The William Castle Film Collection : Release Year - 2009

Overall Rating : 7/10

Directed By : William Castle

Vincent Price
Joan Crawford
Tom Poston

Supplied By : Sony Pictures

Film Reviewed By : Rick L. Blalock

Date Reviewed : Various - Posted on : November. 30, 2009


Iconic horror director William Castle created a simple, but winning formula for his films: a little comedy, a lot of scares, a preposterous gimmick, and a clear sense that fright films should be fun. This even meant Castle would, like Hitchcock, appear in his trailers and even the movies themselves. Though his career spanned 35 years and included everything from westerns to crime thrillers, he'll always be remembered for his horror films from the late 50s to the mid-60s. And now Sony presents all eight of his Columbia features - three making their DVD debut, the rest newly-remastered - in one "spook-tac-ular" collection. And as a bonus, it includes the award-winning feature-length documentary, Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.

Vincent Price again teamed up with William Castle after previously working with him in Castle's famous film, the original, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. In this film, the legendary Price portrays a Doctor, Dr. Warren Chapin whom makes a miraculous discovery. Acting as a Coroner, Chapin is stunned to find that a criminal's spine had shattered during his execution via electrocution. Upon further studying the condition, Chaphin is convinced that we all have a parasite that grows inside of us, only manifesting itsef when, us the host are frightened - growing along the spine, "The Tingler" grows increasingly in size as the fear within a person heightens, and the only way to kill it is to, in fact scream. Chapin believed that he would never see a fully developed Tingler due to the human natural reaction to scream, but when a man's mute wife dies, not being able to scream, he unexpectedly gets such a chance. Unfortunately, once the Tingler is extracted from the woman's body, it eventually escapes to wreak havoc on the patrons of a movie theater in which the mute woman and her husband own.

THE TINGLER just may be one of Castle's most popular and famous films that he produced over his career. But honestly, when it comes to plot, THE TINGLER is both simple and silly overall. Over the years Castle became known mostly as being the Director of B Horror pictures and THE TINGLER demonstrates as to why. The premise is exploitative and to tell the truth it's almost genius. Just what does cause us to get scared, what produces fear, sure their may be some scientific explanation, but in THE TINGLER, Castle conjures up a story, and a creature to give what creates fear, an identity, While it sounds awesome on paper, when it came to actually make it happen, the ending results came out a lot less serious than you might think. The Tingler prop gag might've worked to thrill audiences in 1959, but looking back at the film today, the creature looks no more than a puppet on a string, being pulled along the frame(which indeed at was). Despite just how silly some of the scenes might have been, there are some pretty good performances, by the cast - people trying very hard to make the creature seem "real", especially Vincent Price who is still on top of his game here.

The gimmick that William Castle used for this film, was one that he called "Percepto". To achieve this gimmick, select seats were wired in the theater with motors to vibrate during suspenseful scenes in the movie, this would give off the illusion to the moviegoer, that the Tingler inside of them was steadily growing as thir fear increased. The gimmick was basically used during the film's final minutes in which the creature escaped into the theater within the movie. However, the screen would go black, and Castle would voice over the sound system that the Tingler was actually in the audience's theater, and encouraged everyone to "scream for their lives!". I imagine this particular gimmick being fun in a theatrical environment, but on DVD, well, it's not too fun as a home viewer obviously can't experience the gimmick. THE TINGLER isn't a film that I am a huge fan of, but none the less, it's a silly but decent one, I suppose.

Rating : (Movie : 4.5/10)
13 GHOSTS (1960)

13 GHOSTS, the film that inspired the 2000 remake THIRTEEN GHOSTS, is a simple story about a museum guide and his family who inherent and old house from his uncle. The uncle was also something known as a "Ghost Collector". so unfortunately, not only do they get the house, they also get the ghosts that come with it. Shortly after moving in, the family begin to experience the ghosts and are tormented by them - and armed with a pair of special goggles the terrified family is able to see them, in all of their monstrous glory.

The actual ghosts in 13 ghost were invisible to the viewer's eye so Castle came up with a simple gimmick. With this gimmick, theater goers were handed a piece of cardboard lined with red and blue plastic. Castle pre-planned segments in the film in which the standard black and white color would change to a blue tint. It's during these segments that the audience would use these viewers and chose weather or not they were too frightened to see the ghost or not - they could look through the red portion to see them, or the blue to opt out.

