Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story
Throughout the 1950's and 60's, William Castle produced and directed a series of horror films marked by their outrageous audience participation gimmicks. Castle treated moviegoers to buzzing seats, flying skeletons, luminescent ghosts and life insurance policies — and they loved every minute of it. Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story is a documentary about the last great American showman. It is a rags to riches tale of a legend of exploitation and master of self-promotion, yet a man privately plagued by a fear of failure and a desperate desire to be respected among his peers.
Starting as a contract director for Columbia Pictures' notorious Harry Cohn, Castle would solidify his place as a brand name in horror in 1958 with Macabre. After mortgaging his house to make the film and haunted by the thought of audience indifference, Castle developed a surefire publicity stunt to attract a crowd. Every patron would be insured by Lloyd's of London in case of "death by fright." Although nobody collected, audiences flocked to the theaters and Castle knew he had something he could take to the bank.
Soon, Castle would introduce "Emergo," a glowing skeleton that dangled above the audience for The House On Haunted Hill, "Percepto," buzzing seats that gave patrons a shock for The Tingler, special "Ghost Viewer" glasses for 13 Ghosts, the "Coward's Corner" for Homicidal, and the "Punishment Poll" for Mr. Sardonicus. Strait-Jacket featured Joan Crawford as an axe murderess - a gimmick in and of itself. William Castle became a household name - an immensely popular master of ceremonies, with fan clubs and hoards of adoring fans at each town he visited. But despite his success, Castle craved the respect and accolades given to contemporaries like Alfred Hitchcock. He strived his whole career for a property that would prove his merit as an artist, which would finally come with his production of Rosemary's Baby.
Castle's films and ballyhoo hit a nerve during a more innocent time in America, before the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate desensitized a generation. It was a time where an audience free from cynicism could let themselves go and scream for their lives in a packed movie house. Castle carved a niche in a Hollywood before skyrocketing budgets, megaplexes, and corporate control sunk their teeth into the business.
Spine Tingler! traces how an obscure director for hire reinvented himself as a pop-culture icon. From his first job as Bela Lugosi's assistant to butting heads with Robert Evans, this jaw-dropping tale is told through revealing interviews with daughter Terry Castle, John Waters, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Roger Corman, John Badham, Diane Baker, Marcel Marceau, and many more. Spine Tingler! brings back those days when movies were pure fun and spine tingling excitement, when a producer could ride on a "smile and a shoeshine," and when ballyhoo was as American as apple pie. William Castle's story is an inspiration to dreamers everywhere, and this film is an affectionate portrait of the man and the showman.