Most people watch horror movies for one thing: to be scared. So, what better approach to promote something scary than by scaring the public in an all-new way?
Instead of a straightforward trailer with jump scares and creepy sounds, some marketing teams choose to create elaborate hoaxes behind their movies (The Blair Witch Project), set up real-life stunts for unsuspecting customers (Ouija), or simply hype up the movie by showing you how others react to watching it (Paranormal Activity).
Vote up the scariest marketing stunts below. Do you think any of them went too far?
If you were strolling the streets of Milan in July 2021, you may have seen a long LCD screen with a man in a red cloak walking beside you. When you finished walking past the screen, the figure would disappear - only to reappear in 3D from around the corner.
The stunt promoted Netflix's A Classic Horror Story. The streaming company released a video that says, “What makes watching a horror film truly scary is that it could become real.”
- Photo: Artisan Entertainment
The Blair Witch Project took viral marketing in a whole new direction back in 1999, and no movie since has quite matched its brilliance.
To make the movie feel “real,” the filmmakers handed out missing-person flyers of the main cast members at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie's website included fake police reports. Because the actors used their real names in the film, their parents allegedly received phone calls from strangers sending their sympathy. Their IMDb pages also reported that they were missing and presumed dead. Syfy aired Curse of the Blair Witch, which presented the fictional urban legend as fact.
Co-director Daniel Myrick said:
Yeah, it was quite the whirlwind. I think [co-director Eduardo Sánchez] and I [were] ill-prepared for how big it became. I mean, if you could pick a film that was smaller by design that ended up being bigger in the consciousness of the culture, you couldn’t find anything bigger than Blair Witch.
Star Heather Donahue said:
It has informed my entire adult life. I don't know my life without it, you know what I mean? I don't know my own name without it.
The marketing worked, and The Blair Witch Project is still one of the most profitable horror movies ever made.
- 3161 VOTES
The scariest part of the 2002 The Ring remake was when Samara climbed out of a TV to kill Noah. The scariest part of Rings, the 2017 sequel, was when Samara climbed out of a TV - but in real life.
Paramount Pictures teamed up with Thinkmodo for this promotion, during which Rings actress and contortionist Bonnie Morgan hid inside a rigged TV in an electronic store and grabbed at unsuspecting shoppers.
- 4125 VOTES
In 2010, some users got more than they bargained for when they logged onto the controversial video chat site Chatroulette. What started as a woman seductively unbuttoning her shirt made a dark turn when her eyes suddenly rolled into the back of her head, black veins pulsated out of her forehead, and she lunged toward the camera, scaring anyone randomly paired with her.
Lionsgate took advantage of a disclaimer Chatroulette users signed stating they could be recorded; the studio made a compilation of the best reactions to the demon girl.
- 550 VOTES
'Smile' - Hiring Actors To Smile At Baseball Games
Here’s some fun, clever movie promo - Paramount seemingly placed #Smile actors in the crowd at both the Yankees and Mets games last night, both in view of cameras. The results were indeed creepy. Going to a game this weekend? Watch out for the smiles! 😃 pic.twitter.com/aC3sqZjWvI— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) September 24, 2022
For the 2022 horror film Smile, actors were seen at baseball games giving creepy smiles to the camera. Pictures of the event went viral. There’s also a site asking visitors to upload selfies using their smile Snapchat filter and to call a number if they see a smile out in the wild.
A smiling actor was also seen in the background of The Today Show.
Smile's director said of the marketing stunt:
This is something that had been discussed a little while back and we were all kind of like crossing our fingers that somebody might notice.
After a screening of Paranormal Activity at the LA horror film festival Screamfest, a website was created for fans to vote for whether or not the film should come to their favorite movie theaters.
Instead of spoiling the scariest scenes in the movie, the trailer was filled with audience members' reactions from screenings. After a limited release on September 25, 2009, it eventually opened nationally on October 16, largely due to its “Demand It” marketing. Paranormal Activity was promoted as the “first-ever major film release decided by YOU.”
The movie was made on a $15,000 budget and went on to become one of the most successful films of all time.