‘To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie…’
Hallmark Releasing Corp. was a Boston-based American film distribution company. With a pointedly provocative approach, Hallmark’s first major success was with German import Mark of the Devil (1970) which was picked up for US showing with an April 1972 promo that included come-ons such as “Positively the most horrifying film ever made” and “Rated V for Violence”, while vomit bags were given free to the audience upon admission.
The company subsequently came up with the oft-repeated phrase: “It’s only a movie!”, although in his book For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Ric Meyers notes that the remarkably similar: “You must keep reminding yourself it’s just a motion picture!” had previously been used to promote Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Color Me Blood Red in 1967.
Hallmark developed from the rapidly-growing Esquire Theaters; “a chain of about a hundred screens” according to David Konow in Reel Terror: The Scary, Bloody, Gory, Hundred-Year History of Classic Horror Films. The company was owned by three partners: Steve Minasian, Phil Scuderi and Robert Barsamain.
Vomit bags were back for Amando de Ossorio directed Spanish import Tombs of the Blind Dead and although this was also “most horrifying film ever made” (despite being rated PG!), it was not “positively” this time.
In August 1972, Hallmark distributed The Last House on the Left, Wes Craven’s breakthrough ultra-shocking sex ‘n’ violence combo that showcased power tool carnage before it became even more world (in)famous via a certain Texas Chain Saw Massacre a couple of years later.
Clearly on a roll of ballyhoo and bloodshed, the company also promoted Mario Bava’s Italian land grab proto-slasher A Bay of Blood in May 1972 with the rather more outré title Twitch of the Death Nerve. Punters were advised that they must receive a “face-to-face!” warning:
In January 1973 the hucksters released Italian import Slaughter Hotel (1971) with the crude sensationalist tag line ‘See the slashing massacre of 8 innocent nurses!’ to tie it in with the notorious Richard Speck real-life murders in Chicago. Subtlety or good taste were not Hallmark trademarks. Not to be out done, American International Pictures (AIP) handled the wider release of both this – now titillatingly retitled Asylum Erotica – and the aforementioned Last House on the Left, plus a number of other Hallmark pick-ups.
Originally entitled The Forgotten, S.F. Brownrigg’s 1973 offering became Don’t Look in the Basement and also Beyond Help, Death Ward No.13 and The Snake Pit. But under any title “it’s only a movie”…
At some point in the later 1970s Hallmark seems to have either become known as Newport or at least partnered with a distribution company of this name. Certainly, Hallmark/Newport re-released Massimo Dallamano’s 1971 giallo murder mystery movie What Have You Done to Solange? as The School That Couldn’t Scream.
Hallmark also released Solange as Blood Relations in some theaters.
Jose Larraz’s British psycho thriller Scream… and Die! became the more sedate The House That Vanished.
Newport also issued Jorge Grau’s zombie movie Let Sleeping Corpses Lie as Don’t Open the Window with a campaign that ripped off Avco Embassy’s Something to Hide.
A 1977/78 release House by the Hill seems to be a retitling of Charles Manson cash-in The Cult (1971) but as Temple of Schlock states this is not clear, as yet.
Another 1977 release, Xmas Massacre, was a festive retitling of the Italian take on Last House on the Left rape ‘n’ revenger, Night Train Murders. This time movie patrons were warned that “you can tell yourself IT’S ONLY A MOVIE – but it won’t help!” Hallmark offshoot Central Park Distributing Corp. also issued this film as The New House on the Left…
Hallmark later financed Friday the 13th (1980) which was subsequently distributed by Hollywood studio Paramount in a ground-breaking move that showed easy $$$’s were more important to the majors since Jaws (1975) had shown that exploitation and horror were such big business. According to David Konow’s aforementioned book: “Betsy Palmer remembered two of the Hallmark partners who “were like the men in black… these strange men lurking around the set… all they told us was that these were the money men from Boston.”
The men in black… who knew it’s “only a movie!”
Adrian J Smith, Horrorpedia