You take a couple of years working on a script. Then you spend several months finding the perfect cast, and then a few months filming and editing your dream project. At long last, the movie is done — it couldn't be better. One problem, though: How do you market it? How do you condense all that hard work and creativity into a simple sales pitch?
That's where a killer tagline comes into play. Horror movies have some of the best taglines of any genre — and, amusingly, sometimes that tagline is better than the movie it's supposed to be selling.
For this week's Debate Club, we rank the five best horror taglines. You shouldn't necessarily see all these movies, but the ad wizards definitely earned their salaries.
Jaws: The Revenge (1987): "This time, it's personal."
There is almost nothing memorable about the fourth installment of the Jaws franchise... except for its tagline, which is hilarious, awesome and deeply, deeply stupid.
The conceit of Jaws: The Revenge (1987) is that Ellen (Lorraine Gary), widow of Martin Brody, is going to do battle with a great white... who's connected to the shark that terrorized Martin all those years ago. So, as you see, this isn't some random shark attack: This time, it's personal!
On the one hand, we love the idea of a revenge-minded shark who travels down to the Bahamas to kill Ellen. On every other hand, though, this is just ridiculous — and the movie's oh-so-serious tagline only underlines how preposterous the concept is. Universal demonstrated it had a sense of humor about the whole thing, though: years later, in reference to Back to the Future Part II's joke about "Jaws 19", the studio put out a fake trailer for the fake movie.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004): "Whoever wins, we lose."
If you're going to sell a premise as lunatic as AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), you better find a way to keep your tongue firmly in cheek. This tagline seems the perfect way to do it.
Plus, it feels like it should be the chyron on most cable stories about elections, doesn't it? (We personally would vote for Predator, if you're asking.)
Poltergeist (1982): "They're here."
The key to Poltergeist (1982) was not just that it was scary — it was that it was scary and that it involved children. (This was the Steven Spielberg touch; it's difficult to imagine as many parents letting their kids watch this movie without his name attached as a producer.)
When Heather O’Rourke looks into that television and sees what no one else in the house can see, you know she's in danger... and everyone else is, too. Bonus points for portending innocent little girls saying scary things in movie trailers.
The Fly (1986): "Be afraid. Be very afraid."
You can understand why audiences might have been skeptical of a remake of The Fly (1986). First off, it's The Fly: Who's scared of a fly? But the marketers knew something audiences didn't: David Cronenberg had made something truly terrifying, a body-horror masterpiece from the maestro of body-horror movies.
You look inside the Brundlefly portal, and you know something terrible is in there. You don't know what it is. You just know you should be afraid.
Alien (1979): "In space, no one can hear you scream."
According to lore, Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon had an issue with haunted-house movies: what was so scary about them if the characters could just run out of the house? By comparison, there's nowhere to escape if you're trapped on a spaceship, which helped inspire this Ridley Scott classic... and its equally classic tagline.
Beyond all the other things that are terrifying about Alien, there's a constant fear, once the alien starts wreaking havoc, that the crew's ordeal is occurring in an empty, airless void. That sense of claustrophobia and dread are amplified by the fact that, literally, no one can hear them scream in that vast vacuum of space.
Not only is it a phenomenally effective tagline, it's seeped into our collective consciousness. To this day, news reports regarding sound, space, and distance are seemingly contractually obligated to mention the Alien line.