Scanning Around With Gene: Horror and Exploitation!

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When I lived in Southern California, I took a lot of filmmaking classes in college, and became a bit obsessed with film history and film culture. Living near Hollywood meant access to lots of resources, so my friends and I spent too much spare time at the various film-themed bookstores and memorabilia shops that dotted the landscape. I built up a pretty good library of film books, movie scripts, and other material that I could afford.

The best and most respected shop is still in business today on Hollywood Boulevard – Larry Edmunds Bookshop. This store is a center of Hollywood history and is famous for its collection of movie posters, stills, publicity material, scripts and other film history. In those days you would go up to the counter and ask for the “file” from any film and most likely Larry Edmunds would have something from that film, director, or studio. And my favorite thing to do was to look through the “bargain box” where you could find great memorabilia for few dollars. All of today’s images are from advertising slicks and publicity kits I found in the bargain bin at Larry Edmunds over the years. Click on any image for a larger version.

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I suspect most publicity and advertising material for movies these days is digital, but back at that time the studios would print up large pressbooks for theater owners to help them promote the films when they played locally.

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These books usually contained a large variety of advertising mats in various sizes and usually had pre-screened photos and canned stories to give to the local newspaper. For some films, especially horror films, there were also ideas for various gimmicks that theater owners could employ to drive business.

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Obviously my tastes (and the theme of much of the material in the bargain bin) focused on horror films and a genre I’d call “exploitation” – movies that explored the rougher side of society and human behavior (though they were usually very tame in reality).

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There are many things I like about these genres, not least of which is the great copywriting in the promotional material. And the choice of graphics. And the choice of typefaces. And, well, just about everything.

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To make the material work with the greatest variety of local newspapers, studios typically printed the ads and photos with very course line screens, which I think ads to the bizarre quality of the imagery. Visible dots start showing up at about 85-line halftones – many of these were printed at something closer to 65-lines.

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Of course back then there was more local advertising for movies. Usually on Fridays, local papers, depending on the size of the market, would have a large section devoted to the latest movie openings, with reviews, stories and ads, much of it supplied directly by the studios.

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As is still the case today, sometimes the hype and marketing surrounding a new film had little to do with the reality of the movie itself. Once a title was turned over to the Hollywood marketing machine, the hype tended to take on a life of its own.

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But of course that’s what makes this promotional material so much fun – you know the film itself is likely to be a bit disappointing and not live up to the promotional hype.

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I suspect these days even the bargain bin at Larry Edmunds is out of my reach – an interest in film memorabilia has really taken off in the last few decades. But it was fun there for a while to gather up this material and I’m glad I recently came across my small collection to share here today.

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