SPOILS OF GORE
WHY CAN'T STUDIOS GET TRAILERS RIGHT?
When submitting editorials, this writer tends to gravitate towards personal annoyances for some reason, rather than providing incisive essays on genre media. Apologies for that… but here’s another one. Studio movie trailers. At their very best they raise expectations and tease cinema-goers with highlights of a film, whilst holding back the main thrills and plot twists. At their very worst they show ALL the highlights, showcase moments that don’t appear in the final version, share scenes that are shown greatly out of context, or … and here’s the real teeth-grinder… blatantly include an important plot development which ruins the narrative of the film by the time it’s released.
Taking some mainstream examples, the recent trailers for the “Star Wars” movies routinely troll their target audience, by showing characters speak lines of dialogue that could be taken in a number of ways (“This is not going to go the way you think”), along with misleading snatches of apparent conflict and character interaction. Marvel studios regularly tread a tightrope in deciding how much to reveal of their latest sure-fire blockbuster beforehand. Being partial to the occasional bit of comic-book shenanigans, I can remember being absolutely incensed by seeing Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in cinemas. Not simply because the film was pretty shite (although it was), but because the very final shot of the movie (that of Spidey web-flinging a manhole cover at arch-enemy Rhino in slo-mo) was promoted as the precursor to a major action scene in the trailers! Why that particularly ground my gears I can’t really say, but it’s certainly an example of how trailers can have the reverse effect. Arguably though, because you’re sitting in front of the screen by the time you realised that you’ve been effectively betrayed by the studios, the promos have obviously done their job. Unfortunately being “mugged off” by said trailers is shamefully still not recognised as a valid reason for claiming your money back from cinema chains…
These days though, social media makes it impossible for studio heads NOT to be aware of the impact that their promotions have on the finished products. The online outcry against the first Venom-less “Venom” trailer (more on which in a moment), must have had some kind of impact on the subsequent offerings. But in most cases the damage is immediate and irrevocable. Let’s be honest though, when it comes to horror, most filmmakers and studios have a difficult job in getting the balance for a trailer just right. Do you show images of the monster early or leave it for film? Do you present the goriest scenes in the red-band trailer or not? Do you hint at the fate of a character or leave the shock twists out for maximum effect? Whatever you choose, somebody is still going to get pissed with your decision. It’s certainly not easy. Let’s have a look at six films and their accompanying trailers for a bit of fun perspective. Two have yet to be released, two are great examples of “bad” (IMHO) trailers, and two are examples of (again, IMHO) “good” ones. By the very nature of this article, be aware of some possible spoilers ahead for these films:
“Halloween” (*Beware of possible spoilers*) – There can’t be a genre fan who isn’t excited for this updated sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 stone-cold classic. By all accounts, early reviews from TIFF have praised the movie and the outlook is positive for its official global release next month. But what sort of job have the trailers done in whetting our appetite for this year’s horror highlight? After several teasers, we’ve now had two full-blown theatrical versions stalking us. But slightly worryingly, they’ve seem to reveal a lot of the prospective plot. We’ve seen the Brit film crew “awaken” the ire of Michael. We’ve seen how he escapes the asylum. We’ve seen Laurie Strode in survivalist mode and kitted out for revenge, along with misguided eye-rolling from her family. Hell, we’ve even seen teeth-throwing and (potentially) Michael’s first Halloween slay, along with a Jack O’ Lantern corpse and (most annoyingly) a cool false-not-false scare involving a closet. It kind of qualifies the reason as to why a growing number of genre fans are avoiding trailers. As neat as these details are, for my money the trailers have spilt a bit too much Myers milk for my liking. How great would that “closet” sequence be if you weren’t prepared for it? You’re also now prepped to wait for a bus crash, denture violence, and are well aware of where Michael’s been and how he gets to Haddonfield. Of course, you could already find out all those details online, but that’s not a comfort when the footage is thrown at you during “forthcoming attractions” in the multiplex. This is a tricky film to promote in many ways. Diehard fans would have been sold with The Shape simply strolling down the street with a knife. The studio has to broaden the appeal to a more general audience and highlight some of the ghoulish treats. The signs are actually good, but it will be interesting (on a personal basis) to see if the advance footage has spoilt any impact of the film…
Venom (*No Spoilers*) – It’s probable (but not provable) that the negative response to the first “Venom” trailer had an effect on its successors. But the non-appearance of the title character could have easily been a deliberate tactic to raise interest in the film. Be that as it may, the next two trailers have provided plenty of sequences of the slimy Spider-Man anti-hero, which has largely been well received (by comic-book fans at least). However, it’s more or less undeniable that there’s a huge of amount of footage here again that’s already “spoilt” some of the action sequences, and some possible plot directions. That’s part and parcel of a big-budget production these days, but perhaps the most interesting aspect was the question as to whether this particular Sony collaboration with Marvel would be PG-13 or R rated. As I write this, a MPAA rating of PG-13 has just been confirmed. This obviously means that the sick-but-entertaining moments with Venom monologuing about eating faces and internal organs (not to mention leaving a mugger limbless like a “turd in the wind”), have turned out to be cynical teases and will lead to family-friendly conclusions. This is reportedly due to Sony being eager to crossover with the MCU version of Spider-Man, and not alienating that core audience. So ultimately it looks like that it’s another case of trailers promising something they can’t deliver on. If the “Deadpool” films can hold adult material and gross humour, and “Logan” can be a mature examination of a superhero’s woes, why couldn’t this cult Marvel character do the same and give us an anti-hero for the horror crowd? We’ll see where this goes in a few short weeks and if the trailers really were indicative of the content…
Terminator: Genisys (*No apologies for the spoiler. If the studio didn’t give a crap…*) - Okay, this is it! It’s a text-book example of how NOT to make a trailer. A template for making a promotion that pissed off practically everybody that saw it. The film has plenty of faults (boy, does it), but for our money it was a watchable (if extremely flawed) offering that worked in a couple of places (mostly where the past films were integrated into the mix). But one thing that we can all seethe at was the idiotic decision by Paramount to include a MAJOR plot-twist in the final trailers. Previous teasers had played with expectations and character actions, along with the generic action scenes. But viewers of the final trailers were “treated” to the fact that John Connor had been turned into a Terminator by the future actions of Skynet. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal if that was a development at the start of the film or had small importance to the plot… but this is a HUGE swerve in the narrative that occurs two-thirds of the way into the film. So we have to sit there (with a figurative middle finger being pushed into our face), as Arnie, Jai Courtney, and Emilia Clarke emote with shocked incredulity at something we’ve known about for months! Awful promotion and it led to the director and cast openly criticising the studio, and was at least one reason why many were glad to see it die horribly at theatres.
