8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and shlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary amongst horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—that was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

11 Illuminating Facts About Netflix’s GLOW

Erica Parise, Netflix
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is a brilliant show, and the way we know it’s brilliant is that it highlights a perfect tension between comedy and drama amid dozens of different personalities all trying to seriously find themselves in an activity no one takes seriously. Also, it had a drug-dispensing, '80s-style talking robot without devolving into pure silliness.

With Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin leading the ensemble, the show about an amateur women’s wrestling squad vying for a large enough paycheck to make all the training and ointment worth it is an absolute gem (as its six Emmy nominations prove). Here are 11 facts about Netflix’s comedic cage match.

1. PRODUCERS DIDN’T WANT ALISON BRIE IN THE CAST.

Alison Brie in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Like her character, Ruth, Alison Brie got rejected a lot before getting the role, enduring a grueling casting process for producers and a casting director who wanted an unknown for the part. “I cried in my car after every audition,” she said. “I would sit in my care like Ruth and sob. And we were both listening to the same Ultimate ‘80s mix while [we] audition[ed], so Flock of Seagulls was playing.”

2. THE CAST’S TRAINER IS THE NEPHEW OF THE GUY WHO TRAINED THE REAL-LIFE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING.

Professional wrestler Armando “Mando” Guerrero took on the task of teaching the motley crew of women who made up the real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling back in 1985. He was reportedly an intense coach, putting at least one woman in a headlock until she cried on the first day of training. All these years later, it’s his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., who has the privilege of training the fictional wrestlers of GLOW, as well as choreographing their fights and acting in two episodes.

3. KIA STEVENS IS A WRESTLER IN REAL LIFE.

Kia Stevens and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Beth Dubber, Netflix

The cast is full of actresses who all work with trainers to catch up on all the chiropractor-defying moves they have to do, but Kia Stevens (who plays Tammé “The Welfare Queen” Dawson) has been making those moves for decades. Wrestling under the name Awesome Kong and Amazing Kong, she’s a five-time Women’s Champion. Stevens has also wrestled in the WWE as Kharma.

4. BRIE SEES RUTH AS “SEXLESS."

One of the catalysts of the show’s plot is Ruth having an affair with her best friend Debbie’s (Betty Gilpin) husband (Rich Sommer), but the rest of the show is hardly romantic for Ruth, which is probably why Brie views the character as “sexless.”

“I don’t think she thinks of herself as being very sexual,” Brie told The A.V. Club. “It’s a major difference between my character and Betty Gilpin’s character, who has been a successful actress and has a bombshell body, and every time you see her she’s in full hair and makeup ... I don’t think that Ruth is not having sex with guys every once in a while. I’m sure she does. I just don’t think it’s a main part of her life goals.” Even the adultery that kicks off the show is less about sex than it is about someone who feels invisible and rejected being seen and accepted by someone else.

5. WORKING WITH WOMEN BOSSES MADE BETTY GILPIN REFLECT ON HER ENTIRE CAREER.

Rich Sommer and Betty Gilpin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

GLOW is rare for having so many women in the cast and behind the camera, something that the actors have noted affected the shooting environment as a “protected, feminist bubble.” For Gilpin, it also raised some questions about herself.

“Being on a set with female bosses [co-showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch], the level of comfort and bravery I felt really made me reflect back on my whole career," Gilpin told The Hollywood Reporter. "I’d always known about things that men did that made me shut down creatively, but I was surprised to reflect on things that I did to myself as a result of being in a male-dominated environment ... I felt a level of fear and anxiety that if I didn’t behave like the quiet Barbie I was playing, they wouldn’t let me play a quiet Barbie again."

6. IT ALSO MADE GILPIN FIGHT HARDER AGAINST THE MALE GAZE.

Since Gilpin doesn’t have a stunt double, and she’s doing the wrestling moves herself, GLOW has forced her to reexamine how she views her body while acting. Specifically, she’s gotten a lot less self-conscious and unshackled her movements from fear of the male gaze.

