Saturday 5 November 2011

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story - Review

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story - 2007
Director - Jeffrey Schwarz

1) Spine Tingler! - Poster

Plot Summary / review:
Spine Tingler is a fast paced documentary charting the life and work of William Castle, a legendary Hollywood B-movie director and producer. Filled with clips and trailers of his most infamous films and a host of interviews from fellow film makers / fans and family, you get a real sense of the man behind the movies. Considered a cheap alternative to Alfred Hitchcock, Castle followed Hitchcocks lead by making himself as famous as his films. His trademark, cigar smoking profile was just as recognizable as Hitchcocks fat silhouette.

2) William Castle

Castle built a good reputation amongst Hollywood producers, his d├ębut film as a director was made on time and more importantly on budget. In stark contrast to Hitchcock's big budget, flamboyant productions, Castle was very cautious with his money. An astute businessman, he understood the importance of a good box office return. However, his films didn't always go down well with critics. Reviewing Castle's "The Tingler" at the time of it's release, Howard Thompson of the New York Times writes; "For some time producer William Castle has been serving some of the worst, dullest little horror entries ever to snake into movie houses. This one, which he also directed, is about a rubbery-looking lobster." (Thompson. 1960).

3) The Tingler

Despite critics panning his films, Castle still managed to draw crowds and huge box office returns. It's here that the documentary explores the brilliance of the man. Castle was one of Hollywood's great showmen, devising fantastic, often bizarre gimmicks that ran along side his films. Starting with 1958's "Macabre", Castle offered each member of the audience a $1000 insurance policy from being scared to death. From here they get more elaborate. 1959's "House on Haunted Hill" spliced a scene from the film with a plastic skeleton flying through the theatre. Popular with the public, but still not with the critics. Thompson writes; "This bore also introduces "the amazing new wonder, Emergo." What is it? Not much of anything." (Thompson. 1960). Despite the lack of support from critics, Castle still pushed the envelope, using early forms of 3D and "Illusion-O", a hand held ghost viewer / remover. Perhaps his most successful and best remembered gimmick was used in "The Tingler". For this he employed a team to wire a number of seats in theatre's with electric buzzers to shock certain members of the audience.

4) Interactive cinema

"Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story" sufficiently captures the buzz and excitement Castle brought to his audience in a fun, fast paced documentary. However it also captures his struggles with studio exec's and his efforts to work on more respectable projects. Most notably "Rosemary's Baby", originally intending to direct, he gave way to "Roman Polanski", controlling the maverick directors spending. Although "Rosemary's Baby" was his most commercial success, he will be remembered for his innovative idea's and contagious personality. "Castle's homegrown genius lay in knowing that the movies weren't enough, but had to have something extra to lure crowds." (Koehler. 2007).


Koehler, Robert. Variety review 20th November 2007

Thompson, Howard. New York Times Review of the "The Tingler" 10th March 1960

Thompson, Howard. New York Times Review of "House on Haunted Hill" 12th March 1960


1) Spine Tingler - Poster Accessed 04/11/11

2) William Castle

3) The Tingler

4) Interactive cinema

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