Saturday, April 18, 2020

Theater owners review Terror Island

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Houdini's Terror Island going into wide release around the country. Below is a collection of reviews from theater owners. These appeared in the trade journal Exhibitors Herald and offer a terrific time capsule of audience reactions. Enjoy!


And my favorite:


That last line, "Houdini fails to bring out the women", is what I believe ultimately doomed him in Hollywood. The bread and butter of many theaters was attendance by women during the week days when men were at work and children in school. An action star who didn't also appeal to women--as did Douglas Fairbanks and Valentino--would be relegated to serials or programmers. It was in a serial that Houdini achieved his first success. But his problem drawing women began to show with The Grim Game, and Terror Island appears to have confirmed it, despite the popularity and strong role given co-star Lila Lee. So I believe this was enough for Hollywood to cut their losses. As far as Houdini was concerned, he could not escape being a serial star.

Just a reminder to join me TODAY at 11:30am PDT for a live stream on Instagram with the Catalina Island Museum to celebrate the Terror Island centennial!


Related:

17 comments:

  1. I thought the Grim Game and Terror Island at least broke even. May be even made a profit but nothing to sneeze at.

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    1. They both did fine. Gresham reports their box office takes, but I'm not sure where he got the numbers from. I don't know their budgets so can't say how much profit they made, but Terror Island made less than The Grim Game and the trend line was pretty clear, and I really think his failure to draw women was fatal. Who knows how the studio heads worked their numbers and made decisions back then, but they were shrewd enough to see there wasn't growth in Houdini and movies. That was something left to Houdini to discover painfully himself.

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    2. "That was something left to Houdini to discover painfully himself."

      Exactly! HH was in denial, stubborn, and wouldn't let it go. It's always painful when ambitions are not realized.

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    3. I wouldn't call Houdini stubborn at this point. He was a guy who found success by not giving up. And his movies were still successful at this stage, just trending downward. One big hit could turn things around and make Hollywood look the fool. It was worth trying, and Houdini did try something more elevated and "romantic" with The Man From Beyond. I sometimes think if he had had Hollywood quality creative collaborators and proper distribution it may have reversed the trend. It was the right next Houdini movie and his best role.

      One area you might say he was being stubborn was with the FDC. He held onto that much longer than he should have.

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    4. Yeah you're right about not surrounding himself with the best people in the field. Silverman noted that there were shots in Beyond with not much happening. Dead time is the enemy of live performances and evidently in film.

      The one tangible thing the studios have to go on is the numbers on the box office returns. This must have been the deciding factor to drop HH.

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  2. Did anyone watch the live chat? We had a snafu at the start and it took a few minutes to invite me in, but I think it otherwise went well. Love those CIM folks.

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    1. Yes, I watched it and enjoyed it very much (not live but shortly thereafter). I wish it could have gone on longer, in fact. (BTW, the Instagram live events really only technically work on a phone, in my experience.)

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    2. Thanks Tom. Yeah, I think that's what we discovered. Their invite wasn't coming over the computer browser. I was thinking I could do from the computer as that's how I did my stream with Andrew Basso. But we got there.

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    3. I was able to catch the chat as well. I really enjoyed it too! I could have listened to the two of you geeking out about Houdini for hours!

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  3. Gresham got his numbers from Kellock.
    I tried to setup an Instagram account and watch/listen via live chat, but the only thing that worked on my computer was the comments. I heard the last 10 minutes via my wife’s Instagram account on her phone. I later installed the Instagram app on my phone and watched it. Thank you for mentioning me, it is very much appreciated. The question about a Houdini relic (?) being sold recently, may have been referring to the Water Torture Cell discovered in Canada or not.
    And yes, the CIM folks are special.

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    1. I think part of the problem I had was that I was on my desktop. When I switched to my phone it worked. Facebook Live works a little better (that how Andrew Basso and I did our birthday stream), but at the moment it doesn't support side by side images (without having to use a third party app), so a lot of folks are sticking with Instagram.

      I didn't see who asked that question, but I felt like it was a leading question and they expected me to talk about something specific. It could have been the Canadian cell, but that wasn't an auction, which is what I thought I heard?

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    2. They wanted to know if there was a “holy relic” of Houdiniana that recently sold, and based on your reply you were thinking auction.

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    3. Ah, okay. You know, a "holy relic" (by my own description) did recently sell that I'm not a liberty to report on just yet, so I'm glad I was thinking auction and didn't get myself into a bind! :)

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  4. John--will your presentation eventually be on YouTube on your page? I hope it goes there so I can watch it. Live Internet stuff is just too glitchy. Sound and video keep coming in and out. We're still not at 2001 Space Odyssey video technology.

    A holy Houdni relic sold under the radar? Wow! Now I hafta know!

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    1. I believe you'll be able to rewatch on their Facebook page for 24 hours.

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    2. Yes caught the recording on the CIM page. You have to click on the videos link. I agree it's the tidbits like HH's mention of his bad eyesight at night makes HH a fascinating character.

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    3. I've worked up a post on this to run this week.

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