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Top 13 Indie Horror Film Marketing Campaigns Too Scary To Be True

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Hint: One bonus campaign that is underway right now discussed below, Final Summer one of the best new horror films to stream in 2023.

Indie horror films have always been a thrilling and unique experience for audiences, as they bring new and creative ideas to the horror genre. The marketing of these films is just as important as the film itself, as it helps to create buzz, attract audiences, and establish the film's brand. This article is part of an ongoing series, Successful Film Marketing: An In-Depth Guide by Savant Artists. In this article, we'll explore the top 13 indie horror film marketing campaigns that are too scary to be true, drawing inspiration from some of the most innovative and successful campaigns in the industry, as well as take a look at what makes a horror villain interesting and memorable. My bet, nearly everyone, regardless of generation, can name at least one of the below films:

Horror Icons
Get Out, The Exorcist, Annabelle, The Shining, Freddy Kreuger

A truly great horror villain is one that not only strikes fear in the hearts of audiences but also stays with them long after the film has ended. Learn from an interview between Sebastian Twardosz, Founder of Savant Artists, and Sean S. Cunningham who gave birth to Jason with the original FRIDAY THE 13TH. A key aspect of horror film marketing is therefore highlighting the villain as a central part of the film's marketing strategy, whether it be through teasing a glimpse of the villain in trailers, posters, or social media. In this article, we'll delve into how these 13 successful indie horror film marketing campaigns effectively utilized the horror villain to create a lasting impact, drawing lessons and insights that filmmakers can use in their own marketing efforts. From the iconic slasher villains of the 80s, to the more psychological horror villains of recent years, we'll explore the elements that make a horror villain truly unforgettable.

1. Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project tops the list. Blair Witch was a groundbreaking horror film that used a unique marketing campaign to generate buzz and scare audiences. The campaign

centered around creating uncertainty and confusion among potential moviegoers. The film's website presented the film as a real documentary, and the marketing team created a

mockumentary-style trailer, adding to the film's credibility and making it seem more real. What is a mockumentary? This, combined with the film's mysterious storyline, made the film a massive hit and one of the most successful horror films of all time. In fact almost 25 years later, Blair Witch marketing is still referenced and considered potentially the greatest film marketing campaign ever. Blair Witch Project was produced on a shoestring budget of around $25,000 and went on to earn almost 10,000 times that amount ($250 million)! It’s the sixth highest grossing independent film, and is the second most successful film of all time in terms of profit. In fact, it only trails behind Paranormal Activity in that category, which actually modeled its “home video” style filming after the Blair Witch Project. Now into the specifics and marketing tactics.

The team created missing person leaflets, a website, message boards and chat rooms, a documentary and trailer, and a magazine ad. The website was the most instrumental component of the campaign and drove audiences to the site, which was an extension of the storyline. The message boards and chat rooms were used to plant seeds and stir up questions about the film's validity. The trailer was simple and was not shown in mainstream media outlets, while the documentary was made in partnership with the Sci-Fi channel to demonstrate the realness of the storyline. The full-page ad in Variety magazine was unconventional, with copy emphasizing the film's buzz instead of its opening gross numbers.

2. Smile - The Creepy Smile

Smile "Smile" is another horror film that used a unique marketing campaign to generate buzz. The film's marketing team set up hidden cameras at a baseball game and filmed people with creepy smiles. The footage was then used as a trailer for the film, creating a sense of mystery and intrigue and leaving audiences wondering what was going to happen next. Smile serves as a case study in viral creepy marketing stunts.

3. M3GAN - The Viral Marketing Campaign

The horror film "M3GAN" conquered social media marketing through a well-executed viral campaign. The campaign features life-size dolls of the titular character, which have been deployed in various public spaces in New York City, as well as appearing on talk shows. The marketing campaign also included a viral trailer and social media presence, which generated buzz and positive reviews for the film. The film's opening weekend saw strong box office success, with 44% of the audience being under 24 years old. The film's critical success and support from the LGBTQ+ community also contributed to its success. The M3GAN marketing campaign is memorable for its unique and in-your-face approach, which resonated with a younger, Gen Z audience. Want to Go Viral? How the Hit Movie 'M3GAN' Conquered Social-Media MarketingThese viral marketing lessons from the horror film 'M3GAN' can be applied to small businesses across industries.

