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Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Over the course of the past month, I paid tribute to a great man that was born to make my favorite movie genre more fun- William Castle.  Well, today, I'm paying tribute to another great guy... me!

But, rather than tooting my own horn about how my friends from "Film Reviews From the Basement" use a rating system devised by myself years ago, when Jay and I did a small website called, "Critics @ Large"... or how I have a minimum of 250 horror movies in my collection (so far)... or how I actually have a figure of the "Cemetery Zombie" from George Romero's original "Night of the Living Dead"... or... no, rather than talking about those things, I'm going to do something simple and elegant.

I'm going to simply list a bunch of horror movies released in 1972- when I was born.  Now these aren't just North American movies, but movies from around the world.  I'll be underlining the movies that I have seen myself.  Let me know how many of them YOU have seen. Enjoy!

All the Colors of the Dark

Baron Blood
Beware!  The Blob
Blood Freak
Blood of Ghastly Horror
Blood Spattered Bride, The

Cannibal Man, The
Corpse Grinders, The
Count Dracula's Great Love
Creeping Flesh, The
Curse of the Moon Child

Daughter of Dracula, The
Daughters of Satan
Dead Are Alive, The
Death Line
Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche
Don't Torture a Duckling
Dracula AD 1972
Dracula Against Frankenstein
Dr Jekyll and the Wolfman
Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Demons of the Mind

Erotic Experiences of Frankenstein, The
Fiend, The
Flesh and Blood Show, The
Fury of the Wolfman

Il paese del sesso selvaggio
Invasion of the Blood Farmers

Last House on the Left, The

Night of a 1000 Cats
Night of the Cobra Woman
Night of the Lepus
Nothing But the Night
Night of the Devils

Possession of Joel Delaney, The

Rats Are Coming!  The Werewolves Are Here!, The
Red Queen Kills Seven Times, The
Reincarnation of Isabel


Tales From the Crypt
Thing With Two Heads, The
Three on a Meathook
Tower of Evil
Tragic Ceremony

Vampire Circus
Vengeance of the Zombies

I think I might have a couple of those in my collection somewhere (ah, the joys of buying movie box sets), so I may have to dig them out and review them soon...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

William Castle Tribute VII: Life After William Castle

On May 31, 1977- after a career spanning 34 years, William Castle was laid to rest in Glendale, California's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.  He passed away at the age of 63 due to a heart attack.

The end of an era had come... or did it?

William Castle's influence still resonates today.  The character of Lawrence Woolsey, played by John Goodman in the movie, "Matinee" was inspired by William Castle and the ways that he promoted his movies- as seen by the use of "Atomo-Vision", and "Rumble-Rama".

In 1999, a new movie production house was founded.  It's original intent was to remake most- if not all, of William Castle's movies.  This company is called, "Dark Castle Entertainment" and did produce two remakes before going onto their own original material.  The first film to be remade was "House on Haunted Hill", and was promoted with scratch and win tickets given to the audience.  Dark Castle Entertainment then remade, "13 Ghosts," and wanted to do it in 3D- giving the audience special glasses... as wad done with the original release.  These plans fell through, however, and "House on Haunted Hill" was the only remake to ultilize a William Castlesque Audience Participatory Supplement.

But William Castle's afterlife didn't just stop there.  Oh, no, indeed.

It seems that the spirit of William Castle lingers on here on earth.  My friend, Jay (from "Film Reviews From the Basement"), met this spirit online last year... on Facebook of all things!  Since it was nearing Halloween at the time, the ghost of William Castle agreed to be interviewed "live" on Jay and Shawn's radio show.  In keeping with Mr. Castle's love of Audience Participatory Supplements, followers of the show were invited to ask questions of the spirit on the show's Facebook page.  I, as "guest medium" would then pass on his answers.  We all had a blast talking with Mr. Castle during the show!

