Some box office pundits will tell you Super 8 made a mistake not revealing too much before the film’s release, but lo and behold, now there’s reports that other films could be well served from trying this bold marketing idea.
Obviously, such a strategy is certainly nothing new, as hiding the monster goes all the way back to the RKO classic Cat People, and the classic examples include the original version of The Thing, Rosemary’s Baby, Jaws, and Alien.
“There are many good reasons for keeping the monster hidden, just as a simple dramatic principle of writing something scary, the unknown is the most frightening thing,” said Dan O’Bannon, the late screenwriter of Alien.
“Make the audience squint, stare and try to catch glimpses of the thing in the shadows. Underexposure is always more effective than overexposure when you’re trying to scare people.”
Screenwriting teachers often mention the importance of limiting a script to a small number of characters, and O’Bannon only wrote one monster into Alien. He had previously penned a screenplay called Omnivore, which didn’t get made because it had dozens of creatures that would have been too expensive to create at the time.
When O’Bannon was writing the screenplay for Alien in 1976, he was very conscious of the limitations of special effects at the time. ”I wanted it to be obvious to studio executives in 1976 that the monster was not going to be cripplingly difficult to pull off,” he said.
“I was very aware of that as I wrote, and I wrote what would give them the fewest number of headaches on the day they were shooting.”
Jaws of course had to keep the monster hidden, because the mechanical shark kept breaking down, but even if the shark was working, you still weren’t supposed to see the shark until the kid on the raft gets eaten. (The scene where the nude swimmer gets eaten, and the two guys try to catch the shark on the pier were always planned never to show the shark.)
Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottlieb says, “Steven and I were both impressed by The Thing as young moviegoers, and we knew (hiding the monster) was a valuable device. We couldn’t show the monster, we didn’t have a monster!
“If we had a full budget for the shark and the shark was working, you would have seen much more of it. It may have been problematic in it wouldn’t have been as effective of a movie, but I would give Steven credit enough that if we had a shark for all the shots we needed a shark for, I think we would have created an equally terrifying movie, we just would have gone about it in a different way.”
When Roman Polanski decided not to show the infant spawn of Satan in Rosemary’s Baby, the film’s producer, William Castle, was certain the audience would feel burned. Polanski said, “Of course, but I don’t think we should ever let them (see it). On the contrary Bill, everyone will have his own personal image. If we show our version—no matter what we do—it’ll spoil that illusion. If I do my job right, people will actually believe they’ve seen the baby.”
As Castle recalled in his autobiography, “Polanski was right. Many people leaving the theater believed they had seen Him. When Rosemary was shown on TV, columnists reported that ‘due to censorship,’ ABC had cut the scenes where the “baby” was shown.’ Rosemary’s ‘baby’ was never photographed.”