The "Ghost Viewers" were sort of a cool idea and could be the equivalent to our current 3d movies. But truth be told, the film, in my opinion, doesn't really translate well when watching at home. For one, when viewing 13 GHOSTS on DVD, you don't have the red and blue "glasses". yet the film is still full of blue segments with an accompanying message alerting you to put the viewers up to your eyes. I'm not sure if this was the case for the original theatrical release, but for the home video release the ghosts are shown to us by tinting them with an orange hue, while this is ok, I found it to be not all that effective.

13 GHOST was a film that seemed to be purposely light on story and heavy on gimmick, it's a gimmick film and relies almost solely on the fact. I feel that the film was made as a "theater experience, so taking away the gimmick makes it less potent of a film overall - to be honest, I was kind of bored with it.

Rating : (Movie : 3/10)

Castle's film HOMICIDAL, first follows a young woman named Emily, who strangely asks a bellhop and a hotel to marry her, but promises that the marriage would be soon annulled. The bellboy is confused but nonetheless agrees to go along with it. They arrive at the Justice of the Peace's house and after a quick ceremony, the young blonde viciously stabs the unsuspecting Justice of the Peace to death which seems to have been carefully calculated and planned by the woman. We would come to know the woman as she go on the run after her crimes and soon she finds herself being hired by a man named Warren, whom hires her to act as a nurse for an elderly woman, which serves as her way of hiding out. But almost as soon as she arrives, Miriam, the niece of the lady soon starts to have concerns about the new caregiver. Her suspicions are proved right when Miriam is alerted to Emily's murderous ways, which have just recently been uncovered, one fact in particular is that Emily had been using Miriam's name while checking into the hotel previously. Of course these suspicions all lead to something far more dark, they just so happen to relate to Miriam far closer than she could have ever imagined.

Whether William Castle himself would've ever admitted it or not, HOMICIDAL was obviously his homage/version of Hitchcock's PSYCHO, call it what you want. PSYCHO releasing in 1960, HOMICIDAL was released about a year later, and with scenes from PSYCHO still fresh in filmgoers' minds, it was an opportune time to capitalize. HOMICIDAL is essentially a straight homage to the aforementioned in almost every way, from the film's look and approach to it's similar plots and finishes, but HOMICIDAL does have it's own uniqueness to set it apart. The ending of the film, was marked with yet another one of Castle's gimmicks, this one was called a "Scare Break". Just before the final scene, the move would stop and Castle's voice could be heard giving the audience a choose to either stay or go before the final scene, if they were indeed too scared. Patrons had 45 seconds to make the all important choice, but had they chose to leave, that patron would be forced to stand in a box called the "Coward's Corner". It has been said that not anyone did ever leave the theater, which goes to show that the film does a great job with the building of suspense. Me personally, I found the ending to be pretty effective. HOMICIDAL'S ending is definitely one that I didn't see coming, although the film is a little slow at times, the conclusion is worth the wait.

HOMICIDAL, while not as good as 1960s PSYCHO, it is still a well done thriller that seems to have been cut from the same mold.

Rating : (Movie : 5.5/10)

In Castle's MR. SARDONACUS, English renowned neurosurgeon Sir. Robert Cargrave is called to a castle in Gorslava by an ex-lover to treat her husband Baron Sardonicus, whom suffers from a facial ailment. The disfigurement occurred to him as a young man when he decided to dig up his father's grave in order to retrieve a winning lottery ticket that was left in his pocket, and then essentially buried with him. The act cursed Sardonicus seemingly for life as it froze his face permanently in a deathly grimacing smile. Not being able to reverse the effects, Sardonicus has had to don a wax max over his deformation, but now that Sir Robert has made advancement in medicine, Sardonicus believes that an experimental drug that Cargrave has been tinkering with, just may be the solution that he has been looking for. Unfortunately when Cargrave arrives he finds that the Baron isn't that nice of a gentleman, in fact his former love was forced into marriage with him. At the castle, Sardonicus and his one eye assistant are known to torture the innocent, and as so, Sardonicus threatens to harm Maude if Cargrave doesn't treat him. And thus he does, to surprising results, but little does Sardonicus know that not everything is what it seems.

