• Rebecca Gallon

Sensory Cinema - Film Gimmicks

Today I diverge slightly from interactive storytelling to talk to you about the wonderful world of film gimmicks. Since its very beginning exhibitors and filmmakers have tried to push the limits of storytelling and extend the traditional definition of cinema.


A movie gimmick is an unusual idea intended to enhance the viewing experience of a film and to of course increase sales. 3D is a gimmick, as well as many online marketing campaign such as the first trailer for the Blair Witch Project that made the film look like a real story and not a scripted horror film, or the Willy Wonka chocolates with golden tickets to find that promoted Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. These examples were a success but many gimmicks, especially when part of the viewings and not only marketing of films have often been rejected by viewers or cinema owners. What were they and why were they rejected by audiences? Read this post to find out.






It is impossible to talk about film gimmicks without mentioning horror film director William Castle. He used many novel techniques to attract viewers and create unique experiences. In 1959, his film House on the Haunted Hill featured a plastic skeleton hidden in a box next to the screen, which pooped out and flew over the audience on a guy wire during a climactic scene. He called this "The Emergo".



The Emergo: A squelleton that would drop from the ceiling during the film.

Credit: https://wendylovesjesus.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/do-you-dare-enter-the-house-on-haunted-hill/


One year Later Castle introduced "Percepto" for his film The Tingler. Certain seats in each theater were rigged with motors that created vibrations at key moments. Castle had purchased military surplus airplane wing de-icers had a crew attach them under a few seats.




Then came "Illusion-O" for his film 13 Ghosts. Each viewer received a ghost viewer/remover. During certain sequences, audience members were given a choice: the "brave" ones could watch the film and see the ghosts, while the more apprehensive viewers could opt out of the horror and watch without the stress of having to see the ghosts. the Illusion-O viewer required people to look through a single color with both eyes. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the images of the ghosts, while the blue filter "removed" them.




Much like today, gimmicks were mainly used for marketing purposes. For Castle's first film Macabre (1958), he came up with the idea of giving a certificate to every customer insuring 1000$ life insurance policy in case they should die of fright during the film. He stationed nurses in the lobbies with hearses for people who were too scared of the film. May techniques were used on later film, one of the most notable one being Snuff (1976, Michael Findlay & Horacio Fredriksson) that was advertised as a real snuff film (a genre that purports to show scenes of actual homicide).

Castle was not the only one to innovate with gimmicks. Some filmmakers thought they might be able to play with the viewers' minds by adding some subliminal images to their films. This idea was called Psychorama. Used on films such as Terror In the Haunted House (1958, Harold Daniels) and A Date With Death (1959) this technique communicates subliminal messages by flashing images on the screen so quickly that they cannot be perceived by the conscious mind. In Terror in The Haunted House, different images flashed: a skull to inspire terror or two hearts to inspire love. (This technique was much later use for Evanescence's Sweet Sacrifice Music Video).




In a less subtle attempt to play with the viewers mind, Hypnomagic was created. It consisted of the character looking straight in the camera and performing some hypnotic suggestibility tests. Horrors of the Black Museum (1959, Arthur Crabtree) began with a 13 minute prologue featuring hypnotist Emile Franchele.


What's your favourite gimmick? Did we forget to mention one you love? Don't hesitate to tell us what you think in the comments or at interstory.info@gmail.com

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