4. The Conjuring - The Haunted House Tour

The Conjuring's marketing team took a unique approach to promoting the film by creating

a haunted house tour. The tour was based on the film's storyline, and audiences were taken through various rooms filled with spooky and creepy experiences. The house, located on 1677 Round Top Road in Burrillville, was purchased for $1.525 million in 2021 and is now open for tours and overnight stays for aspiring ghost hunters. Book a tour now! For a fee of $25, guests can participate in a one-hour guided tour during the day and for $960 to $1280 per person, they can book an overnight stay. The tour provides a rundown of the property's paranormal history and differences between the "true" story and the horror movie. Despite its reputation, the current managers of the house cannot guarantee any paranormal activity during a stay.

5. It Follows - Building Anticipation

The #ITFollows marketing campaign was a masterclass in horror film promotion, captivating audiences in 2014 and still leaving an impact today. IT Follows is a 2014 independent horror film directed by David Robert Mitchell, like myself a Detroit, MI native. The marketing team utilized social media, including Twitter and Instagram, to share cryptic teasers and images that effectively built anticipation and generated positive word-of-mouth. Here is a link to the It Follows Business Proposal.

An integral component of the campaign was the film's soundtrack, with its eerie and minimalist score released prior to the premiere. The unique, synth-driven score received critical acclaim and helped differentiate #ITFollows from other horror films.

Adding to the suspense and excitement, the film was initially released in limited theatrical screenings, generating a sense of exclusivity and further fueling the buzz. The #ITFollows marketing campaign was a clear triumph, contributing to the film's commercial and critical success. Do you have any thoughts on the campaign? Share your thoughts using the hashtag #HorrorGenius 🎥

6. The Psycho Marketing Strategy

The #PsychoStrategy: Creating anticipation through secrecy. Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is considered one of the greatest indie horror films due to its innovative marketing strategy. Being the avant-garde director and businessman that he was, Hitchcock invested $800,000 in the film, which gave him more control over the marketing.

Intuitively, Hitchcock cast household names such as Janet Leigh to increase viewership and promoted the film as a real story, taking audiences on a tour of the Bates Motel and Norman Bates' mother's house in the trailer. He kept the ending a secret from the cast, crew, critics, and studio executives, even warning the audience of possible health issues while viewing the film and hiring nurses to stay outside the theater. He also enforced rules to prevent spoilers, such as not allowing people to leave the theater and latecomers being refused entry. The film was a instant horror success, still frightening audiences today.Screenwriter Joseph Stefano took credit for the "original" screenplay, but the film was almost identical to the novel. #Psycho #AlfredHitchcock #Marketing #HorrorFilm #Success.

Throughout the entire campaign, director #AlfredHitchcock kept the movie's biggest twist a secret. How? When Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel by Robert Bloch, he also bought all copies of the book to prevent spoilers. Going further when the film hit theaters, Hitchcock did not allowing latecomers into the theater, a groundbreaking move at the time.

Screenwriter Joseph Stefano took credit for the "original" screenplay, but the film was almost identical to the novel. He understood that "there’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it." This strategy, combined with his mastery of suspense, made #Psycho a pioneer in the world of horror films and a financial success, earning 61 times its budget at

the box office. The film paved the way for future slasher films and remains one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed. #InspirationForAspiringFilmmakers #HorrorFilms #Marketing.

7. A Quiet Place - The Silent Experience

#AQuietPlace: The Film That Forces Silence. The A Quiet Place series, directed by John Krasinski, is considered one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed due to its unique concept that forces both its characters and audiences to remain silent, a sound designer's dream. The post-apocalyptic world in which the Abbot family and other survivors live demands total silence to avoid detection from monstrous creatures that hunt by sound.

This concept results in comparatively little dialogue and mostly whispered lines, making even the slightest murmurs among audience members distracting. By forcing audiences to remain quiet, the suspense of the film is heightened and the life-or-death stakes for the characters becomes palpable.

The sequel, A Quiet Place Part 2, adds to the tension by introducing a community of humans who have survived without being quiet, only for that sense of security to be quickly shattered. The title of the series has a double meaning, as staying quiet is essential for both the characters' survival and the audience's full enjoyment of the film. #SilentHorror #Suspense #DoubleMeaning #PostApocalypticWorld #UniqueConcept.

