I love a horror movie trailer! If horror movies are like roller coasters, then perhaps a 2-minute trailer exemplifies that best.
Tis the season! I’ve got some horror content I wanna spotlight throughout October. I’m currently in House of the Dragon mode so as a segue, I’m getting spooky season started on here with a little tease. Kicking things off, here are my top ten favorite horror movie trailers that I LOVE rewatching over and over—sometimes as a short film exercise, other times when I’m in the mood to rewatch the dang film. Disclaimer: this is a collection of previews I got to see and get amped for in theaters (minus one recent). So sorry, boomers, ya ain’t gonna see The Exorcist or the Alien trailer on this list 🤷♂️
Honorable Mention: THE NUN
I didn’t love the movie, but I dig the straightforwardness of this teaser. It opens with Valak’s scarier-than-hell portrait from The Conjuring 2. Really, that’s all the tease you need. I think this played ahead of Hereditary that summer 2018 when I saw it and set the right tone, even if the eventual movie didn’t live up to the anticipation. Regardless, I have high hopes for The Nun 2 🙏
11. FEAR STREET
If you saw a version of this list without the Fear Street trilogy trailer, no you didn’t. That makes this a top eleven. Two things that still blow my mind about this Netflix preview: they were going for the R-rating, and dropping a whole trilogy in one summer. A jaw-dropping flex a year later, and a delicious tease of the slasher horror remixes they had up their sleeve. Fear Street was the bridge for me as a grade schooler going into intermediate. I thought I had forgotten about these R.L. Stine serials all those years ago. Leigh Janiak made damn sure I’d cherish them.
10. HELLRAISER (2022)
The most recent trailer on here—and the whole reason I started thinking about a horror trailer list to begin with. Call it recency bias, whatever; I was insanely delighted with what’s on display – the look, the vibe, and confidence of the sheer hell coming our way. I have since been rewatching this trailer every single day that I’m pretty sure I’ve been put on a watchlist. It previews some awesome glimpses at a few Cenobites, and makes a thunderous movie monster entrance out of Jamie Clayton’s titular Pinhead. I went from thinking nothing of this reboot to drooling at its visceral potential in 2-minutes flat. The early reactions out of Fantastic Fest only whet my appetite even more. Can’t wait for Friday 😈
9. LIGHTS OUT
I used to be deathly afraid of the dark until I was 12. Now I cannot sleep if there’s a sliver of light in the room. You can bet that after I saw this trailer, I was sleeping with one eye open for a minute. David F. Sandberg’s original short posted on YouTube would routinely go viral every few months until the full feature was greenlit. (Sandberg would go on to direct Annabelle: Creation.) I was both excited and madly worried for my electricity bill for the month. I can wholeheartedly recommend this tight 80-minute fright fest—which does justice to a premise that 2003’s Darkness Falls wished it could. Also streaming on Hulu! (In case this already induced some night terrors, check out this parody wonderfully titled, “Lights Ouch.”)
8. THE VVITCH
The Robert Eggers and Anya Taylor-Joy collab that started it all. I think The VVitch (or probably The Babadook the year before) started us on this path of “elevated horror,” a phrase that either induces groans or raises eyebrows. Nevertheless, the raw power of this A24 trailer unnerves me to holy hell. It might pile on the pull quotes, but it was the unflinching display of horror in natural light that caught my eye and refused to let go. The early shot of the tree line as that ominous choir swells still gets goosebumps out of me. And yes, since we got an ambitious new Eggers joint this year, I still think The VVitch is his best movie.
Few images can conjure dread quite like a Stephen King adaptation: kid in a yellow raincoat, kneeling down a storm drain, and a jump scare emerging in the darkness. This trailer knows that you know what this is, and lets the rest of the premise spook your own damn self. The tease of the projector scene is still great, and the fleeting glimpses of Pennywise are damn artful compared to how overused he’d become in the films. Chapter One, sadly, didn’t hold up for me. (I may do some venting later on Chapter Two.) Nonetheless, this trailer is an all-timer in the halls of Stephen King.