Supposedly after being asked to shot a "happier" ending by the studio, William Castle came up with the idea of having two alternate endings in which the audience could vote the outcome. To achieve this, upon entering the theater, audience members were handed cards that featured glow in the dark thumbs. During the final moments of the film, Castle appeared on screen to poll the audience on whether or not they believed that Sardonicus deserved more punishment for what he did - a "mercy or no mercy" sort of thing. Again, supposedly two endings were shot in case of either outcome being voted upon, but by the looks of it, only one - ending was shot - the one in which Sardonicus gets further punishment. Apparently Castle was set on the idea of no one ever voting to shoe the bad guy mercy that his ending segment was pre-taped in a way to give off the feeling that he was truly there, and counting the audience votes - which obviously was not the case, so the cards handed out were nothing more than maybe a souvenir for film patrons.

Taking place in 1800s England, MR. SARDONICUS is a cheesy Gothic tale about a man whose face is frozen still in a horrific position after he does something that he shouldn't have - he dug up his father's grave. The reason he did such is that he was in search of his dad's winning lottery ticket - perhaps it was the greed that left him disfigured. Whatever the case, Sardonicus is better about it and hides away much in the style of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, even donning a similar mask. The film is rather cheesy and is indeed classified best as a b-movie, and can be almost considered a creature feature seeing as Sardonicus shields himself from the world and when he does it's almost always with the mask, rarely is it removed. The movie is silly not a lot of it makes practical sense(such as, how would merely digging up a grave and opening up s casket cause one's face to freeze?), it's poorly written and has little plot to support a full story> Also, the gimmick used here was rigged anyway, so having Castle appear at the end defeated any purpose, if anything it disrupted the overall flow of the movie.

MR. SARDONICUS isn't that great of a movie, but I still slightly enjoyed it opposed to the less enjoyable 13 GHOSTS.

Rating : (Movie : 4/10)
ZOTZ! (1962)

In ZOTZ!, aceint language Professor Jonathan Jones comes into a strange coin that gives him special powers. As long as he's in posseison of the coin, he can; cause psychical pain for some one just by pointing at them, by saying the word "Zotz" he can render someone in slow motion, and doing both of these tasks, he can cause destruction and even death. The new powers causes him much trouble on the job, but even still he is quite amazed by the coins powers and is convinced that it could be used for some good. With this in mine, he heads to the Pentagon, it hopes to garner some interest in the use of the coin by the US Military, but what he gets is quite the opposite when Military officials write Jonathan off as a lunatic and eject him. During all of this, without anyone's knowledge Russian Spies were listening on and they believe that the coin would be the perfect attack weapon for THEIR arsenal. Before it's all said and done, they attempt to kidnap and extract the coin from Jones' possession, but thankfully for Jones, they aren't very skillful in their ways of doing so.

As opposed to most of Castle's film efforts, the film ZOTZ! is geared more towards the comedy and fantasy genre, although at times it does have a pinch of Horror here and there. As for the plot featured in the film, there are many films out there like ZOTZ!. Film's that feature characters that come upon great power and not knowing how to exactly use them is nothing new, especially in the modern day teen comedy genre. Well anyway, ZOTZ! is one of those types of films and to tell the truth it's not that bad at all, while not the best of it's kind that i've seen, it's still pretty entertaining at times. While a majority of his films had more elaborate gimmicks attached to them, ZOTZ! is a film that had one of the most simple of the gimmicks. For ZOTZ! audience members were simply presented with their very own souvenir ZOTZ! coin, but unlike the one fictionalized in the film, this one did nothing at all.

Rating : (Movie : 5.5/10)

In William Castle's 1963 feature, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS!, the story revolves around an exclusive all girl school in Switzerland called Miss Pittford's Academy. All of the girls who attend the prestigious school are daughters of world diplomats from a wide variety of nations. The story starts off when the girls are leaving for a field trip to the embassies to see their respective fathers Throughout the film, our main character is Candy, the daughter of a US diplomat, who gets herself in a little bit of trouble as the film progresses. While out visiting with one of her classmates, the daughter of a Chinese diplomat, Candy happens to accidentally uncover the stabbing death of an Agent and then proceeds to anonymously report the incident under the pseudonym "Kitten". It's from here that Candy chooses not to stop what she's doing and continues to investigate the other diplomats' doings, which leads to Kitten becoming most wanted by the world's top officials - especially after Candy inadvertently causes the death of a Russian spy. With everyone looking to take out the agent known as Kitten, Candy finds herself in a game of life and death, a situation that she would've never imagined finding herself in.

