Is J.J. Abrams' 'Cloverfield' the Next Monster Hit?

J.J. Abrams' latest horror flick has been shrouded in secrecy, until now.

ByABC News
January 17, 2008, 12:08 PM

Jan. 17, 2008 — -- "Cloverfield" has been shrouded in mystery since the grainy trailer puzzled moviegoers last summer, but the fog lifts Friday when the movie hits the big screen.Now the question is whether the J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie is the next "'Blair Witch Project" -- or "Snakes on a Plane."

Early Internet chatter has been a marketer's dream. Bloggers have been debating everything from the meaning of the movie's title to the kind of creature that decimates Manhattan. Only a handful of people were permitted to see the movie until last week.

The approach has worked so far. Nerd king Harry Knowles of gushed that the film "is a bold genre-reinvention unlike anything we've ever seen before."

But the real test will come when audiences are asked to fork over cash for a film they know little about.

"The question is whether the strategy of not giving a literal explanation about your movie pays off," says Richard Klady of "Not many movies go that route."

Nor do many movies keep story lines hidden from studio executives and even their stars. Abrams opted to use little-known actors who were required to sign agreements that they would not reveal plot points. Some actors didn't even know what they were auditioning for.

"Some of them thought they were trying out for a 'Felicity' movie," says Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, who created the television series with Abrams. "We didn't have a script when we started, or even when we made the trailer. Just an outline. We wanted to keep everyone guessing."

The guessing began in July, when "Cloverfield's" trailer played before "Transformers:" grainy footage from a handheld video camera of a party that's interrupted by an explosion, fireball and the Statue of Liberty's head caroming down the street. No voice-over, no title, no music. (Cloverfield, incidentally, is the name of the military operation to stop the monster, though that's not spelled out in the film.)

After the trailer aired, filmmakers launched a viral Internet campaign, complete with MySpace page profiles of its characters and websites that offer possible clues.