A Tribute to William Castle
You know, there aren’t many gimmicks in movie theatres nowadays. Oh, of course there’s 3d…I’m sorry…’Real D’, and then who can forget the kid’s boxes you pay more for than popcorn, candy, and soda combined? But there was a time when going to the movies was more than just that. Specifically, this would be the time of William Castle, aptly known as the ‘KING OF GIMMICKS’.
House on Haunted Hill was one of my first William Castle films. Actually, it was one of my first horror films in general. His daughter would eventually co-produce the remake of this classic, but sadly without the gimmick (I should know, I saw the remake in theatres when I was ten.) When the film was shown in theatres, there was a climactic moment of a skeleton rising from a vat and pursuing the villainess until she found her own cruel demise. Right at this moment, a skeleton on wires would advance through the aisles to ‘terrorize’ the audience.
William Castle was a producer, director, writer, and even occasionally an actor. It’s not surprising he was somewhat influenced by Hitchcock, when you consider the myriad introductions he did to a few films, as well as little conclusions. The one for Mr. Sardonicus is a personal favorite of mine. If you have not seen the film, and do not want to know the ending, forego this video clip. It does somewhat give a few things away. Also skip the next paragraph.
An awful lot of people debate whether an ‘alternate ending’ actually existed, because nobody ever really voted for Mr. Sardonicus to have a happy one. I don’t believe that alternate ending was actually filmed, because the…unhappy ending…is much more suiting.
I believe William Castle was brilliant, and not only for his games and surprises in the theatres, but because his movies were actually good (even without them.) Honestly, you don’t really get that with the few other films who’ve tried to do their own little surprises in theatres. I mean, as much as I love the Nightmare on Elm Street series, I’d be lying through my teeth if I said part 6 was an Oscar winner, with the special ‘3d’ moments, when you’d be able to see the dream demons properly through the magical dream glasses by the dream murderer’s daughter…it’s not dreamy.
Much like Orson Welles, Castle saw his career flourish from the very beginning in Hollywood..which makes sense, because they did work together in radio. Like Korman, he became an expert at making films fast under a budget. He was like Frankenstein’s monster of famous filmmakers.
A few other interesting gimmicks he came up with were as follows: buzzers in random seats for ‘The Tingler’, life insurance policies for ‘Macabre’ ($1000 dollars per audience member), a refund for pansies who couldn’t sit through ‘Homicidal’ complete with a coward’s certificate and an embarrassing march to a special booth, 3d glasses that would enable you to see the ghosts in 13 Ghosts, plastic axes for the audience seeing Strait-Jacket, seatbelts in some seats for ‘I Saw What You Did’…that one kinda falls short for me, but there’s only so many weird things you can do for your movies before the well runs dry.
He knew how to play his audience, whether he could see them or not, and I think when he passed away in 1977…good horror has never been the same.