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GIVE ME A GIMMICK! angel aldarondo   “First they moved! (1895). Then they spoke! (1927)Now, they smell! (1928).” What you’ve just read is the slogan they used to promote the first fiction film, “Lilac Time”, made with Smell-OVision technology. The flick itself wasn’t bad, but they had to close the cinema halls where it was being shown because of the reek of mixing different smells. The rest of the smelly-flicks that followed suffered the similar fate, although nowadays we do get a whiff of these type of films, especially in the Antzoki Zaharra in Donostia during The Terror Film Festival week. The world of cinema has come up with umpteen gadgets in order to make the viewing experience more realistic, to attract bigger audiences or as a damage limitation exercise against the effects of TV and Video.

The list is certainly a long one: the illusion of 3D offered by those bipolar glasses, the gigantic screens of Cinemascope (Panavision), the Sensorround sound system that shook cinema walls, the incredible sound of THX, the surround cinema system Imax, drive-in cinemas, and lots of other thingamajigs. These inventions, or "gimmicks" have garnered different results, but the most celebrated ones can be seen in pornographic films: 3D and Odorama have come up with some pretty spectacular results. For example, in the gay hardcore film "Heavy Equipment" they actually sprayed the audience with the "seed of life".

In recent times we have seen the renaissance of one of these gimmicks. Well actually, we’ve smelt it. In the 1980s, the provocative director John Waters invented the Odorama system for this film "Polyester". How it works is really simple, on their way into the picture house each viewer is given a card numbered 1 to 10. When a number comes up on the screen during the film, the viewer scratches the number and the room is filled with smell. The thing is that John Waters is the king of bad taste and his card for the film contained smells like vomit, shite and rotten fish.

John Waters is an avid believer in the idea of the spectacle and he is a huge admirer of the king of gimmickry, William Castle (1914 – 1977). This tireless director, screenwriter and producer invented most of the most famous gadgets in the history of cinema. And he was just confined to B-movies and the world of Hammer. He made "The Lady of Shangai" with Orson Welles and produced Polansky’s "Rosemary’s Baby". Castle admired Hitchcock, was actually envious of him and he clearly copied some of his films. The two directors were more or less cut from the same cloth, and Hitchcock admitted the following in a book by Truffaut: “...There’s one thing I’d love to have and that’s a machine with I button I could just press and make the viewer jump right out his seat...”

Macabre (1957)
When the film was released, all viewers were covered by a $1000 insurance policy... in case they died of fright! As well as that, there was a doctor, a nurse and an ambulance posted outside each cinema.

House on haunted hill (1958)
Castle invented what he called "Emergo" for this film. A skeleton appeared from the side of the screen and flew over the audience just as a skeleton appeared on screen. People were frightened out of their wits, but it totally interrupted the film. At the premier, the skeleton was too heavy and fell on top of the audience.

The tingler (1959)
His masterpiece and the most spine-shivering gimmick he used. A scientist (Vincent Price) discovers that fear creates a parasite inside the body and that you have to scream to kill off the little pests (he carries this out by silent experimentation.) N th eplot of the film, our friend the tingler is let loose in a cinema and it kils the projectionist. At the same time in the cinema where the film is being shown, the screen goesf white and a voice announces: “Watch out! There’s a tinger on the loose in the cinema. Dear God. Scream for your lives!” The people started screaming and that triggered off the film’s gimmick: The "Percepto". These gadgets strapped to the viewers seats started vibrating and the cinema went ballistic! The ist of anecdotes is endless but you’ll have to read about them in his biography: “Step right up! I’m gonna scare the pants off America!”.

13 ghosts (1960)
The gimmick used to attract people along this time was “Illusion-O” Similar to the 3D set-up. If you wanted to see the 12 ghosts (yep, 12) that appeared throughout the film, you had to look through one lens. If you didn’t want to see them, you looked through the other. Very democratic.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
This film was even more democratic. Just like the Coliseum in Rome, the viewers got to choose the baddy’s fate. To do so, the viewers used the ‘Punishment-vote’, a card with phosphorous thumbs printed on them. No-one ever got to see the second ending because the viewers always voted for the baddy to be punished.

Homicidal (1961)
A really bad copy of “Psycho”. The bait here was really simple. When the time comes to identify the killer, the director appears on screen with a chronometer. He gives us a minute to decide if we are brave enough to see the end of the film. If not, we can leave the screen and claim our money back at the door. He then highlights ‘coward’s corner’ over the door to publically humiliate chickens and tight-fisted viewers.