The Exorcist is pretty immediately conjured up in the collective minds of horror fans as the film that is referred to/claims to be the scariest movie ever made. But you might see a lot of titles lately that are trying to claim the title. The Evil Dead remake did it. The Babadook did it. And now The Woods is doing it. While I haven’t seen the picture, it’s tracking very well and by all accounts it sounds like it’s going to be pretty good. I’ve yet to see Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett make a movie I was not a fan of.
But it’s not going to be the scariest movie of all time. It won’t be the most terrifying thing you will ever experience. And you want to know something? It knows that. Everyone involved with the marketing knows that. For some of you, that’s probably going to only make you madder, to know that they aren’t saying this in ignorance or out of narcissism or just sheer optimism. All of those things are, to a degree, understandable. So why would a film make the promise of being the most impactful horror film of all time when it already knows that it’s not going to be that?
With less and less people hitting the theaters for anything other than a major event blockbuster, marketing campaigns—especially for horror which, theatrical or not, is still very much the little guy—have to get pushy by necessity. They can’t promise you that their movie will simply be a fun time. They can’t reel you in with the positive buzz or reviews anymore, it’s not enough. So they have to promise the most unforgettable experience you’ve ever had in the theater, otherwise why would you go?
This is especially true now that we’re seeing such a shift between huge blockbusters and any other type of film, to the point where these huge summer features are starting to release at any time of year. Deadpool was a summer superhero movie that was released in February. Doctor Strange is a summer superhero movie coming this November. Where’s the room in there for something like The Woods?
It’s reasonable to hate these marketing campaigns, especially when you know that the feature won’t be what they’re promising, but it’s easy to understand why they have to do it. A lot of people tend to blame the filmmakers themselves for the movie’s marketing, when the reality is that the promotional side of things is an aspect that a director is almost never involved in.
When you hear a writer or director talk about how they wish their picture had been marketed in a different way, whether they don’t like something that was revealed in the trailer or they don’t like the poster or whatever the case may be, they’re not betraying their own film by saying that. They legitimately had no idea that was going to happen.
It’s always been a tricky situation. But now every horror movie that comes out has to promise it’s the scariest movie ever made. They all have to sound like car salesmen, if that’s what it takes to get you into the theater. None of these films will be quite what they’re made out to be, but if we’re lucky, one of them could be the scariest of the year.