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

Hollywood was not one to leave the nose out in the cold and eventually Aroma-rama was born. They put this new method of exploitation to work in a documentary about China called “Behind The Great Wall.” Essentially various smells and odors were piped in through the air ducts or air conditioning systems and this was somehow supposed to enhance the viewing experience. Aroma-rama was quickly followed by Smell-O-Vision which was used in “Scent Of Mystery.” Both ruses were ill-fated as most theater goers were sickened by the near toxic mixture of perfumes and fragrances. But leave it to the Prince of Puke to get it right. Finally, in 1981 with John Waters’ first step into the mainstream we got “Polyester” and the wondrous new discovery, Odorama. Here you get a scratch and sniff card with 10 numbers to rub and smell at the applicable times during the movie. Odorama was a masterstroke for Waters, no matter how you looked at it.

Some moviemakers tried everything they could to sell their cheap movies. Take for instance Ray Dennis Stekler’s “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies,” which was filmed in Hallucinogenic Hypnovision. This gag was a simple one, a seemingly hypnotic pin wheel would fill the screen and spin, thus hypnotizing the audience. That was the idea, but it never worked, so Stekler went out and got some willing folks to dress in goofy rubber masks and run around terrorizing the audience during the scene when all the monsters escape their cages. Psychorama found its way to “Terror In The Haunted House.” The device used here was merely that of subliminal messaging in the form of flashing words like “death” or “blood” interspersed with pictures of spiders, snakes and skulls. It all makes a bad movie even better, I’ll tell you that.

Another fun memento came from Eddie Romero and his 1969 cinematic mess “Mad Doctor Of Blood Island.” Here patrons were given vials of “green blood” to drink as they recited a sacred blood oath along with the film’s narrator. This oath and its accoutrements were supposed to keep the audiences safe from the chlorophyl monster. Yep, there is actually a chlorophyl monster movie out there and who would’ve guessed that it would take a gimmick to sell it?

In Ted V. Mikels’ “The Corpse Grinders,” a throw back to William Castle was interjected as ticket buyers were encouraged to sign a certificate of assurance stating, “I hereby certify that I am of good health and sound mind and should be permitted to view: “The Corpse Grinders,” “The Undertaker And His Pals” and “The Embalmer.” In the event of a coronary, insanity or death suffered during and/or following the showing of said motion pictures, I hereby hold this theater harmless.” This one had them piling in by the thousands.

Frank Henenlotter’s “Basket Case” came out the same year as John Waters’ Odorama and with this one you got a surgical mask to wear as you watched the deformed creature Belial bludgeon people to a gory pulp before your eyes. Ushers instructed lookers-on to use the mask because “Basket Case” was so bloody. On the re-release of David Lynch’s debut feature “Eraserhead” patrons were given large paper masks of “Henry” the main character of said film. Now, wouldn’t you just love to see a shot of a packed house full of “eraserheads?”

Lastly we have a gimmick that has almost taken on a life of its own, the vomit bag. This appears to be the most economical and efficient way to send up a movie as it has been used too many damned times. The promoter’s angle is a simple one. The film in question is apparently so disgusting that one may feel compelled to expel their latest meal into the handy theater-supplied haversack. Check out this list of puke inducing cinema; “The Beyond,” “Blood Feast,” “Cannibal Ferox,” “Castle Freak,” “Class Of Nuke ‘Em High,” “Hellbound: Hellraiser II,” “Ichi The Killer,” “Mark Of The Devil,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Tomb Of The Blind Dead,” “Traces Of Death,” “When The Screaming Stops,” “Wizard Of Gore,” “Wrong Turn” and “Zombie” just to name a few.

Where did all the fun of this go? Why is Hollywood so content to rest on its promotional laurels and allow star power and computer generated effects to sell their pictures? It’s a mystery to me for sure. The notions of hawking a film and surrounding it with a near impenetrable amount of hoopla and gimmickery are quickly fading into the past. Sadly there seems to be nothing in the immediate future to step up and take its place. Oh, I suppose that some may argue that when the “stars” make their talk show rounds and whatnot that is the new found form of hype, but you know what? I’m not interested, and furthermore, I’m not buying it.

Writer Christopher Curry has spent 29 years relentlessly trolling the underbelly of Horror, Sci-Fi and Exploitation cinema. He was first hooked by a made-for-TV zombie picture entitled “The Dead Don’t Die” and his recollections of Reggie Nalder have yet to peacefully leave his psyche. There is seemingly no benchmark of quality for Curry as he will watch and write about any damned thing. Curry has not only spent 10 years contributing to MK Magazine but is also the author of A Taste Of Blood: The Films Of Herschell Gordon Lewis and is presently hard at work on a book chronicling the films and career of Ted V. Mikels

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