Fear Factor: Trailers That Are Too Scary

I Care A Lot was recently released in the UK and I watched the trailer for it. In this film, Rosamund Pike plays a crooked legal guardian – in which a person can petition the court to say someone is not capable of looking after themselves and you should be placed in charge of their affairs. This includes the person’s money and Pike’s character then basically steals it. Legal guardianship in of itself is perfectly reasonable, there are many occasions when people aren’t able to make these decisions and do need assistance, usually this being someone they trust, a close family member. But in America at least it can be a complete stranger. In I Care A Lot Pike’s schemes run into trouble when she targets someone with more sinister connections. As well as Pike the film stars Peter Dinklage and double Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest. But this is not a review of I Care A Lot, despite thinking it looks like a good film I doubt I will ever watch it. Quite frankly the trailer is too scary. This idea of a stranger taking control of your life is terrifying and bringing in the superb acting abilities of Dianne Wiest as the intended victim only heightens that.

This surely is a common problem with films that are meant to be scary – are they going to be too scary and stop people going to see them? The right amount of fear can be exhilarating but too much can just be an ordeal.


This is not the first time that I have watched a trailer for a film and thought it looked like a good film but vowed never to watch it. The trailer that truly terrified and unsettled me, the trailer against which all other scary trailers are measured, was Takashi Miike’s Audition. I had recently watched and enjoyed 13 Assassins, another Miike film (itself hardly a gentle movie) and was looking to see what else he had done. I had heard of Audition and so watched the trailer…and you can’t unsee that, the things portrayed in that trailer, or even just implied, are terrifying. While convinced I would never watch it I also had to know what happened and read the synopsis of the film and was pretty sure I made the right choice. The trailer is 1minute and 20 seconds long of pure terror and even the first shot is incredibly unsettling but also absolutely intriguing. This is also a film that seems to mix severe psychological horror with outright physical horror – so I Care A Lot would be a film where primarily the fear comes from the thought of losing your autonomy and freedom, but in Audition you might lose a lot more than that.


Compliance // Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Compliance // Credit: Magnolia Pictures

I felt sick watching the trailer for Compliance, a 2012 film based on a horrific true story. A man calls a fast food restaurant and poses as a police officer. They tell the manager there has been a theft by a member of staff and they need the manager’s help to resolve the matter. The trailer shows an ever-escalating series of events with the manager, and maybe others, abusing the staff member, all because a person on the phone told them to do it. The scary aspect to Compliance is not the nominal villain, the person posing as the police officer, but rather the manager, a seemingly nice, normal person who is quite easily pushed into doing terrible things. This references some of the scariest psychological studies ever carried out – the infamous Milgram and Zimbardo experiments on obedience and power but also the real-life events that inspired those researchers.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin // Credit: Paramount Pictures
We Need To Talk About Kevin // Credit: Paramount Pictures

These films don’t even need to be horror films, IMDb lists the next film as Drama, Mystery, Thriller and is a classic example of a film I’m 100% certain is brilliant and I will never watch it – We Need To Talk About Kevin. Based on a very successful book I already had some understanding of what WNTTAK was about and what happens but rarely in any film has the idea that something truly terrible is going to happen been so hammered into a trailer. Ezra Miller radiates sinister menace at a level matched by few, if any, actors in horror films. There is the added element that such a relationship between parent and child is distressing, and the idea of disliking, resenting even fearing your child is at odds with how we see parenthood. The Babadook is another film that looks at these difficult, taboo feelings around parenthood but has a very supernatural element to it, whereas WNTTAK is very much in the “real world”.

Have the people who made these trailers failed or succeeded? Obviously, no one wants to discourage potential viewers but for every person like me who are put off perhaps, ten are determined to see it? And have they just successfully presented the film – have they given me an overview of not only what the film is about but the tone of it? Whilst a studio may want every single person in the whole world to see a film I think most filmmakers, and trailer makers, will appreciate not everyone will enjoy their film.

Also Read: Great Dance Moments In Non-Musical Films

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Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.