The Stupidest Horror Movie Gimmick Conceived
To ward off the threat of television, movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s routinely employed some wacky gimmicks to lure audiences back into the cinema, some of which are still around today, like widescreen and 3-D. Others, like “Smell-O-Vision,” which basically gassed viewers with various perfumes at key points in the story to the enjoyment of absolutely no one, not so much. The most famous purveyor of cinematic contrivances was undoubtedly producer William Castle, who did everything from installing joy buzzers in seats to dangling a plastic skeleton from the ceiling to offering bogus life insurance policies in the case of “death by fright.”
But Castle wasn’t the only producer hawking tacky horror movie gimmicks in the ‘50s. Far from it. Arguably one of the dumbest was the short-lived “Psychorama” format which debuted with the 1958 movie Terror in the Haunted House. Trailers bragged that it was a film with a “4th dimension” featuring subliminal “chills and thrills” hidden throughout the movie.
Which isn’t in and of itself a terrible idea; other horror movies, like The Exorcist, would later make use of borderline subliminal imagery. But the terrifying images hidden inside of Psychorama were just … really goddamn stupid. One was just a split-second image of what looks like a political cartoon of Larry David munching on a rat.
Another was a grinning devil that looks like a rejected mascot for a hot sauce company.
For the next and final Psychorama movie, A Date With Death, the film’s star promoted the flick by claiming that polygraph machines have proven that “human beings’ reactions to Psychorama are tremendous” -- but when he reveals one of the hidden messages, it’s literally just the words “KILL” and “BLOOD” flashing on screen while two dudes trade unconvincing punches.
Psychorama wasn’t the only movie gimmick that attempted to manipulate audiences’ minds. There was a real trend of hypnosis-based horror movies, including 1959’s Horrors of the Black Museum, which was presented in “Hypno-Vista” -- but it turned out to just be a regular movie with a lengthy intro featuring a hypnotist who basically tries to hypnotize the audience into thinking that the movie is less crappy.
In their review, The New York Times called the film an “embarrassing mockery” of its own hype. Hopefully, this craze won’t be revived anytime soon, lest Avatar 2 open with James Cameron desperately swinging a pocket watch back and forth.
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Top Image: Howco International Pictures