Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Codes and conventions of a horror trailer

A definition of the genre

Horror films often involve a complex set of codes and conventions that will give the audience the idea that they are watching a horror film. In most media texts, particularly advertisement posters concerned with films of the genre, many of the codes and conventions displayed within the narrative of the film are portrayed to an effect that will suggest important aspects of the film i.e. lead characters and their alignment (good/evil). This is important in informing the audience of what to expect of the film and give them an idea of the narrative structure or plot, which in itself is very inviting as we want to see why these particular elements and themes
tool of representation for characters, the monster is often enshrouded in darkness and we rarely see its face in most posters.
§A monster or representation of distorted humanity and evil:
The monster is mostly a singular entity and is often pictured in the background if at all as if to linger over his victim(s). The monster often has a trademark tool for killing i.e. a claw, hook or knives that is emphasised in the pictography.
§The victims:
The victims are often displayed in different colours than the text and monster to show innocence or neutrality. The lead character that is often the sole survivor (another regularly used convention of the horror genre)

The best horror trailers ask a question. They set up a premise or a situation, and then leave the viewer wanting to know more. One of the best examples is the original 'Alien' (1979) trailer. The camera splices shots of the film with a long, slow pull back of a large, alien egg. The egg cracks, emitting an eerie glow and the trailer ends with the subscript "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream." The trailer doesn't really tell us about the characters, doesn't establish much at all. All we know is something horrible is going to come out of that egg, something that makes people screams. We, the audience, want to know what's in that egg.
Another common convention is the "What happened to those kids?" question. Quarantine, Wolf Creek, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre use this model, but the Blair Witch Project really did it best. The now-infamous trailer began with the subscript "In 1994 three student film makers disappeared in the woods near Burkitsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found." That's it. That's the whole trailer. The audience knows something horrible happened to those kids, but you have to watch the movie to find out what.
Also, horror trailers usually appeal to the visceral on some level. Invariably, you'll see a few action shots of knives plunging, pick axes being thrown, or chainsaws being swung. The trailer promises blood. A tried and true method a Primal entertainment, as old as the Roman stadiums that housed gladiators, there will always be people who are lured in to see the axe split the teenager's head open. Showing the 24 frames prior to the head split is as effective as walking the viewer to the steps of the theatre. The most recent Friday the 13th trailer includes 13 such sizzler shots in a row. Cheap but effective.
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