|Index||9 reviews in total|
This documentary on schlockmeister William Castle takes a few cheap shots at the naive '50s-'60s environment in which he did his most characteristic work--look at the funny, silly people with the ghost-glasses--but it's also affectionate and lively, with particularly bright commentary from John Waters, who was absolutely the target audience for such things at the time, and from Castle's daughter, who adored her dad and also is pretty perceptive about how he plied his craft. (We never find out what became of the other Castle offspring.) The movies were not very good, it makes clear, but his marketing of them was brilliant, and he appears to have been a sweet, hardworking family man. Fun people keep popping up, like "Straight Jacket"'s Diane Baker, who looks great, and Anne Helm, whom she replaced at the instigation of star Joan Crawford. Darryl Hickman all but explodes into giggles at the happy memory of working with Castle on "The Tingler," and there's enough footage to give us an idea of the level of Castle's talent--not very high, but very energetic. A pleasant look at a time when audiences were more easily pleased, and it does make you nostalgic for simpler movie-going days.
William Castle is notorious among horror fans as the B-grade director
of the 1950s and 60s. His gimmicks, his cost-cutting techniques and his
unique vision are legendary. It comes as no surprise, then, that
someone (Jeffrey Schwarz, who's made countless documentaries) would
finally take the time to devote a documentary to his greatness. Such is
"Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story".
I had a general understanding of who Castle was, having seen some of his films over the years. I knew nothing about her personal life, his goals and ambitions. This film really fleshed out the man and gave me a fuller appreciation for the devotion he had for the craft of film-making and his contributions to the horror genre. The movie depicts Castle as rival to Alfred Hitchcock, with Hitch being the artist who wins praise while Castle is the carnival barker who gains cult notoriety, but much less respect. He is an icon to all second-rate directors out there, which is why it's not surprising that John Waters is featured prominently in here. (Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon also have sizable roles.)
His gimmicks were what drove his fame, and the documentary takes great pains to explain them, which is crucial for those who are too young to remember. The rudimentary 3-D of "13 Ghosts" (see separate review), the buzzer in the seat for "The Tingler" (see separate review), money back guarantees for "Homicidal"... watching these films now outside the theater, we can judge them for their content (which, personally, I still enjoy) but we cannot fully appreciate what audiences once felt.
The climax of the film is when Castle goes from cult director to Hollywood producer. Having bought the rights to "Rosemary's Baby", he is put in a very special place for negotiating its film release. Hoping to direct, he is sidelined to producer in order to make way for new director Roman Polanski. While at first disappointed, this proves to be one of the best opportunities of his lifetime -- a hugely successful film, and a job he excels at. Who better to control the purse of wild artist Polanski than a penny-pinching Castle? This was to be his crowning achievement, though sadly the film is more often connected to Polanski than Castle.
The remainder of his years are played out, and we are given personal reflections by his daughter and niece. Across the board, everyone seems to have nothing but praise for the man. Somewhere along the way, he surely upset one or two people, but you would never know it from this film. And I find that find -- this is a celebration of Bill Castle's life, not "E! True Hollywood Story". Fans of the genre would do well to pick up a copy of this work.
I would personally recommend picking up the William Castle Collection, which has not only this but eight of Castle's films in it, with plenty of special features. Even this documentary comes with an audio commentary so you can hear how Schwarz was personally affected by Castle, and have Castle's daughter Terry giving a running reflection of her experiences with the different films and remakes. It's almost a whole new film.
Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Extremely well made documentary takes a look at producer/director William Castle and features interviews with not only his daughter but also the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Leonard Maltin, Budd Boetticher, Bob Burns, David Del Valle, John Waters and Fred Olen Ray. The documentary covers Castle's early life growing up, meeting Bela Lugosi and eventually being invited to Hollywood where he'd soon start directing countless "B" movies for Columbia. The film then follows his gimmick movies like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE TINGLER as well as his dream project, ROSEMARY'S BABY, which would eventually be given to another filmmaker. Fans of Castle are really going to eat this thing up because there's so many great interviews and comments that one can't help but get the feeling of what it must have been like watching some of these movies in the theater when they were first released. Hearing about all the gimmicks from people who were actually there was a lot of fun and you can just tell that these people still love and have fond memories of these few moments in the theater. The documentary is pretty much fun throughout and never tries to be overly serious but instead just deals with the type of fun person Castle was. We do get to hear about his two dream projects, which ended up getting stolen by Orson Welles and given away to Polanski. It was also fun hearing how Castle pretty much gave full control to Joan Crawford who certainly used it to her advantage. The later years of Castle's life are talked about as well as the one last film he wanted to make but never got the chance. The film runs a short 82-minutes and overlooks countless films but that shouldn't keep anyone away as in the end it's just as much fun as watching one of Castle's own productions.
