But in the case of next month's home invasion thriller The Strangers, according to an article featured this week in Advertising Age, it gets even more cynical that that. I'm sure you've had the movie's "inspired by true events" tagline shoved down your throat by now, and you're probably wondering, "When did that happen? How could I have missed it in the news?" Simple: because it never did actually happen.
Universal Pictures President of Marketing Adam Fogelson told Ad Age:
There is absolutely a distinction between 'based on' and 'inspired by. 'Based on' means there are specific events that are being used as the basis for the story. 'Inspired by,' well, that's a much looser definition.
By "looser definition," Mr. Fogelson seems to mean, "bold-faced lie." Because in the production notes for The Strangers, the film's writer/director Bryan Bertino relates the supposed "true events" that "inspired" his movie:
That part of the story came to me from a childhood memory. As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In The Strangers, the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who've knocked on the front door; it's the reverse.
There you have it, folks. That sure is a loose definition for "inspired by true events," isn't it? It's amazing what today's marketing gurus can pull off with a little semantic tapdancing. Now granted, home invasions do occur all the time, often with horrific results. But to say that the movie is inspired by true events is more than a little misleading, since the idea is to get people to think there was a real case on which The Strangers was based, when, in fact, there was not.
When a studio pulls a trick like this to drum up interest in a movie, it gets me thinking that they're hedging their bets and trying to compensate for a release they don't have much faith in. Which is a shame, since the trailers have actually looked pretty promising.