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Friday, April 22, 2011

William Castle Tribute V: Audience Participatory Supplements (Part Two)

In my entry for the 19th of April, I discussed the many "gimmicks" that the great William Castle used to promote his films.  In that article- and the previous ones in the William Castle Tribute series, you probably noticed that I put quotes around the word, "gimmick".  The reason for this is that I really don't like that word as it applies to William Castle movies.  The word implies that the ways he promoted his films were silly, frivolous, and pointless.

I would have to disagree.

Personally, I think of his "gimmicks" more in the terms of "Audience Participatory Supplements."  This term is actually more accurate than the commonly used term "gimmick".

"How?" you may ask?  Well, I'll tell you.

Let's take Castle's movie, "The Tingler".  By rigging the seats with essentially giant joy buzzers, and having Vincent Price tell the audience that they need to scream for their lives, William Castle made the audience PART of the movie.  They weren't JUST sitting their watching the movie- they became the creatures next potential victim!  The joy buzzer seats were supplemental devices that gave the audience a chance to participate in the movie.

The same can be said about "Mr. Sardonicus".  By allowing the viewers to vote on how they wanted the movie to end, he not only made them PART of the movie, but he also gave them in a sense, directorial control over the film.  With "13 Ghosts", Castle once again gave the audience control over the movie by handing them special "Ghost Removal Glasses".  By looking though either lens, the audience member could edit whether or not they saw the ghosts on the screen.

And sometimes, he even gave the audience members the opportunity to create a bit of drama themselves.  A perfect example of this was the use of "Coward's Corner" during the movie, "Homicidal"... though few were brave enough to go through the humiliating gauntlet that was part of it.

The Audience Participatory Supplements did something that few movies now do: they turned a simple movie into an event and experience.  By involving the audience the way he did, William Castle made his films more memorable.  I would be willing to bet that most people could tell you possibly what city, their age, and maybe which theater they saw, "Star Wars", but not much else.  Meanwhile, someone that took part in "The Tingler" would probably be able to tell you, the city, their age, the theater, what it felt like to be joy buzzed, how it sounded, the audience reactions, and who they saw it with it.  This isn't to say that "The Tingler" is BETTER than "Star Wars," just that the experience of seeing the "The Tingler" was more memorable because they were part of the experience.

To be honest, I very seldom go to a movie theater anymore.  It's not because of the prices (though they are getting too expensive compared to buying a movie on DVD); it's not even because the movies are lacking originality and becoming so CGI dependent (which they are).  No, it's because the experience isn't as fun as it used to be.  The last time I saw a movie, the audience was boring, and part of the experience is the audience.  Most people were either too busy texting, or there were very few people in the theater because everyone was watching it online at home.

And quite frankly, I can hardly remember anything about what it was like to watch certain movies in a theater.  Going back to my comment about "Star Wars," I was living in Calgary, Alberta, was seven or eight years old, and that's it.  When I think about seeing that movie in a theater, I get a "that'd be nice" thought coming into my head.  When I think about what it would be like to see "The Tingler," and have the seat suddenly start to vibrate heavily underneath me, and hearing the others members of the audience screaming and laughing as I do so as well, I get a "That would be soooooo cool, man!" popping up.

Were some of William Castle's Audience Participatory Supplements silly?  Yes- but fun.  Were some of them frivolous?  Maybe.  Were they pointless?  Certainly not.  They served a purpose, and served that purpose without fail: to make the movie going experience fun and memorable.  I would rather experience a William Castle movie than see many of the movies being produced lately... even the fancy 3D ones.  Hell, I would rig up my own "Emergo" and "Percepto" systems just to have that experience with my friends in my own home!

That would be soooooo cool, man!

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