This movies chronicles the life and times of William Castle. He made a series of low budget horror films in the 1950s-1960s that he sold with gimmicks. In "13 Ghosts" you need viewers to see the ghosts (they were in color, the film was in b&w). "The Tingler" had theatre seats equipped with a buzzer that jolted the audience when a monster escapes into a movie theatre. "Marabre" issued a life insurance policy to all members in case they were frightened to death! The movies themselves were pretty bad but the gimmicks had people rushing to see them. In this doc there are interviews with directors inspired by Castle, actors in his movies and his daughter. It also gets into his home life and the kind of man he was (by all accounts he was a great guy). The documentary is affectionate, very funny and absolutely riveting. It's very short (under 90 minutes) and there's never a dull moment. A must see for Castle fans and horror movie fans. My one complaint--there were very few sequences shown from his pictures. That aside this is just great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I gave it a 10, since everyone else seemed to like it and it would have
been churlish not to. The reason I'm troubling you is to add a personal
observation on Castle's work.
I've seen "Homicidal" and "The Tingler" (the version with the clever colour sequence where everything except the blood is in black and white) a few times and "The House On Haunted Hill" many times.
Even I am not old enough to have seen them when Castle was up to his showman tricks, thus I can appreciate them for their own merit. And while most pass him off as second-rate, schlocky, hammy, etc., I believe they do him a disservice.
The end sequence of "Homicidal" is GENUINELY shocking and works today - and the premise of "The Tingler" while silly, was highly original.
But "The House On Haunted Hill" was a TRIUMPH. Having used that Frank Lloyd Wright house as its exterior, the great Vincent Price and a solid cast, plus a good score and production values - when I first saw it at a packed late-night showing in the late Sixties, it produced an audience reaction I'd not seen before and have not seen since.
It was the bit where the heroine is alone in the basement (if you've not seen the film, stop reading NOW) and we are waiting to hear the hero on the other side of the wall.
With NO telegraphing of what is coming, the camera slowly pulls back, forcing the AUDIENCE to switch their gaze to... I'm saying no more (my "spoiler" declaration above only covers THIS movie).
The point is, I believe this ploy was DELIBERATE - not accidental - and when it happened, the WHOLE AUDIENCE SCREAMED (including most of the men!) It took the audience about TEN MINUTES to calm down.
Now THAT is superior film-making. A flamboyant showman he might have been, but "House" and the other two films I've mentioned were GOOD MOVIES. Castle may not have been a Hitchcock, but he was no Ed Wood, either.
It's easy to concentrate on someone's quirks and forget to examine their TALENT. So I hope this documentary acknowledged that. I look forward to seeing it.
A very well received and insightful Documentary. This warm and glowing
tribute to the legendary B-Movie Director/Producer is wonderful and
heartfelt. There are many well known and peripheral Filmmakers and Fans
on screen touting the talent and the quintessential showmanship of this
The Film is a must see for Fans of the Director, Horror Movies, young Auteurs, and anyone with a curiosity about the industry and the behind the scenes "manufacturing" of Art as Product or Product as Art or whatever it was that he perpetuated in his long career.
There are unexpected and unknown stories told here from family members and Friends and the whole thing seems welcome and comprehensive. As far as the Movies by themselves minus the signature gimmicks that drew audiences by the Millions, in retrospect, some of them, you decide which ones, are extremely entertaining and yes, shocking.
There is one thing that must be said. If you are just beginning to seek out these Films, it is recommended that you see them first before viewing this Documentary. You will appreciate the Man and even the Movies much more. There are some spoiling scenes shown that give away much of His underrated work.
This documentary seems like a real work of love, as the folks
interviewed for the film seem to have a genuine affection for William
Castle and his films. If you don't know who Castle is, he was a
combination filmmaker and showman--sort of a P.T. Barnum of the 1950s
and 60s. Unlike most directors and producers, Castle liked making
schlocky films and delighted in creating a wide variety of theater
gimmicks to promote them. A few of the crazy marketing strategies he
created for his films were life insurance policies to cover you in case
you died of fright watching one of his movies, 'emergo'--a skeleton
suspended from a wire that flew over the audience, 'percepto' which
shocked unsuspecting viewers during scary scenes and much more. To me,
however, the film was made better because everyone seemed to admire the
guy so much and he was, above all, a good family man. Well worth seeing
and just plain fun...just like his films.
