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When the indie outfits  that specialized in genre fare could afford to do t.v. ad buys, they could often maximize the bang for their buck with a good 30 or 60 second spot. Few genres were as well suited to the short-form television trailer as horror. That offered just enough time to deliver one good jump-scare or a creepy yet t.v.-safe image of fear that could catch a viewer numbed by ads for junk food and deodorant off-guard, intriguing them enough for a potential ticket sale.

Such horror film t.v. ads often left their mark on impressionable kid viewers and if you talk to film fanatics who grew up during the ’70s and ’80s, the majority of them will have at least one tale about the horror film trailer they saw on t.v. that became nightmare fuel for their elementary school psyche. For example, the t.v. spots for It’s Alive and Magic are often referenced in conversations about this topic. A lesser known but no less potent example is the t.v. trailer for Silent Scream, a 30-second creepfest that put a lot of fear in a lot of young minds in its heyday.

The t.v. spot for Silent Scream is essentially a condensed version of its theatrical trailer, boiled down to 30 seconds that could play on regular television in 1980 while still packing a potent little wallop. The first ten seconds throw us right into unease. In blackness we hear a voice ask if anyone is alone: this is immediately followed by a woman in nightclothes meekly climbing a dark, cobweb-strewn set of stairs that create a narrow passageway within a building. A narrator taunts the viewer with challenges as we watch her progress: “Are you afraid of the dark? Of being alone? Or are you willing to explore the unknown…”

As seconds eleven through seventeen unfurl, the narrator continues to lay it on thick, encouraging the brave souls who let their “natural curiosity” guide them into confronting the unknown. We see our heroine emerge into some sort of disused attic. The one sign of life is tiny square opening in a wall that appears to lead into a lit room. She sees a bedsheet and reaches through the gap to retrieve it. The narration turns on a dime into pure scare tactics at the eighteen second mark, warning us “… but what if this is a nightmare – and you are its prisoner?”

As the narrator finishes the above words around the 23-second mark, a hand flies through the narrow gap in the wall and grabs the heroine, dragging the poor, unwilling woman out of sight as God only knows what happens to her. We also see the bedsheet was reaching for is stained with blood. Slam-cut to the a red-tinted image that zooms out of a screaming mouth that was used on the poster as a superimposed graphic for the film’s title overtakes the frame. The narrator leaves us with a final grim thought to explain the title: “When terror is so sudden, there’s no time to scream.”

In other words, this is some prime vintage salesmanship. In thirty seconds, it establishes a dark atmosphere, throws down the gauntlet for viewers predisposed to horror material and leaves the viewer with a tidy little shock. Decades after the fact, it’s easy to see why this little spot continues to inspire comments of the “Omigod that scared the hell out of me as a kid” ilk today.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Silent Scream, click here.