I am one of the biggest William Castle fans (by weight, if not by enthusiasm) so I am still trying to figure out how I missed the original release of this baby last October. It would have made perfect viewing for Scary Movie Month. The fine folks at Indicator Releasing/Powerhouse Films have done themselves proud with this Region Free Blu-ray box set.
Nope. All true.
Matinee, the story of an out-of-control filmmaker previewing his latest gimmicky B-movie horror film in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The John Goodman character, Lawrence Woolsey, is loosely based on William Castle.
A NEAT SEVEN MINUTE PRIMER ON WILLIAM CASTLE:
The new Powerhouse box is absolutely terrific in every imaginable way but one, and we will get to my small quibble in due time. The set includes The Tingler from 1959, 13 Ghosts from 1960, and Homicidal and Mr. Sardonicus, both from 1961. The transfers are the best these films have ever looked on any home video format. In fact, one scene in The Tingler that incorporates color in the otherwise black-and-white film (an effect that always looked dodgy in past tape and disc releases) has been “fixed” by Powerhouse. They went back to the original materials and did a new 4K scan, eliminating the problems of those earlier releases that tipped off how the gruesome effect was achieved. Bravo, Powerhouse!
Needless to say, what the all four films lack in sparkling dialogue or directorial prowess is more than made up for by their sheer sense of fun. These films spell fun with a capital “F!” About a year ago, friend-of-the-sight Michael Piccoli and I attended a Fathom Events screening of The Tingler in an honest-to-God movie theater. No one in that audience was bothered that the film’s plot makes no sense or that the film’s titular creature resembles a rubber lobster being pulled along on a visible wire. At the film’s climax, the screen goes dark and the voice of Vincent Price implored us to “Scream— scream for your lives!” Let me tell you, we all screamed... and loudly too. I would rank that screening in the “Top Five Most Fun Movie Moments in My Life.” Thanks, William Castle.
These films never wear out their welcomes either. I’m sure that Castle, the consummate showman, realized that shorter running times meant more screenings per day in every theater. No film in the set (indeed no film he ever directed!) runs longer than 95 minutes. Good Lord, 13 Ghosts clocks in at a mere hour, fifteen. William Castle respected us all enough not to waste our time.
The bonus features go into an insane amount of detail concerning the various gimmicks Castle conceived to promote the films. The Tingler featured “Percepto,” which was his term for the previously mentioned buzzing seats; 13 Ghosts employed “Illusion-O,” which involved distributing “ghost viewers” to all patrons; Homicidal featured a “fright break” during which audience members who were too scared could get a refund if they left the theater; and Mr. Sardonicus had “The Punishment Poll,” where glow-in-the-dark cards gave audience members the idea that they were deciding the ending of the film. Castle deserves credit for having the imagination to dream up all these gimmicks (and more—the boxset does not contain The House on Haunted Hill, which used “Emergo” and is actually my favorite out of all of Castle’s films.)
Those were good times.
While writing this, I learned that Castle’s autobiography Step Right Up: I’m Going to Scare the Pants Off America! is back in print. It is available in both paperback and digital for e-readers. It’s a must-read!