Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gospel Gimmicks

I like old movies.

Last night, Turner Classic Movies held a mini-festival of films by director William Castle. The one we watched was Straight-Jacket from 1964 starring Joan Crawford and Diane Baker. Crawford played an ax-murderer who had just been released after spending twenty years in a asylum. Naturally, soon after her return heads started to roll again. The film was pretty campy but was entertaining as ax murder movies go. (Sidenote: In an uncredited part, Lee Majors, the future Six Million Dollar Man, made his film debut as the first one to lose his head.)

Much too late in the night for me to stay up and watch it, TCM aired what is probably Castle's most famous film, The Tingler starring Vincent Price (1959). When that movie was shown in theaters, seats were wired with a device that would vibrate at certain times during the movie. At the beginning of the film, an on-screen Castle would tell the audience that the more sensitive among them might have a strong tingling sensation and that the only way to release it was to scream. I'll bet that was fun. The closest thing I ever came to such an experience was seeing The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D at The Vogue Theatre in Louisville back during seminary days.

That Tingler gimmick was the sort of thing for which William Castle was known. He made low-budget thrillers and used gimmicks to promote them. He was as liable to have an ambulance parked outside the theatre just in case someone had a heart attack as to have a skeleton fly through the theatre.

Robert Osborne, who introduces films on TCM, pointed out that after the success of Straight-Jacket, in which no such gimmicks were used, Castle was encouraged to make more gimmick-free films.

Like everything else, it all made me think about the church. Have we become too gimmicky in our presentation of the Good News? What risks do we run? Is a gimmick-free Gospel not the best kind?

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