Films: Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

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Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

USA, 2007, 86 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Documentary, Educational, History
Program: Documentary Films
Language: English

DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Schwarz
Producer: Jeffrey Schwarz
Editor: Philip Harrison, Jeffrey Schwarz
Principal Cast: John Waters, Terry Castle, John Landis, Roger Gorman

Some of the cheesiest horror flicks of the 1950s and 1960s triumphed at the box office on the strength of the crazy promotional gimmicks hatched by producer-director William Castle. By the end of his career, this legendary Hollywood showman claimed to have lured some 20 million viewers to the theater with the silly tricks that, far more than the films themselves, scared the pants off of them—while tickling them too.

The P. T. Barnum of B-movies worked as a contract director for Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures before establishing a name for himself in 1958 with Macabre. Terrified that his self-financed project would bomb, he hit on a plan to buy an insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London to cover anyone who might “die of fright” during the movie—even going so far as to hand out insurance certificates to patrons who, sure enough, flooded the theaters. Exhilarated by the success of his publicity stunt, Castle went on to wow them with Emergo—a glowing skeleton rigged to float over audiences as they watched The House on Haunted Hill—and Percepto, whereby theater seats were wired with buzzers to give viewers mild shocks during screenings of The Tingler (also screening at SDFF 31).

In this lively documentary, filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz pays homage to Castle via a wealth of period footage and lighthearted interviews with major industry figures, including critic Leonard Maltin and directors John Landis, Roger Corman, and John Waters—a devotee who followed in Castle’s footsteps with his own innovative Odorama technology. One in a long line of behind-the-scenes forays into pop cinema—Schwarz has also chronicled the making of Blue Velvet, Silence of the Lambs, and Hairspray—Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story will have you howling in more ways than one.

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