In addition to a Facebook page, the ghost of William Castle also has a blog page at WilliamCastle.com.  On his blog, you'll find pictures from his life, and the thoughts that may run through a spirit's mind as it observes the world we live in.  And to show that he's an entertainer even after death, he also conducted a multi-writer story session called, "Scare it Forward"- which Jay took part in himself.  I'm hoping to partake in the next one as it sounds cool and fun to do.

There are some people who think that the ghost of William Castle on Facebook and his blog is actually someone from the William Castle estate, and is doing it as a type of memorial.  If it is, then it's one of the most touching ways to keep his memory alive... not to mention, uses a promotional technique that I think William Castle would be proud of.

Me?  I kinda prefer to think that William Castle has managed to survive death, and is still making things engaging and entertaining for his fans...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

William Castle Tribute VI: Happy Birthday... From Beyond the Grave!

The year 1914 saw two events that would change the world.  One was the First World War... the other was the birth of William Castle.

World War One would change the face of the world from one of empires to one of republics and democracies.  William Castle would change the face of the movie world from one of watching a movie to one of experiencing the movie.

Thus today, on April 24th, we're celebrating the 97th birthday of William Castle.  While some may argue that a war changes the way world leaders looked at the world was more important, I would have to disagree.  I feel that celebrating the life of a single man that touched and influenced the lives of millions to be much more important.  Yes, World War One brought may have brought countries freedom from Imperialism, but William Castle brought people freedom from apathy and stale thinking.

After all, even if you're "chained" by the rule of an empire, you're still free in your mind and soul... but if you're shackled by apathy and stagnant thought, you are truly a prisoner in life.

Freedom fighters fight wars to throw off the rule of their dictators.  William Castle made his movies to fight off the rule of formulaic, uniform and boring movies.

So, today, April 24th, we're celebrating the birth of a movie freedom fighter... William Castle.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, April 22, 2011

William Castle Tribute V: Audience Participatory Supplements (Part Two)

In my entry for the 19th of April, I discussed the many "gimmicks" that the great William Castle used to promote his films.  In that article- and the previous ones in the William Castle Tribute series, you probably noticed that I put quotes around the word, "gimmick".  The reason for this is that I really don't like that word as it applies to William Castle movies.  The word implies that the ways he promoted his films were silly, frivolous, and pointless.

I would have to disagree.

Personally, I think of his "gimmicks" more in the terms of "Audience Participatory Supplements."  This term is actually more accurate than the commonly used term "gimmick".

"How?" you may ask?  Well, I'll tell you.

Let's take Castle's movie, "The Tingler".  By rigging the seats with essentially giant joy buzzers, and having Vincent Price tell the audience that they need to scream for their lives, William Castle made the audience PART of the movie.  They weren't JUST sitting their watching the movie- they became the creatures next potential victim!  The joy buzzer seats were supplemental devices that gave the audience a chance to participate in the movie.

The same can be said about "Mr. Sardonicus".  By allowing the viewers to vote on how they wanted the movie to end, he not only made them PART of the movie, but he also gave them in a sense, directorial control over the film.  With "13 Ghosts", Castle once again gave the audience control over the movie by handing them special "Ghost Removal Glasses".  By looking though either lens, the audience member could edit whether or not they saw the ghosts on the screen.

And sometimes, he even gave the audience members the opportunity to create a bit of drama themselves.  A perfect example of this was the use of "Coward's Corner" during the movie, "Homicidal"... though few were brave enough to go through the humiliating gauntlet that was part of it.

The Audience Participatory Supplements did something that few movies now do: they turned a simple movie into an event and experience.  By involving the audience the way he did, William Castle made his films more memorable.  I would be willing to bet that most people could tell you possibly what city, their age, and maybe which theater they saw, "Star Wars", but not much else.  Meanwhile, someone that took part in "The Tingler" would probably be able to tell you, the city, their age, the theater, what it felt like to be joy buzzed, how it sounded, the audience reactions, and who they saw it with it.  This isn't to say that "The Tingler" is BETTER than "Star Wars," just that the experience of seeing the "The Tingler" was more memorable because they were part of the experience.

