Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

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AFI Fest

The man who brought the world such immortal movie house gimmicks as Emergo, Percepto, Illusion-O and Ghost Viewer glasses is finally given his due in "Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story."

A fittingly lively portrait of the B-movie artist who put the show back into showmanship, Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary portrays the late director-producer as a man with the heart of a carny who dreamt of one day shedding his reputation as a low-rent Hitchcock and winning the artistic respect of his peers.

While the 80-minute film's a natural for festivals, Castle's affectionate fan base could also warrant a theatrical release, especially if somebody could figure out a cost-effective way of rigging theater seats to vibrate at pivotal moments.

Director Schwarz, whose company, Automat Pictures, specializes in producing making-of docs for TV and DVDs, takes a standard issue approach here, gathering together Castle family, friends, colleagues and historians--daughter Terry, John Waters, John Landis, Joe Dante, and the late Marcel Marceau among them--to provide the obligatory testimonials and anecdotes.

But when you've got a guy as colorful as Castle, you don't need a lot of fancy frills to attract attention, especially when you've got a generous clip assortment from such immortal movies as "Macabre," which offered patrons insurance by Lloyds of London in the event of "death by fright," "13 Ghosts," "Mr. Sardonicus" and intended "Psycho" rival, "Homicidal."

Although most were accompanied by publicity stunts designed to lure audiences of the late '50s and '60s away from their TVs and back into theaters, Castle craved something beyond profitability, and would eventually land his biggest gimmick in the form of Joan Crawford, who starred in his 1964 thriller, Strait-Jacket, penned by "Psycho" author Robert Bloch.

While Crawford essentially ran the whole show, insisting the set be kept at freezing temperatures to "tighten the skin," the experience made Castle more determined than ever to beat Hitch at his own game.

Bittersweet success would come with "Rosemary's Baby," a vehicle he had wanted to direct himself, but he'd have to settle for a producer's credit after Paramount brought in a hot young Polish filmmaker by the name of Roman Polanski.

Castle was never able to build on that newfound artistic credibility but his death, in 1977, marked the end of a truly spirited era.

SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY
Automat Pictures
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