First Introduced: 1959
The Concept: For a two-decade period that began in the late ’50s, producer-director William Castle was the undisputed king of the “gimmick movie.” For his 1958 movie Macabre, audience members were given $1,000 life insurance policies in the event that any of them died of fright while watching the film—nurses were also, helpfully, stationed in the lobby. In 1959, Castle presented House on Haunted Hill—for what it’s worth, a genuinely entertaining piece of B-movie horror—for which he had select theaters rigged with Emergo!: a glow-in-the-dark skeleton that would fly (on a wire) above audiences’ heads. Also that year, Castle released The Tingler—about a scientist’s discovery of a parasite that lives attached to the spine of every human—and perhaps the most famous of his gimmicks: Percepto!
How It Worked: A few seats in selected theaters across the country were outfitted with small electric buzzers—strong enough to deliver a substantial jolt to the posterior of the unfortunate patron. At the movie’s climax—right as one of these parasites is seen “escaping”—the screen would go black. This was the cue for the projectionist to switch on the buzzers as the voice of Tingler star Vincent Price would tell audiences not to panic, but to “scream for their lives”—this being the only sure way to defeat these invasive critters.
Was It Successful? How could it not be? Behold, the magic of Percepto!
Other Movies That Used This Technology: As with other Castle “gimmicks,” this was a one-off bit of marketing genius.