A tagline is a necessary component of film advertising—and so much more. A great tagline paired with an awesome ad or poster can be as evocative and powerful as a poem, hooking potential viewers with a one-two punch of curiosity and emotional intensity. Some taglines are so impactful they transcend the films they’re attached to, finding a place in communal consciousness, and weaving themselves into the very fabric of society.
While taglines are employed today as they have been since the dawn of cinema, they’ve become less integral to the overall presentation of new films. A brilliant tagline is still just as impactful, but in the Age of the Internet, fans and potential viewers see more than just promo art; with a few clicks, we have access to trailers, stills, crew & actor bios, and even early reviews.
When I was a kid, there were these things called “newspapers” that would appear on peoples’ front porches every morning. While I didn’t have much interest in current events in my youth, I was always excited by the arrival of Friday’s edition, especially the Entertainment section. I’d marvel over the full page ads for the weekend’s new movie releases, regarding each as a brilliant black & white mini-poster. The best and most exciting, those outstanding combinations of art and tagline, would end up pinned on my bedroom wall.
Compiled for your enjoyment below, in no particular order, find 10 of the most evocative taglines from some of horror’s most enduring classics. In some cases, these taglines have taken on lives of their own, having worked their way into popular vernacular. Enjoy!
The Fly (1986, Cronenberg): Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Hands down, one of the best horror move taglines in history: Short, impactful, and scary as hell. Another thing that makes this tagline so brilliant: It’s actually a line of dialog in the film.
Alien (1979, Scott): In space no one can hear you scream.
Perhaps the most famous and often plagiarized tagine ever comes from Ridley Scott’s Alien. What we have here is a factual statement with terrifying implications. Of course no one can hear you scream in space, nothing terribly scary there. But it’s the idea that there is something unknown out there that will inspire screaming—now that’s utterly bone-chilling.
Halloween (1978, Carpenter): The night HE came home.
What makes the tagline to John Carpenter’s Halloween so brilliant is that it manages to encapsulate the entire story in a single pithy sentence in a way that’s absolutely intriguing. At the time, no one knew who “HE” was, but the capitalization and unnerving implication seems to suggest that it could be the Devil himself… and in some ways, it was!
Night of the Living Dead (1968, Romero): They won’t stay dead.
Before Night of the Living Dead, a “zombie”, in popular culture, was a human under the spell of a Voodoo Priestess. With his seminal film, George Romero redefined the zombie in a way that’s left a lasting and significant impression in mainstream consciousness. The implications of the tagline are as maddening as they are terrifying, completely undermining one of the only universal human truths: That death is the ultimate end.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Hooper): Who will survive and what will be left of them?
What makes the tagline of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so brilliant and cutting (pun intended) is that implication that survival is, at best, a mixed bag. It conjures images of bloody amputees and implies an ordeal so traumatic, even living through it can hardly be considered a blessing.
Dawn on the Dead (1979, Romero): When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.
The brilliance of the tagline for Dawn of the Dead stems from its biblical tone; it frames a zombie outbreak in terms of an apocalypse (for the first time in cinema), and implies a punishment for mankind designed by God himself. The implication that this is a disaster foretold is also disturbing. While this quote is actually derived from a belief in the Voodoo offshoot religion of Santeria, the Bible does indeed contain verses that could be viewed as an omen of a zombie apocalypse, most notably, Isaiah 26:19: Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
Phantasm (1979, Coscarelli): If this one doesn’t scare you… you’re already dead.
The tagline for Phantasm is so chilling because it implies a universal terror that’s sure to afflict any living human on earth. It also implies that the film is so terrifying it might literally scare you to death!
Jaws 2 (1978, Szwarc): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
You can almost hear that famous, ominous cello riff, as though the notes themselves are interwoven into the words of this tagline. It’s brilliant. And the terrifying implication at this statement’s core: The beast from the first film was not an anomaly, but one of several—or many! I’ll do my swimming in a pool for the rest of my life, thank you very much!
Pet Sematary (1989, Lambert): Sometimes, dead is better.
The brilliance of the tagline of Pet Sematary is two-fold: 1, It threatens a state of existence worse than death and, 2, it resonates long after a person has seen the movie. Like The Fly, this tagline is culled from the film’s scrip; once seen, it’s impossible to read these words without imagining them spoke by actor Fred Gwynne playing neighborly yet haunted Jud Crandall: “Sometimes, dead is better.” True the impact of this tagline has been softened by a side-splitting parody on South Park, but the fact that it so effectively brings the scariest moments of the film to the forefront of my memory makes it outstanding!
The Lost Boys (1987, Schumacher): Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.
While horror fans (especially boys) have long felt a kinship to certain movie villains as oddball outsiders, the tagline for The Lost Boys suddenly made it cool to be a freak. Being forcibly turned into a bloodsucking vampire seemed like a blessing, a shortcut to a rock star lifestyle of sex, drugs, and partying. It also inspires a sense of comradery absent from most vampire movies that proceeded it, where the villain is usually portrayed as a consummate loner.
What are some of your favorite horror movie taglines? Sound off in the Comments section!
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Just keep telling yourself…it’s only a movie…it’s only a movie …it’s only a movie
My favorite was from Aliens “This time it’s war!” Seeing that promo poster as a young boy made my heart pound, i knew the film was going to be epic. Still one of my all time favorites.