1933 – King Kong premieres at Radio City Music Hall
“This is not a moving picture, Madam…This is more in the nature of a personal appearance.” — Usher to Theatergoer, King Kong (1933)
You find your reserved aisle seat in row S. The theater is packed, and everyone’s buzzing with excitement. You’re excited, too, even though you know it’s a publicity stunt.
Landon Gallagher is as famous for his marketing gimmicks as he is for the horror and science-fiction films he’s directed. Maybe more so.
On the release day for his serial killer epic, The City and the Knife, he arranged for multiple, fake crimes scenes to pop up simultaneously in urban areas — complete with police tape, chalk outlines, and blood splatters.
To promote his post-apocalyptic thriller, The Final Gene, he posted a mock-PSA to OnTube that earned several million hits…and a reprimand from the CDC after several gullible news outlets rebroadcast the video as fact.
No firm details have been released about Gallagher’s upcoming film, not even the title, but fandom rumors suggest it will be a giant-monster film.
Based on this evening’s setup, the rumors must be correct. A large, lowered curtain blocks all view of the stage. The curtain is heavy red fabric, reinforced with chain mesh. The seal at the foot of the stage is practically air-tight, and it’s possibly sound-proof as well. “Armed” guards — actors, of course — flank either side of the stage.
The staging reminds you of the original King Kong, where Denham presents a live giant ape to a stunned New York cinema crowd. Flash cameras agitate the chained animal, and Kong breaks free and terrorizes the city.
An even more important clue was provided before you were permitted to enter the theater. All patrons were required to sign a waiver absolving the director of any responsibility for heart failure or injury that resulted from attendance at this evening’s performance. They let you keep a copy of your waiver as a souvenir, and some of the small-print language cleverly teases about what might go wrong: “Please be advised that we have taken all reasonable precautions. You will be in absolutely no danger. Even if the chains are broken, which is already impossible, we have layers of additional security that can quickly subdue our guest of honor, if the need arises.”
Yep. Definitely a monster movie. You snap a picture of the waiver with your phone, then tweet it. All around, people take photos of the closed curtain, posting it to every variation of social media. At actual Broadway shows, ushers walk through the crowd and warn that photographs are not allowed, but Landon Gallagher would never dream of stopping them. That’s the whole point of this event.
Every seat in the theater is filled, and the pre-show murmur grow louder. It’s five minutes after eight, which seems like a good time to begin.
One of the actor/guards puts a hand to his ear as if receiving an order through a transmitter. He rushes to the other guard’s side, then both of them head backstage.
A loud crash sounds from behind the curtain. The fabric pushes out, as if a body has been thrown against it. More crashes and rumbles.
The speakers in the theater are so powerful, it actually sounds like something terrible is happening. The bass resonance is strong enough to shake the air. You feel a thump in your chest, and the seat vibrates beneath you.
The curtain’s seal wasn’t as tight as you thought. A red liquid spills beneath the fabric, and you think of the fake blood Gallagher used at the various mock-up crime scenes.
A few people start to applaud. More phones lift in the air to shoot amateur video.
Another dramatic crash, as if the whole floor moves beneath you. The motion seemed stronger than could be caused by sound alone. You wouldn’t put it past Gallagher to have modified the floor of the theater.
The crowd’s really into it. More people stand, applauding, anxious to see what happens next.
Then the curtain begins to rise.
The gore and body parts look surprisingly realistic. Chains, as thick as ones used to anchor cargo ships, are attached to a metal plating on the stage floor. They end in steel manacles, larger around than the leg of a bull elephant.
The manacles are open.
Such a cool stunt, you’re thinking. How far will it go?
The curtain continues to rise. Half the people in the audience are on their feet, applauding. The other half are stunned. Or screaming.
The back wall of the theater is missing. A trail of mayhem leads out into your city.
Author’s Note: If you’re enjoying this or other posts on the Apocalypse-a-Day blog, please consider reading my first novel, Odd Adventures with your Other Father — which, by the way, includes another shout-out to King Kong and stop-motion animation in its final adventure, “The Manikin’s Revenge.”