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Friday, December 05, 2014

Lotsa Ways To Sell A Monster ...

When Frankenstein Had Many Creators

Caricature Art For The Monster
Long ago when showmanship was more a matter of individual enterprise, Frankenstein gave ad and art staff much with which to entice scare seekers. Any hundred towns that played Frankenstein would represent as many differing campaigns on behalf of the late 1931 and into 1932 chiller. Pre-prepared ads were available, via Universal's pressbook, but these were mere baseline for highly individualized selling at local level. A manager could surround himself with company-supplied art, including posters of all sizes, and dream up whatever montage would put Frankenstein across most effectively in his town. Lobby cards to one-sheets to billboard sized displays, each singly worth from tens to hundreds of thousands today, were scissored up and hung in or out of doors, exposed or not to punishing elements, then tossed for trash once engagements ended. Such was fast-paced promotion when shows came/went in matter of days, decks cleared quick for a next push.

George Henger's Wall-and-Cell Effect For His Oklahoma City
Frankenstein Lobby Display

A threshold question might have been: Do we show the monster in ads? In smaller situations especially, you could keep his face a secret and let everyone be stunned at Karloff's reveal in Frankenstein. That scene is certainly played in terms of surprise, with slow build, BK entering backwards, then "shock" close-ups of a soon-to-be iconic image. Staged as though here was where we'd have our first-ever glimpse of the monster, James Whale and co. may not have reckoned with Universal merchandising's later decision to use Karloff as key art for virtually all posters. Viewers entering Frankenstein would have at least known what the title character's creation looked like. Was that giving too much of the game away? A local manager could reshuffle cards by keeping the monster a mystery --- let his face for purpose of ads be obscured, or even show a headless threat (as at right), that last a perhaps more frightful prospect to some than what the film ultimately showed.

Universal Pushes Two Trailers --- Do Either Exist?

Best Way To Attract Children:
A Warning Not To Send Them
Query to those more expert: Did the original Frankenstein trailer show Karloff? Far as I know,  previews from 1931-32's initial release (there were two) do not survive. What we've seen as DVD extra and elsewhere dates from Universal's 1938 reissue through Realart bring-back from late 40's onward. Those very first trailers, however, could show us what was revealed, or withheld, of the monster. Some exhibitors made an event of the preview, much as we've lately seen with first glimpse of a next Star Wars. Oklahoma City's George Henger (the Midwest Theatre) spent six weeks building up to his first run of the Frankenstein trailer by putting a "monster" warn at the end of every short subject he ran, a teaser to build anticipation not for the feature, but for a first preview of Frankenstein. The pay-off was "a real creepy, eerie presentation," said Motion Picture Herald: "For ten seconds before the trailer was thrown on the screen, the house was darkened. During this period, groans and moans, produced on a special disc, came from behind the screen. Then, while the house was still dark and the screen still blank, a deathly green head and the hands of the "monster" were projected on the blackness of the ceiling, played across the screen and up to the ceiling on the other side." Mirrors, a projected slide, and "stage shots" aided in the effect, and all this just for a preview. George Henger's splash would be detailed and sent for other theatres to emulate. Challenge to exhibition was best expressed by Henger's sum-up of Frankenstein: "He Out-Draculas Dracula." 


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Less is more. The first ads for this film probably, like the first ads for Lon Chaney in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, kept the face a secret as the desire to see it is a selling point that somehow got lost on re-issue and seems lost today.

One of my favorite audience moments came when I screened all 8 Frankenstein films as an all night twelve hour marathon at Rochdale College in the 1970s. Shortly after the first film started I heard screams from the audience. I said to myself, "That film is good but not that good." You have to understand that the Federal Government of Canada allowed the use of hashish, LSD, marijuana and mescaline at Rochdale. I went in to the screening area to see one fellow doing Boris Karloff as the monster scaring the tar out of everyone. I did not at first know what to do but on screen Colin Clive said to the monster, "Sit down." I followed his cue. I said, "Come here." He lurched towards me. I took him to another room with a chair where I said, "Sit down." He did. He sat there for about two hours. It was a Hell of a night. Great fun. The scariest was ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It really woke people up.I recognized the scene where Costello tries to sit in the chair unaware of the monster behind him as the one that had scared the yell out of me in a theater in New Brunswick at 6. Love all those films and the showmanship that goes with them.

9:43 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Look for Brazilian ads:

12:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speculates on ads that gave away the "secret" of Frankenstein:

It does seems odd, that theaters would have given the Monster's image away, when the film itself went to such lengths to conceal it until its shocking unveiling, even to the end of using a question mark in place of the name of the actor portraying it in the opening credits, as though it might be something other than an someone in greasepaint. At some point in the initial release, however, the reputation of the film would have preceded it. Later on, with the sequels and its re-release, there would have been no further need for any such subterfuge. The story might concern the struggles and torment of Henry Frankenstein, but for the public at large, it was always a monster show.

4:17 AM  

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