Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Have a hot buttered taste of Film Gimmicks Past

With the Fourth of July weekend only a few days away,we'll be seeing some more big films out of Hollywood and a good number of them touting the burden of 3-D on their backs. Since this trend seems to have the longevity of zombies at this point,checking out some of the other built in movie gimmicks from the days of yesteryear might be our only relief.

To start,there's no better person than William Castle to go to. The unofficial grandfather of B movie tricks,he introduced the world to such things as Percepto(electrified seats for viewings of The Tingler)and Illusion-O,featured in the original film version of 13 Ghosts in 1960.

Illusion-O allowed the audience to see the ghosts onscreen in a more up close and personal way by using their "ghost viewer" and the red side of it's lens. The blue half caused them to "disappear",sort of.

The ghost images in the film were actually visible without the device(the ghosts had a blue tint superimposed on the actual film itself,which made them pop out more through the red filter)which made it easier for this fright flick to be shown on TV and home video later on. Some DVD editions do have the ghost viewers included,if you really want to catch the full effect there:

Another memorable Castle stunt was Emergo,for the Vincent Price thriller House on Haunted Hill two years earlier. A skeleton was suspended over the heads of the movie goers and sent rushing towards them during a crucial part of the movie's plot. Why they didn't think to do something like that for the 1999 remake,I'll never know:

Gimmicks like this appeared to have died out by the 1970s but eventually new forms emerged that went after our other senses. One of those was Odorama,where folks were handed scratch-and-sniff cards that had numbers placed besides the mystery scent ovals.

You were to scratch off each one in order as the number appeared on screen and sample smells both fair and foul. John Waters tried this out for his 1981 suburban satire Polyester which was considered a step towards the mainstream for him at the time. Odorama never really quite caught on,a blessing in disguise if you ask me:

There was one late-seventies sensation that nearly did catch on called Sensurround,that rigged up speakers with extended range bass that increased the sound effects a hundredfold. Universal Studios used it quite a bit for disaster movies such as Earthquake and Rollercoaster,causing other studios to create their own versions of it.

Even the theatrical release of the TV pilot film for the series Battlestar Galactica had Sensurround but alas,this audio boom had to be halted. The equipment caused a lot of structural damage to the theaters and many in the audience felt queasy afterward. In a sense,this gimmick did live on in the likes of Dolby,Stereo and Digital. and THX sound systems,so it may be gone but not forgotten:

I guess for now we'll just have to endure the wave of endless 3-D films that the studio heads are determined to give us. Perhaps,they'll try to be a little more creative with the process and add more interactive delights to the movie going experience. Who's to say that we won't have 3-D dinner theater before the next millennium rolls around,hm? Stranger things have happened,both on and off screen:

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