SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY (2007) – The Dungeon Review!
Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story is a very entertaining and informative documentary. It touches on every aspect of Castle’s life from childhood to death. The main focus is Castle’s horror films and the wonderful and outrageous gimmicks he concocted to sell them. He didn’t only market his films, he marketed himself. Audiences in the 50s were rarely acquainted with the director of the film they were watching. Besides Alfred Hitchcock, William Castle was one of the rare directors whose films were identifiable because of its maker. Castle would show up in person at cities all over the U.S.A. for premieres of his films. He was greeted enthusiastically everywhere he showed up. Castle loved the attention and was thrilled to see audiences in packed movie houses laughing and screaming with delight. Castle gave his audience so much more than just a movie, he gave them an experience!
Director and producer Jeffrey Schwarz lined up a great list of interviewees including fellow directors John Waters, Budd Boetticher, Joe Dante, Fred Olen Ray, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Roger Corman and John Badham, cast members from Castle films including Pamela Lincoln Yergen, Darryl Hickman, Jacqueline Scott and Marcel Marceau, crew members, business associates, fans, friends and family. He spends a fair amount of time speaking with William Castle’s daughter Terry, who shares some great stories and recollections of growing up with the man. All the participants of the documentary have something valid to add. It’s always interesting to hear what directors have to say about their peers. My favourite of the bunch was John Waters. I’m a big fan of Waters who once tried his own Castle-esque gimmick to sell his film Polyester which was presented in ODORAMA (It will blow your nose!). Like I said, everyone has something to add, but my one criticism would be the appearance of Leonard Maltin. I loathe Maltin and generally speaking, his taste in film is shit. I guess he’s a fan of Castle’s, so we can agree on that but otherwise stay out of my documentaries Maltin! William Castle was not only a charismatic showman and one of the most successful B-Movie directors of all time, he was also a dedicated family man and an all-around good guy. The enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t help but fall in love with the man!
William Castle spent the early part of his career working under Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures. He held various crew positions and eventually directed some of the studios smaller projects. He learned everything he could about film making from Columbia but it was time to move on. Castle mortgaged his house to pay for his first independent film Macabre. To promote the film Castle had Lloyds Of London issue $1000 insurance policies against death by fright which were handed out to every audience member. The people loved it and it was a huge success. He parlayed the money into his next feature The House On Haunted Hill. The House On Haunted Hill starred Vincent Price and was presented in EMERGO! Emergo consisted of a rubber skeleton on a pulley that floated above the audience. Again, audiences loved it and it was a big success. Seeing the success of Castle’s projects his old studio Columbia came a knocking. Castle would sign a deal that allowed him the creative freedom but provided the money and resources that allowed him to avoid re-mortgaging his home. The first film Castle would direct for Columbia was The Tingler presented in PERCEPTO again starring Vincent Price (Check out my full review by clicking here). The documentary does a great job of detailing each one of Castle’s horror films with clips, archived footage and stories from those involved. I could eagerly detail every film and its fabulous gimmick but I figured I’d leave you a reason to check out Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story yourself.
Despite Castle’s success he struggled to achieve “A-Film” status. His chance came after reading Rosemary’s Baby. Castle mortgaged his house (again) to buy the movie rights. He made a deal with Paramount and was well-paid but what he really wanted was to direct. Hot young director Roman Polanski was instead brought on board. After Castle met the director he couldn’t help but be impressed by his free-spirit and dynamic personality. Of course, Rosemary’s Baby was a huge success and Castle had finally achieved legitimate status as a producer. This success however turned out to be a curse. Castle started getting hate mail and some of his extended family refused to speak to him. This affected the man deeply. Rosemary’s Baby composer Christopher Komeda died suddenly and Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by Manson’s followers. Then William Castle’s health started to fail. When he was finally well again he was not the same man. Horror films were going through dramatic changes and it took a lot more brutality to please cynical audiences. Paramount looked on Castle as a dinosaur but was obligated by contract. They gave him the low-budget film Project X to direct, which was a bomb. The studio gave him zero support on his next directorial effort Shanks and the Castle produced Bug was released the same day as Jaws. Castle was working on producing a film about a haunted apartment building when he died at home with his family in 1977. John Waters comments on the fact that Rosemary’s Baby made Castle a class act, but Castle was always a class act to him. I couldn’t agree more Mr. Waters! William Castle left behind a legacy and a legion of fans who love him. Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story is an excellent documentary! I wish there were more documentaries about directors as extensive and entertaining as this one! Highly recommended!
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: Jeffrey Schwarz
Featuring: Forrest J Ackerman, John Badham, Diane Baker, Sidney D. Balkin, Steve Bickel, Budd Boetticher, Bob Burns, Terry Castle, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, David Del Valle, Donald F. Glut, Stuart Gordon, Anne Helm, Darryl Hickman, Norman Horowitz, William J. Immerman, Richard Kahn, Hawk Koch, John Landis, Gene Lesser, Pamela Lincoln, Marcia Scully Little, Barry Lorie, Leonard Maltin, Marcel Marceau, Marilyn Nash, Kyle Newell, Will Newell, Steven North, Thomas Page, Fred Olen Ray, Paul Sammon, Michael Schlesinger, Jacqueline Scott, Ruth Scully, Jeannot Szwarc, Bob Thomas, John Waters