Monday, May 4, 2015

Inside the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS press book

A good press kit should be able to thrive once released into the wild.

The primary goal of press kit initiatives is to help small businesses (in this case: theater owners) successfully market their products to customers. Historically, marketing has always been something that small businesses have never really had an aptitude for. That's not the same thing as being disinterested; but when you spend all of your waking hours running a business, there's not much juice left for honing your marketing skills. Hollywood has been helping theater owners come up with ways to engage audiences since before movies had sound. Those methods were usually a little goofy (and frequently ignored) but you can't fault them for trying.

The marketing for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was surprisingly aggressive. Despite the film's lurid taglines and bloody preoccupations, though, the press book circulated to the press was actually a little tame. The trailers might have screamed RATED R! but the marketing ideas proposed to theaters were strictly PG.
Among the suggested gimmicks in the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS press book were blood drives, "faint pills" and classified advertisements concerning a "stolen casket" belonging to Barnabas Collins (which you can see above). The most distasteful idea recommended to theaters was to "borrow" a live bat from a zoo to make an appearance at a screening of the film. While it might sound good on paper, bringing any animal (especially one as delicate as a bat) into a theater full of kids is a dangerous idea.

Dangerous, and contradictory. Also included in the press kit was a plea from Jonathan Frid to show a little compassion to these misunderstood animals. "I hope that in my position as a popular television actor, I can influence people to feel more kindly toward bats as opposed to being afraid of them," he says in the press book.

Frid references two bats in the press piece, the spotted bat and the Indiana bat. Today, the spotted bat is listed as "threatened," while the Indiana bat remains "endangered."
At least one theater seized upon MGM's "batty" idea. "All the bats and other vampires will not be confined to the screen," Ray Glenn wrote in the Oct. 1, 1970, edition of The Kentucky New Era. "Theater manager Robert Jordan assures me he is going to have a live bat on display at the concession stand Sunday night, and each patron will be invited to open a locked coffin to see what's inside."

MGM didn't leave anything to chance with their most outrageous marketing suggestion. "Vampire Girls On The Loose" was the tagline for this gimmick, which suggested theaters bring in "attractive young ladies" in "nearly transparent flowing gowns" for screenings of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. MGM took matters into their own hands by conducting "Miss Vampire America" pageants that involved DARK SHADOWS cast members Frid and Nancy Barrett. While the ultimately winner of that campaign is up for debate, it was New Jersey-native Christine Domaniecki was the contestant who secured a cameo on an episode of the television show that year.

The laziest (and possibly most valuable) item in the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS press book was a story written for easy inclusion in local newspapers. Slugged with the wordy title "Vampire Power Takes Over As Film Fans Seek The Ultimate In Shocks," it was published essentially as-is in newspapers around the country (below).

The most striking omission from the press kit (not to mention the rest of the film's marketing) is Kathryn Leigh Scott. Nancy Barret — who exits the movie early on — was the centerpiece of the marketing for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. They used the same "push the blonde" strategy for NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS to similarly strange results. Frid was a television superstar at the time, but his celebrity was something MGM was hesitant to acknowledge. If Hollywood could treat Frid like a television stepchild, then Scott never stood a chance. She appears in the film more than any other actor but is given only a thumbnail blurb in the press book.

Below, you can see a sampling of display ads from HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which further highlights MGM's "push the blonde" marketing strategy for its DARK SHADOWS films.

The HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS press book images are courtesy of the amazing Zombo's Closet. Go visit it!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This was fun. Love the Lost Coffin ad.

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