Due in theaters next Friday, Warner Bros.’ remake of It is based on a 1990 TV mini series that aired on ABC, and of course before that on the original novel by Stephen King, first published in 1986.
The first teaser trailer, released this past March, features the track “Believe”, composed by Joe Bauer of Hi-Finesse Sound. We can already tell from the dark stormy weather and the mysteriously foreboding, slowly arpeggiated piano that something unfortunate will befall our on-screen characters. Sure enough, at 0:23 the boy running down the street gets smacked by a municipal construction barricade, cutting short a swelling string chord. We are sonically teased into believing he is safe. A single piano note and another swelling mass of sound follows as the toy boat eventually falls down the storm sewer, and the sound is cut again at 0:33. It takes a full eight seconds – until 0:41, an eternity in trailer shots – before we are suddenly hit with a wall of cacophonous, thundering sound and the faintest glimpse of what must be the eponymous It, otherwise known as Pennywise the clown.
This is arguably the essence of horror trailer music and sound editing: suspenseful quiet and sudden, shocking sound to jump scare the audioviewer. In a way, it is the inverse of the comedic trailer, where music often drops out so that a punch line or particularly dialogue receives maximum attention, and the music starts again in a way that is fairly smooth and anticipated.
After this initial sequence we get our first title cards at 0:44, which unsurprisingly brings up Stephen King first and foremost. At 0:51 we hear some truly ominous, low tones, and synthesizers that gradually bend downwards in pitch in sinister fashion. It is already apparent through this aural cue that the boy’s life can no longer be the same after his first encounter with It. The strings in the background never quite settle; they are almost microtonally abrasive. At 1:06 we merely hear a child’s voice saying “we all float down here,” with a pitch black background. This is a key moment in the trailer, as the movie It, and its effectiveness of its horror, can be traced back to a fear of the unknown, where our imaginations can get the best of us.
At 1:10 a pulsing synthesizer and a strange synthesized motif consisting of a repeated sequence of three half steps on top begin to overwhelm the audio track, playing louder than the actors’ voices. At 1:33 we hear another percussive hit in the sound, but the music doesn’t end as we might expect it to at this point, playing further with the audioviewer’s expectations. Instead, as the kids go through the old slideshow, accented hits in the lower strings slowly begin to get louder and faster, in tandem with the slideviewer which itself begins to get faster and out of control, its ticking eventually becoming part of the offscreen sonic tapestry of the scene. Finally, a single tick accompanies the date card (“this September”) and we see a new sequence of distorted camera angles and what sounds like someone’s laughing edited to resemble the three-note motif mentioned earlier, with yet another slowly building crescendo. It’s here that we see a montage of what might be some of the film’s most disturbing scenes.
For the last major scene, we see the boy from the first scene chanting “you’ll float too,” and the clearest shot up to that point of Pennywise, screaming and running, presumably towards one of the kids. This opposition of child and killer clown builds on the stock loss-of-innocence motif that haunts horror films (and trailers). The final title cards offers some credits and a promotional social media hashtag, with one last clicking sound from the slideshow viewer.
Constantly playing with aural expectations while providing a sense of narrative cohesion is a challenge that is particularly true for trailers for horror films. The first teaser trailer for It deftly manages this by offering a wide variety of sounds and sound editing techniques within a short time frame.
- Curtis Perry