The B-Movie Gimmick From The '60s (That We Want Back)

We’ve discussed William Castle here at Cracked, the all-time king of horror movie gimmicks. And among all his contrivances to get butts in theater seats to watch B-grade schlock, there's a particularly clever one used in one of his ‘best’ movies, Homicidal.

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When I was a kid, I didn't bat an eye when future trivia questions MC Hammer and Macaulay Culkin appeared in their own Saturday morning cartoons, or when blood-soaked sci-fi terror-violence fests like Total Recall and Darkman got turned into side-scrolling Mario-style Nintendo games. Cross-marketing is such a part of children's lives (because childhood is essentially one long commercial) that I don't think we're capable of realizing how insane it is until we reach adulthood, at which point we buy the same ridiculous crap all over again in the form of ironic T-shirts. Here are five of the most baffling attempts to branch successful properties out into other forms of media that they were never intended for.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells Rock CD and Accompanying Live Stage Show

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Mirage Studios

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, out to gallantly disprove the early '90s notion that they could do no wrong, hit the stage dressed like entertainers at Ziggy Stardust's birthday party to delight children in 40 cities across the country by eerily flapping their puppet mouths along to prerecorded music, just like New Kids on the Block. Both groups even have a member named Donnie.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Mirage Studios/Viacom via YouTube

That analogy was so perfect, it just high-fived itself with a rhinestone fingerless glove.

For Coming Out of Their Shells, the Turtles became glam rock Springsteen impersonators wearing studded leather bondage straps and rictus grins to engage in a tense music battle with the Shredder, because the production meeting that resulted in this show apparently involved taking all of the acid in the universe and throwing Ninja Turtle action figures at a Bon Jovi poster like darts.

Mirage Studios/Viacom

It was a game we all lost.

For those of us who weren't lucky enough to witness this nightmare live, they made a VHS of the show to preserve the dazzling experience for all time. Seeing the four turtles perform onstage is like watching a dead barbershop quartet lip-sync their way through an audition on The Voice with shock-induced muscle spasms. The Shredder insists he hates music, yet delivers a choreographed rap song that he clearly spent several hours putting together, which isn't something a proud non-student of musical theory would do. He also heckles the crowd like an insult comic while wearing a helmet with the face cut out of it for no conceivable reason.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Mirage Studios/Viacom via YouTube

"Eh, who gives a shit, am I right?"

Coming Out of Their Shells takes a firm hold of the idea that children love sing-alongs, bright colors, and the stupidest bullshit on the face of the planet and carries it screaming off into the hills without bothering to stop and think about why kids liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the first place. The Turtles are goofy comic superheroes who beat the hell out of robot ninjas. The closest thing they come to doing anything musical is passing out jaw fractures to a pair of learning disabled 1980s street punks named Bebop and Rocksteady. Why would kids suddenly be more interested if the Turtles dropped all of their stabbing and bludgeoning instruments of karate justice and picked up pastel-colored instruments of future VH1 career retrospection? Also, it's not possible to play a guitar, a saxophone, or a keyboard with only three fingers. It just isn't.

Mirage Studios/Viacom via YouTube

In fairness, that is but one of the many factual errors occurring in this picture.

The Simpsons Sing the Blues -- The Simpsons Sing a Bunch of Blues Songs and Make Two Rap Videos Starring Bart Simpson

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Twentieth Century Fox/Gracie Films/Geffen Records via YouTube

The Simpsons Sing the Blues (an album old enough to have been released on tape, vinyl, and CD simultaneously) came out in 1990, when Fox was in the midst of a crusade to put the Simpsons' jaundiced faces on absolutely everything they could with the unflinching determination of Erin Brockovich. Much like with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, music was not in any way a regular feature of The Simpsons, nor could it be assumed that the relatively youthful demographic the show was appealing to would be interested in hearing a bunch of gratingly overcharacterized cartoon voices do karaoke versions of old blues songs. Evidently they thought the Venn diagram of Simpsons viewers and 1940s blues musicians was just one big circle.

SIMPSoNS tHe Sino Blues the 14
Twentieth Century Fox/Gracie Films/Geffen Records

One big circle made of dollar signs.

