The great thing about America is that I can choose not to go see The Devil Inside. The terrible thing about America is that I can't choose not to see the trailer for The Devil Inside. To be honest, I had it coming: I went to see Mission: Impossible. It's my fault for being part of a demographic that also tends to go to horror movies. For that I deserve to have the crap scared out of me.
This has happened to you many times, too: You've paid $12 to go to a dark room and be assaulted. You didn't even go to Duke. There you are at the movies, slurping the dregs of your Cherry Coke during the endless preamble of trailers when suddenly the screen goes black and you hear a bell toll, a deep rumble, and a child starts singing a nursery rhyme really, really slowly. The fact that you know what's coming doesn't make it any less disagreeable: a blood-curdling shriek accompanied by a flash of some sunken-eyed humanoid. It will cause a reflexive shudder and a rush of horrible-feeling hormones that humans were only designed to secrete in the most life-threatening danger. But you will feel them 20 more times in the next two minutes. God forbid you have a heart condition.
Horror movie trailers are unlike other trailers. They're unlike horror movies. (I have no problem with horror movies, mostly because I refuse to see them.) Barring the rare exception -- like this masterful one-shot preview for The Shining -- horror trailers eschew suspense, or atmosphere, and pretty much any of the elements that can redeem a scary movie. No time! Instead, they resort to that cheapest of tricks: The jump scare, which is to other filmmaking techniques what backyard meth is to beer and wine. As such, horror trailers belong in a different category. Let demented horror movie fans find their trailers online, or ahead of actual horror movies. I would urge the MPAA to forbid showing horror movie trailers to people who didn't sign up for it.
That's never going to happen. Sadistic marketers actually pride themselves on their ability to petrify the unwilling. The first Paranormal Activity owed its success in large part to viral footage of audiences squirming in terror at the trailer, and reports that people were trembling, vomiting, and suffering panic attacks. In 2010, Italy's Defense Minister tried to intervene after dozens of panic calls were made to emergency services following screenings of the film. Granted, this was in the Naples area, home of ship captain Francesco Schettino, the world's most notorious poltroon. But still, people should be given the choice.
There is a cathartic pleasure in fear. A nervous titter in its release. And yes, in their purest forms, comedy and horror work the same way. They elicit apelike reflexes that are not that different from one another: the laugh and the scream. But the jump scare is the equivalent of a fart joke. A movie -- let alone a trailer -- should really only be allowed one or two before it becomes the horror-flick equivalent of The Klumps.
Scratch that. Fart jokes have way more integrity than jump scares because at least you have a good idea of who's doing the farting. The jump scare is inevitably a disembodied shriek accompanied by a random image of something with no eyes, neither of which is actually in the movie. It's a betrayal of the audience.
I may be in the minority, but don't enjoy things that aren't enjoyable. It's almost enough to make me not want to go to movies. Call me Schettino, but I'm not on board.