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  • marcslope24 June 2008
    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.
  • 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 Professional.

    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.
  • preppy-319 June 2008
    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.
  • Warning: 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.
  • 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...
  • Few in Hollywood understood more what the "show" in Show Business meant than William Castle. Despite the fact that his films were rarely very good, he promoted his pictures and himself so well that he even elicited comparisons to Hitchcock. Jeffrey Schwarz' Documentary mainly focuses on the period between MACABRE (1958) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965). Castle went heavy on promotional stunts like Death Insurance, nurses in theaters, Emergo's flying skeletons, Percepto's seat buzzers, Illusion-O's 3D-like ghosts, Punishment Polls and Fright Breaks to sell his films. It worked, and Castle was able to distinguish his low-budget movies from that of his competitors such as Roger Corman (who is interviewed). The movie clips, vintage newsreels and photographs are well-chosen to document Castle's career (too bad Schwarz chose to have everything presented in the same aspect ratio which cuts off the heads, text and other visual information in a number of them). Castle's daughter Terry gives family insight into his personal and professional life along with some of the filmmaker's friends and colleagues like Bob Thomas, actor Darryl Hickman and actress Jacqueline Scott (who just recently passed ). John Waters has some gleeful stories to tell among the the other interviewees like Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Michael Schlesinger and Bob Burns. Castle's reign may have been fairly brief, but, his career stretched all the way back to Columbia Pictures' B unit in the early 40s. It's too bad more time isn't spent on the films for there are a few like the original THE WHISTLER (1944) and JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON (1949) that are on a par with his best known work like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) and HOMICIDAL.

    While Castle enjoyed his exploitation success, he wanted to get more respect as a filmmaker, and two stories bookend his career that must have rankled him to his grave. In 1947 Castle found the book that would become LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947). Castle's version is that he asked Orson Welles to pitch the story to Columbia honcho Sam Cohn with the proviso that Castle Direct. Of course, Welles ended up with the assignment himself. Castle's version probably would have made more sense, but, it would never have had Welles' baroque stylings. In the 60s Castle managed to read and purchase the rights to the galleys of Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby and then flipped those rights for a healthy profit to Paramount Pictures. Again, Castle intended to Direct, but, Paramount's Robert Evans instead hired the the up & coming Roman Polanski. Here again, there is no way to imagine that Castle's Direction could have matched Polanski's bravura style that also captured the zeitgeist of the swinging 60s (to the tune of over $200M in today's dollars). Castle had to settle, again, for a Producing credit. Castle managed to Produce and/or Direct a few more films (including 1975's BUG) before passing away at only 63 (his lifelong smoking of cigarettes and enormous cigars no doubt contributed).

    SPINE-TINGLER! is a pleasurable look back at one of the great cult figures of cinema.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    To this day, people talk about science fiction and horror films of the 1950's and 60's with such loving admiration. All you needed was at least a couple of hundred bucks, a camera and a dream and you could make a film with goofy looking monsters and silly situations that had audiences in stitches, if they weren't genuinely frightened. William Castle worked with more than just that, making a series of campy, gimmick filled films that stand up today, packing in audiences when re-released in revival and art houses, and like P.T. Barnum, gives the audience a great old time of falderal, balderdash, and a ton of fun.

    This documentary muscles upbringing his dealings with legendary artists like Bela Lugosi, George Stevens, Harry Cohn, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, all willing steps to helping him make his way in Hollywood. Little is put into showing his low-budget Columbia films of the mid-forties, although titles and trailers are flashed across the screen. Those films are fine as passable time fillers, but the film wants to take its time showing the details that went into making "The House on Haunted Hill", "The Tingler", "Homicidal" and of course "Rosemary's Baby". It's obvious that family, friends and co-workers loves working with him, and they auraglow in talking about him, particularly his daughter, niece and several very close friends.

    We learn from Darryl Hickman and Pamela Lincoln how they reacted to "the tingler", and Anne Helm adds a bit of legend to the Joan Crawford cult in explaining how she was replaced. Fan club founders and other Hollywood professionals (especially John Waters who played Castle in the miniseries "Feud") express their joy over his work. By the time this documentary is over, you too will seal that you knew him. For me, it was nice to see Pamela Lincoln whom I've been enjoying in reruns of the soap opera "The Doctors", confessing that her instant reaction to seeing the tingler for the first time was to laugh hysterically. I don't think that Mr. Castle would have wanted it any other way.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    STEP RIGHT UP!...I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, the autobiography of William Castle, is either packed with bull or Castle led the best life ever. I'd like to think its the latter, as I'm a big fan of the old-fashioned ballyhoo that was lost with Castle's death.

    From his first film, The Chance of a Lifetime to his last, the near-insane pairing of mime Marcel Marceau and horror Shanks, William Castle did things his way, worrying every step of the way, gambling his house several times as he went from a B-movie director to the feature attraction of his own brand of horror films.

    The majority of Castle's films had a gimmick and ad campaign that went along with them - that way, if Castle's direction wasn't the best, at least the audience had the gimmick to remember his films by.

    House on Haunted Hill featured Emergo, where an inflatable skeleton with glowing eyes would rise from the screen to fly over the audience. The Tingler, filmed in Percepto, had moments where the titular monster would escape into the theater that you were sitting in and everyone had to scream to keep it from attacking them. Several seats in each theater would be hooked up to joy buzzes that would simulate an attack of the Tinger. 13 Ghosts had Illusion-O and Homicidal didn't just rip off Psycho, it also had a fright break where the audience could get their money back if they were willing to walk to Coward's Corner. Mr. Sardonicus gave audiences the chance to see if the movie's villain lived or died, with two different endings (only the ending where he dies was actually filmed). Zotz! gave a gold coin, 13 Frightening Girls had a different version made for multiple countries after a beauty pageant selected 15 girls (Castle couldn't be bothered with logic), I Saw What You Did had seatbelts installed to keep audiences from being knocked out of their seats, Bug had an insurance policy on its hero bug and Strait-Jacket had the best gimmick of all - Joan Crawford.

    Despite all this, Castle dreamed of being a serious director and Rosemary's Baby was to be his big movie. However, Robert Evans bought the film and convinced him that only Roman Polanski could bring it to the screen. Sadly, he was right.

    I learned about Castle from his biggest fan, John Waters, who once wrote, "William Castle was my idol. His films made me want to make films. William Castle was God." He even got the chance to play Castle in the FX series Feud: Bette vs. Joan.

    He appears in this film, along with Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman, Leonard Maltin and many more icons, all telling the story of how there really wasn't anyone quite like Castle, the only director to have a fan club with 250,000 members.
  • AaronCapenBanner14 October 2013
    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.