William Castle Collection Comes to DVD

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The master of ballyhoo who became a brand name in movie horror with his outrageous audience participation gimmicks will be remembered on October 20 when the William Castle Film Collection debuts from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The set features eight of the legendary producer/director’s most notable films, including The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Homicidal (1961), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), and Strait-Jacket (1964). Also included in the collection are Zotz! (1962), The Old Dark House (1963), and 13 Frightened Girls (1963), each making their DVD debuts. The extensive bonus materials include original theatrical openings, alternate sequences, vintage footage and original theatrical trailers, as well as two episodes of the television series, Ghost Story produced by William Castle.

Also included as a bonus feature, is Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007), the acclaimed documentary on William Castle by director Jeffrey Schwarz that won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2007 AFI Film Festival. The film features archival interviews with John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), John Waters (Pink Flamingos), Budd Boetticher (The Tall T), Roger Corman (The Little Shop of Horrors) and legendary mime Marcel Marceau. The five-disc William Castle Film Collection will be available for $103.95. 

About William Castle

Intrigued by the circus of Barnum and Bailey, New York stage plays, radio and the movies, William Castle (1914 - 1977) knew what he wanted to do with his life and spent most of his teenage years working on the stage in a number of jobs ranging from set building to acting. He left Broadway for Hollywood at the age of 23, going on to direct his first film (The Chance of a Lifetime) six years later.

Castle honed his craft over the next decade turning out every manner of film. He also worked as an assistant to director Orson Welles, doing much of the second unit location work for Welles’ noir classic The Lady from Shanghai, starring Rita Hayworth. Castle had a reputation for getting the work done, and eventually decided to produce and direct his own pictures. The first, Macabre, boasted ad lines like “See it with someone who can carry you home!” and “If it frightens you to death, you’ll be buried free of charge!” The hype worked and Castle became famous for directing films with many gimmicks, which were ambitiously promoted, despite being reasonably low budget B-movies. By the mid-60s, he abandoned the gimmicks and went on to produce the Roman Polanski classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968). His autobiography was entitled “Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America.”

  • The Tingler (1959) Legendary horror star Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands) stars in The Tingler, the terrifying story of a docile creature that lives in the human spinal cord. It becomes activated by fright and can only be destroyed by screaming. Castle promoted the film with the gimmick of “Percepto,” where audiences would actually feel the sensations of the actors on the screen. To achieve this, theaters wired select seats with tiny motors underneath that would vibrate during key scenes in the movie. The audience would get a “tingling” sensation and were encouraged to “Scream - scream for your lives.”
  • 13 Ghosts (1960) Castle aggressively promoted this film with floats going up and down Hollywood Blvd. with “ghosts” riding along, holding signs, touting the movie. He named the gimmick created for 13 Ghosts “Illusion-O,” which was a special hand-held piece of cardboard with two transparent coloured strips, one red and one blue. If you wanted to see the ghosts in the film, you looked through one, but if you were too frightened, you could look through the other and they weren’t visible.  The film promised and delivered “13 Times the Thrills! 13 Times the Chills! 13 Times the Fun!” in the story of a family who inherits a haunted house, but discover a special pair of goggles that allows them to see their ghostly tormentors. The film starred Martin Milner (TV’s “Adam-12”) and Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz).
  • Homicidal (1961) In Homicidal, the brutal stabbing murder of a justice-of-the-peace sparks an investigation of the dark family secrets in a sleepy small town. Castle promoted the film with a “Fright Break,” a 45-second timer during the film’s climax as the heroine approached a house harbouring the sadistic  killer. The voiceover advised the audience of the time remaining in which they could leave the theatre and receive a full refund if they were too frightened to see the rest of the film. To ensure filmgoers did not opt for the refund, Castle instituted the “Coward’s Corner.” Patrons were expected to follow yellow footsteps up the theatre aisle, bathed in a yellow light and sit in a yellow cardboard booth in the theatre lobby. Theatres had a nurse offering a blood-pressure test, a recording blaring “Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward’s Corner,” and required walkouts to sign a yellow “Coward’s Certificate” card stating, “I am a bona fide coward.” Needless to say, very few filmgoers opted out of the screening.
  • Mr. Sardonicus (1961) In this gothic tale set in 1880 London, a Baron’s face is frozen into a permanently grotesque smile after digging up his father’s grave to retrieve a winning lottery ticket accidently left in his pocket. The gimmick allowed audiences to vote in a “Punishment Poll” during the climax of the film where Castle himself appears on screen to explain to the audience their options. Each member of the audience was given a card with a glow-in-the-dark thumb they could hold either up or down to decide if Mr. Sardonicus would be cured or die at the end of the film. Supposedly, no audience ever offered mercy and the villain was always punished.
  • Zotz! (1962) Tom Poston (TV’s “Newhart”) finds a Zotz coin and discovers its awesome powers. After attempting to share its secret with the US government (where he is brushed off as a lunatic), his discovery captures the interest of foreign agents, who attempt to steal it. To promote the film, Castle provided each filmgoer with a “magic” coin which, unfortunately, did absolutely nothing. 
  • 13 Frightened Girls! (1963) Castle launched a worldwide hunt for the prettiest girls from different countries to cast in 13 Frightened Girls!. The stunt helped generate publicity for the film about the thirteen daughters of international diplomats in a Swiss boarding school, who stir up trouble when they mess in the diplomatic affairs of their parents and a Russian spy is discovered murdered.
  • The Old Dark House (1963) Tom Poston (Zotz!) was again cast by Castle in this project about an American car salesman in England who receives a mysterious invitation from an old, eccentric millionaire to visit the house in which he lives with his twin brother.
  • Strait-Jacket (1964), Advised by his financial backers to eliminate the gimmicks, Castle hired Hollywood’s legendary  Joan Crawford (The Women, Our Dancing Daughters) to star as an ax-murderess in this story of a mother, who, after a 20 year stay in an insane asylum for killing her husband and his mistress, returns to her home and grown daughter. While trying to re-connect with her daughter, Diane Baker (The Best of Everything, Marnie) the mother’s behaviour raises suspicions about whether she is still a dangerously deranged killer.  At the last minute, Castle had cardboard axes handed out to patrons and sent Crawford on a nation-wide promotional tour of theatres showing the film.
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