Cloverfield: The monster is coming...

It's the new 'Blair Witch Project' – a cheap horror flick with no stars that's smashing US records, thanks to viral ads online. And it's heading here. By Rachel Shields
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There are no stars, the budget was tiny and the name gives no clue to what it's about. But the horror movie Cloverfield is heading for the biggest January opening of all time. American box office records are being broken, thanks to an extraordinarily successful online marketing campaign.

It started with a five-minute ad released six months ago on the internet that did not even mention the name of the new film made by J J Abrams, producer of the award-winning TV series Lost. But the ad was gripping stuff. So was a second one. Word spread and together they have been viewed more than 1.5 million times on the file-sharing website YouTube.

Like the film, the ads are shot on a shaky hand-held camera, which records a group of beautiful twentysomething New Yorkers enjoying a party, before cutting to scenes of devastation as an unknown monster destroys the city. They end with the image of a headless Statue of Liberty.

"It's a great film, and the marketing campaign has been really effective," says Sam Thielman, a writer with Variety magazine.

Described by Abrams as "Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project", Cloverfield is now hotly anticipated worldwide, and likely to replicate its US box office success when it hits the big screen here on 1 February.

Cloverfield's £15m budget far exceeds that of The Blair Witch Project, at £150,000, but compared to most Hollywood blockbusters, the film was made on a shoestring.

In choosing up-and-coming actors and a grainy, home-video technique, Abrams avoided most of the costs associated with big-screen action films, reportedly blowing much of Cloverfield's budget on special effects. The advertising campaign has done the job of an A-list star, generating column inches and attracting huge audiences, for just a fraction of the price.

"These sorts of ads are a great idea, and work well with films that have a high 'geek factor'," says Mr Thielman. "They are often aimed at young people."

Warner Bros has been using a similarly inventive strategy to generate public interest in the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, to be released in July. Six minutes of the film were "accidentally" screened in Imax cinemas in December, and the footage was quickly uploaded on to YouTube, where it has received thousands of hits.

"I doubt all films will be advertised like this," says Mr Thielman. "If you were making a period drama, it wouldn't make any sense to use this kind of marketing, as it wouldn't have any bearing on the film."