Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hollywood's Golden Age: Behind The Scenes With William Castle, The Man Behind All Things Macabre!

Continuing this month's 31 Days Of Halloween series and the HGA series, I wanted to pay tribute to another contributor who not only produced some of the most memorable films but who was also played a pivotal part in the genesis of horror films.

He is consider the King of all things Macabre due to his ingenious way at engaging his audiences in the story and making them feel as if they were in the pit of terror themselves. His contribution to the beginning stages of what would be considered horror films today came with a lot of sacrifice, sweat, and tears in order to bring the public something new that would not only actually terrify them but would also be at a cheap cost to make since he was forced to self finance many of his pictures.

Having no idea who this man really was until after seeing an award winning documentary about him a while back, I was amazed and intrigued at his efforts not only as a storyteller but as an artist in general who tirelessly worked to come up with innovative ways of making horror pictures while still trying to keep his creative control on the final product...something many artists never really achieve success at.

So for the month of fright, the innovative artist worthy of many accolades he unfortunately never received during his lifetime is the one and only:

William Castle
April 24, 1914 – May 31, 1977

Ten Facts About William Castle

1. Left New York at the age of 23, after having got his inspiration for horror and start in the business from Bela Lugosi and Orson Welles in theatre, to work for Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures where he graduated to directing inexpensive B movies.
2. Worked as an associate producer on Orson Welles' film noir "The Lady From Shanghai (1947), doing much second unit location work.

3. Began to make films independently due to unsatisfied ambitions. The inspiration of the 1955 thriller "Les Diaboliques" set the genre he would choose and become known for. He decided to self finance his first movie, "Macabre" (1958), by mortgaging his house and came up with the idea to give every customer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's Of London in case they should die of fright during the film. He stationed nurses in the lobbies with hearses parked outside the theaters and "Macabre" was a hit which started the king of horror gimmicks.
 4. "House On Haunted Hill" (1959) was filmed in "Emergo". A skeleton attached to wire floated over the audience in the final moments of some showings of the film to parallel the action on screen when a skeleton rises from a vat of acid and pursues the villainous wife of Vincent Price's character. Once word spread about the skeleton, kids enjoyed trying to knock it down with candy boxes, soda cups or other objects at hand.

One of his many gimmicks for theatre audiences

5.  "The Tingler" (1959) was filmed in "Percepto". The title character is a docile creature that attaches itself to the human spinal cord. It is activated by fright, and can only be destroyed by screaming. Castle purchased military surplus air-plane wing de-icers (consisting of vibrating motors) and had a crew travel from theatre to theatre attaching them to the underside of some of the seats. In the finale, one of the creatures supposedly gets loose in the movie theatre itself. The buzzers were activated as the film's star, Vincent Price, warned the audience to "scream - scream for your lives!"
6. At the height of his popularity, he had a fan club with 250,000 members.

7. For "Straight-Jacket" (1964) Castle hired Joan Crawford to star and sent her on a promotional tour to theatres where right before the film would start, cardboard axes were made and handed out to patrons.
8. According to the documentary, "Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story", he mortgaged his home (again) and obtained the movie rights to the Ira Levin novel "Rosemary's Baby" before it was published, hoping to finally direct a prestigious A movie himself. Paramount Pictures insisted on hiring director Roman Polanski forcing Castle to settle for producing the film. He had a cameo, playing the grey-haired man standing outside the phone booth where Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow is attempting to get in touch with the obstetrician. Unable to build on the film's success, Castle's momentum was lost and he went back to making B movies.

9.  Robert Zemeckis co-founded the production company Dark Castle Entertainment in honor of William Castle which was intended to remake his films.
10.  Alfred Hitchcock studied Castle producing tactics and decided to make "Psycho" after noting the financial success of his 1950s B movies.

If you are a die hard William Castle fan or would like to read the behind the trenches stories of his die hard efforts to get these movies made, check out his autobiography.

Available via Amazon

Be sure to get you in into the spirit of Halloween by checking out some of his films. However, I must warn you, many of his films are a bit cheesy and dated since special effects were still at the fledgling stages in the 50's but they are still fun to watch and might actually make you laugh!

Some of his most notable films are also available via Amazon.

**Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be airing "The Tingler" and "House on Haunted Hill" on the 24th of this month as well so be sure to catch them if you have never seen them before, they truly are classic Vincent Price flicks.

However, I must warn you:

 Watch these films, ONLY IF YOU DARE........

1 comment:

Admin said...

I love this blog. The cool stories, the great pictures, the fashion, the recipes, the memories. It reminds me that the 50's were just as full of life as 2013. I think other people should see these pages.