Zotz! Coins, Psycho Sticks, and Witch Deflectors

zotz1Set your home-viewing systems for 9:45 am on March 13 (Friday the 13th) because one of my favorite movies from childhood is showing on TCM. This little comedy features one the best one-word titles in all of film history simply because it is fun to say — Zotz!

This comedy-fantasy stars Tom Poston, television actor par excellence, as Professor Jonathan Jones who comes into possession of “zotz,” a coin that has three magical properties. If the coin’s owner points an accusatory finger at an intended victim, the coin causes intense pain; another command causes everything to move in slow motion; finally, if the accusatory finger and the command are used simultaneously, the victim dies. Released in 1962 during the height of the Cold War, Zotz! is an obvious product of the times. Professor Jones tries to involve the Department of Defense in his discovery, but they think he is a madman. Then Communist agents plot to get possession of the coin from Professor Jones.

I was surprised to discover that promotion king William Castle codirected Zotz!, because with its wacky naïve professors, crazy antics, and bureaucratic government officials, this kids-oriented movie is more like The Absent-Minded Professor or Son of Flubber than Castle’s usual schlocky horror-film fare, such as 13 Ghosts, The Tingler, or Macabre. As a matter of fact, both Absent-Minded and Flubber follow Zotz! on the TCM schedule on March 13. But, Zotz! does share something with Castle’s other films — a gimmick, albeit a little one. During the initial theatrical run, the movie’s patrons were rewarded with a plastic replica of the Zotz! coin. According to the Internet (now, there’s a reliable source), the Zotz! coins are highly sought after by collectors. Well, eat your hearts out sci-fi buffs, because I own a Zotz! coin. A gold-colored hunk of hard plastic with a zany design on the front, the coin is one of my prized possessions.

zotz2

THE ZOTZ COIN IS ON HER WRIST

As it turns out, the late 1950s and early 1960s were the golden age of goofy give-aways and gimmicks at the movies, and my Zotz! coin fits right in with them. My first exposure to the range of give-aways from this period occurred when I researched the films of Elvis Presley. Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was in charge of exploitation as he called it, and he had some cute promotional items made up for Elvis’s fans who went to his movies. For Blue Hawaii, Parker ordered thousands of plastic leis with an attached picture of Elvis to give to the fans and also for Paramount to give away at the theaters. For G.I. Blues, it was a paper army hat with a picture of Elvis in uniform.

zotz10

GIVE-AWAY FOR G.I. BLUES

For Fun in Acapulco, fake passports were made for Elvis’s fans and for the movie’s patrons. Those sorts of give-aways made sense, but for It Happened at the World’s Fair, Parker cut costs by ordering a give-away that one manufacturer already had on hand. Fans who promised to go see World’s Fair at the theaters became the proud owners of a psycho stick. The psycho stick consisted of two thin sticks with a propeller on the end of one. When you rubbed the sticks together, the propeller twirled. The stick came with a set of instructions and an itemized cost, which let the owner know that their give-away was worth 24 cents plus 1 cent tax for a net worth of 25 cents.

The producers of horror films were responsible for some great give-aways. In 1964, 20th Century Fox offered plastic day-glo witch deflectors to promote Witchcraft. They featured a picture of a skull-and-crossbones on the front and the words “witch deflector” in creepy lettering. The story of the film, which sounds surprisingly relevant for today, involves a 300-year-old witch who returns from the grave when land developers disrupt her final resting place. She wreaks havoc on the local residents, including Lon Chaney, Jr., who should have had these witch deflectors to protect them. We could use a little witchcraft these days to get rid of greedy land developers, though I suspect the current economy is doing an even better job of that.

zotz9

THE FANGS AND ZOMBIE GLASSES ARE AT THE TOP OF THIS POSTER

Patrons of the Hammer double feature Dracula: Prince of Darkness and The Plague of the Zombies received give-aways that were allotted according to gender. Boys were given fangs in order to “fight back and bite back” according to the poster, while girls were given zombie glasses to “defend yourself,” though there wasn’t enough room on the poster to explain how glasses could protect you from zombies. Another gender-determined trinket was given to patrons of Rasputin — the Mad Monk. Boys received blue beards, and girls were given pink ones. Everyone was required to wear their beards during the movie to protect themselves from the forces of evil controlled by Rasputin. They also made for handy disguises to hide the fact that you went to see this movie in the first place. In 1959, Columbia distributed a Japanese monster film called Bijo to Ekitainingen, which they retitled The H-Man. The story involves a blob-like creature that dissolves and eats people, so that all that remains of each victim is his clothing. The accompanying give-away seemed to do the opposite of the monster. Audience members were given a tightly compressed sponge cut in the shape of a human. Imprinted on the sponge were these instructions: “Dip ‘The H-Man’ in Water . . . and Watch Out.”

