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

Updated: Mar 9

Hint: One bonus campaign that is underway right now discussed below, Final Summer.

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.

#M3GAN #HorrorMovieMarketing #GenZ #SuccessfulCampaign

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.

Book a tour now!

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,