To be honest, I very seldom go to a movie theater anymore.  It's not because of the prices (though they are getting too expensive compared to buying a movie on DVD); it's not even because the movies are lacking originality and becoming so CGI dependent (which they are).  No, it's because the experience isn't as fun as it used to be.  The last time I saw a movie, the audience was boring, and part of the experience is the audience.  Most people were either too busy texting, or there were very few people in the theater because everyone was watching it online at home.

And quite frankly, I can hardly remember anything about what it was like to watch certain movies in a theater.  Going back to my comment about "Star Wars," I was living in Calgary, Alberta, was seven or eight years old, and that's it.  When I think about seeing that movie in a theater, I get a "that'd be nice" thought coming into my head.  When I think about what it would be like to see "The Tingler," and have the seat suddenly start to vibrate heavily underneath me, and hearing the others members of the audience screaming and laughing as I do so as well, I get a "That would be soooooo cool, man!" popping up.

Were some of William Castle's Audience Participatory Supplements silly?  Yes- but fun.  Were some of them frivolous?  Maybe.  Were they pointless?  Certainly not.  They served a purpose, and served that purpose without fail: to make the movie going experience fun and memorable.  I would rather experience a William Castle movie than see many of the movies being produced lately... even the fancy 3D ones.  Hell, I would rig up my own "Emergo" and "Percepto" systems just to have that experience with my friends in my own home!

That would be soooooo cool, man!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

William Castle Tribute V: Audience Participatory Supplements (Part One)

In 1958, the world was introduced to William Castle's movie, "Macabre," and the first of many "gimmicks" that he would use to promote his movies.

The "gimmick" for "Macabre" was pretty simple compared to some of the later ones.  To market his movie, a certificate for a $1,000.00 life insurance policy- issued by Lloyd's of London was handed out to movie goers.  These certificates would only be redeemed if the movie goer died of fright during the movie.  To add to the flavor of this promotion, hearses were parked outside the theaters showing the movie, and nurses were placed in the lobbies... just in case.

William Castle followed up the life insurance certificate with the introduction of "Emergo"- a new technology that helped to bring the audience closer to the action on the screen.  It was in fact, more 3D than 3D!  During the climatic scene of "House on Haunted Hill", this technology was used to add to the intensity of the scene.  As the skeleton arose from a vat of acid on the screen, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton, attached to wires above the audience, would fly out and across the theater.  The skeleton sometimes became a target for popcorn, soda cups, and other items.

1959, also saw William Castle ultilizing the ground breaking techniques of "Percepto".  "The Tingler" used this promotional device to good effect in many theaters.  In the movie, a creature that attaches to your spinal cord can only be killed by screaming.  One of these creatures escapes and manages to find its way into a theatre.  Vincent Price would inform the audience that they needed to "Scream- scream for your lives".  At that moment, various seats in the theater would buzz and vibrate- simulating the creature attacking them... startling the movie goers and getting bigger screams.  Many reports say that the patrons received electric jolts, but they didn't.  The joy buzzer like devices were built using surplus air-plane de-icers- which had vibrating motors.

The release of "13 Ghosts" brought the world, "Illusion-O".  Special glasses were handed out to the movie goers that consisted of a strip of red cellophane and a strip of blue cellophane- similar to early 3D glasses.  Looking through one of the lenses allowed the viewer to see the ghosts on the screen, while looking through the other lens removed the ghost.

