William Castle makes spine-tingling return in Jeffrey Schwarz docupic
Aside from overrated CGI explosions, deafening sound systems and validated parking, the movie-going experience isn’t exactly as thrilling as it once was.
That’s why director Jeffrey Schwarz wants to remind audiences of cinema’s earlier pleasures with the documentary “Spine Tingler,” which highlights the career of horror director and crazed ’50s and ’60s film marketer William Castle.
“[Castle] was as famous as Alfred Hitchcock…for a few years” Schwarz said.
Scheduled for a screening at the SlamDance Film Festival on Jan. 22 in Park City, Utah, “Spine Tingler” won the Audience Award for Best Documentary during the 2007 AFI Film Festival.
Many recognize William Castle (ne William Schloss) as one of the last great American showmen for the publicity stunts that accompanied his horror genre B-movies.
For “Macabre,” a $1,000 insurance policy was handed to each audience member in case he or she died of fright while watching the film. His “Percepto!” gimmick for 1959’s “The Tingler” had electric buzzers going off under the seats during the scariest part of the film. Other stunts included a skeleton flying overhead during “House on Haunted Hill,” a money-back “fright break” for “Homicidal,” if you were too scared to stay until the end of the film, and special ghost-vision glasses for “13 Ghosts.”
Schwarz said it became clear that people were coming to Castle’s films more for the gimmicks than the movie itself, as portrayed in the John Goodman film, “Matinee.” But that didn’t bother Castle, who just wanted reassurance that the seats would be filled, he added.
Castle died in 1977 without much praise, but “Spine Tingler” heaps it on with commentary from fans, including Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Stuart Gordon, Jon Landis and John Waters.
“When he passed away, he thought he was a failure,” Schwarz said. “Yet in revivals of his films, people are still receiving joy.”