gimmicks better than gold

by Art Chantry:

the films of william castle were (and still are) crowd-pleasing favorites. back in the 1950’s, he showboated his films in places like “famous monsters of filmland” magazine (where he had a running column called “william’s castle”) and huckstered his screenigns as events above and beyond the call of duty. going to a william castle movie was a movie event like no other.


as recently as his last film (BUG, 1975) he even went so far as to take out a life insurance policy on the film’s star – “hercules” the cockroach. for william castle, a good gimmick was better than gold. he could take a cornball idea like that and turn it into a box office bonanza.

some of his other famous films include ‘the tingler’ (filmed in “precepto” with little buzzers placed in the theater seats to scare you) and 13 ghosts (filmed in ‘illusion-0″, with special 3D ‘ghostviewer’ glass handed out to allow you to see – or not see – the ghosts.) some films had simpler gimmicks like a ‘fright break’ to allow you cool off if the movie freaks you out and nurses in the lobby to administer anti-fear medical treatment in an emergency. one of his more elaborate films had several different endings filmed and the audience was allowed to actually vote on the ‘befitting’ ending for the villain. all audiences voted to kill the bad guy. the other ending where he survived was so seldom shown that they stopped bothering to include it with the reel and it’s now lost.

the one gimmick i was fascinated with as a little kid was “emerg0″. this was something castle created to promote his film, “house on haunted hill”. there are several shock-value scenes (i believe filmed in 3D) that included jump cuts to scary faces and severed plastic heads and even a floating skeleton. the thing that made emerg0 so special was, even though you are watching a skeleton eerily float toward you on the screen in 3D glasses, william castle promised the illusion of it coming out of the screen and flying over your heads. what he did was have a inflatable plastic skeleton on a rope and pulley system that would creak overhead while the audience (hopefully) recoiled in abject terror. what actually happened was that the skeleton became a target for jujube’s and popcorn.

but, to my young imagination, i still wondered what that would look like. i mean, it sounded really cool to me. the movie scared me as a kid and in my fantasies, i imagined that floating skeleton would have been really SOMETHING! but, i only got to see that movie on late-night TV, so no ‘emerg0″ for me. alas!

there was a famous photographer named “weegee”. he was a bit of a nutjob and made a living following the police and the fire dept. to crime scenes and the like, where he would photograph the action in crisp photo journalistic style. but weegee was a bit more than just an ambulance chaser. he was documenting american culture in his own twisted way. at a crime scene, instead of just snapping the corpus delicti he would famously TURN AROUND and photograph the gaping crowd staring at the corpse instead!

weegee also was an early paparazzi photographer, annoying the hollywood elite with in-your-face snaps of pecadillos and awkward moments. many really famous shots of celebrities that we sill enjoy today online are actually weegee photos – like that infamous photo of sophia loren distastfully looking down at jayne mansfield’s overflowing bustline. that was a weegee. the guy knew people and he knew no boundaries. and he loved taking photos of people just being people, warts and all.

this is weegee photo of a crowd at a screening of william castle’s “house on haunted hill”. please note the full blown spine-chilling ‘emerg0′ process in action. this is what it looked like? i’m crushed. that’s really terrible. pretty cool, eh?

h="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true">

This entry was posted in Cinema/Visual/Audio, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>