In a previous feature, I’ve delved into the strange but fascinating phenomenon of vintage horror trailers which feature little-to-no actual footage from the films they’re designed to promote, and in some cases become strange little experimental films in themselves, shot by separate directors and often featuring music borrowed from other film scores.
This trend was still quite active in the early 1980s, and was actually fairly common practice, even for major Hollywood studios… but in some cases, these inventive and often baffling trailers were never widely released to US audiences, and were often targeted at overseas markets.
Such was likely the case for this seldom-seen advance teaser for the 1982 horror classic POLTERGEIST, which contains very little actual footage from the film — which was still in production at the time — but is actually staged and shot as a mini-documentary.
That’s odd enough as it stands, but even stranger is the fact that the film isn’t really about the film’s plot, or even a look behind-the-scenes during its production — instead, it consists of talking-head interviews with alleged paranormal experts, explaining what the hell a “poltergeist” is (we can safely assume studio execs were a bit concerned that audiences were not too familiar with that term).
These interviews, inter-cut with some excellent production stills from the film (several of which are included in this article) are classy and well-staged, and while the sum result is not quite as creepy as the film’s US wide-release trailer, it does create a slowly-growing sense of doom… and also plants the unnerving suggestion that the film could actually be based on real events; the narration even tags POLTERGEIST as “the first real ghost story.”
The supposedly well-informed experts in these interviews aren’t just educating the audience — they seem to be warning us about a supernatural menace which might be happening somewhere in the world right now.
That veiled threat, the trailer reminds us, was coming to a theater near you next Summer…
On a side note, Warner Brothers’ 25th Anniversary DVD release of the film in 2007 (and a Blu-ray release the following year) featured a supplemental documentary They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists, which is structured very much like an updated, long-form version of this teaser.