It was also back when The Simpsons was focused almost entirely on Bart, and despite the fact that the album title specifically indicates the singing of blues songs, the only two music videos released to promote the album were of Bart Simpson rapping about dancing and getting in trouble. Admittedly, these are two things that anyone can relate to, but Bart doesn't do anything that can be referred to as singing, and "Do the Bartman" is unlikely to ever be considered a classic blues standard. Considering the two Bart songs were the driving force behind The Simpsons Sing the Blues going multiplatinum, I'm baffled as to why they didn't just make the whole thing a rap album. The record came out in 1990, so that conversation almost certainly took place. It's not like the end of the Reagan era was the scene of a major blues revival. It's as if the producers made their decision based entirely on a psychic hotline consultation, and even then I'm pretty sure they misheard the psychic.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Twentieth Century Fox/Gracie Films/Geffen Records via YouTube

For example, describing this shot over the phone would probably result in at least one visit from the FBI.

Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour Turns Mortal Kombat into a Pro Wrestling Aerobics Class

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/David Fishof Presents via YouTube

Sometime in 1995, after three years of doggedly insisting that Mortal Kombat was not intended for children, the game's producers decided to develop its razor-thin plotline into a touring stage production to coincide with the release of a goofball fantasy action movie, a cartoon series, and a line of G.I. Joe action figures, three things that are almost exclusively intended for children.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/David Fishof Presents via YouTube

Clearly this is meant for a mature audience sipping cocktails in their evening wear.

Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour involved a theatrical laser light show documenting the titanic struggle of a bunch of fitness instructors doing karate poses to mid-'90s techno music in order to save the world from an evil piece of jewelry. Children in the audience were encouraged to shout commands at characters onstage that in some cases bore as much resemblance to their video game counterparts as a hastily constructed police sketch compiled from highly questionable testimony.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/David Fishof Presents via YouTube

Pictured: the same character, apparently.

The most amazing moments of the tour undoubtedly occurred when the cast members appeared, in character, on local news broadcasts to promote it. In this genre-defining piece of unintentional comedy, Shang Tsung lays down some moon man babble phonics about how the show isn't about violence (which is utterly what Mortal Kombat is about), but is actually about teaching positive lessons to children, a lesson he and his noble compatriots somehow convey by beating each other up in Halloween costumes. Shang Tsung delivers this speech while glaring fixedly at the news anchor as if he is trying to undo the man's Windsor knot with his mind fingers.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/David Fishof Presents via YouTube

"I dare you to say this show is about violence. I fucking dare you."

What makes this even more hilarious is that they've clearly elected Shang Tsung to speak for them, presumably because he is the most articulate member of the group. This can only mean that every other member of the Mortal Kombat squad must've bitten their tongues off in a motorcycle accident on the way to a remedial reading class. They just stand rigid and motionless in the background like they're waiting to hear their names called out in a draft lottery. The whole thing is a Smurf and a Disney princess away from the Ice Capades, and it is being held in celebration of a game about joyously murdering your opponent in the most creatively humiliating way possible.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/David Fishof Presents via YouTube

To be fair, these guys seem to have mastered creative humiliation.

Songs in the Key of X -- The Inexplicable X-Files Album

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Twentieth Century Fox/Warner Bros. Records

Songs in the Key of X is the X-Files album released at the height of the show's popularity that didn't actually have anything to do with the show. This is made immediately apparent by the presence of what appears to be a leprechaun burrowing his way out of a tunnel beneath the Capital Building under the watchful eyes of a bunch of gargoyles on the album's cover art:

Twentieth Century Fox/Warner Bros. Records

CUL KIa what the hell is this thing?

The X-Files jumped many sharks, but to my memory this was not one of them.

At the time of the album's release, none of the songs on it had been featured in the show in any capacity (except for "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave, which is immediately disqualified because it showed up in just about everything filmed in the 1990s, including Dumb and Dumber and the Scream trilogy). None of the songs referenced any episodes or characters, playing the CD backward after midnight didn't turn you into a vampire or signal any orbiting UFOs, and neither Mulder nor Scully rapped on any of the tracks. Essentially, a room full of studio executives got together and said, "Let's make an album with a bunch of creepy songs on it and call it The X-Files so that people will buy it." Songs in the Key of X manages to succeed brilliantly at both of those mission statements, because it was on the Billboard top 200 for 10 weeks and it is easily the craziest goddamned thing ever recorded. A glance at the track listing confirms that everything you have ever believed is a lie:

1. ALaDE Sowe 63331 N CLAIN TSY S Soul Cawine UNAKD WAO1USSIN S.6ry1 Croa on THE 0U:3 102410 FiChterd DOWN N HS TPAR 8. WAN4m SL Burrowten e REM. TAR
Twentieth Century Fox/Warner Bros. Records

"Hey, let's make the track listing green on green!" -some fucking asshole

I know that's hard to read, so let me sum up the highlights, beginning with Sheryl Crow and Danzig. The only time Sheryl Crow and Glenn Danzig should be on the same list is if we are reading a census report, and yet they both provided songs for the X-Files album. And it's not like either one of them took a stylistic departure -- Sheryl Crow recorded a Sheryl Crow song, and Danzig recorded a song that can only be described as "motherfucking Danzig as fuck," and they were both placed on the same CD in a targeted effort to make listeners think their stereos were haunted.

Elvis Costello teamed up with Brian Eno to spin a jam that sounds like it was written specifically for werewolves in the 1980s. William S. Burroughs, legendary author of the Beat Generation, rambles out the lyrics of an R.E.M. song like he's performing an exorcism at Bonnaroo. And Rob Zombie, a man who legitimately seems incapable of contributing a bad song to a soundtrack, collaborated with Alice Cooper on a track that wound up being nominated for a Grammy and a Special Achievement Award for Most Improbable Sentence in History.

It is the daffiest compilation album ever constructed, and it has nothing to do with The X-Files beyond maintaining a general theme of skin-crawling unease. To meet that criterion, the album could've just been 60 minutes of unintelligible whispering.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
Twentieth Century Fox

And a secret bonus track of whatever this guy has been screaming about since 1993.

Batman Live: World Arena Tour Turns Batman into a Traveling Vegas Act

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
DC Comics/AKA Promotions Ltd

The Batman Live: World Arena Tour looks like Andrew Lloyd Webber really needed to masturbate and the only magazine handy was a Batman comic. It is what I imagine would happen if someone tried to re-enact Cats with a suitcase full of Batman toys in the back of Spencer's Gifts. There's no actual singing, but the trailer promises us plenty of glitter and muscle suits, and the website offers us reassuring tidbits such as "His symbol is the bat -- the ultimate creature of fear; from out of the darkness they soar with greatspeed (sic), instinct and agility" and "He's all action!" The aforementioned trailer, hilariously titled the "Sizzle Reel," also features a steady soundtrack of people applauding in a subtle attempt to convince us that we aren't watching the dumbest thing of all time.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
DC Comics/AKA Promotions Ltd

Batman has selected shoulder pads that are bigger than his entire head, a tactical decision typically made
by futuristic cannibal outlaws and the Road Warriors Hawk and Animal.

The show, which is essentially a Batman cartoon as performed by Cirque du Soleil, involves the Penguin inviting the entirety of Gotham City's rogues' gallery to a villain's summit in his Iceberg Lounge hangout, where he currently has a smoke machine on loan from the Scorpions.

DC Comics/AKA Promotions Ltd

Evidently the conclusion they jointly arrive at is to assemble like one of the street gangs in West Side Story and march out of a giant fiberglass Joker head covered in black light paint in a clear homage to the directorial vision of legendary Batman filmmaker Joel Schumacher. Particularly excited about this initiative is the Riddler, who is sporting a trouser bulge like a Rolling Stones album cover. It looks like he's trying to smuggle a telescope through a TSA checkpoint.

DC Comics/AKA Promotions Ltd

That's no riddle.

The live show experience takes everything we love about Batman -- spending entirely too much money to sit in a loud, dark room for three hours -- and delivers it to us in the form of a choreographed extravaganza at a Las Vegas theme hotel, a sphere of entertainment normally reserved for juggernauts like Carrot Top and Celine Dion. It is undoubtedly a spectacle that Batman fans will never forget, but for exactly none of the reasons anyone intended.

The 5 Most Baffling Marketing Crossovers Ever Attempted
DC Comics/AKA Promotions Ltd

"Prepare to be dazzled as Batman defeats the cast of Starlight Express to a chorus of boos!"


Tom just finished recording all of the rap songs for his upcoming cartoon show, which will begin the first leg of its arena tour next year. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.

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