6. DOCTOR SLEEP
If we’re gonna talk Stephen King adaptations, why not talk about the best one. (Cry if you disagree.) I didn’t love the book Doctor Sleep, so this first peek at Mike Flanagan’s measured and more profound interpretation made me think it was a masterpiece incoming. (It IS.) It has a reverence for both versions of The Shining, and hints at the ways the eventual movie would reconcile the two. And it provides some assurance by using music cues from Stanley Kubrick to hair-raising results. That ending shot of Danny Torrance at the door where the terror all started… a brilliant legacy tease.
5. THE CONJURING
As much as the teaser should be here, it spoiled what could’ve been the best scare in the movie. Alas, there’s no need for consolation. The main trailer set the proper malevolent tone: a little bit of Exorcist and Poltergeist, with some X-Files vibes to top it all off. This showed the radical leap forward for James Wan, who dabbled in torture porn and creepy puppets, then found his true calling in the haunted house subgenre. The Conjuring is the mothership of modern horror that doubles as an epic throwback. While the trailer spoils the big moments, like all trailers inevitably do, it didn’t ruin the holy ghost of an experience it was in the theater.
4. HALLOWEEN (2018)
I took for granted just how familiar I was with John Carpenter’s original. Halloween (1978) is a season staple, a spooky mainstay more or less tainted (but never undone) by its inferior sequels. That did not deny how freakin’ HYPED I was once I heard those familiar keys and tune chiming in. I realized that maybe I did care about Laurie Strode’s story after all, and I just had to see what shape evil took on 40 years later. Halloween Kills notwithstanding, David Gordon Green showed how much of a Carpenter worshipper he was, and that alone was a bounce back from the guy who did Your Highness. The whole saga might be coming to an “end” in 2 weeks’ time. But if you ask me, this here was the perfect ending.
A cultural reset. The moment this trailer slowed down “I Got 5 On It” to meet Jordan Peele’s thuddingly sinister ends, we were never the same. It sparked a demand for horror remixes of popular hip hop singles that rages to this day—a task that only Peele himself can fulfill, it seems. This trailer is also just straight up frightening. The sound design matching the quick succession of shots of the “Tethered” infiltrating the house… it either made you say yes or nope come opening weekend. The shot at the 28-second mark is some diabolical foreshadowing, and the Candyman-esque figure on the beach hinted at Peele’s other horror ambitions. The inkblot diagrams were a nice touch at a time in the country when we could’ve used some introspection… or a good long look in the mirror.
Ridley Scott returning to the world of Alien was all the cinephile rage back in 2012. It seemed too good to be true—and, based on the polarizing response since then, it was for some. Still, there is no denying how axis-tilting this trailer was (THEY PLAYED THIS BEFORE THE AVENGERS, YO) and the quantum leap in Scott’s filmmaking compared to his low-budget and bootstrap-y days in the ’70s. This preview was a showcase, really, for the master of sci-fi horror he’s become. Who else can one-up him none other than himself??? Alien and its anxiety-inducing trailer was before my time, so seeing the aesthetic redone here in its evolved form was plenty satisfaction for me.
1. EVIL DEAD (2013)
There has never been a better red band trailer before or since. If a movie should be given the red band treatment, it ought to be Evil Dead. (This unfortunately means I cannot preview it on here so you are spared.) Watching the green band trailer, then, was like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie on cable. Like, why fucking bother?
Remaking a Sam Raimi movie is sacrilegious in and of itself. But to do THE Raimi horror movie that spawned legions of genre filmmakers… Fede Alvarez got some brass ones between his legs. This trailer effectively silenced the doubters and naysayers; it legit looked like what Raimi, Rob Tappert, and Bruce Campbell had intended all those years ago, finally given the budget and creative license to realize this terrifying vision. Literally everyone I showed or mentioned this trailer to at the time would tell me how much they did NOT wanna see this movie. (Surrounded by wussies, I tell ya.) I think that’s the highest compliment that can be paid for any horror trailer. If the point of a preview is to simply get people to go, then this red band trailer had me gushing for the theater opening day.