By the way, if you like this film and Castle's films, try watching "Matinee", a wonderful homage to Castle and his style of showmanship.
This 80-odd-minute award-winning tribute to the enterprising cult
Hollywood film-maker was included in Columbia's box set dedicated to
him released in 2009 which repackaged some of his already existing
films on DVD plus debuting some of his rarer stuff; being already the
owner of the majority of these, I did not spring for the collection
myself and proceeded to acquire this documentary likewise from ulterior
sources. In fact, I finished off my 20-title celebration of the great
man's centenary with this very item; having just watched the PSYCHETTE:
WILLIAM CASTLE AND "HOMICIDAL" featurette from 2002 included on that
film's disc, I realized that not only do they share the same director,
but that segments from that 8-minute short were incorporated into the
later feature-length look at Castle's life and work.
While most of his more celebrated collaborators have passed on (Vincent Price, Joan Crawford) or declined to appear (Roman Polanski), there is still an impressive gallery of talking heads waxing their genuine enthusiasm for the late cinematic showman: directors John Badham, Budd Boetticher (who himself died back in 2001!), Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Fred Olen Ray, Jeannot Szwarc and John Waters, actors Diane Baker, Darryl Hickman and Marcel Marceau, historians Forrest Ackerman, Bob Burns, David Del Valle, Donald F. Glut, Leonard Maltin and Bob Thomas. Although there are some good pre-fame stories notably desecrating his own theatre and passing it off as Nazi retribution at the start of WWII; meeting with George Stevens in a bar which led to his first Hollywood job as a dialogue director on the Cary Grant drama PENNY SERENADE (1941); and his being hired as an assistant director on Orson Welles' THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1948) after getting bypassed for direction regrettably his generic stint at Columbia under the aegis of producer Sam Katzman is very quickly dealt with and his best film from this early period, the Robert Mitchum/Kim Hunter-starring noir WHEN STRANGERS MARRY aka BETRAYED (1944) does not rate a mention at all.
Once we reach his career-altering departure with MACABRE (1958) early on, at least we are taken in some detail into the production of each of his gimmick-led films up till LET'S KILL UNCLE (1966) but, again, the quintet of outright comedies he made during this phase of his career are completely neglected! The highlight here is hearing about Castle's having to submit to Joan Crawford's every whim on the set of STRAIT- JACKET (1964)! Luckily, I have just acquired a copy of Castle's own memoirs, "Step Right Up: I'm Going To Scare The Pants Off America!" and, hopefully, they will shed some light as to what made him decide to change pace when he had discovered a successful formula after having been denied recognition for so long. Needless to say, the almost inevitable rivalry between Castle and his self-confessed idol Alfred Hitchcock is alluded to and we get to see several personal appearance the director made in the theatrical trailers and screenings of his own movies not to mention get to listen to his own voice during what seem to be radio interviews.
Apart from the obvious reason of the audiences' changing tastes, I had often wondered why Castle's directorial career suddenly seemed to peter out at the tail end of the 1960s and I never knew that the curse of ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) that proved fatal to its Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda and, obviously, Mrs. Roman Polanski herself, Sharon Tate was also to blame for Castle's semi-retirement as he was struck down with a life-threatening ailment having already been disappointed in being replaced by the much younger auteur! By the time, he went back work, his brand of horror was passé and he only managed to produce a short-lived TV series GHOST STORY (1972-3) which again is almost entirely omitted here and the improbably intriguing BUG (1975). Amusingly, director Szwarc decries the fact that his film's box office chances were demolished by its being released on the same day as JAWS but he fails to mention that he got the lucrative assignment of helming its first sequel 3 years later! Thankfully, famous mime Marceau appears here to reminisce about working with Castle on what proved to be his last and finest directorial achievement, the utterly unique concoction SHANKS (1974) a legitimate home video release of which is elusive to this day. Ultimately, this emerges an entertaining, affectionate and illuminating portrait of a beloved Hollywood personality and, while it also sees the participation of his surviving family members, the film-makers here unwisely elected to finish off with them clowning for the camera...
Affectionate tribute to the popular director of such low budget but financially successful films such as "House On Haunted Hill", "The Tingler" & "13 Ghosts" presents his life from unknown director on forgotten westerns and the like, to his big break on "Macabre", where he came up with the "Fright Break" gimmick to involve the audience in the picture itself, and made a fortune doing so. Eventually getting a contract with Columbia pictures, he churned out various pictures from the late 50's through the 60's, until times changed, and his brand of horror film was considered outdated. Can be seen on the William Castle 8-film DVD set from Sony, as an extra feature.
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