From Shock Chairs to Smell-O-Vision: The Movie Gimmicks of YesteryearS

Have you ever been to a movie so shocking that the theater management offered you a life insurance policy just in case you died of fright? Filmmaker William Castle devised a scheme that did just that for the release of his 1958 suspense/horror film Macabre. Thankfully, they never had to pay out.

Hunter Oatman-Stanford over at Collector's Weekly has a very cool rundown of the marketing and in-theater gimmicks Hollywood has churned out in the last century to keep moviegoers interested. Since its inception, the movie industry battled with other forms of entertainment—be it radio, TV, video games or the internet—fighting for every last thrill-seeking dollar. And whether it was auditory, visual, or even tactile stimulation, filmmakers and theater owners were continually upping the ante in the 20th century to stay competitive.

Oatman-Stanford looks at everything from Smell-O-Vision to 3D processes to those seats specially fitted in 1959 to give audience members an electric shock during screenings of The Tingler.

From Collector's Weekly:

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Castle’s gag-filled oeuvre was his 1959 film “The Tingler.” Posters for the film included a guarantee that the monster would break loose during your screening, but that you’d be given instructions on “how to guard yourself against attack.” Castle encouraged audiences to react by creating a climax that takes place in a darkened theater and using a single sequence of blood-curdling color for maximum effect.

On top of all this, Castle also rigged certain theater seats with electric buzzers. “I don’t know how he talked these independent theaters into letting him shock the audience’s butts,” says Terry. “It was a fairly simple device, but he had to work hard to get the studio’s marketing department to buy off on it, and also to persuade the exhibitors to do the gimmick. I can’t imagine that working today.”

In 1993, Castle would be immortalized by John Goodman who played him in the film Matinee—a movie I haven't seen since childhood, but remember loving.

Of course, the 4D movie dream didn't die with Castle. But should any film entrepreneurs of the 21st century wish to revive his electric shock gimmick, you may indeed want to pony up for those insurance policies. Moviegoers of today may be harder to shock, but they're also far more litigious.

Image: theater poster explaining the 3D process for the 1952 film Bwana Devil