Give-aways and stunts by small studios and tiny production companies were often lame, cheap, or downright strange. Allied Artists, which did not have the budget for “upscale” give-aways such as fangs, glasses, or coins, did provide theaters with “space shield eye protectors” for their movie Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster in 1965. These special glasses were made with a green-tinted celluloid substance and were actually attached to a flier (or herald) that was passed out at the theater. I am guessing that you removed the glasses via a perforation in the paper. The glasses may have looked cheap, but they were guaranteed by Allied Artists to protect against “high intensity cobalt rays that glow from the screen.”

Actor-producer John Ashley (a teen idol from AIP movies) completed several low-low-budget exploitation horror films in the Philippines in the mid- to late 1960s. The give-away for Brides of Blood, which is also known by eight other titles including Grave Desires and Island of Living Horror, was a plastic wedding ring, which was given to the female customers. To some degree, the give-away fits the film’s story about a hulking, blubbery monster that is placated with young virgins in exchange for leaving the rest of the villagers on Blood Island alone. Girls are tied to posts at night and then stripped bare for the monster, which devours them in more ways than one. I guess they are supposed to be the “brides” of the title and therefore the tie-in to the wedding-ring give-aways. For The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which was a sequel of sorts to Brides of Blood, the give-away was a container of “green blood.” Supposedly an aphrodisiac, the drink was passed out as patrons entered the theater. Apparently, Ashley’s creativity ended there, because the give-away for the last film in this series, Beast of Blood, was a “survival kit” with a barf bag.

zotz6

THIS IS WHY YOU NEED SPACE SHIELD EYE PROTECTORS

Sometimes Allied Artists was so cheap because of tight finances in the mid-1960s that there was no give-away. For 1963′s Day of the Triffids, their promotion department didn’t supply anything but ideas. They sent a memo with copies of the film that suggested theater managers print up envelopes with the following text: “Triffid Seeds (Triffidus Celestus). These seeds are reported to be for one of the rarest plants ever known. They are believed to have been brought to earth on meteorites. WARNING! Under certain conditions the Triffid plant will grow to tremendous heights, bigger than man, and become a carnivorous destroyer whose attack is deadly to all living things.” Allied’s promotion department then suggested that theater owners include sunflower seeds that had been dyed green inside the envelope. Apparently, none of the theaters participated. However, four years later, Columbia used the idea for a film called Torture Garden. (Speaking of Elvis, Allied Artists was saved from financial ruin by the singer when he starred in Tickle Me for them in 1965.)

The film industry has changed so much since the innocent days of goofy give-aways and corny gimmicks, and today’s young audiences would probably not appreciate the cheap toys and time-consuming gimmicks. We like to think we are too sophisticated for plastic coins and zombie glasses; and, between all the commercials and trailers, there is certainly no time to pass out green blood before a movie starts.  And so it goes: Life in the modern world clips along at a much faster pace. Maybe tomorrow I will dig out my Zotz! coin and give the command to make the world slow down.

29 Responses Zotz! Coins, Psycho Sticks, and Witch Deflectors
Posted By Brian : March 2, 2009 5:22 pm

Thanks for a hysterical article on something that’s really missing from the fantastic genre today. Although your closing comments are dead-on, I’d like to at least give the studio behind SNAKES ON A PLANE credit for handing out plastic snakes before opening night screenings. You know, so you could entertain yourself while the movie did not.

Posted By Brian : March 2, 2009 5:22 pm

Thanks for a hysterical article on something that’s really missing from the fantastic genre today. Although your closing comments are dead-on, I’d like to at least give the studio behind SNAKES ON A PLANE credit for handing out plastic snakes before opening night screenings. You know, so you could entertain yourself while the movie did not.

