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TRICKS & TREATS: HALLOWEEN 2009

By • Oct 21st, 2009 • Pages: 1 2 3

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Hello out there, Trick or Treaters, all trussed up in your Thing With Two Heads (Obama and Limbaugh) outfits and ready to go. The delectable offerings below will probably not be dropped in your gift bags with trepidation by wary home-owners, but they’re worth checking out.

WILLIAM CASTLE FILM COLLECTION
(Columbia Pictures)

All except for the documentary were directed by William Castle.

THE TINGLER (1959)
82 mins. B&W. AR: 1.85:1.
Screenplay by Robb White. With Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman.

13 GHOSTS (1960)
85/82 mins. B&W/Color. AR 1.85:1.
Screenplay by Robb White. Cinematography by Joseph Biroc. With Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Martin Milner, Margaret Hamilton.

HOMICIDAL (1961)
87 mins. B&W. Full Screen.
Screenplay by Robb White. With Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin. Music by Hugo Friedhofer. Cinematography by Burnett Guffey.

MR. SARDONICUS (1961)
89 mins. B7W. AR 1.85:1.
Screenplay by Ray Russell. Cinematography by Burnett Guffey. With Oskar Homolka, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe.

ZOTZ! (1962)
87 mins. B&W. AR 1.85:1.
With Tom Poston, Julia Meade, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Cecil Kellaway, Mike Mazurki, Margaret Dumont.

13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS
(1963) 89 mins. Color.
Screenplay by Robert Dillon. With Kathy Dunn, Murray Hamilton, Joyce Taylor, Hugh Marlowe, Lynne Sue Moon.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1963)
86 mins. B&W/Color.
Screenplay by Robert Dillon, from the novel “Benighted” by J.B. Priestley. Title sequence backgrounds by Charles Addams. Produced by Anthony Hinds. Shot at Bray Studios in a co-production with Hammer Films. With Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Mervyn Johns, Peter Bull.

STRAIGHT-JACKET (1964) 93 mins. B&W. AR 1.85:1.
Screenplay by Robert Bloch. Production Design by Boris Leven. With Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, George Kennedy.

SPINE-TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY (2009) 82 mins. Color/B&W.
Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. With Forrest J. Ackerman, John Badham, Diane Baker, Robert Bloch, Budd Boetticher, Bub Burns, Terry Castle, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, FIR’s David Del Valle, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, John Waters, and, in archival footage, Joan Crawford, William Castle, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Adolf Hitler, Jacqueline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Mia Farrow, Harry Cohn.

2 Episodes of the TV series GHOST STORY, William Castle featurettes, promotions and trailers.

I took Linda Elin, who I had a hopeless crush on, to see THE TINGLER in 1959. I was fourteen; she was a year younger. I was into horror films big time by then, and I knew that one row of theater seats would be wired to deliver a mild electric shock during the scene where the ‘Tingler’ escapes into the audience. When we arrived at the theater, I went up to the elderly ticket taker and asked, “Where are the ‘tingle-seats’?” He was confused. I repeated it: “Where are the ‘tingle-seats’?” Finally it seemed to dawned on him, and he led us to…the bathrooms!

I never did get to first base with Linda Elin.

If you had any hopes that the four titles in this collection new to DVD were going to make the collection collectible, I’m here to pretty much dash your hopes. One of the features, while not stellar, is worth checking out; the other two…were poorly paced and probably dated when they were released. However, the documentary is quite good, and the other five features are good examples of the Castle cannon, and there are good supplementals as well.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE was released in the US theatrically in B&W, indicating what the studio’s expectations must have been like. On TV the color was restored. And here, in a very clean print, the color is also on display, but it is not the creamy Technicolor we associate with Hammer Films, nor does the cinematography aid either the scare elements or the comedy of the piece. The prime offender, however, is the score. Since they recruited Hammer’s trusty Bernard Robinson for Production Design, they should have also dragged in James Bernard for the music. Anything would have been better than the mickey-mousing fiasco they ended up with.

James Whale would roll over in his swimming pool at the desecration of his work displayed in this remake. As a comedy it’s occasionally mildly amusing at best. As horror…well, there isn’t any of that to be found. For all his droll appearances in his horror flicks, Castle did not have a light touch for the comedy genre. Tom Poston, while dignified and doing his utmost, doesn’t carry the film very far at all, and some genuinely top-rank Brit talents are right beside him operating below par. Mervyn Johns, alumni of the watermark British horror anthology DEAD OF NIGHT, adds pedigree but no panache to the proceedings. Peter Bull, the Russian Ambassador in DOCTOR STRANGELOVE, is interesting to look at in Color. Robert Morley, who fares better in THEATER OF BLOOD, mugs his way through this one to little effect.

