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Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Tingler, the Mole People—they stalked and oozed into audiences’ minds during the era that followed Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and preceded terrors like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Chucky (Child’s Play). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold pulls off the masks and wipes away the slime to reveal how the monsters that frighte The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Tingler, the Mole People—they stalked and oozed into audiences’ minds during the era that followed Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and preceded terrors like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Chucky (Child’s Play). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold pulls off the masks and wipes away the slime to reveal how the monsters that frightened audiences in the 1950s and 1960s—and the movies they crawled and staggered through—reflected fundamental changes in the film industry. Providing the first economic history of the horror film, Kevin Heffernan shows how the production, distribution, and exhibition of horror movies changed as the studio era gave way to the conglomeration of New Hollywood.Heffernan argues that major cultural and economic shifts in the production and reception of horror films began at the time of the 3-d film cycle of 1953–54 and ended with the 1968 adoption of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system and the subsequent development of the adult horror movie—epitomized by Rosemary’s Baby. He describes how this period presented a number of daunting challenges for movie exhibitors: the high costs of technological upgrade, competition with television, declining movie attendance, and a diminishing number of annual releases from the major movie studios. He explains that the production and distribution branches of the movie industry responded to these trends by cultivating a youth audience, co-producing features with the film industries of Europe and Asia, selling films to television, and intensifying representations of sex and violence. Shining through Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold is the delight of the true horror movie buff, the fan thrilled to find The Brain that Wouldn’t Die on television at 3 am.


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The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Tingler, the Mole People—they stalked and oozed into audiences’ minds during the era that followed Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and preceded terrors like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Chucky (Child’s Play). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold pulls off the masks and wipes away the slime to reveal how the monsters that frighte The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Tingler, the Mole People—they stalked and oozed into audiences’ minds during the era that followed Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and preceded terrors like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Chucky (Child’s Play). Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold pulls off the masks and wipes away the slime to reveal how the monsters that frightened audiences in the 1950s and 1960s—and the movies they crawled and staggered through—reflected fundamental changes in the film industry. Providing the first economic history of the horror film, Kevin Heffernan shows how the production, distribution, and exhibition of horror movies changed as the studio era gave way to the conglomeration of New Hollywood.Heffernan argues that major cultural and economic shifts in the production and reception of horror films began at the time of the 3-d film cycle of 1953–54 and ended with the 1968 adoption of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system and the subsequent development of the adult horror movie—epitomized by Rosemary’s Baby. He describes how this period presented a number of daunting challenges for movie exhibitors: the high costs of technological upgrade, competition with television, declining movie attendance, and a diminishing number of annual releases from the major movie studios. He explains that the production and distribution branches of the movie industry responded to these trends by cultivating a youth audience, co-producing features with the film industries of Europe and Asia, selling films to television, and intensifying representations of sex and violence. Shining through Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold is the delight of the true horror movie buff, the fan thrilled to find The Brain that Wouldn’t Die on television at 3 am.

