream trailer doesn’t give much away. It reveals the unique premise and sets up the rules of the movie while somehow managing to still keep a lot close to its chest. With this trailer and the talent involved, it was a sure fire hit by the time it reached theaters.