William Castle went to great lengths with the promotional devices used for his 1961 film, "Homicidal".  The in-movie device was a "Fright Break" timer on the screen that gave patrons a chance to leave and get a refund.  In order to prevent people watching the movie twice, and claiming the refund during the second viewing, Castle had different coloured tickets issued for each show.  Explaining the use of the "Coward's Certificate" at the beginning of the movie, Castle would warn you that if you  revealed the ending to their friend, "they will kill you.  And if they didn't," he would.  Due to people still asking for a refund, Castle though up the ultimate deterrent: "Coward's Corner".  John Water's book described it this way:

"He came up with 'Coward's Corner', a yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theater employee in the lobby.  When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light.  Before you reached 'Coward's Corner', you crossed yellow lines with the stenciled messaged: 'Cowards Keep Walking.'  You passed a nurse (in a yellow uniform?... I wonder), who would offer a blood pressure test.  All the while a recording was blaring, 'Watch the chicken!  Watch him shiver in 'Coward's Corner'!'  As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity- at 'Coward's Corner' you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, 'I am a bona fide coward.'  Very, very few were masochistic enough to endure this."
When DC Comics held a vote to see whether or not Robin would die in the 1980's they were hailed as being innovative by involving the fans in such a way.  Looking at William Castle's career, he beat them by at least two decades when he released, "Mr. Sardonicus" in 1961.  People watching the movie were handed cards with a glow-in-the-dark thumb printed on them.  During the film, they were given a chance to vote whether or not Mr. Sardonicus would be cursed or die at the end of the film.  From all reports, no audience showed him any mercy... so the alternate ending (if indeed there was one) was never seen.

By the time "Strait-Jacket" was released in 1964, his financial backers told him to eliminate the "gimmicks"  To promote this movie, he hired Joan Crawford to do a promotional tour of theaters that would be showing the movie.  He seemed to be following his backers' dictates... until at the last minute, William Castle had cardboard axes made and given out to movie goers.

"I Saw What You Did" in 1965 saw one of Castle's promotions backfire on him.  Originally, giant plastic telephones were used to promote the film.  Unfortunately, due to a upswing in prank calls and the complaints that followed them, Castle was refused permission to use them... to to even mention telephones.  To compensate, the back row of theaters were converted in what were called, "Shock Sections", which had seat belts attached so that patrons didn't fall out of their seats from fright.

William Castle gave the world one last big promotional "gimmick" in 1975 with his last film- "Bug".  For this film, Castle advertised that he'd taken a one million-dollar life insurance policy out on the star of the film... "Hercules" the cockroach.  It was fitting that since  William Castle introduced an era of showmanship by offering life insurance to patrons, that he would end that era with another life insurance promotion.

Please join me in a couple of days for the second part of this particular William Castle Tribute when I discuss the impact on a movie goer's experience at the movies... and how it compares to a modern movie experience.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

William Castle Tribute IV: Rosemary's Baby

At the beginning of March, I reviewed one of William Castle's famous movies- "House on Haunted Hill".  For my month long tribute to William Castle, I'm going to review another famous movie that was produced by him... "Rosemary's Baby".

Rosemary and her husband, Guy move into a gothic 19th century apartment building in New York.  Despite it's beauty, the building also has a history of less than savory residents and events.  After meeting their neighbours, The couple decide to try and have a child... and succeed.  The only problem is that the bundle of joy they're expecting may not be altogether human...

William Castle convinced Paramount Pictures to buy the film rights for the novel before the book had even been released.  Originally, Castle wanted to direct the movie, but Paramount Executives though that his "gimmicky" reputation may damage the box office receipts- allowing him to produce, but not direct.  Because of this, Paramount Pictures brought in Roman Polanski to direct.  Castle was also allowed to make a cameo as a gentlemen waiting for Rosemary to finish a phone call at a pay phone.

Never having adapted a novel before, Polanski stayed as faithful to the original source material- even using much of the dialogue from the book.  Unaware that he could make changes, Polanski even called author, Ira Levin, for help on a scene involving Guy talking about a shirt he saw in an issue of The New Yorker.  Roman Polanski had been unable to find that issue, and asked for help.  According to Levin, he'd made up the ad.

