“Remember, a scream at the right time may save your life.” –William Castle in “The Tingler”
I think one of the main reasons why I’m such a hardcore follower of Viral Marketing is because it’s a gimmick that manages to involve audiences in the film they’re anticipating, and the internet has introduced many methods of interaction with audiences to films they’re looking forward to, and I think it’s a wonderful throwback to William Castle, whose own showmanship was such a form of P.T. Barnum marketing that he’s sorely missed in a world of spoon fed horror films and lethargic monster pictures.
Castle involved you in his movies, he convinced you that his films were horrifying and would perhaps scare you so much that you’d need a death certificate, or rental to a local coffin place. He’s the epitome of what movies are supposed to be, fun attractions that the entire audience can be apart of, that you can only get a taste of with revival theaters who are ballsy enough to continue Castle’s fun house tricks.
“Spine Tingler!” is the excellent documentary about the life and adventures of William Castle, who, right from childhood, was a bonafide showman who thrived on audience, spectacles, and attention. Lacking the sap and sensationalism of normal biographical documentaries, director Jeffrey Schwarz keeps the tone and pacing of Castle’s life story a bright and cheery affair with a story that reveals so much about Castle that the average moviegoer may not know. One of the funniest recollections, beyond the Hitler story, is Castle nearly ruining his career interrupting a scene in “Penny Serenade” after being hired as a dialogue director for George Stevens. There’s also the engrossing inevitable direction of Castle from studio hand to eventual director who found his niche in horror films.
Castle garnered a sheer respect for being a master of the movie gimmick by shocking his friends and associates by actually investing in his promotions such as hiring actual nurses who were employed to stand by theaters in case anyone “died of fright,” and renting a Hearse to wheel out coffins in front of paying crowds. His methods for promotion and his faith in his audience are still rather brilliant, and there’s no better segment than learning of the disastrous “Fright Break” during the “Homicidal” debacle where Castle offered a money back guarantee, to which Castle used to his advantage when it worked too well on attending audiences. And you have to love his promotional declaration: “Please ladies and gentleman, do not reveal the ending of “Homicidal” to your friends or they will kill you. And if they don’t, I will.”
On the same wavelength of charisma, Schwarz grabs most of the anecdotes from William’s lively daughter Terry Castle, who recalls her father with sheer fondness and hysterics, and who can blame her? I sat with a smile cemented on my face the entire time and it didn’t fade for at least a day. Among the notable interviewees are Forry Ackerman, Leonard Maltin, Stuart Gordon, and John Landis who provide fond remembrances as fans who attended original screenings. “Spine Tingler!” is a funny and often energetic look at a man I’ve grown fonder and fonder of over the years, and his sheer ability to suck audiences into his films and provide an experience rather than a simple movie is forever the template for modern directors struggling to spread the word about their own films, and “Spine Tingler!” truly captures the man, and the myth who invented such gems as Emergo, Percepto, Illusion-O, and became a role model for independent filmmakers everywhere.
Now, does anyone have any Ghost Viewer glasses they don’t need?