Audience reaction movie trailers and the Paranormal Activity franchise

  • Alexander Swanson Indiana University, Bloomington
Keywords: Anticipatory texts, Fan participation, Gimmicks, Horror


This article addresses the concept and growing practice of audience reaction movie trailers, specifically for films in the horror genre. Popularized by the Paranormal Activity series of films, these trailers primarily utilize green night-vision video footage of a movie theater audience reacting to the film being advertised, yet also consist of webcam recordings of screaming fans, documentary-style B-roll footage of audiences filing into preview screenings with high levels of anticipation, and close-up shots of spectator facial expressions, accompanied by no footage whatsoever from the film being advertised. In analyzing these audience-centric promotional paratexts, my aim is to reveal them as attempting to sell and legitimize the experiential, communal, and social qualities of the theatrical movie viewing experience while at the same time calling for increased fan investment in both physical and online spaces. Through the analysis of audience reaction trailers, this article hopes to both join and engender conversations about horror fan participation, the nature of anticipatory texts as manipulative, and the current state of horror gimmickry in the form of the promotional paratext.

Author Biography

Alexander Swanson, Indiana University, Bloomington
Alexander Swanson is a second year PhD student in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. His primary research focus is horror cinema, with interests in technophobias, fandom, and youth socialization rituals. Coming to the Midwest from Boston (where he received his MFA in Film from Boston University in 2011), Alex just completed a two-year stint as Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at Framingham State University.