ZOTZ! finds Poston again teamed with Castle, doing his best to avoid over-acting, but his naturalism can’t sustain the loose editing, nor the underwhelming narrative concept of a magic coin endowing its owner with the powers to a) point his finger at someone and give them a stomach-ache, b) utter the coin’s name and make the victim move in slow motion, c) point and utter simultaneously and destroy whomever the coin’s owner focuses on. It’s such a silly notion, it never stood a chance of being memorable. THE ABSENTMINDED PROFESSOR had come out the previous year, and I suspect Castle and Columbia wanted a similar romp from this trifle (just as the director glommed on to PSYCHO for his HOMICIDAL), but Castle, alas, is no Robert Stevenson, and the fun is sparse. There are some pleasant ideas, and effective individual shots…nice effects here and there. There’s a bizarre scene where likeable actress Julia Meade appears outside Poston’s house nude, claiming she was struck by lightning and her clothes were blown off. And there’s a long scene of Jim Backus making a toast in slow motion that goes on long enough to be truly silly. But for each of these pleasant occurrences, there are many more that founder.

The film begins with Castle chatting up the Columbia insignia lady, who towers above him. A cute launch-pin. But it’s also the high-point of the film.

The final new-to-DVD theatrical feature presentation, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS, is worth a look. At its best it sporadically works up a Hitchcockian sense of tension as a 16-year-old Ambassador’s daughter with a crush on an embassy agent begins gathering secret information to save him from getting sacked. Her flirtation with the agent is pretty racy even though he never Polanski’s her, and seeing her subsequently cause deaths and witness other violent demises is a bit strong for a perky teenage protagonist in what wavers back and forth between being a cute little caper flick and something more sinister. Castle, I presume, was on the fence, trying not to scare off audiences and critics, but every now and then some perverse element in his brain ignited, and this odd movie catches fire. Only to be doused a few minutes later by those god-awful music cues we’ve heard in his other semi-comedy newcomers-to-DVD, etc. The performances range from stiff to pleasant. There’s a long split-screen multiple-character telephone call that is very PILLOW TALK (made four years earlier). The print quality is excellent. And the oddest thing about the film is that the only time the eponymous13 girls get frightened is in the pre-title sequence when, as presented via the supplementals menu, numerous variations of the sequence are shown, each featuring a girl from a different country in the driver’s seat of a bus, with her voice-over (in her native tongue) propelling the initial narrative. It was a device to stir up interest abroad, and I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it before. Another Castle marketing gimmick, I presume.

And then there’s SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY, an 82 minute (my favorite running time) documentary on the ‘B’ genre showman, a comprehensive film tinged with melancholy for an industry showman who both reveled in, and was trapped by, his gimmicks’ success. The film is nicely researched, and populated with a meteor shower of film personality interview bites. There is a warm, MATINEE-like feeling for the era and, fittingly, Joe Dante is one of the film’s talking heads. The filmmakers posit the case for a rivalry between Castle and Hitchcock in which it is Hitch who borrows Castle’s promotional strategies for PSYCHO, rather than the other way around as one might suspect. Joan Crawford’s demands on STRAIGHT-JACKET, and Castle’s capitulation to her, is sobering. And the morphing of ROSEMARY’S BABY from Castle’s directorial piece de resistance to a Roman Polanski over-budget, over-schedule box office hit proves both a heady success and a tragic missed opportunity for Castle. Rather telling is the omission of any mention of the three features new to DVD in this boxed set.

In addition to the impressive documentary, you get several successful, repeatable films from the gimmick-meister’s repertoire – MR. SARDONICUS (wonderful), STRAIGHT JACKET (Joan Crawford), HOMICIDAL (in the still-wet footprints of Hitchcock), 13 GHOSTS (however without the special glasses allowing you to see or not to see the threatening spirits), and THE TINGLER (Castle and Vincent Price).

The five discs fit into a relatively thin box-sleeve. It’s a lot of fun footage to have handy on your DVD shelf.

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One Response »

  1. Roy
    Great reviews of little goodies that had me drooling like a Killer Shrew at Delmonico’s!
    Going to have to reach into the moth infested wallet to get these much wanted and deserving films!!!

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