With 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS! Castle launched a worldwide search for 13 of the worlds prettiest girls of various nations to represent each in the film. Representing the US in the film is Kathy Dunn in the lead role of Candy and in my opinion, Castle could not have made a better choice. 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS! was Dunn's first film role, but her performance in this simple but effective film would suggest otherwise - not only was she beautiful on screen, but she also showed a presence on screen that was innocent but strong.

13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS! is simple in both plot and setting, but within, I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather effective thriller, one that managed to keep my interest up until the very in, in anticipation of what would happen next. As I said, the film is rather simple, but it excels with some great camerawork and atmosphere.

Rating : (Movie : 6/10)

In THE OLD DARK HOUSE, Tom is an American Car Salesman in London. Tom has a roommate in the strange Casper and both of them share a very weird living arrangement for a shared apartment, Casper stays during the day hours, while Tom stays there at night. Casper asks Tom to deliver a new car to the eccentric mansion he stays at during the night, and there he finally meets his equally eccentric family, including his twin brother Jasper that he had no idea about. Among meeting this cast of characters, he finds that his roommate Casper is dead, but for reasons not understood, but when other members of the clan begin to fall dead on by one in front of tom's eyes, they are convinced that it is a Femm ancestor who was a pirate named Roderick, that's to blame.

This no gimmick "Horror film" is sort of a re0imagining of a 1932 film of the same name that Castle did for legendary Hammer films. I have not seen the original, but from what I have read, all but a few minor things, such as names were changed for this version of the film, making it very different than the original. Unlike most William Castle films, THE OLD DARK HOUSE had no gimmick, or even a remotely frightening setup. To me, the film was essentially, like another live-action version of the board game CLUE, except we have no suspense and very little mystery to uncover(as most of the mystery is uncovered quite early).

From what I understand, THE OLD DARK HOUSE is one of the films in this collection that is considered are and hard to find, so surely collectors would be after it. But for me, one that considers himself a casual fan, this is another film that I found myself bored with. The premise and everything is typical, the cast of characters are your typical "cookie-cutter" loonies, to me there just wasn't much about this one that stood out.

Rating : (Movie : 3/10)

STRAIT-JACKET tells the story of Lucy Harbin and what she did when she found her husband cheating while she was supposedly away. Well what she did was in fact quite menacing, she came home late one night and viciously murdered her husband and his mistress with an axe. After being declared mentally insane, Lucy is shipped off to an asylum, leaving behind the daughter whom witnessed the double murder. The film then fast forwards to 20 years later, at a time in which Lucy is finally being released, returning to her daughter, Carol. At first it's as if Lucy is rather relieved to escape her past, but soon, even the littlest of incidents begin to bring back the memories piece by piece, causing those around her to become suspicious. They begin to wonder if the woman is fully cured, or if she just might have a little murderess spark still deep within her. And what occurs seems to tell us that they may be correct, as we see her murder her doctor, in fear that he may have her sent back, and then later targeting Carol's boyfriend's parents with her axe, after learning of their disapproval of the two's pending nuptials. STRAIT JACKET is a film that has us as an audience asking the question, "is seeing always believing".

In a change from his other films, it seems as if William Castle chose to spend a little more time on this one in every aspect. He set out to make a more serious film, and for it, he somehow recruited the famous writer of PSYCHO and A-list film star Joan Crawford. And although Crawford was said to have been a bit of a "diva", calling most of her own shots, including in casting, camerawork and direction, in all honesty Crawford's presence here made a world of difference. Truthfully have seen only a few of Castle's film's but by far, I have to say that(so far), STRAIT-JACKET is the best one that I have seen yet. All around, STAIT-JACKET is a better film, better script, better direction by Castle and definitely better acting by the cast - especially by Crawford and Diane Baker(Carol). Boasting the first film appearance by future star Lee Majors(although briefly, as he was the cheating husband with the bad luck) and a small role by George Kennedy, this film, had a lot going for it, not to mention a twist ending that was clever, one that you could only expect from writer Don Bloch.

