I’m not usually one to fall prey to cinematic gimmicks, but I’ll admit, it happened. I enjoyed The Exorcist. I really liked The Exorcism of Emily Rose. So, when a trailer for The Devil Inside not only promised to give me a healthy dose of the Prince of Darkness, but also depicted the frightened reactions from moviegoers, I was all in.
We’ve seen the night vision gimmick before, back in 2007 when the original Paranormal Activity ramped up its marketing campaign (it might have started before that, but I don’t recall). The grainy, color drained or eerily green-lit footage of film fans, with their milky eyeballs bursting from their skulls. Men slamming their backs into their cushioned seats, then laughing to diffuse the overwhelming sense of embarrassment. Women shooting their sweater covered hands up to their faces, hair frazzled. For many, the “fan reactions” worked.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of a QVC segment. Show me the product working, and I’m closer to shelling out my hard-earned money. “Oh, that rotisserie can slowly bake, fry, grill, and roast 10 chickens, while taking my kids to school and juicing these 4 oranges? Take my f*ucking money NOW!”
When the promos for Paranormal Activity introduced the audience reactions, I didn’t bite. This was simply because I wasn’t interested in spending $12 on security cam footage (I did, however, enjoy the second film for some reason). But, the trailer for The Devil Inside looked legitimately frightening. Scary, cloudy eyeball ladies? Upside down crosses? Darkened corridors with demons lurking? Sounds like fun. With the added element of “knowing” that other people were having a grand time being scared out of their minds, I was literally throwing my wallet at the TV.
I creeped into the theater, doing my best not to awake any benevolent spirits waiting to leap into my terrified, gaping mouth. My popcorn was eaten with assassin-like silence. When the first flickers of projected light washed my face, I dug my fingertips into the plastic armrests of my cinematic roller coaster. This was going to be amazing!
And then…nothing. Not one fear-induced check of bowel evacuation. Not one feigned bathroom break to check my pulse. Just, nothing. The movie sucked. I had been had. Those screaming bastards in the film’s promos lied to me. I smacked my dry palm against my forehead. It was all just a ploy.
That’s not to say that there aren’t good horror films that have used this promotional tactic. The Evil Dead remake was a lot of fun. The Conjuring was one of the best American horror films of recent memory. And so far, I’ve liked the Insidious series. My point is, it’s not needed, and even further, the tactic is cheesy, overbearing, desperate, and exhausted. Just make a good film and show us some clips of it. Insidious Chapter 2 went a step further and introduced a promo where audience members wore heart rate monitors.
The Insidious Chapter 3 trailer has been circulating this week and, so far, no fan reactions. But, I know my plea will fall on deaf ears. And, I know the method won’t stop. All I know is that those green-washed, screaming faces will never fool me again.