Teasing terror: Both the Nosferatu and Longlegs trailers obscure their bad guys, and I need more horror marketing to do the same

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

"We suffer more in imagination than in reality," once said philosopher Seneca. He was talking about anxiety and overthinking, but it's no secret that the phrase applies to horror movies, too. A lot of the time, it's the things we think we see, or simply the anticipation of seeing something truly terrible, that make the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end.

The dread-inducing trailers for Nosferatu, from The Witch's Robert Eggers, and Osgood Perkins' Longlegs understand this in a big way, as they obscure their respective, eponymous villains to ratchet up the tension. The teaser for Tillman Singer's Cuckoo kind of does it as well, only offering up quick or blurred shots of Hunter Schafer's slack-jawed, sunglasses-wearing stalker – and all of their promo is better for it. Other scary flicks could learn a thing or two from their marketing.

I think the key thing, though, is that they don't hide them completely. Nicolas Cage's Longlegs is actually in almost every clip released for the film so far but only in shots where he's covering his face, or seen from the side, or moving so quickly that we can't really see him at all. Nosferatu is similar in its montage style: "He is coming," several characters shout or mumble in fear as to the inevitable arrival of Bill Skarsgård's vampiric Count Orlok, as quick snippets allow us a glimpse of him in silhouette and from behind. It forces us to pay more attention, to lean in, squint, and scour each frame for a look at something we know will frighten us, but we can't stop. Curiosity killed the cat, and all that. 

Nicolas Cage in Longlegs

(Image credit: Neon)

It makes them seem all the more menacing, too – their visages too terrible to just reveal nonchalantly – and quite simply, it amplifies genre fans' want to watch the film. They have to see them, to see what they look like in all their glory, even if they'll wind up wishing they hadn't.

While there's only been one Nosferatu trailer so far, it also seems worth mentioning how the Longlegs marketing has used sound to make the titular serial killer's presence known rather than visuals. In the official trailer, we hear him breathing, whimpering, or cooing, before a voiceover ominously whispers: "I know you're not afraid of a little bit of dark, because you are the dark" and "You could have made nice with me, but you didn't and that is that." It concludes with Cage's character adding, "I'll be… waiting." We know you are, and it's terrifying.

"I would be a jackass to take too much credit for what they've done," Perkins told Indiewire recently when asked about the movie's inventive marketing, which extends to fake murder investigation websites, eerie billboards, and spine-chilling, automated phone calls. "[Neon] really responded strongly to the movie, the raw materials of the movie really excited them, the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it sounds. They asked me early on, 'Do we have your permission to kind of go nuts?' And I said, 'What else are we doing here? Go for it. Do your thing.'"


(Image credit: Film Arts Guild)

"It's driving people towards a freak show at a circus tent," the director told Entertainment Weekly elsewhere. "We've got the thing behind the curtain, and when there's enough people gathered ‘round, we’re going to pull the curtain."

With Nosferatu, things are a little different in the sense that horror fans already have some idea as to what the bald baddie will look like. We can expect him to have pale skin, long fingers, and fanged teeth, but it's exciting to have to wait for Eggers' exact interpretation of Max Schreck's monster. "I know they will, but I hope they don't give us a full Skarsgård reveal," said a Twitter user after the first trailer dropped. "Would be great to go in without a proper idea of how grim he might look."

If we're lucky enough to wangle that, wouldn't it be fun to first lay our eyes properly on the bloodsucker at the same time as Lily-Rose Depp, Nicholas Hoult, and Willem Dafoe's characters do? Their wide-eyed shock acting as a mirror to our own?

Now, I know you could argue that you could just… not watch any trailers if you're already gearing up to buy a ticket, but when the advertising is this good, there's no need to avoid them. These types of trailers make clear what sort of movie you're set to walk into and that's about it. They're a twisted blend of imagination and reality, and well, that's what makes them so perfect.

Longlegs releases on July 12, Cuckoo lands on August 23, and Nosferatu comes out on December 25 in the US and January 2, 2025 in the UK. For more, check out our list of the best horror movies of all time or our guide to the most exciting upcoming horror movies heading our way.

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.