PLEASE LEAVE THE THEATER: WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD GIMMICKS GONE?

Last month, we assessed the power and value of an effective movie one-sheet. Whether it be to garner optimum amounts of theater patrons or to merely be suitable for framing, the one-sheet is an important piece of cinema that is becoming extinct, or at the very least, largely ignored. This time around I wanna say a few words about my favorite movie marketing ploy that is all but forgotten; the gimmick.

It seems that “star power” has become the one and only gimmick that Hollywood has up its sleeve these days. “Oh boy look, it’s another Will Smith movie.” Sheesh! It also seems that all of a sudden EVERYONE is a movie buff. I mean you’d be hard pressed to locate a cinema-coffee house where folks can meander around and discuss “The Seventh Seal” by Bergman. However, you can certainly find a table full of people sitting at Applebees or Bennigans comparing notes on the artistic merits of “Finding Nemo.” Wonderful, isn’t it? The point of all this is that no matter what Hollywood pumps out, the theaters will most likely be full, and therefore huckstering and ballyhoo are no longer needed. Hollywood is lazy, plain and simple. CGI is proof of that.

So onto the gimmicks. Most everyone should be familiar with the name William Castle. If not for the fact that he is the all-time king of the movie gimmick then at least for those abysmal remakes of 13 Ghosts and House On Haunted Hill. If you’re still at a loss for who or what William Castle is then check out Joe Dante’s “Matinee.” Only the names have been changed but otherwise this is a really good telling of how Castle operated outside the Hollywood mainstream. Castle gleefully bombarded his patrons with more gimmicks than any other movie director. In other words he gave you more bang for your buck.

Castle launched his barrage of movie contrivances with “Macabre.” Straight away, theater patrons were insured by Lloyd’s Of London against “death by fright.” Of course no one ever cashed in either figuratively or literally but it made an otherwise dull thriller all the more enticing. For “House on Haunted Hill” he gave us Emergo. Emergo was simple in concept, but dreadfully complicated for theater owners as they had to string a plastic skeleton from the ceiling and have an employee reel the bugger from one end of the theater to the other. Sometimes this effect would illicit screams but sometimes overzealous teenagers would rip the thing down in order to have some sort of souvenir to take home, and this is where my love of the gimmick movie comes in; I adore souvenirs as many others do.

Castle must’ve been aware of all this too, because “13 Ghosts” was filmed in Illusion-O and with this wonderful process ticket buyers were given a Ghost Viewer. Look into the red gel to see the ghosts or peer your skittish eyes through the blue one to not see the ghosts. Fantastic idea, and you got to keep the viewer. I guess this proved too costly as Castle went back to rigging the theaters with gadgets as opposed to letting movie goers keep the ephemera. His 1961 “Psycho” knock off, “Homicidal,” had a “fright break” where spineless patrons could retreat to “coward’s corner”(a small booth bathed in yellow light) for the climactic ending. And for “The Tingler” random seats were equipped with small electric buzzers that were set to go off just when the Tingler was supposedly running amok. All fun for sure but I wanted to take the “coward’s corner” booth home with me.

3-D is the most obvious of movie gizmos and also the 2nd most widely used. Even still, 3-D has rarely been altogether effective, but whether or not it works you still get to keep those groovy glasses. “House Of Wax” was fairly good as was “Friday The 13th Part 3,” “Jaws 3″ and Andy Warhol’s “Flesh For Frankenstein.” But for my money “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” will reign supreme as the greatest 3-D movie ever using the red and blue anaglyph lenses. Of course there were many others; “Cat Women Of The Moon,” “Freddy’s Dead,” “It Came From Outer Space,” “The Mad Magician” and there was even a Jane “Cross Your Heart Bra” Russell 3-D vehicle called “The French Line.” The worst of the lot has to be “Robot Monster.” This thing was so bad that when Rhino released it on DVD they opted for “Intriguing 2-D!” One of my favorites is the 1961 schlocker “The Mask.” During this sleeper, viewers are urged to don their masks when the star dons his and the 3-D sequences that follow are fairly convincing in an hallucinogenic sort of way, plus those 3-D viewers are the coolest ones going. I am such a sucker for this kind of thing that I nearly plopped my rear down to watch “Spy Kids 3-D” but for once I exercised a smidgeon of self-control and only fished a discarded pair of the glasses outta the trash.

The story continues in part two of PLEASE LEAVE THE THEATER: WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD GIMMICKS GONE?>>>




Posted on March 22, 2005 in Features by
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