Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold

Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953–1968

Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 61 b&w photos Published: March 2004

Author: Kevin Heffernan

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

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.


“[A] multi-disciplinary text , one that cultural theorists, business historians and horror enthusiasts alike will find both useful and entertaining. . . . [B]oth a reference guide and a complement to any horror fan’s library, and Heffernan’s book is academically valuable not only to scholars of cinema but anyone with an interest in the cultural significance of shifts in market forces and capitalist agendas.” — Louise Sheedy , Senses of Cinema

“Thoroughly researched and well-written. . . . This is an important study that deserves the attention of film scholars.” — Gregory D. Black , American Historical Review

“Readers of this magazine are bound to enjoy this well-researched, well-written account of horror films and film economics during the transitional years 1953—1968.… [A] remarkable achievement.” — Anthony Ambrogio , Video Watchdog

“While Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold is a sound scholarly study, its recovery of these films has its own visceral attractions. Perhaps for some readers the advice given to prospective audiences for House on Haunted Hill (1958) might prove useful: ‘Consult your doctor! Bring your seatbelts! [Read] it with someone with warm hands!’” — Susan Allan Ford , Gothic Studies

"Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold is rich in insights and will make film history more complex and nuanced." — Saverio Giovacchini , Enterprise & Society

"[A] powerful contribution to academic considerations of both horror films and the cinema industry at large. . . . [I]n spanning an impressive breadth of economic data, cultural analysis and horror film fandom the utility of Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold lies in its clear demonstration of how the horror film has been at the heart of changes within the American cinema industry during the past sixty years." — Leanne Downing , Screening the Past

"[A] well-written, thoroughly researched history of the developments in horror filmmaking during a period of exceptional complexity for the American film industry." — Andrew J. Douglas , Business History Review

"[A]n appealing mixture of scholarly seriousness and fan enthusiasm. . . . Heffernan's multiplicity of small stories keeps the discussion . . . entertaining. . . . Highly recommended as a means of redressing the balance between different schools of interpretation, as an extension of on ongoing critical discussion into a new direction, and as an introduction to a wonderful world of cheap and tasteless pleasures." — Steffen Hantke , Film Criticism

"[I]nteresting and thoroughly researched. . . [A] unique approach to movie and horror history." — , Library Journal

"The first [book] to analyze and explain the numerous economic factors that changed how horror films were produced and distributed from 1953-1968, from the end of studio era to the conglomeration of New Hollywood." — John F. Barber , Leonardo Reviews

"Brimming with plot synopses and including an appendix, this text serves as reference guide as well as a critical work. . . . This text achieves its goals in giving a detailed account of major changes, and reasons for them, in horror films and the American film industry during the 1950s and 1960s." — Rebecca Janicker, Scope

"Each chapter of this book provides new insight into the development of the horror film by using influential horror films as examples. . . . Any reader with an avid interest in the horror genre will find entertainment in descriptions of the innovations that wowed the baby boomers and contributed towards the evolution of the horror genre." — Anna Martinovsky, M/C Reviews

"Kevin Heffernan provides a smoothly written and vastly entertaining chronicle of the concurrent transformations of the horror film and the motion picture marketplace. He possesses that rare but always winning combination of a scholar's assiduous compression of detail and a fan's avid appreciation of his subject matter." — David Sanjek , Journal of American History

"This thorough book will be good supplementary reading in introductory film courses and in courses on film history and genres. Highly recommended." — A.F. Windstead, Choice

[W]orthwhile for broadening our understanding of the complexity related factors shaping an art form that in turn shapes popular culture.” — Sharon Yang , Journal of Popular Culture

[W]orthwhile for broadening our understanding of the complexity related factors shaping an art form that in turn shapes popular culture.” — Sharon Yang Journal of Popular Culture

“As someone who grew up watching late-night chiller feature series on television, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, listening to haunted house sound effects records, and making my own super-8 monster movies, I read Kevin Heffernan’s book with nostalgia and delight. He provides the historical, cultural, and economic context for many of the texts and artifacts of my own misbegotten youth.”
  — Henry Jenkins, coeditor of Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture

“This is the kind of book on horror films that I’ve been waiting years to read. Combining a historian’s rigor and a fan’s enthusiasm, Kevin Heffernan shows us how industrial considerations shaped the genre and how the marginalized horror film has in fact been at the center of changes in the American movie business for the past fifty years.” — Eric Schaefer, author of “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!”: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919–1959


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kevin Heffernan is Assistant Professor in the Division of Cinema-Television at Southern Methodist University. He is the coauthor of My Son Divine and co-screenwriter and associate producer of the documentary Divine Trash, winner of the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1 Horror in Three Dimensions: House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon 16

2 The Color of Blood: Hammer Films and Curse of Frankenstein 43

3 “Look into the Hypnotic Eye!”: Exhibitor Financing and Distributor Hype in Fifties Horror Cinema 63

4 “A Sissified Bela Lugosi”: Vincent Price, William Castle, and AIP’s Poe Adaptations 90

5 Grind House or Art House?: Astor Pictures and Peeping Tom 113

6 American International Goes International: New Markets, Runaway Productions, and Black Sabbath 134

7 Television Syndication and the Birth of the “Orphans”: Horror Films in the Local TV Market 154

8 Demon Children and the Birth of Adult Horror: William Castle, Roman Polanski, and Rosemary’s Baby 180

9 Family Monsters and Urban Matinees: Continental Distributing and Night of the Living Dead 202

Conclusion: The Horror Film in the New Hollywood 221

Appendix: Feature Film Packages in Television Syndication, 1955-1968 229

Notes 263

Bibliography 295

Index 305
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3215-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3202-2
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