This post was written by Toni V. Genov.

It seems like the 1960s might have been the peak time for unconventional film marketing campaigns. Whether it was skeletons flying over the audience, life insurance in case you get scared to death, or special ghost-viewing glasses, one thing is for sureno idea was too wacky.

Check out the video below to see the gimmicks in action, including the one I actually try out myself.

Creating an Immersive Beginning: Psycho

On June 16, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho premiered in a manner that defied convention. Unlike traditional movie screenings where viewers could enter at any point, Hitchcock insisted on a strict set of rules: Nobody was allowed into the theater after the movie began, and once inside, nobody could leave until it ended.

 This was partly to protect the legendary plot twist of the film but also acted as an ingenious marketing campaign. The unique approach created long queues outside theaters and contributed to Psycho becoming a tremendous commercial success.

Tonis-film-club-gimmicks-5'Pyscho' announcement to keep audiences in theaters for the film's entire runtimeCredit: Tonis Film Club

The Tingler and Percepto: Engaging the Senses

While Hitchcock's rules set the stage for audience engagement, William Castle took movie gimmicks to new heights. He was not just a filmmaker but also a showman who understood the power of creating unforgettable experiences for moviegoers. 

In his movie The Tingler, he introduced a parasite that thrived on fear, growing larger the more terrified its host became. To enhance the movie's impact, Castle devised a gimmick he called "Percepto."

Theaters were equipped with small buzzers installed under seats, which vibrated during key moments, creating a tingling sensation among the audience, mirroring the film's concept. Moreover, during a pivotal scene, a paid actress would scream, pretend to pass out, and be carried away by fake nurses.

As the tension heightened, the audience witnessed the shadow of the Tingler crawling on the movie screen and were encouraged to scream. These immersive elements made The Tingler a massive hit and solidified Castle's reputation as a master of gimmicks.

Tonis-film-club-gimmicks-6'The Tingler' posterCredit: Columbia Pictures

Emergo: Skeletons Roaming the Audience

In House on Haunted Hill, Castle introduced Emergo, a gimmick that surpassed the 3D experience of the time.

The movie revolved around an eccentric millionaire who invited guests to a haunted mansion, promising a substantial reward if they stayed the night. During a climactic scene where a skeleton chased a character, Castle arranged for a plastic skeleton to zip across the theater on a wire, seemingly emerging from the screen itself.

The clever play on the words "Emerge" and "Emergo" added a captivating visual element that thrilled the audience, further immersing them in the movie's atmosphere. 

According to the stories, kids absolutely loved it and would try to hit it with their throw popcorn and soda cups.

House_on_haunted_hill'House on Haunted Hill'Credit: William Castle Productions

Illusion-O: A Personalized Ghost Viewing

For his film 13 Ghosts, Castle introduced Illusion-O, a gimmick that engaged viewers in a supernatural way. Each audience member received a "Ghost Viewer," which was a pair of glasses with red and blue lenses. When a character in the film wore theirs, viewers were instructed to do the same. Those who believed in ghosts could look through the red lenses and see them, while the skeptics could use the blue lenses and make the ghosts disappear.

The simple yet effective use of color in a black-and-white movie created a personalized ghost-viewing experience for each viewer, amplifying the thrill and immersion of the film.

I actually managed to get my hands on an original pair and had an absolute blast watching the movie that way. It works perfectly!

Tonis-film-club-gimmicks-12Illusion-O glassesCredit: Tonis Film Club

The Legacy of William Castle and the Fading Era of Gimmicks

William Castle's innovative and immersive gimmicks resonated deeply with audiences, offering them a chance to be part of the movie itself.

Despite not being regarded as a serious director making important films, his unique contributions to the movie industry cannot be undermined. He remains one of the greatest showmen of Hollywood and it truly makes me wish that one day Hollywood will bring some of those fun gimmicks back.

This post was written by Toni V. Genov.