The Snowman is officially too scary to be aired pre-watershed. No, that's not the Raymond Briggs Christmas classic, but instead the trailer for the film based on Jo Nesbo's Norwegian crime thriller about an elusive serial killer.

The advert featured a dismembered body lying in the snow, a woman getting her leg stuck in a bear trap, and an image of a severed head with a voice-over saying "a head is missing". The advert, for the film starring Michael Fassbender which was released in October, was only cleared to air before 7.30pm anyway, but received five complaints from people who believed it was far too scary and inappropriate for children to see in the evening.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaint, ruling that it should only be shown after 9pm due to the way the gruesome imagery escalated a feeling of fear and menace.

The ruling said: "The ASA noted the ad contained a number of threatening scenes in which people were shown, or appeared, to be in distress, and bloody gory imagery of dismembered body parts and a severed head. While brief, the combination of the frightening images in succession created an overall sense of escalating fear and menace.

"We did not agree that there was respite from such imagery, and believed that the effect was to build rather than reduce suspense. We considered the content of the ad was frightening and gruesome to the extent that it was unsuitable for children and younger teenagers."

Universal Pictures had requested the campaign agencytarget the trailer at adults aged 25 to 54. Clearcast, which approved the trailer to be shown after 7.30pm, said it was clear the advert was for a film, placing the scenes into appropriate context.

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They defended the shot of the dismembered body by saying it was very brief, lasting under a second, and that the body itself was at a distance, taking up less than a tenth of the screen. Clearcast also claimed the shot was purely clinical as clothing was still on all the body parts, although there was some blood on the snow.

Also defending the severed head, the ASA report said: "They [Clearcast] believed it was neither gory nor lingering. They said from the visuals it would be hard to tell definitively that it was a severed head."

Universal Pictures said there were no plans to use the trailer again as the film has already been released.

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Michael Fassbender stars in the creepy film about a serial killer.