Posted By debbe : March 2, 2009 5:29 pm

I am so jealous you own a Zotz coin. It is curious that in Yiddish, Zotz means something like to poke someone in a critical way, a compliment that is really a zinger…. the idea of giveaways and dare I mention happy meal freebies is interesting. Prince of Egypt provided a challenge… do you give away examples of the Ten plagues? A little statue of Moses and Rameses? A mini replica of the Ten Commandments? Thankfully taste ruled out of the giveaways for that movie.

I don’t remember alot of the giveaways you mention, maybe the movie owners didn’t all participate. But what a great moment in popular culture. Nicely done SuziDoll.

Posted By debbe : March 2, 2009 5:29 pm

I am so jealous you own a Zotz coin. It is curious that in Yiddish, Zotz means something like to poke someone in a critical way, a compliment that is really a zinger…. the idea of giveaways and dare I mention happy meal freebies is interesting. Prince of Egypt provided a challenge… do you give away examples of the Ten plagues? A little statue of Moses and Rameses? A mini replica of the Ten Commandments? Thankfully taste ruled out of the giveaways for that movie.

I don’t remember alot of the giveaways you mention, maybe the movie owners didn’t all participate. But what a great moment in popular culture. Nicely done SuziDoll.

Posted By Sam : March 2, 2009 7:17 pm

Being in my early years of marriage, I did not go to many horror movies in the 50′s, Your article was great and I did learn from it as I always do with your blogs, keep up these great blogs.
I remember the Zotz movie, always did like Tom Poston, but I did not see it now I will. Thank You Suzi!!

Sam

Posted By Sam : March 2, 2009 7:17 pm

Being in my early years of marriage, I did not go to many horror movies in the 50′s, Your article was great and I did learn from it as I always do with your blogs, keep up these great blogs.
I remember the Zotz movie, always did like Tom Poston, but I did not see it now I will. Thank You Suzi!!

Sam

Posted By Lisa Wright : March 2, 2009 10:36 pm

Fun!! I don’t have a ZOTZ! coin, but I do like the candy of the same name! I don’t remember ever receiving anything in a theatre, but I might be a little, ahem, age-challenged?! I remember my dad taking me to see The Jungle Book and finding a tiny plastic Mowgli and Kaa the snake pencil eraser in my box of Alphabits cereal… definitely the pre-cursor to the Happy Meal toy. I love the promotional ideas and the posters, though, and you never know, these types of promotions might make a comeback yet? Particularly if you slow the world down! Thanks for the fun post!

Posted By Lisa Wright : March 2, 2009 10:36 pm

Fun!! I don’t have a ZOTZ! coin, but I do like the candy of the same name! I don’t remember ever receiving anything in a theatre, but I might be a little, ahem, age-challenged?! I remember my dad taking me to see The Jungle Book and finding a tiny plastic Mowgli and Kaa the snake pencil eraser in my box of Alphabits cereal… definitely the pre-cursor to the Happy Meal toy. I love the promotional ideas and the posters, though, and you never know, these types of promotions might make a comeback yet? Particularly if you slow the world down! Thanks for the fun post!

Posted By jbl : March 3, 2009 12:21 am

I never got a Zots! coin, even though I did see the movie in a theater when it first came out. I have fond memories of that picture; I believe that’s where I first heard of drinking pickle juice. But we were in a small city, and the movie probably came to the number 3 theater in town (of 3), and they didn’t, as far as I can remember, have coins.

But speaking of 13 GHOSTS, since you mentioned it, it did have a gimmick, though it was only useful for watching the movie. I have seen it listed among 3-D movies of the time, but even though the gimmick involved red and blue (or turquoise or cyan) plastic windows, it was not 3-D in any way. Rather, the gizmo was a “ghost viewer”. The premise was that the ghosts were extremely scary. The viewer provided a way to see them clearly if you were very brave, and to hide them if they were too scary. The viewer consisted of a card a few inches wide with a red cellophane window running the width of the card and a blue-green window above or below the red one. When one of these really scary ghosts was about to come on screen, the picture would turn from black-and-white monochrome to blue-green monochrome. When the ghost appeared it was colored red. If you looked through the red window, the ghost showed up brightly against a dimmed blue-green background. But if the phantasm became too terrifying to bear, you could look through the blue-green window, and the red ghost would be blotted out; except for a vague outline all you could see was the background film in bright blue-green. After the ghostly episode the film would turn to ordinary gray again and it was safe to look directly at the screen. I have seen this movie a couple times on TV, and it is now shown entirely in black-and-white, though I’m not sure they eliminated the introduction about the ghost viewer from all versions.

