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Nightmare Anniversary: “CRY_WOLF” and The AIM Alternate Reality Game!

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Welcome to Nightmare Anniversary, where FANGORIA looks back at film’s celebrating special anniversaries this year and toast to the times in which they were released. What skeletons remain in the closet of the fright films we love so dearly? That’s what Nightmare Anniversary aims to dig up.

CRY_WOLF is such an odd little title in retrospect, isn’t it? It’s not really a classic of the genre, it was funded by the winnings of a Chrysler-sponsored short film competition and, truth be told, it was almost a decade late to the PG-13 post-slasher scream boom. Nevertheless, 10 years later, it’s a film that still occasionally pops up within horror fans minds, especially considering how it launched the careers of BATES MOTEL producer (and KICK-ASS 2 director) Jeff Wadlow and SUPERNATURAL star Jared Padalecki. But what this writer most remembers CRY_WOLF for is that it was among the first films to take advantage of an interactive pre-release internet marketing strategy.

While the internet had been used previously by some horror releases, including BLAIR WITCH 2 and THE RING, the fact was that internet users had still largely been bound by the slow speeds of dial-up connects until the mid-’00s, which made viral marketing more difficult. But around ’05, the threshold to broadband and DSL had been crossed enough for marketing to become more experimental and effective on the web, and Universal Pictures found CRY_WOLF to be the perfect guinea pig thanks to its “whodunit” slasher gimmick. And furthermore, CRY_WOLF’s premise allowed it to take advantage of one of BLAIR WITCH’s marketing achievements: the Alternate Reality Game.

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Essentially, Universal and America Online teamed to bring this ARG to life 2 months before the film’s release, using AOL’s extremely popular AOL Instant Messenger program to create a virtual game of “Mafia,” in which the last man standing would win a free trip to Hollywood. Participating AIM users, who also had to be mobile-ready (which wasn’t all too common in 2005, kiddos), would send messages to one another to try to eliminate them as potential “wolves.” However, those who covertly were “wolves” also had the power to eliminate these users each night if not eliminated earlier in the game.

And while the success of the game is somewhat shrouded in mystery, it didn’t necessarily pay off for the film as CRY_WOLF only grossed $15 million worldwide. Although that’s over 15 times the production budget, that doesn’t incorporate worldwide advertising budgets, and even with impressive home video sales, the film never received a follow-up and somewhat fell into obscurity. But CRY_WOLF still has its fans, especially given how it circumvented its slasher tropes around a PG-13 rating, and if any of them earned their way to Hollywood via an AIM ARG, then FANGORIA salutes you.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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