August 5, 2009

Bride Ballyhoo

Universal’s Exhibitor’s Campaign Book for Bride of Frankenstein (1935) suggests a number of “stunts” to pull in the crowds. Here, a giveaway set of teeth, either a rubber novelty item or flavored wax candy, to replace any you’d “swallow in excitement seeing the super-shocker”. Another envelope contained candles to light your way home with, in case the movie made you afraid of the dark.
For the enterprising exhibitor, the gag handouts could be rolled into an elaborate lobby display, the “First Aid Lobby Booth Stunt”, providing “everything necessary for the audience who suffer ‘thrill-shock” when seeing THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN”. The booth should be “painted white, with the cross in red to make it as realistic as possible”. Items, “all easily obtainable”, included hair straightener and hair dye, spirits of ammonia, gum and cigarettes. Universal would recycle this stunt as the “First-Aid For Shock Booth” in the mid-40s for its House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula monster rallies, calling it “a time-honored stunt… should be taken from your files and dusted off.
The Bride Campaign Book also suggested having a trained nurse in attendance, although I suspect a costumed usherette would do just fine. She should walk up and down the aisle while the movie played, “to enhance the shock-angle”.
Parking an ambulance out front was recommended as a natural “follow through” on the Booth and Nurse gags. “Banner this with catch lines and drive it around town for a ballyhoo. This is the money angle, experience has proven!"
The nurse and ambulance gags were longtime stunt staples for fright and suspense films. An ambulance out front was suggested for Frankenstein in 1931, and the gag was still being used in 1973 when The Exorcist was released.
Classic movie ballyhoo was corny and a lot of fun. It survives today in the form of mass-produced die-cut lobby displays, high-priced Super Bowl ads and corporate tie-in Happy Meals. A lot slicker, much more sophisticated, but not as charming as the Old School stuff.

With thanks to Max of The Drunken Severed Head for the images.


Dave Rattigan said...

Fabulous. Gimmicks like this put Hammer's Rasputin the Mad Monk beards to shame.

MonsterScholar said...

Smoke the scares away? Did they have a deal with the tobacco companies?

rob! said...

How cool! I wonder if anyone ever got a photo of a Bride of Frankenstein "ambulance" actually on the streets?

Christopher said...

I might need one o them Nurses ;o)
The Teeth gag is pretty funny..Whats this??...I can just sse patrons pulling those out of there envelopes ,playing with them before the lights dim..
Yes..I might just swallow my teeth over a damn good movie..

Madame Magnet said...

These ads are great - I especially like that they've considered all the different ways to be scared witless.

I recently went to a cemetery screening of The Bride of Frankenstein, and I was disappointed that a lot of people found the movie really funny. Obviously, BOF isn't scary to viewers anymore, but it's sad that people see it as campy instead of classic.

Monster Poetry Magnets

Peter Bernard said...

"BOF" is an intentional comedy, it's always been a comedy. It's very funny, other than a few scare moments and the sad ending. Great characters, great performances, great direction.

Madame Magnet said...

That's really interesting - I had no idea. Well, perhaps I take my monster movies FAR too seriously, but I still felt like the audience laughed at strange times. It was funny when he was trying to smoke or demanding more drink, but it wasn't funny when his heart was broken. That got a good HAHA from people around me and I didn't fully understand why.


Peter Bernard said...

Oh, well that IS strange. I thought they were laughing at Una Merkel.

Phil said...

That's very interesting. Usually, when people speak of movie gimmicks like that, they're thinking of the late 50's/early 60's and on, when you had people like William Castle putting vibrator devices in seats and the like. I've never seen any kind of depiction of such gimmicks going on in the 30's. I'd be interested in knowing what else they were doing like that back then, in terms of these genre pictures.

Burnsey Bridges said...

Wow - very interesting! It sounds like you're saying the studio explained the stunt concept to theater owners and recommended they procure their own props. I think this makes it very different from the corporate tie-ins we see today. Back then, the studio would not have made any money off the sales of the props (the wax teeth, the candles). It doesn't sound like there was any deal between the studio and some Acme Wax Prop and Gag Corporation. The point was to generate excitement to see the movie, not sell the product.

Now, when there's a Little Mermaid(c) Happy Meal (c), the movie is being used to generate excitement for the product. So its the reverse, really. And films like Transformers and G.I. Joe - they're hardly more than 90 minute toy commercials.

I was aware of the more modern examples of this sort of publicity stunt - what jumped to my mind was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or was it Wes Craven, who used the "just keep telling yourself its only a movie" line. But I never associated it with The Exorcist. My impression was that people really were fainting, barfing, running out of the theater and otherwise going screwy during the first run of that movie-- I mean, I personally know two women who told me (separately) that they themselves panicked and ran out of the theater, or panicked, barfed, and ran out of the theater, respectively, when they first saw it in '73.

Such a great blog - keep up the good work!