I thought this film was really good and far better executed than any of the other Castle film I have seen, it truly is one of those classic stories brought to life that i'm sure has inspired a few films over the years, in fact, it's a wonder if a film like 1973's CRIMINALLY INSANE was not indeed inspired by it.

For this film, Castle was urged not to pursue a gimmick, and while there was no elaborate gimmick for the film, he eventually had cardboard axes handed to the audiences, he also sent star, Joan Crawford around on a promotional tour.

Rating : (Movie : 7/10)

Added within the set on an addition fifth disc, is a wonderful documentary about William Castle by Director Jeffrey Schwarz, entitled SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY. This documentary is excellent, as not only do you learn about Castle the filmmaker and gis work both a Director and Producer, you also learn about William Castle the man, From fans, turned filmmakers themselves such as John Waters, Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon, you learn how influential and respected he was and still is, but also from his daughter Terry, his niece and sister-in-law, you get a glimpse of the side of him we rarely got to see, the side of him that was a family man - he was one to put his family above all else.

The documentary does a fine job of chronicling Castle's rather colorful and creative life, from being orphaned by the loss of both parents at age twelve, to gaining an interest in entertainment and how he would change the movie-going experience with his clever gimmicks, all the way to producing a big A-list picture like ROSEMARY'S BABY - a project that he desperately wanted to direct himself.

SPINE TINGLER! : THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, also clearly makes aware the rather sad fact that Castle's film's were never widely accepted by critics, but instead they did find an audience in the younger audience. The best thing about Castle is that he seemed ok with this, as he was one with the fans, seeing as he was a big kid at heart. I have no doubt that anyone who sees this documentary will come out of it having a much greater respect for William Castle than they may have had beforehand - I know I did. In fact, although I may enjoy some of his films, I think I like William Castle, the person he was even more, he seemed to be such a genuine guy, who loved what he did as well as his family.

At a little over 80 minutes, this documentary is very informative if you are looking to learn more about the man behind such films as THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE TINGLER. I am so glad that this was able to be included here as a bonus disc, if you are contemplating getting this set, this is definitely one of the things that makes the set worth the price alone.

Rating : (Movie : 8.5/10)
Overall, this set is very good, and will hold different value to people depending on how much of a collector you are. The set collects, 8 William Castle Horror classics, and while some her, have been released a few times, a few are making their DVD debut. The four disc set houses two films on each disc, along with an assortment of bonus features, which some include episodes of the Castle series, GHOST STORY. The fifth bonus disc presents the award winning documentary SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY by Jeffrey Schwarz, which includes audio commentary from Swartz and Terry Castle

The set includes these special features :

· Disc 1 featuring 13 Frightened Girls/13 Ghosts includes:

* Featurette: “The Magic of Illusion-O.”
* Original Theatrical Trailers.
* Original “British” trailer introduction for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Original “Candy Web” trailer for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Original “Candy Web” theatrical opening message from William Castle for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Original “Candy Web” theatrical closing message from William Castle for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Alternate opening (British) for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Alternate opening (Swedish) for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Alternate opening (French) for 13 Frightened Girls.
* Alternate opening (German) for 13 Frightened Girls.

· Disc 2 featuring Homicidal/Strait-Jacket includes:

* Featurette: “Psychette: William Castle and Homicidal.”
* Featurette: “Homicidal Youngstown, Ohio Premiere.”
* Featurette: “Battleaxe: The Making of Strait-Jacket.”
* Vintage Featurette: “How to Plan a Movie Murder.”
* Original Theatrical Trailers.
* Joan Crawford Wardrobe Tests.
* Joan Crawford Axe Test.
* Strait-Jacket TV Spots.

· Disc 3 featuring Old Dark House/Sardonicus includes:

* Featurette: “Taking the Punishment Poll.”
* Featurette: “Ghost Story: Pilot (The New House).”
* Original Theatrical Trailer.

· Disc 4 featuring The Tingler/Zotz! includes:
* Featurette: “Scream For Your Lives: William Castle and The Tingler.”
* Featurette: “Ghost Story: Graveyard Shift.”
* Alternate Drive-In Sequence for The Tingler.
* Original “Scream” Sequence for The Tingler.
* Original Theatrical Trailers.

· Disc 5 features the documentary: Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.

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