Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween-- What Happened to Showmanship?

The scream pierced the darkness, houselights went up and two ushers ran down the aisle with a stretcher. A young woman had fainted during a scary moment of a horror film at the Loew's Gates in Brooklyn. Can't recall the name of the movie or whether I fell for this bit of  hokum.

In the days before the multiplex, streaming video, and Netflix, movie houses often featured some form of gimmick or tie-in to promote the feature film. Not even the so-called classics were spared.Sometimes the movie theatre presented an event connected to holiday such as Mother's Day or Halloween.
But even at a young impressionable age, I was never impressed  by William Castle, his films and the assortment of exploitative tricks used to promote them. I never  thought that a $1,000 life insurance policy was really needed for Macabre. Apparently my local movie house could not afford a nurse on duty or a hearse that the other theatres offered for this 1958 film.
For me, EMERGO did little to improve Castle's House on Haunted Hill. The same applies for Percepto and The Tingler.  The films didn't scare me, the monsters didn't impress me and I left the theatre feeling cheated and disappointed.
Not so for the young John Waters who idolized Castle "without a doubt the greatest showman of our time." "His film made me want to make films." "William Castle was God."
The quotes are from an article by Waters entitled "Whatever Happened to Showmanship." While disagreeing with him on Castle, I also ponder the question of what happened to showmanship, ballyhoo and exploitation.
Box Office, Penn Theatre, Washington D.C.

I remember going with my father to the Penn Theatre, in Washington D.C., for a Halloween show. Once again don't recall the film but the stage show lingers. Basically a magician/hypnotist did an act that had for a climax a woman from the audience coming up on stage. While he hypnotized her, a clip of thunder and lightening suddenly flashed on the screen as the Frankenstein monster walked out. We really couldn't see exactly what was happening on the stage but suddenly the monster stood up, holding a woman's head high. He begun to lumber out into the audience just as everything went dark.   
Now that was scary. 

On October 28, the Loews Jersey will have a rare screening of The House on Haunted Hill in EMERGO. Plus Q&A with William Castle's grandson. .

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