Mother! (*Spoilers ahead*) – Now, this is a tricky one. You could (and many have) say that if you go to a Darren Aronofsky film, you should expect some kind of mind-fuckery, and you’ve only yourself to blame if you thought you were getting an actual straightforward plot. To that we say; “Fine… but actually “Black Swan”, “The Wrestler”, and “Noah” are pretty normal in terms of their narrative and story-telling abilities… so that’s not a cohesive argument”. I wrote a review for it that was passive-aggressive inasmuch as I appreciated how well-made and acted it was, but it didn’t personally work for me and was a frustrating experience. One aspect that contributed to my (and many others) negative viewing were the trailers. They basically mislead as to the tone and content of the film. It’s understandable that the studio found it hard to market, after all it’s a movie of many shapes; an angry analogy of religion, a stylised interpretation of the Bible, a bitter diatribe on artistic integrity… all are applicable. What it isn’t though… is a creepy tale about an isolated young woman, trapped with a menacing husband and some unwanted guests with ulterior motives. Nope. But that’s what the trailers showed. It’s an uncompromising and personal arthouse film with big stars and a large budget. If the trailers had been more ambiguous and less indicative of a mainstream thriller, perhaps more people wouldn’t have been flummoxed by the ludicrous crowd scenes and surreal acts of cannibalism. Yes, it has many fans and it was a brave film… but it’s also a prime example of trailers misleading an audience. Never forget that one man’s meat is another man’s smelly poisson (sic).
Hereditary (*Small spoilers ahead… but don’t worry too much*) – Leave it to unorthodox horror to pave the right way for a trailer to be presented. Highly effective and filled with dread, the footage has been cleverly edited to leave plenty of unpleasant surprises in the film. It does mislead its prospective audience to an extent, but not in a cynical studio-led way. Without delving into the details too much, the trailers show various characters being troubled by (possibly) supernatural nastiness. They all look distraught and shocked at various points, but the origin of their troubles is never made clear. There are only vague references to curses and inherited family “troubles”. But the real masterstroke is making it seem that certain figures in the narrative will be playing a prime role in the horrific shenanigans, only for the rug to be horribly pulled out from under you when you actually see the movie. It’s an (almost) unique example of trailers enhancing a movie-going experience, rather than spoiling it. Opinions may be divided on the movie itself in some quarters (although most genre fans love it), but it can’t be denied that the trailers actually did a great job of promoting it.
Get Out (*No Spoilers*) – Another genius bit of editing for trailer footage, which actually shows lots of apparent highlights, but still doesn’t reveal too much of the plot. Jordan Peele’s cracking racial horror has plenty of layers and compelling scenes that are still a surprise after seeing the promos. The footage in the trailers actually shows some crucial and pivotal scenes, but because of the twisted and slightly complex nature of the story itself, they don’t reveal their importance until you’ve actually seen the film. So the “running man” scene, the weird “No, no, no, no, no….” monologue, and the titular plea itself, just seem ambiguously creepy until you’ve seen them in context and they make perfect sense. As the trailer holds together as an intentional showcase of tropes, viewing the actual film delivers on the promise that it seems to hold. The balance between showing too much or too little is ladled just right here.
Of course these are only personal opinions and won’t be shared by plenty of people, but it highlights the effect a trailer can have on a viewing experience, even after you’ve seen the actual film itself. At the end of the day, if the studios and marketing departments give some decent care and thought to them, instead of just throwing action scenes, jump-scares, and plot revelations at the screen… well, we’d all be a lot happier. In the meantime, let’s hope that lessons are sufficiently learnt in the studio marketing departments, and we’ll never see the likes of future productions like “John Connor is a Terminator: Genisys”.