8. Hereditary - The Family Tree Experience

#Hereditary is considered one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed due to its complex and realistic portrayal of mental illness, psychological trauma, and inherited dysfunction within a family. The film showcases the intense emotional struggle between minimal grief and overwhelming relief experienced by the protagonist, Annie, after losing her mentally ill mother. The themes of inherited mental illness and trauma are heightened by the involvement of a cult dedicated to reviving a demon, Paimon, and the subsequent targeted course of mayhem that is unleashed upon the family. The film resonates with audiences due to its intense portrayal of the devolving mania and grief experienced by the main characters, especially Peter, who struggles with guilt, abandonment, and psychological torment. The film's writer-director, Ari Aster, is praised for his exceptional job in realistically portraying mental illness and trauma, making Hereditary one of the greatest indie horror films of all time. #IndieHorror #MentalIllness #PsychologicalTrauma

9. Sinister - The Mysterious Package

#Sinister is considered one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed due to its unique and interactive experience. The film was marketed by the Mysterious Package Company, which offered horror fans a chance to delve into a world of puzzles, clues, and ancient runes.

The package they received was tied to the theme of the film and revolved around the concept of The King in Yellow, a play that was said to drive its audience to madness. The package included artifacts, newspaper articles, pictures, and charts that all added to the enigma and hinted at the possibility of summoning an ancient god. The real-life elements of the package, such as the bloody handprint and earthy smell, added to the overall sense of realism and the eerie atmosphere. The company also offered other packages with different themes, such as sci-fi, murder mystery, and adventure.

10. Paranormal Activity - The Viral Marketing Campaign

Paranormal Activity became one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed due to its combination of a captivating story and innovative marketing strategy. The movie was made by Oren Peli for $11,000 and was shot in a week in 2006. It kicked around at film festivals for a year before being brought to the attention of DreamWorks where Steven Spielberg took a liking to the film. The movie's success story, combined with Spielberg's endorsement, made it a must-see film. The marketing campaign for the film was a work of art, similar to the campaign for The Blair Witch Project (1999), which exploited the power of the Internet to stir up word-of-mouth and create a sense of mystery and reality.

During the campaign for Paranormal Activity the power of movie distribution was put in the hands of the audience by allowing them to vote for the film to come to their city through a "Demand it!" campaign on the studio's website. The total demand for the film was tracked on the website, and if it reached a certain level, the film would open nationwide. This approach brought a touch of old-school groundswell marketing to an age of top-down media saturation and was a pure publicity stunt that drummed up excitement for the movie. #ParanormalActivity #MarketingCampaign #IndieHorror #BlairWitchProject #StevenSpielberg #DemocratizedMarketing #OldSchoolMarketing #InnovativeMarketing #GroundswellMarketing #PublicityStunt.

11. The Babadook - The Mysterious Book

The Babadook, a 2014 Australian horror film, was one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed due to its unique and effective marketing strategies. The film's pop-up book, which was central to the story, played a big role in its marketing. The book's design, illustrations, and pop-up elements were created to be unsettling, drawing the viewer into the story and building suspense. The success of the film's strong reception at film festivals and its opening in Britain, along with a crowdfunding campaign to print a version of the pop-up book for sale, helped to further popularize the film.

The film's mysterious and creepy protagonist, the Babadook, also contributed to its success as a horror icon and is now widely recognized as one of the greatest horror monsters of all time. #TheBabadook #HorrorMarketing #IndieHorror

12. Terrifier 2: The Indie Horror Hit Shocking Moviegoers Everywhere

#Terrifier2, directed by Damien Leone, was a standout in the indie horror film genre, thanks to its successful marketing and crowdfunding strategy on IndieGoGo. Its box office success of $10 million on a budget of only $250,000 was a result of effective viral marketing and the resurgence of event cinema. The film was strategically promoted with influencer screenings and Regal Unlimited members to generate excitement before its theatrical release. The Halloween movie season brought with it a surprise box office hit – “Terrifier 2”, writer-director Damien Leone’s gory sequel to his 2016 hit "Terrifier". Despite being a micro-budget indie with a $250,000 price tag and no mainstream marketing, the film managed to shock the industry when it grossed just over $1 million at the domestic box office, up 28% from its debut weekend.

What’s driving interest around “Terrifier 2”? Reports of moviegoers walking out, fainting, or even vomiting during the movie have gone viral on social media, turning the bloody sequel into something of an endurance test for horror movie fans. Leone recently told Entertainment Weekly, “Listen, I would have loved to have a couple of walk-outs, I think

that’s sort of a badge of honor because it is an intense movie…”. He also mentioned that the film is more accessible to a wider audience, but it is still made for the hardcore fans who

have supported the franchise from the beginning. In fact, there is now a notorious murder scene in “Terrifier 1” that has everyone talking. The film continues to play in select theaters, and with its cliffhanger ending, audiences can expect to see a third installment from Leone in the future.

