The 13th Floor

Ten of the Most Terrifying Horror Trailers Ever Made

Word of mouth will ultimately separate the great from the average, but strong promotional points are a necessity in getting the initial word out. When it comes to film, that key marketing launches when a well-cut trailer hits the web.

You could call the trailer the appetizer… and if you choose to do so, you know you want the best damn appetizer to get you primed for that glorious main course.

In our world, where every creak means imminent doom, every trailer is crucial; a film can sound great on paper, but if the trailer doesn’t induce a sudden outbreak of goosebumps, chances are we won’t worry about reserving time to check that movie out. Fortunately, a lot of editors and studios have learned that cutting an amazing trailer isn’t an option — it’s a requirement.

Here now are ten trailers so well-cut they just about scared the urine from our nether regions!


This advance teaser immediately begins with the iconic imagery we see in posters — the outline of a man standing before a sprawling abode, fog enveloping everything in frame. Then, without warning, a barrage of evil faces inundates viewers — the contorted visage of a possessed Regan included in that salvo. This teaser was rather rare, as it was determined early that the horrendous images that flash across the screen may actually prove too frightening to entice viewers. It’s certainly creepy… but if this bad boy crawled into frame today, most of us would likely be salivating at the potential terror of THE EXORCIST.

MAGIC (1978)

This fucking dummy. Holy hell, the first time this cackling caricature comes on screen, the mood in the room changes [for more on that, check out this flashback piece dedicated to this 30-second nightmare]. We’re supposed to find humor from dummies and ventriloquists, but this one is the exception. His menacing smile and then those words, “Abracadabra, I sit on his knee; presto-chango and now he is me!” It’s absolutely mortifying to anyone who isn’t inclined to take up serial killing as a hobby.

ALIEN (1979)

The perfect trailer? Perhaps! The first half of this cut slowly gives us a look at an egg that looks strangely menacing… right before it splits open. From there we get a true taste of what is heading our way as we see a giant vessel of some sort, a few suited-up space explorers entering a structure that looks like it moonlights as a living body snatcher, and of course, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, tearing through a spaceship’s corridors, terror etched in her face… and then, finally, a split-second of something far from human. All the while, we’re subjected to a sound effect like a tortured woman screaming, to intensify the visuals.


The narrative voice that walks us through the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE trailer sounds like that old PSA voice that popped up in every cautionary piece of film from the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s… except this narrator sounds like he’s holding back a devious grin the entire time, knowing full well the terror that audiences are soon to be subjected to. The visuals we get from the film itself are perfect representations of what TCM is — grimy, realistic horror that leaves more to the power of our imagination than our eyeballs. It all comes together in deeply disconcerting fashion.


THE STRANGERS wasn’t just a sublime home invasion tale — it was an experience in conceivable terror, and that experience began the moment this trailer premiered. It’s subtle yet simultaneously shocking, and when the words “Inspired by True Events” appear, there’s a very real part of us that hopes that isn’t true. Moments pass, and a man in a hideous mask slips into focus — standing just feet from the oblivious Liv Tyler. We understand in that moment that things are not going to go well for these two twenty-somethings; there will be no storybook endings from THE STRANGERS, and the trailer makes damn sure we understand that in advance.


Whether SLEEPY HOLLOW floats your boat or not, it’s tough to dispute the picture’s impact. Aesthetically speaking, the film is absolutely beautiful — with amazing set-pieces that successfully echo a time unknown to us — and the insanity and surprisingly graphic gore only further establish the film as a fan favorite. There are a myriad of excellent beheadings to behold, and while we don’t see a wealth of graphic gore in the trailer, we do glimpse a few iconic scenes: the imposing image of the horseman kicking down a door with that blade at the ready resonates, and seeing a jack-o’-lantern in flames sail toward the screen has a strangely epic vibe to it. Haters be damned — SLEEPY HOLLOW was a blast of a film that also gave us one of the best trailers ever cut.


There were no punches pulled when it came time to put this trailer together. It starts on the slow side, but the moment you see the words “COME AND GET HIM BITCH” carved in Joey’s torso, things take a radical turn for the terrifying. Peeks at Freddy Krueger’s boiler room lead to a glimpse of a few victims’ final moments, and the tension finally culminates with that hideous shot in which we see all sorts of trapped faces within Freddy’s torso. That’s the stuff nightmares are made of — so I suppose the trailer succeeds on a level few others manage. The best part? The trailer doesn’t spoil any of the genuinely shocking moments featured in the flick.


Over the years, we’ve seen some mediocre found-footage films hit the market and yank down a few bucks thanks to intelligent marketing and impressive trailers. THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (which, ironically, was never officially released) works in reverse fashion — the trailer gives us minimal major moments, but it does make certain to inform potential viewers that the goal of the film is to generate the most organic found-footage piece possible. It also hints at an extreme degree of depravity — which, for those who haven’t seen it, POUGHKEEPSIE delivers in spades. Like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, anticipate an alarmingly realistic trailer that mirrors the alarmingly realistic tone of the picture.


GOODNIGHT MOMMY came out of nowhere a few years ago, and it may have slipped into obscurity (the stateside marketing campaign was admittedly underwhelming) if it weren’t for this pitch-perfect trailer that somehow builds an hour of tension and drops a massive shock to cap it all off in just three minutes. It’s one of the most successful trailers in recent memory — and we should all be thankful for its eerie atmosphere and measured escalation of film highlights. Without this trailer, a lot of us would have probably missed the arrival of the film itself — which is no doubt one of the genre’s truly unnerving works. Just watch — there’s something special happening here.

EVIL DEAD (2013)

The trailer for Fede Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD reboot starts on a tame note… but that changes extremely quickly, and before we know it we’re eyeing impressive homage moments (possessed Mia’s warning that all will die; a particularly memorable tree rape) and an escalation in graphic violence that may take some fans aback. It’s all blood and sharp instruments as the trailer speeds forward, showing us plenty of facial mutilation, demonic entities personified in the flesh, and even some needles being pulled from eyeballs. It’s glorious and fitting that one of the greatest remakes produced in decades also came accompanied by one of history’s greatest trailers, period.