Movie gimmick

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A movie gimmick is an unusual idea intended to enhance the viewing experience of a film, and thus increase box office sales. Many of these have been used for just a few films, proving unpopular with either audiences or cinema owners. Smell-o-vision, which involved releasing relevant odors during the film, only appeared in the film Scent of Mystery as audiences did not enjoy the experience. Sensurround, a method for enhancing sound pioneered for the 1974 film Earthquake, was abandoned as it sometimes resulted in damage to movie theatres.[1] Other 'gimmicks' have gradually become more common in cinema, as technology has improved. Examples include 3-D film and the use of split screen, which was originally achieved through the use of dual projectors in cinemas.

William Castle[edit]

Horror film director William Castle had a particular reputation for gimmicks, being termed 'King of the Gimmicks' by James Waters.[2] For the 1959 film The Tingler, which concerns a creature growing at the base of the spine that can only be killed by screaming, some cinemas installed vibrating devices in the seats which were activated at random during one of the film's scenes, with a voice encouraging the audience to "Scream - scream for your lives."[3] For the 1960 film 13 Ghosts, the onscreen ghosts could either be seen or hidden by the viewer through the use of different coloured cellophane.[4]

Table of gimmick films[edit]

3-D films have been omitted. See List of 3D films pre-2005 and List of 3D films.

Film Year Gimmick
Napoleon 1927 Polyvision
Macabre 1958 $1,000 life insurance policies given to audience members against "death by fright"
My World Dies Screaming (Terror In the Haunted House) 1958 Psychorama subliminal images
Behind the Great Wall 1959 AromaRama
A Date With Death 1959 Psychorama subliminal images
Horrors of the Black Museum 1959 HypnoVista prologue
House on Haunted Hill 1959 "Emergo" flying skeleton
The Tingler 1959 Percepto! seat vibrators
13 Ghosts 1960 Illusion-o cellophane filters
The Hypnotic Eye 1960 HypnoMagic audience participation
Psycho 1960 "No late admissions" policy
Scent of Mystery 1960 Smell-o-vision
Homicidal 1961 "Fright break" prior to climax and "Coward's Corner"
Mr. Sardonicus 1961 "Punishment poll": audience vote for alternate ending
Witchcraft 1964 "Witch deflector": small badge to grip during moments of terror
I Saw What You Did 1965 advertised an audience seat belt "shock section"
Mark of the Devil 1970 "Rated V for Violence" & sick bags distributed to audience
Wicked, Wicked 1973 Duo-Vision split-screen
Earthquake 1974 Sensurround
Midway 1976 Sensurround
Snuff 1976 marketed as an actual snuff film
Rollercoaster 1977 Sensurround
Battlestar Galactica (Saga of a Star World) 1978 Sensurround
Polyester 1981 Odorama scratch and sniff cards
Basket Case 1982 "free surgical masks - to keep the blood off your face"
Clue 1985 Three different endings distributed to different theaters
Rugrats Go Wild 2003 Odorama scratch and sniff cards
Fast & Furious 2009 D-Box Technologies' motorized, vibrating seats
Kurt Josef Wagle og legenden om Fjordheksa 2010 scratch and sniff cards
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 2011 Aroma-Scope scratch and sniff cards

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Top 10 Movie Gimmicks', Time.
  2. ^ John Waters, "Whatever Happened To Showmanship?", American Film, December 1983.
  3. ^ John Waters, Crackpot (1983), p. 17.
  4. ^ Waters, Crackpot, p. 18.