The success of “Terrifier 2” is a testament to the power of word-of-mouth and the impact it can have on a film’s marketing campaign. With next to zero mainstream promotion, the film has become one of the greatest indie horror films ever marketed, all thanks to the reactions of its audience.

Additionally, its distributor, Iconic Releasing, made the bold decision to release it without an MPA rating, which helped to generate buzz and maintain its uncensored status. This choice paid off, as the film made over $400,000 on opening night and continued to draw large crowds for one to two showtimes each night. The success of "Terrifier 2" has inspired other event cinema distributors to try to emulate its marketing success with their own films. #horrorfilms #eventcinema #marketing #Terrifier2 #indiegogo #raised215k #HorrorMovie #IndieFilm #SuccessStory

13. Winnie The Pooh - Blood and Honey

"Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey" is poised to be one of the greatest viral horror films of

all time, the NYTimes reports this Pooh is frightening, Oh Much More Than Bother: This Winnie the Pooh Is Terrifying. Directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield and co-produced by Scott Jeffrey, this micro-budget horror movie has taken the world by storm with its childhood bludgeoning premise, earning over $950,000 in Mexico alone in just two weekends. Its release across 1,500 screens in the U.S. and further screens in Latin America, Canada, the U.K., Japan, Australia, and Benelux, on Feb. 15, will only solidify its place in history as a horror sensation.

What sets this film apart is its unique and controversial plot, which sees Winnie and Piglet go on a cannibalistic rampage. The buzz surrounding the film began in mid-2022 when the plot was first announced, leading to bigger distributors taking over its release and a full theatrical rollout. The film's viral success was further solidified after stills, including one of Pooh ominously approaching a bikini-clad model, were shared online and went viral.

Frake-Waterfield and Jeffrey met a decade ago in Essex and have honed their craft in making movies frugally and efficiently. Their hard work has paid off with "Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey" and it's no surprise that a sequel is already in development. This film is a true testament to the power of viral marketing and the impact that a micro-budget film can have on the world of horror. #WinnieThePoohBloodAndHoney #MicroBudgetHorror #ViralSuccess #IndieFilmMarketing

These marketing campaigns are just a few examples of how horror film marketers have

successfully used creative and innovative methods to engage audiences and generate buzz

for their films. These campaigns not only established the film's brand, but also helped to create a sense of excitement, suspense, and anticipation for the film's release. They serve as a great source of inspiration for marketers looking to make a lasting impact with their own

horror film marketing campaigns. So, whether you're a fan of horror films, as aspiring horror film director, or just a marketing enthusiast, these campaigns are sure to inspire you and get your heart racing.

Drawing from one central theme from each film presented by each film in this article, I would like to add that the one essential element in a memorable horror film is a terrifying villain. A well-crafted horror villain can send shivers down the spine of even the bravest of viewers. A memorable horror villain can often become the face of the franchise and even reach cult status. If you are interested in breaking into the horror genre, here are 7 tips to screenwriting a terrifying horror villain. The marketing campaigns for these films can be used to highlight the horror villain and create a sense of anticipation and excitement. For instance, the marketing campaign for the movie "Psycho" focused on the iconic character of Norman Bates, which helped to create a sense of suspense and anticipation for the film's release. Similarly, the marketing campaign for the movie "Halloween" focused on the masked killer Michael Myers, who quickly became a horror icon that audiences looked forward too with each new installment.

Bonus Campaign: Final Summer, callback slasher to the Friday the 13th franchise

One of The Best New Horror films to Stream in 2023

Before I conclude this article I want to dive right into the heart of a live campaign. John Isberg, the writer and director, understands the horror genre and its fans, and has masterfully crafted one of the best new horror films to stream in 2023. A story that appeals to the core audience of thrill-seekers who love to be scared. The film's suspenseful and emotionally impactful story, combined with its strong visuals and musical score, has generated anticipation and excitement among horror fans who are looking for a fresh and exciting experience.

