In Hollywood lore, the name William Castle is not up there with the 'Irving Thalberg's or 'Daryl F. Zanuck's of the film world. But for some, including directors Joe Dante, Edgar Wright and John Waters, William Castle remains to this day, the greatest movie-marketer of all-time. As the producer of such classic B-movies as Macabre (1958), House on Haunted Hill (1959) and 13 Ghosts (1960), Castle would go to the outer limits of inspired showmanship to draw audiences into his schlock-busters. When he released The Tingler in 1959, random cinema seats were outfitted with an electric-shock device that would zap the audience at irregular intervals.
The spirit of William Castle is alive and well within the corporate walls of homegrown mega-distributor Village Roadshow, who have embraced the brazen cheesiness of their new release, Alexandre Aja's Pirahna 3D, with a brilliant piece of tongue-in-cheek POS persuasion.
At a multiplex near you this weekend, you may encounter a bevy of bikini-clad hotties with what would appear to be large chunks of their torso torn away. Prosthetically-altered to resemble the by-product of a piranha attack, the game gals are spruiking the new blood-&-boobs epic in megaplex foyers in the Eastern states, no doubt to the puerile glee of the film's mostly-male target demographic (and the eye-rolling chagrin of their good-natured girlfriends).
Erin Coogan, the Roadshow Film NSW promotions manager whose disturbed mind first conjured up the images of shredded models walking amongst unsuspecting cinemagoers, claims the devil-may-care nature of the promotion sprang from the film itself. “We wanted to go outside the normal grassroots advertising campaign for a film like Pirahna,” she says. “We gave images from the film to our in-house ad agency team and they created the make-up effects that we use on the girls. And we secured a Pirahna 3.0 boat to give away as part of the promotion, so the girls are handing out flyers in the foyers. It was important that there was lots of interaction.” Images of the blood-smeared models laughing it up with patrons have been posted to Roadshow Films' Facebook page, where feedback and photos are being monitored.
If nothing else, the campaign certainly prepares you for the film experience you are about to see, in which a seaside township full of said hotties suffer more of the same. And don't worry, ladies, there's plenty of man-meat on display too – especially during an unforgettable scene, where a particularly sensitive male protuberance is dealt with in a very unforgiving, typically piranha-esque manner.
Coogan and her colleagues took their lead from the all-or-nothing marketing mindset that ensured solid opening figures in the US. In one memorable instance, the cast of the film recorded segments for a mock Oscar nomination campaign that has had over 203,000 hits on the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay-run comedy site Funny or Die.
Rest assured, the late William Castle (who dabbled in serious films briefly, as producer of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, 1968) would be giggling in his grave, knowing that his shameless showmanship has inspired young distribution execs to such low-brow mastery as that conjured by Village Roadshow this week. Like those that felt the jolt of The Tingler, he'd get a buzz out of it.
Read the review of Piranha 3D here
Watch an interview with genre supremo Joe Dante here