“The way we think about our bodies is completely changing,” Gilpin told The Huffington Post. Where she used to take workout classes designed to avoid bulking up, now she can lift some heavy weights. “I think that it’s our job to band together and say, ‘Okay, what are ways the male gaze has seeped into your brain and is affecting the way you treat yourself? Let’s work together to eliminate that.’”

7. THE SHOW CHANGED ONE IMPORTANT ELEMENT TO HOME IN ON THE CAMARADERIE.

Jackie Tohn, Jessica Gardner, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Alison Brie, Kia Stevens, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Brigid Ryan, Becki Dennis, Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

They fight in the ring, they fight outside of it, they lift each other up, they undercut each other. It’s all part of the show’s drama and grounded realness. It’s a family, and to develop that sensibility, GLOW borrowed from the conditions the real-life women trained under. That includes staying two-to-a-room at a shabby motel, but the show dropped the forced separation of the good wrestler from the heels (the villains) during travel that the real GLOW athletes experience. They also didn’t make the characters call each other by their wrestling names outside the ring.

8. BROOKE HOGAN MADE A CAMEO.

Hulk Hogan's daughter made a brief appearance as a theater owner who rents her space to the ragtag production. She’s not nearly the only person from the wrestling world to make a cameo appearance, either.

9. WORKING ON GLOW IS LIKE BOARDING SCHOOL.

Marianna Palka, Jackie Tohn, Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson, Kia Stevens, Betty Gilpin, Kate Nash, Ellen Wong, Shakira Barrera, Britney Young, Sunita Mani, and Gayle Rankin in 'GLOW'
Erica Parise, Netflix

Too often, shows have one spot in the cast for a woman. GLOW initially had 15. According to Gilpin, “I went to boarding school, and being on GLOW reminds me of that. When your call is 5:45 a.m., and there’s a group of 14 women all talking at once, it can be a little much, but it’s also the greatest gift. It’s constant happiness and support all day, every day. I love it.”

10. THE MATCH BASH RECALLS SEEING IN SEASON 2 IS REAL.

There’s a moment in season 2 where Bash (Chris Lowell) described a personal memory of watching a match between Stan Hansen and Bruno Sammartino where the former busted the latter’s neck. The match is real. So is the injury.

At Madison Square Garden, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino was defending his world title against Hansen when Hansen failed to properly execute a body slam and cracked one of Sammartino’s vertebrae. They were back in the ring two months later in a rematch.

11. THE SERIES WILL BE COMING BACK FOR A THIRD SEASON.

On August 20, 2018—more than two months after GLOW's second season dropped on Netflix—entertainment outlets began reporting that the series had officially been renewed by Netflix for a third season. The decision may not have been an easy one to make, however; as Variety reported: "Industry sources claim that the series is not among Netflix’s most watched, but is valued by the streaming service for its creative execution and status as an awards contender."

GIPHY Is Launching the World's First All-GIF Film Festival

iStock
iStock

Think you’re a GIF master? GIPHY is looking to showcase the best in extremely short films with what it calls the world’s first GIF-only film festival, according to It’s Nice That. The GIF database and search engine company is teaming up with Squarespace to launch a contest dedicated to finding the best GIF-makers in America—the GIPHY Film Fest.

To enter your work for consideration in the festival, you’ll need an 18-second-or-less, looping film that tells a “compelling, creative, entertaining, professional-grade story,” according to the contest details. U.S.-based GIF artists can enter up to three mini-films in each of five categories: Narrative, Stop-Motion, Animated, Experimental, and Wild Card/Other. The films can have music (as long as you have the rights to use it) or be silent. All that matters is that they're between one and 18 seconds long.

The grand prize winner will receive $10,000, a five-year subscription to Squarespace (to host that amazing GIF on your website), and the chance to guest-curate an official Spotify playlist. All entries will be judged by a panel of professionals from across several creative industries, including film, animation, illustration, and design.

The GIPHY Film Fest is not the first uber-short film festival in existence. In 2013 and 2014, back when Vine still existed (RIP), the Tribeca Film Festival held a competition each year to find the best six-second films—a time limit that will make 18 seconds feel practically feature length.

Enter GIPHY’s contest here before the entry window closes on September 27, 2018. The winner will be announced on November 8, during a special New York City screening of each of the top films in each category.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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