I watched "Rosemary's Baby" one night because I'd heard such good things about it... and also because it's expected of a Horror Fan to know this movie.  I felt that the story was a strong base with which to work, as were the characters.  I'm not a fan of Mia Farrow, but she did an admirable job as Rosemary- and, though at times, I felt that Rosemary was a little TOO submissive a character... one you wanted to have wake up and take a more assertive role in her own life.  John Cassavetes was convincing as the less than scrupulous Guy.  I also enjoyed the performances given by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the elderly Satanic neighbours.  Finally, I'd enjoyed Elisha Cook, Jr in "House on Haunted," and really enjoyed his role as Mr Micklas.

As much as I enjoyed the acting, I was left a little annoyed with Rosemary for being so... bendable to the will of others.  I really wanted to see her grow from a naive little woman/child into a more independent and strong person.  I do however give her credit for being strong enough to still love child she gives birth too- even after the truth was revealed.

Once again, I'm not a fan of Roman Polanski's work, but I'll say that there are some beautiful shots and scenes in this movie due to his direction.  He brought a sense of normalcy to the events.  You could almost believe that if you walked into an apartment building, you'd find a couple like Rosemary and Guy dealing with neighbours like the Castevets.  The pacing was slow- but suspense filled.

In the end, while there were a lot of good elements, the fact that I'd been annoyed with Rosemary's lack of real growth as a character forces me to place "Rosemary's Baby" in "The Bad" category... with the additional comment that I would've been very interested to see how William Castle would've directed this movie.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

William Castle Tribute III: Oh, the Horror!

In "William Castle Tribute II: Crime and Westerns", I outlined a bit about William Castle's early films, which were mostly in the Crime Drama and Western genres.  I finished the article by stating that in 1958, he began to work his way into the hearts of horror fans.

I said it because it's true.

Up until that year, Crime Dramas and Westerns were popular- which was why many of Castle's early films were in those genres.  However, as the 1960's started to approach, the Horror and Suspense/Thriller genres were starting to gain in popularity... and the man that would become a staple of the Horror Industry went with that flow.

William Castle's first foray into my favorite genre was with what most critics consider a Suspense/Thriller rather than a horror... even though I consider both to be closely connected.  In order to take this step, he mortgaged his own house into order to independently produce the movie.  The 15th of August, 1958 saw the first scenes being filmed, with the last being shot on the 23rd of that same month.

The plot was simple, but elegant: A rich doctor's daughter has been kidnapped and buried alive.  The doctor has to find his daughter before she runs out of air and dies.  The title was also simple and elegant: "Macabre"...

This movie not only heralded William Castle's entrance into the Horror genre- but also marked the first of his "gimmicks".  To market the film, Castle gave each movie goer a certificate for a $1,000.00 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London as they entered as compensation should anyone die of fright during the movie.  He also had ushers dressed in surgical dress, and had real ambulances stationed outside of theaters.

William Castle spent $90,000.00 to make the film, and it made approximately five million dollars.

After that, he went on to make "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Tingler" both with Vincent Price in 1959.  "13 Ghosts" followed in 1960, starring twelve year old Charles Herbet in the top billing spot.  .  Due to the success of "House on Haunted Hill", Hitchcock was inspired to produce, "Psycho"... which in turned inspired Castle- who was a Hitchcock fan to come out with "Homicidal" in 1961.  Along with "House on Haunted Hill", and "The Tingler", William Castle created promotioanl "gimmicks".  "Homicidal" actually had a couple of them- one being added after the film's release.  While most critics were rather unkind to the movie, Time magazine stated:

 "It surpasses "Psycho" in structure, suspense and sheer nervous drive..."
 "Mr. Sardonicus," "13 Frightened Girls," "Strait-Jacket," "I Saw What You Did," "Let's Kill Uncle," all followed between the years of 1961 up to 1968, when William Castle produced the Roman Polanski directed film, "Rosemary's Baby".  Due Castle's reputation for low-budget horror films, Paramount Pictures execs at the time told him that he could produce, but not direct the movie.  Personally, I would've been interested in seeing how William Castle would've done the film.  Castle DOES however make a cameo in the movie as the man waiting at the phone booth for Rosemary to finish her phone call.