Isberg has also shown a keen understanding of his target audience by conducting market research and using social media to reach them. Be on the lookout for future updates regarding this release. Indie films like "Final Summer" can stand out from major studio releases by tapping into niche audiences and creating a loyal following, and social media is a cost-effective way for indie filmmakers to promote their films. With its strong online presence, "Final Summer" is poised to be one of the greatest modern viral horror films of all time and definitely one of the top horror films to stream in 2023. #FinalSummer #IndieFilmMarketing #SocialMediaSuccess #BestHorrorFilmToStreamIn2023 #TopHorrorFilmToStreamIn2023

True Indie Films: A Path to Breaking In

In the world of filmmaking, the term "indie" has become nebulous. However, at its core, a true indie film is one made completely outside the Hollywood studio system by filmmakers without industry connections. For those looking to break into the business, creating standout indie films can provide a pathway to success.

Defining the True Indie

A true indie feature is produced by filmmakers operating outside the studio sphere, without financing, resources or ties from major production companies. The directors, writers, crew and actors are not established names. The budget is miniscule by Hollywood standards. Release and distribution are independent. The filmmakers' goal is simply to make an outstanding piece of cinema with their limited resources.

The Allure of the Outsider

Part of the appeal of true indie films is their outsider status. Freed from studio formulas and conventions, true indies can take risks and innovate with raw, authentic stories. Some achieve cult status or critical acclaim on the festival circuit, like Reservoir Dogs or Clerks. Others gain enough traction to put their makers on the map, such as Moonlight and The Blair Witch Project. While success is rare, it happens often enough to motivate newcomers.

Parlaying Indie Success

For filmmakers starting on the outside, an attention-grabbing indie feature can serve as a springboard to mainstream success. After impressing critics and audiences, directors are sometimes offered studio deals, name actors gain visibility, and crews display their skills. Oftentimes the original indie is later remade as a studio picture. While fame is elusive, the indie path provides the best odds for unknowns to get their big break.

The Democratization of Filmmaking

Modern technology makes creating high-quality indie films more accessible than ever. Affordable equipment, editing software, and online distribution free filmmakers from reliance on studios. Passion and talent are the main prerequisites. While barriers remain, determined directors are crafting impressive indie cinema on microbudgets. The playing field has been leveled for those with drive and creativity.

True indie filmmakers operate on the fringes pursuing their unique visions. For some, their sacrifice and resilience will lead to fame and fortune. But at its core, the indie journey is about channeling one's voice into cinema that resonates.

True indie films are more than just movies; they are a testament to the enduring spirit of creative expression. These films remind us that, regardless of our background or connections, the power of storytelling knows no bounds. They serve as an inspiration to all who aspire to break into the film industry, proving that passion, innovation, and unwavering determination can open doors and create opportunities that transcend the confines of Hollywood.

So, whether you're a budding filmmaker with a script in hand or a cinephile eager to explore the unfiltered world of indie cinema, remember that the true indie spirit is a force to be reckoned with. It's a pathway to breaking into the industry on your own terms, forging your own creative destiny, and leaving an indelible mark on the world of cinema.

Let me know if you have an independent film and would like to learn more about breaking in by going to the Submit Your Film page. I aimed to define true indie films and summarize how they can provide opportunities to break into the industry. Savant Artists has been helpful to films in all budget ranges across nearly all genres.

Concluding Remarks

These marketing campaigns are just a few examples of how horror film marketers have successfully used creative and innovative methods to engage audiences and generate buzz for their films. These campaigns not only established the film's brand, but also helped to create a sense of excitement, suspense, and anticipation for the film's release. They serve as a great source of inspiration for marketers looking to make a lasting impact with their own horror film marketing campaigns.

By blurring the lines between fiction and reality, these campaigns were able to generate fear and build anticipation in a way that traditional marketing methods simply could not. They played on people's fears and created a sense of unease, making the film's story seem all the more frightening.

The marketing of these films also helped to establish the film's brand and create a lasting impact. For example, The Conjuring and its spin-off films have become a well-established franchise, and the marketing campaigns for each film have only helped to strengthen the franchise's brand.

In conclusion, the top 13 indie horror film marketing campaigns discussed in this article showcase the importance of creativity, innovation, and originality in horror film marketing. These campaigns serve as a great source of inspiration for marketers looking to make a lasting impact with their own horror film marketing campaigns. So, next time you're in the market for a good horror film, remember to pay attention to the marketing campaign as well – it might just be the scariest part of the film!


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Excellent Film Resources

If you're interested in learning more about the film industry and improving your filmmaking skills, there are many excellent resources available online. Some of our favorites include the American Film Institute, the Sundance Institute, and the International Documentary Association. Additionally, many film schools and universities offer degree programs in film


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