The Lost Art of the Darkly Comic and Ironic Extended Trailer for Horror and Suspense Films

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Along with double features, cartoons and television giveaways, there is another thing that those who went to movie theaters a long time ago got to enjoy that modern audiences do not. The darkly comic and supremely ironic extended trailer for horror and suspense movies.

Admittedly, this rich extra that is the precursor to today's DVD featurettes was not exactly a staple. In fact, I think only Alfred Hitchcock and his B-movie doppelganger William Castle were the only film directors who made an art of this bizarre addition to the legacy of Hollywood comedy. It would be nice to see it come back.

The most famous example is the extended preview that Alfred Hitchcock made for "Psycho." If you have seen of any illustration of this comedic twist to a more horrific movie, it is probably the one Hitch shot for "Psycho." Over the course of six minutes, Hitchcock leads viewers on a tour of the Bates Motel and in a rather cheeky manner teases audiences with near-spoilers of a movie that he knew full well was going to depend upon shock value and word of mouth to find success. Audiences had already gotten to know Hitchcock as a personality by virtue of his introductions to episodes of his anthology series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and there is much similarity between those introductions and the atypically long trailer for "Psycho."

William Castle was actually even more attuned to the dark comedy of inserting himself into the marketing of his lower budgeted horror and suspense films than Hitchcock. Castle was almost always the biggest star of his own movies in the role of director, but in these humorous previews he took on the role of actor. Castle's role was not just to sell the plots, which were bizarre enough, but to sell the real lure of his movies: the gimmicks.

Over the course of a series of long trailers in the mold of Hitchcock's one for "Psycho" William Castle provided a layer of darkly ironic comedy to his tales of terrors while first and foremost letting audiences know that the movies would feature such trademark Castle gimmicks as the ghost viewing device known as Illusion-O for "13 Ghosts" and the Percepto buzzing chairs of "The Tingler."

Today's audiences are forced to sit through unimaginative commercials before watching a movie they just paid to see it. Wouldn't you rather see a something with a bit more creativity and a lot more comedic potential like these old gimmicky trailers? I mean, if movie theaters are actually going to force us to pay to watch commercials, couldn't the commercials at least be entertaining?

For more from Timothy Sexton, check out:

William Castle: The Low-Budget Alfred Htichcock

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