30 review for Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    It is nice to see a scholarly treatment of the movies I’ve loved, and been most interested in, all my life. The insights Heffernan gives help me to understand why I developed that fascination in the first place, why it was so easy to access and see these movies on television in an earlier era, and how they came to be made in the first place and some of the reason for their association with “art” films from Europe – even the rise of the grindhouse is covered to some degree. Where Heffernan is bes It is nice to see a scholarly treatment of the movies I’ve loved, and been most interested in, all my life. The insights Heffernan gives help me to understand why I developed that fascination in the first place, why it was so easy to access and see these movies on television in an earlier era, and how they came to be made in the first place and some of the reason for their association with “art” films from Europe – even the rise of the grindhouse is covered to some degree. Where Heffernan is best, I think, is in exploring the economic reasons for the rise of the “psychotronic” movie in the era following studio dominance and the fall of the “classic” film. His best chapters discuss the long-term results of the 1948 Supreme Court decision that severed the studios’ control over theatrical distribution and brought about a period of low-productivity for major studios that left independent theater owners starved for product they could screen. This led to a demand for cheaply-made movies that would fill seats through ballyhoo and technological advances like 3-D, and soon the rise of television created a new market hungry for content (especially in color), that gave many of these films a new lease on life. As I say, all of that is fascinating and informative. Where I found Heffernan less useful was in his analyses of the films themselves, which he addressed in a fairly unsympathetic high-falutin’ film theorist’s voice. It is unfortunate that he was probably unaware that many of these films have received a sophisticated and sympathetic treatment in the pages of the classic film zine “Delirious” and on the Internet. Despite some indications in the introduction and conclusion of a more open-minded approach, much of the discussion is frankly condescending toward the movies and their fans. In that sense, I was also disappointed in the cursory discussion of fan culture in the final chapter. He mentions Psychotronic, both the magazine and the video guides (The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, The Psychotronic Video Guide To Film), but fails to note that this rose as a guide to late-night TV connected with the very phenomena he is documenting. He also seems to think it is unique as an encyclopedic approach to genre films, ignoring John Stanley and the Creature Features series (Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide) entirely. There is no mention whatever of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its next-generation resurrection of the classic psychotronic film for cable, even in the conclusion. Despite these problems, however, I learned a lot reading this book and had a good time doing so. I recommend it for anyone with an interest in the subject.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    About a time of horror that I have only slight knowledge. I really only cared a slight bit about the tiny details of the theatre runs and much more interested of the overall trends and there is plenty of both. I like that it thoroughly covers British films and many Italian films which were all imported due to a film shortage for the theatres at the time. (I kept wondering though why the theatres needed to burn through so many films just to have something new when most of it was junk). I pulled o About a time of horror that I have only slight knowledge. I really only cared a slight bit about the tiny details of the theatre runs and much more interested of the overall trends and there is plenty of both. I like that it thoroughly covers British films and many Italian films which were all imported due to a film shortage for the theatres at the time. (I kept wondering though why the theatres needed to burn through so many films just to have something new when most of it was junk). I pulled out a ton of movies I want to check out and have already revisited some I didn't appreciate at the time(Peeping Tom one that I'm glad I gave another shot). Also it does not mention Hitchcock so most of this was new to me. I think it's well worth seeking out if your a fan of the genre and academic style of history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I've been reading this off and on since purchasing it a year or so ago, and it's a wildly informative text but also an exceedingly dry one. Heffernan goes to great lengths to illustrate and discuss the financial and more business-focused side of motion picture exhibition, while spending much less text discussing the actual films in question. Worth a look for anyone curious, I suppose, but it's not as essential a text as I'd hoped. I will say that the lengthy index - which includes listings of th I've been reading this off and on since purchasing it a year or so ago, and it's a wildly informative text but also an exceedingly dry one. Heffernan goes to great lengths to illustrate and discuss the financial and more business-focused side of motion picture exhibition, while spending much less text discussing the actual films in question. Worth a look for anyone curious, I suppose, but it's not as essential a text as I'd hoped. I will say that the lengthy index - which includes listings of the films included in each package sold to cable during this time period - is useful as a wildly comprehensive reference point, if nothing else.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jonas

    Explores how horror movies employ extra-textual gimmicks to gain viewers. Given the low cost of producing many horror films, any business beyond the expected leads to increased profits, thus the proliferation of these gimmicks. People such as William Castle are central to this text's investigation. Explores how horror movies employ extra-textual gimmicks to gain viewers. Given the low cost of producing many horror films, any business beyond the expected leads to increased profits, thus the proliferation of these gimmicks. People such as William Castle are central to this text's investigation.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    Strong industrial and economic analyses are provided by Heffernan in (what has been) an underdevloped area of sholarship. The technological advances and unique marketing strategies of this era are given proper attention and context. Very useful and well written.

  6. 4 out of 5

    BC Sterrett

    Perfect for learning the politics and behinds the scenes business of B-Movies and Horror Movies of the 50s and 60s.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Heatt

  9. 5 out of 5

    JM Cozzoli

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Michlig

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Blaker

  13. 4 out of 5

    christopher

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Ernst

  15. 5 out of 5

    K. Diva

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marie Piper

  18. 4 out of 5

    Cale Lobba

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ivy L.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ridernyc

  21. 5 out of 5

    Thommy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Albright

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  26. 5 out of 5

    Billy Wiggins

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rayla

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Drozd

  29. 5 out of 5

    Coy Hall

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jay

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