I miss gizmos like that.

Posted By jbl : March 3, 2009 12:21 am

I never got a Zots! coin, even though I did see the movie in a theater when it first came out. I have fond memories of that picture; I believe that’s where I first heard of drinking pickle juice. But we were in a small city, and the movie probably came to the number 3 theater in town (of 3), and they didn’t, as far as I can remember, have coins.

But speaking of 13 GHOSTS, since you mentioned it, it did have a gimmick, though it was only useful for watching the movie. I have seen it listed among 3-D movies of the time, but even though the gimmick involved red and blue (or turquoise or cyan) plastic windows, it was not 3-D in any way. Rather, the gizmo was a “ghost viewer”. The premise was that the ghosts were extremely scary. The viewer provided a way to see them clearly if you were very brave, and to hide them if they were too scary. The viewer consisted of a card a few inches wide with a red cellophane window running the width of the card and a blue-green window above or below the red one. When one of these really scary ghosts was about to come on screen, the picture would turn from black-and-white monochrome to blue-green monochrome. When the ghost appeared it was colored red. If you looked through the red window, the ghost showed up brightly against a dimmed blue-green background. But if the phantasm became too terrifying to bear, you could look through the blue-green window, and the red ghost would be blotted out; except for a vague outline all you could see was the background film in bright blue-green. After the ghostly episode the film would turn to ordinary gray again and it was safe to look directly at the screen. I have seen this movie a couple times on TV, and it is now shown entirely in black-and-white, though I’m not sure they eliminated the introduction about the ghost viewer from all versions.

I miss gizmos like that.

Posted By Jerry Kovar : March 3, 2009 8:10 am

One of the give-aways from the early 70s was a barf bag to promote the German torture film MARK OF THE DEVIL. “The first film rated V for Violence” There’s an image here:

http://www.sleazoidexpress.com/devilvomitbag.jpg

Posted By Jerry Kovar : March 3, 2009 8:10 am

One of the give-aways from the early 70s was a barf bag to promote the German torture film MARK OF THE DEVIL. “The first film rated V for Violence” There’s an image here:

http://www.sleazoidexpress.com/devilvomitbag.jpg

Posted By Jeff : March 4, 2009 9:27 am

I had a ZOTZ! coin but it probably got thrown out during my move from my parent’s home to college. But I still have a packet of devil seeds for planting that promoted THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, an unused bumper sticker for THE STEPFORD WIVES that reads “Something Strange is Happening in the Town of Stepford,” a miniature pack of satanic Tarot-like cards for Roman Polanski’s THE NINTH GATE, and a ROCKY punching hand puppet made in Taiwan that is a very poor lookalike of Sly Stallone (he’s got a Harpo Marx hairdo and a deformed sneer on his mouth, sort of like the face of FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER).

Posted By Jeff : March 4, 2009 9:27 am

I had a ZOTZ! coin but it probably got thrown out during my move from my parent’s home to college. But I still have a packet of devil seeds for planting that promoted THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, an unused bumper sticker for THE STEPFORD WIVES that reads “Something Strange is Happening in the Town of Stepford,” a miniature pack of satanic Tarot-like cards for Roman Polanski’s THE NINTH GATE, and a ROCKY punching hand puppet made in Taiwan that is a very poor lookalike of Sly Stallone (he’s got a Harpo Marx hairdo and a deformed sneer on his mouth, sort of like the face of FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER).

Posted By Helen : March 6, 2009 9:59 pm

I remember the movie Zotz! very well and this will be my first time to see it since 1962!! And I’m stoked because I remember liking it a lot (hey, I was 9 years old–what do you expect!) But I definitely don’t remember any coin. I lived in a small town so it was probably a month or two after initial release before it even made it to the Princess Theater in Maryville, TN. I love reading these blogs–so many child hood memories.

