The Return of William Castle

I believe in a  quality you might call “magical ballyhoo” — a tradition of marketing that is whimsical, poetical, prankish, and itself theatrical. In most senses, P.T. Barnum can be considered the inventor of this art form, although, like many great inventors, all he really did was synthesize many existing ideas and practices and present it in new packaging. While we love to go around saying that such hype is the coin of the realm today, few — very few — practice it in the true spirit I am talking about. Typically, it’s more a corporate, unimaginative shoving of something down our throats. True showmen have been surprisingly rare in Hollywood, for example. A few names spring to mind: Cecil B. De Mille, Mike Todd, Orson Welles. But, when it comes to ballyhoo, true ballyhoo, none can hold a candle to low-budget horror genius William Castle. As they do every so often, New York’s holy temple of repertory cinema the Film Forum is doing a retrospective of his works (h’m….that sounds inappropriately pretentious. Let’s just say, “showing a bunch of his movies”). Watching Castle’s films on home video is like what Audrey Hepburn’s character in Charade said of smoking filtered cigarettes, “It’s like drinking coffee through a veil.” You need to be in a theatre, not just because one always needs to be with other screaming, laughing people at such experiences, but because Castle’s films come with hilarious gimmicks, such as “Emergo”, his gambit for The House on Haunted Hill, which consists of a skeleton that rolls toward the audience on a fishing wire, and “Percepto”, the “electric shock” in the seats that accompanies The Tingler. 13 Ghosts provides special “ghost viewers” that allows you to see the titular phantoms (one of which, as I recall, is a headless lion tamer). The very best of these shockers feature one of my favorite actors, the great Vincent Price, at the very peak of his form, relishing every moment of Gothic melodrama like a poisoned bon-bon. 15 of these gems will be shown today through September 6, in double and even triple features.  For full details and schedule, go here…if you dare!

4 comments

  1. I love that you took the time to write about me. I am honored even if I am dead.

    I can’t wait for The Tingler. Bruce Goldstein has outdone himself again.

    Hope I haven’t scared you…communicating with the dead is not for the faint of heart.

    Like

    • I am so terrified that you’ve written to me from beyond the grave that I feel a heart attack coming on…but I think I will save the heart attack for the screening of “Macabre” so I can benefit from the insurance policy!

      Like

  2. This is AMAZING! Thank you SO SO much for posting this! I really fell in love with Castle when I started making a film last year for Bryan’s Sinister Six festival, and tried my best to live up to his interactive experience with “AracAttack! In 3D!” I’ve seen a few films only online and I’ve always wanted to see them up on a big screen! Wow, what great news!

    Like

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