The Top 10 Gimmicks Used in Commercial Cinema

by Bill Gibron

25 July 2012


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#5: Actual Death Onscreen (Snuff, Faces of Death, The Mondo Movies)

As the ‘70s continued to push the boundaries of cinematic content, the notion of films where people actually died onscreen went from urban legend to debated social shocker. Said conversation escalated when a reconfigured exploitation effort was renamed to take advantage of the snuff tag. Since then, home video collections such as Faces of Death have redone the Mondo movie thing, presenting documentary imagery of murder and vivisection while hyping their hard to miss fictional sequences as fact. Today, it’s all very tame, especially in light of all the real examples of murder/suicide/atrocities that can be viewed with a mere mouse click.

#4: 3D (Bwana Devil, House of Wax, Avatar)

In some ways, it was the true perspective precursor. Many turn of the century homes had stereoscopic viewers, images of World’s Fairs and Wonders of the Ancient Planet a mere antiquated viewmaster away. The addition of movement merely made for a rollercoaster ride of audience acceptance. In the ‘50s, the two color method created headlines, then headaches. Not until the invention of Real 3D did viewers have a chance to see high tech depth and perception without the pesky lack of contrast and detail… and even then, purist have argued over image quality and the aesthetic pointlessness of the eventual byproduct.

#3: Found Footage (The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Chronicle)

While it existed before a trio of would-be documentarians disappeared in the forests outside the small Northeastern town of Burkittsville, it was a certain fabled old hag which gave novice filmmakers hope for a huge homemade horror hit. Since then, we’ve seen more shoddy examples of the creative conceit than actual artistic achievements. Heck, come films have even gone so far as to mimic a surveillance camera approach and have called it compelling. With its widespread use across several genres, it’s not going away anytime soon. Hopefully that means more Chronicles and less Project Xs.

#2: Sex Hygiene/ Live Childbirth Footage (The Films of Kroger Babb)

No, he never actually made a motion picture. Yes, by today’s standards, the subjects he exploited—sex, religion, politics—and the way he did so seem tame and tepid. Yet Kroger Babb was first and foremost an expert salesman, and his unique approach to giving the people what they (secretly) wanted made him a very rich and very important distributor. Hiring actors in the various cities where he would “roadshow” his films, he offered free sex lectures, educational pamphlets, and as part of the otherwise dreary drama’s denouement, footage of babies being born. His novel way around nudities laws remain a showman’s revelation.

#1: Hype and Ballyhoo (The Films of William Castle)

Picking up where Babb and his fellow Forty Thieves left off, horror maestro Castle recognized the limited appeal of his grade-Z scary movie knock offs. So he came up with classic come-ons like “Percepto” (seat vibrators), “Emergo” (a plastic skeleton which flew through the theater) and “Illusion-O” (special colored glasses), each one aimed at making his mediocre movies seem like events. It worked like a charm on gullible post-war audiences. With savvy came a lack of sensationalism, Castle concentrating on more legitimate projects (he ended up producing the macabre classic Rosemary’s Baby). To this day, he remains the high priest of hype and the baron of ballsy ballyhoo.

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