Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953 – 1968 – book

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Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953 – 1968 is an academic book written by Kevin Hefferman and published by Duke University Press in 2004.


In the first economic history of the horror film, Kevin Hefferman analyses how the production, distribution and exhibition of horror movies changed as the studio era gave way to the conglomeration of New Hollywood. He contends that major cultural and economic shifts in the production and reception of horror films began at the time of the 3-D cycle of 1953 – 1954 – looking closely at House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon – and ended with the 1968 adoption of the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system and the subsequent development of the adult horror movie – epitomised by Rosemary’s Baby.


Hefferman 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.

hypnotic eye poster

The book includes analyses of Hammer Films and The Curse of Frankenstein; Hypnotic horror; William Castle’s movies (13 Ghosts; The Tingler; House on Haunted Hill); Vincent Price’s rise to horror stardom; AIP; Astor Pictures and Peeping Tom; TV syndication of horror movies (with listings of all the packages); Bava’s Black Sabbath; Continental distributing and the success of independents such as Night of the Living Dead.

ghouls gimmicks and gold horror films and the american movie business 1953-1968 kevin heffernan

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Reviews [click links to read more]:

“While acknowledging the importance of the insights into the genre provided by such theorists as Robin Wood, Carol Clover, and Thomas Doherty, Heffernan identifies a neglected area in their analyses of the genre’s evolution: how the economic imperatives of an industry shape its final product. As a result, Ghouls becomes a multi-disciplinary text, one that cultural theorists, business historians and horror enthusiasts alike will find both useful and entertaining.” Louise Sheedy, Senses of Cinema

“Historians of the medium will appreciate Heffernan’s detailed scrutiny of the economic and cultural influences at work on the industry, which he intersperses with lively descriptions and critiques of both notable and obscure horror films of the era.” Andrew J. Douglas, Business History Review


“The use of color and gore, first seen in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), was similarly designed to increase profits through exaggerated and stylized responses to conventions completely familiar to hard-boiled movie audiences. As Heffernan notes, audiences found their worlds becoming and tougher and tougher, and it was important for any film to be even tougher in order to elicit the desired reaction.” John F. Barber, Leonardo Online

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