After "Rosemary's Baby," the world would have to wait seven years before a new William Castle production would come out.  "Shanks," in 1974, and "Bug" in 1975 would be the last two films made by William Castle before his death.

Between 1943, and 1975, William Castle entertained the world with a total of 58 movies... with at least one quarter of them fitting into the Horror/Suspense/Thriller genres.  I for one am glad for it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

William Castle Tribute II: Crime and Westerns

William Castle is well known for his horror movies- especially "House on Haunted Hill", "The Tingler", and "Homicidal", but he didn't start out in my favorite genre.

Castle actually got his start working on Broadway in various jobs from set construction to even acting.  All of this experience would help him in the future when, at the age of 23, he moved out west to Hollywood and got started in the movie industry.  Even before he directed his first film at the age of 29, he'd worked with such people as Orson Welles as his assistant.  He worked on his film, "The Lady From Shanghai"- doing most of the second unit location work.

In 1943, William Castle directed his first film- "The Chance of a Lifetime", which was a crime drama feature the character of "Detective Boston Blackie".  Castle claimed that he had been "saddled with a hopeless project", and in order to make the film watchable, he had to re-arrange the reels in the editing room.

For most of the 1940's Castle directed mostly crime drama with a couple of westerns mixed in.  He made films in "The Whistler" series, as well as the "Crime Doctor" series- four films for the former, and three for the latter.  This wasn't uncommon for directors as the crime drama/mystery genres were popular- many being based on the radio shows in the same genre.  "The Whistler" series itself was actually based on a radio show of the same name.  Orson Welles said of Castle's 1944 film, "When Strangers Marry":

"It isn't as slick as Double Indemnity or as glossy as Laura, but it's better acted and better directed . . . than either."
The early and mid 1950's saw William Castle bringing the movie audiences more westerns.  Films such as "Conquest of Cochise," "The Battle of Rogue River", "The Law Vs Billy the Kid", "The Gun That Won the West," and "Duel on the Mississippi".  Many of these films were low budget- "The Battle of Rogue River" was set BEFORE the American Civil War, but the costumes were the standard Post-Civil War costumes most westerns used at the time.  William Castle also directed a couple of low budget historical dramas as well during this period- "Serpent of the Nile" about Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, and "Slaves of Babylon," and "The Saracen Bride" among them.

Then 1958 hit...

That is the year that Castle gave the world, "Macabre".  That is the year that he started a long relationship with the horror genre.  That is the year he started to work his way into the hearts of horror fans.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

William Castle Tribute- Introduction

April 24, 1914 saw the birth of a horror movie icon to a Jewish family living in New York.  This icon's name was William Schloss.  This child would eventually translate his last name from German into English... becoming the person that would one day be known for creating some of the most beloved horror b-movies ever made.  He would become such an icon that he'd wind up inspiring a movie character, and having a production company named for him.

This child would grow up to become the icon known as William Castle.

I don't think there is a true horror fan alive who DOESN'T know who William Castle is- or haven't seen at LEAST one of his films.  He was known for his famous "gimmicks" that he used to advertize his films- often being the subject of jokes by movie people.  But underneath those jokes, I'd wager that the people making them harbor a good amount of admiration and respect for Mr. Castle.  He was bold, ingenious, and a showman that turned a simple movie into an experience to never forget.

I know I admire him.  In today's rather bland movie industry, I would love to have been present during a screening of "The Tingler" so that I could scream for my life as my seat buzzes and rattles under me- or to have a glow in the dark skeleton fly over my head.

So, in tribute to William Castle's brithday this month, I'll be posting articles about his life, his movies, his gimmicks... and life after William Castle.

Here's to hoping he enjoys these articles... from beyond the grave...