Posted By Helen : March 6, 2009 9:59 pm

I remember the movie Zotz! very well and this will be my first time to see it since 1962!! And I’m stoked because I remember liking it a lot (hey, I was 9 years old–what do you expect!) But I definitely don’t remember any coin. I lived in a small town so it was probably a month or two after initial release before it even made it to the Princess Theater in Maryville, TN. I love reading these blogs–so many child hood memories.

Posted By Joe F : March 13, 2009 10:42 am

I’m sitting here watching the movie I first saw as a 12 year old here in Chicago.
I remember the movie well and I still have my Zotz coin.

Here’s a scan of it

http://images1f.snapfish.com/232323232%7Ffp8%3C4%3Enu%3D3245%3E862%3E693%3EWSNRCG%3D323%3A738%3A85784nu0mrj

Posted By Joe F : March 13, 2009 10:42 am

I’m sitting here watching the movie I first saw as a 12 year old here in Chicago.
I remember the movie well and I still have my Zotz coin.

Here’s a scan of it

http://images1f.snapfish.com/232323232%7Ffp8%3C4%3Enu%3D3245%3E862%3E693%3EWSNRCG%3D323%3A738%3A85784nu0mrj

Posted By Vicki : March 13, 2009 4:56 pm

Does anyone know where Zotz was filmed?

Posted By Vicki : March 13, 2009 4:56 pm

Does anyone know where Zotz was filmed?

Posted By Orlo B : March 14, 2009 9:08 am

I took my younger borther to the movie in Cooperstown, NY in the 1960′s I think. I still have my gold plastic Zots coin. My borther doesn’t even remember the movie. I saw the movie yesterday on TV for the first time in at least 45 years. Orlo

Posted By Orlo B : March 14, 2009 9:08 am

I took my younger borther to the movie in Cooperstown, NY in the 1960′s I think. I still have my gold plastic Zots coin. My borther doesn’t even remember the movie. I saw the movie yesterday on TV for the first time in at least 45 years. Orlo

Posted By Gloria : March 16, 2009 5:00 pm

This is right here, in the present, not the future.

Posted By Gloria : March 16, 2009 5:00 pm

This is right here, in the present, not the future.

Posted By Gun : March 18, 2009 7:25 pm

This is right here, in the present, not the future.

Posted By Gun : March 18, 2009 7:25 pm

This is right here, in the present, not the future.

Posted By Gloria T. Zwick : June 2, 2009 6:37 pm

Back in the early 1960′s, I saw a black and white horror flick about a demonic man who gave dolls in gift boxes to people @ night. These dolls would leave the boxes and kill the adults in the home by sticking a needle through their neck while they were sleeping in bed. At the end of the movie, the demonic man and his dolls would enter a church and be killed by the shadow of a Crucifix. I would like to see this movie again, but I don’t remember the name.

Posted By Gloria T. Zwick : June 2, 2009 6:37 pm

Back in the early 1960′s, I saw a black and white horror flick about a demonic man who gave dolls in gift boxes to people @ night. These dolls would leave the boxes and kill the adults in the home by sticking a needle through their neck while they were sleeping in bed. At the end of the movie, the demonic man and his dolls would enter a church and be killed by the shadow of a Crucifix. I would like to see this movie again, but I don’t remember the name.

Posted By Rod Labbe : August 10, 2018 10:08 am

I saw Zotz at a theater when I was a kid, and the only thing I remember is that Tom Poston pointed his finger at a squirrel and killed it. That was very disturbing for me! As for movie premiums, I was lucky because my older sister worked at a movie theater during the early 60s, and she often brought home dozens of that stuff. I still have TEN pink neon Witch Deflector coins, almost with a plastic skull keychain from Castle’s “The Old Dark House” and over two dozen “blinking dolls eyes” charms that were handed out for “Children of the Damned!”

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

As of November 1, 2017 FilmStruck’s blog, StreamLine, has moved to Tumblr.

Please visit us there!

http://filmstruck.tumblr.com/tagged/streamline-blog

 Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.