By - Steve Mezo
I would like to start this one by thanking everyone on the
"You know you're from Keansburg when... Group"
on Facebook for helping me narrow allot of the info down for this article.
In the October of 1977 my mother had taken me to see
"Lets Scare Jessica to Death"
and little did I know there would be a live horror show too.
I wish I was a little older at times so I could have seen one of William Castle's Horror Shows.
William had a little bit of a rivalry with Alfred.
Before I get into my experience seeing one I'll give you a brief history on what they're about.
Back in the late 50's and early 60's a man by the name of William Castle made going to the movies fun. And just about guaranteed there were no empty seats in the theater. But at the same time it made large theater owners insane because they would have to do some kind of modifications to the theaters to accommodate William Castle's promotions for that particular film.
It could be as simple as hooking up a pulley system to have a inflatable glow in the dark skeleton to fly over the crowd.
To something a little more complicated like bolting a
vibrating motor to a couple random movie seats.
Then there were times where a "Cowards Corner" had to be set up complete with footprints leading up to it.
If the person wanted their refund they had to stay in the Cowards Corner
there in the lobby until the theater emptied.
There were others that were more interactive like
Ghost Viewers for "Thirteen Ghost"
or fate glow in the dark decision voting cards for Mr. Sardonicus
William really made going to these movies an event because he intergrated the audience as part of the film as much as he could. There is a great documentary about him called "Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story".
At first there was "Macarbe" (1958) where he had $1000.00 life insurance policies from Lloyd's of London handed out to audience members that may die from fright.
Then there was "House on Haunted Hill" (1959) that was presented in "EMERGO" and featured the inflatable glow in the dark skeleton I was talking about that would come out during the films climax. That would just serve as a moving target for movie snack projectiles.
"The Tingler" (1959) presented in "PERCEPTO" had the vibrating motors under the seats. But since there was a heavy cost with those motors only one or two were sent to large theaters in cities or large towns. (Oh, the Death Certificate on the door of the medicine cabinet in the movie is from Red Bank, New Jersey.)
"13 Ghost" (1960) presented in (ILLUSION-O) had the audience using "Ghost Viewers" to either see the ghost or not using their viewers. (You could even see them without it, but the viewer made it more fun.)
"Homicidal" (1961) featured a 45 second "Fright Break" where frightened audience members could leave and get a refund right before the movies climax. But these people had to stand in the "Cowards Corner" to get it. This movie also lead to William's rivalry with Alfred Hitchcock since he made PSYCHO the year before. And William was given the nickname "The Poor Man's Hitchcock" which didn't help matters either.
"Mr. Sardonicus" (1961) had the audience members hold up vote cards to let William know if Mr. Sardonicus should be given mercy or not before the end of the film.
There was even a scene where he would count the votes to give the outcome, the funny part is there is only one ending because William knew everyone would vote for "No Mercy".
For the movie "ZOTZ!" (1962) each audience member was given a magic gold colored plastic coin.
"13 Frightened Girls" (1963) William Castle had a search for the prettiest girls from 13 countries to cast in the film.
"Straight Jacket" (1964) had each audience member walking in with a cardboard ax.
"I saw what you did" (1965) William had used giant plastic telephones to promote in movie theaters. But after a huge amount of prank phone calls, the phone company told William he could no longer use them or mention phones in his promotions. So he had back sections of theaters made up as "Shock Sections" and had seat belts installed on the seats to keep audience members from jumping out of their chairs in fright.
Then for his film "BUG" (1975) he had the cockroach star "Hercules" insured for one million dollars.
In 1993 Screen Writers Jerico and John S. Hass along with Director Joe Dante had paid William Castle a tribute in their movie "MATINEE".
And featured gimmicks that William would have loved to have had the finances and access to in theaters.
Other filmmakers had followed suit in the 60's and 70's and started doing giveaways and promotions themselves like plastic zombie eyes and fangs for male and female audience members. Or raffles to win a frozen corpse (Which was a chicken from a local market).
This Wolfman Pendant and Chain was given to me by a friend
that got it from a New Jersey movie theater in 1964
when they were handing them out for a showing of
Universal Studio's "The Wolfman" (1941).
This brings me back to the Colonial Movie Theater (Previously The Casino Theater) back in the October of 1977
in Keansburg, New Jersey.
This was too much! Not only was I going to see a horror movie with my mom, I might get a pet out of the deal. After she paid for tickets she took my hand and we walked into the darkened theater.
Until I had rented "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" recently with my mother I didn't remember much of it from thirty five years ago. But this time around we really enjoyed it. And I would call it more of a creepy thriller than a horror movie.
Jessica had suffered a nervous breakdown and her husband Duncan and their friend Woody felt it would be a good idea to move to New England as a new place for her to keep calm. When they were getting settled in to the old "Bishop Family" farmhouse Duncan bought Jessica discovers a transient hippie named Emily.
Emily apologizes for staying the (at the time abandoned house), but Jessica asks her to stay as a guest.
From that point on things start happening where Jessica's not sure if it's real or her psychosis returning.
Zohra Lampert was excellent as Jessica because she really makes you feel sympathy for her character the whole movie through. And Mariclare Costello still stands out for me out as Emily.
Once the movie was over I heard a booming voice in the darkness say "Ladies and Gentlemen please remain seated!" And then said "Prepare yourselves to be horrified as well as terrified by the creatures within this theater!"
A spotlight went on and a man who reminded me of "Crazy Eddie" was standing there in a bright yellow sequined tuxedo jacket.
As soon as he spoke I knew he was the owner of the booming voice. He then looked at the crowd and said "This crowd doesn't look scared enough, release the rats!" And the girls in the crowd screeched.
Then he said "Don't worry about picking up your feet ladies because they can climb the seats!" This set them off even more.
After a couple of minutes he said "Wait we're getting a complaint from management about the rats being let loose, so now release the snakes to eat the rats! Be careful not to step on them ladies because they will bite!" I didn't think it was possible but the girls in the audience screamed even louder.
Now while everyone else was looking for the rats and snakes to avoid them I was looking for one to take home. That's when my mother reminded me that I had two cats and a dog at home. And that the rats and snakes were pretend. Now any other kid would have been crushed by this or at least disillusioned. But not me I was now in the presence of a horror version of a Rock Star!
Here was this man not even dressed up as a monster scarring the crap out of a room full of strangers. And all he needed was a somewhat dark room and a microphone. When he felt the time was right he yelled "Call back the rats and snakes and release the monsters!!!" After that I was in full on Fanboy mode.
As I sat there I saw Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman and a I guess Executioner kind of guy emerge from the stage. If it would have been The Creature From The Black Lagoon instead I would have passed out from the excitement.
The crowd really lost their minds at this point and so did I as the monsters made their way up the isles of the theater. And the announcer said "Please do not touch or tease the monsters, instead scream as loud as you can to keep them away!"
This made it allot harder for me to get Dracula's attention to come closer, after all I'm half Hungarian so he's practically family. So to really get his attention I stood up on my movie seat and started waving my arms like a nut. It's a good thing that my mom had a grabbed the waistband of my Toughskin Jeans or I would have gone right over the side.
The second he got near me I gave him a huge hug. I think this caught him off guard because it made him laugh a little. And I went straight into a yamering of how he was one of my favorites. Then I asked him if he could have Frankenstein and The Wolfman come over too, and he did.
I'll never forget him making his way to them and pointing to me, then seeing Frankenstein do his extended arm walk towards me and and The Wolf Man do his stalking wolf like walk. And yes they got hugs and a complete yammering too as the other kids and girls out on Date Night freaked out.