Monday, July 29, 2013

The Films of William Castle

William Castle - 13 GhostsA funhouse P.T. Barnum …that’s what William Castle was. He was a director by trade but a showman by heart and it’s no wonder that he branched out into producing his own films mid-way in his life. It is the films he directed during his own producing years that I wish to focus on in this post because these are the true gems of the campy corny horror genre.  

The Last Drive-In and Gore Girl's Dungeon are hosting a diabolically delectable William Castle blogathon this week and this post and Busy Bodies : Promoting Castle's Camp are our contributions to this fun event. Most followers of the blogathon are very familiar with the filmography of Castle's horror flicks but those for who never heard of the Master of Macabre here is a brief overview of the man and his films : 

William Castle was born on April 24, 1914 in New York City. He broke into show business at the tender age of 15 and later, through the mischievous method of claiming to be Samuel Goldwyn’s nephew ( he was no relation ), burst into Hollywood. He went through a variety of small producing and writing jobs before he tried a hand at being an actor in 1937.  But he didn’t remain an actor for long…..the directing bug had bitten him. For the next fifteen years he directed a variety of B programmers, ranging from detective boilers ( Johnny Stool Pidgeon ) to mysteries ( The Whistler series ) to westerns ( The Law vs. Billy the Kid ) until in 1958 when he broke free and ventured out into producing films on his own. 



Macabre ( 1958 )A doctor’s daughter is kidnapped and buried alive, and he is given just five hours to find and rescue her. Castle promoted this film by having audience members sign a Lloyds of London life insurance policy that promised to pay their heirs $1,000 if they died of fright while watching the film.  William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White.

House on Haunted Hill ( 1959 ) An eccentric millionaire and his wife invite five down-in-their-luck guests to a “haunted house” party… if any of them survives the night they will earn $10,000 apiece. At midnight, they find themselves locked in and the terrors beginning!  Vincent Price, Richard Long, Elisha Cook Jr.


In spite of the B status of all of William Castle’s movies he promoted them very ambitiously and soon became known for his gimmicks….these included audience interaction, giveaways ( cardboard axes were handed out to patrons for “Straight-Jacket” ) and humorous trailers where Castle himself often appeared to introduce his latest film to his viewers , much like that other master of suspense - Alfred Hitchcock .


The Tingler ( 1959 )  A pathologist ( Vincent Price ) discovers a creature that lives in every human vertebrae and grows when fear grips its host….the TINGLER! William Castle plugged this feature by rigging “shocks” into the seats at movie theatres so that when the Tingler was seen onscreen the viewer got a mild buzz.

13 Ghosts ( 1960 ) – One of our all-time favorites…the film is chock full with every haunted house gimmick Castle could think of ( a floating candle, a Ouija board, the “old witch” in the house, hidden treasure, secret panels, and angry ghosts ). A family inherits an old house complete with twelve ghosts that were "collected" by Dr. Zorba, an occultist...who will become the 13th ghost? The movie boasts a great cast including Donald Woods, Rosemary DeCamp, Martin Milner, Margaret Hamilton, and Jo Morrow.

Homicidal ( 1961 ) – In a sleepy small town in Southern California, a murderous scheme to collect a rich inheritance is being plotted by a woman’s brother and her childhood guardian. Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin and Alan Bunce star. ( Are you wondering why you never heard of these actors? Well, if you see the movie you won’t be wondering anymore. )

Mr. Sardonicus ( 1961 ) Mr. Sardonicus wants a winning lottery ticket badly…so much so that he digs up his father’s grave to get to it ( his father took it with him to the grave?? ). But lo! his face freezes into a horrible grimace upon sight of his dead daddy. Even a doctor can’t take the expression off of him and ends up just making matters worse. Guy Rolfe and Audrey Dalton star.

Zotz! ( 1962 ) - Tom Poston stars as a professor who discovers a magical amulet that enables him to “pause” movement and give pain to those he points his finger at. Of course, this being 1962 they had Russian spies written into the story plot. Good fun.

13 Frightened Girls ( 1963 ) – Thirteen girls at a Swiss boarding school stir up trouble when they get themselves mixed up with Russian spies. ( Yes, again…what did I tell you? It was a popular theme ). This was one of Castle’s lighter films. With Hugh Marlowe, Joyce Taylor and Murray Hamilton.


Old Dark House ( 1963 ) - One of the worst of William Castle’s films. Tom Poston played a car salesman who receives an invitation from an eccentric millionaire ( Robert Morley ) asking him to spend the weekend at his estate with his twin. What follows is simply nothing worth writing about. 

Straight-Jacket ( 1964 ) - After Joan Crawford and Bette Davis battled themselves out in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, William Castle pounced on the idea of using the aged glamour queen in a horror movie of his own. What resulted was a plot about Joan returning to her estranged daughter and her family after spending 20 years in an asylum for a double murder, only to find that AXE murders are occurring once again and she got the finger of suspicion pointed smack right at her. Diane Baker and Leif Ericson co-star.

The Night Walker ( 1965 ) – This film should have been called Sleep Walker, because the only thing scary about it is how fast it puts you to sleep. Zzzzzz. Barbara Stanwyck and her former hubby Robert Taylor team up with Hayden Rorke in this nightmarish movie. No, it won’t give you nightmares, that’s just what the plot is about.
William Castle - 13 Frightened Girls
I Saw What You Did ( 1965 )- Once again Joan Crawford and Leif Ericson return to the scene of the crime ( a W.Castle film set ) to make another creep flick. This time two teenagers spend a sleepover night making prank calls to strangers stating “I saw what you did!” only to find that they called a murderer who just killed his wife…and he ain’t in no mood for pranks. 

Let’s Kill Uncle ( 1966 ) – Holy moly, was this a lousy movie! I’ve got to be the biggest fan of Nigel Green, but even his presence couldn’t save this fiasco. It was about a 12 year old orphan who just inherited a fortune ( that his uncle wants ) and so his uncle – a former British Intelligence commander – is out to kill him for it. So what does the boy do? Try and kill him first. Such fun. 

The Busy Body ( 1967 ) - William Castle took a dip into the comedy genre with his spook spoof. Sid Caesar plays the right-hand man of a mob boss ( Robert Ryan ) who is sent to find a corpse who got buried in a suit lined with stolen money. Anne Baxter costars.

The Spirit is Willing ( 1967 )- A common theme in the late 1960s….sex potboilers. Castle was foolish enough to go so far as to make the ghosts bed-hungry after a human… and then turn it into a comedy. One wonder’s whether Sid Caesar and Vera Miles even read the script before accepting this project. 

Project X ( 1968 ) – Christopher George plays a spy who is in suspended animation after being dopped with a “forgetfulness” drug by enemy spies while investigating information about Asia’s attempt to destroy the West. Monty Markham, Henry Jones costars.

Rosemary’s Baby ( 1968 ) - This classic in the horror genre was not directed by William Castle but his hand is evident in it…it also boasts one of the biggest casts seen in any of his films. Mia Farrow plays a young mother who becomes obsessed over the safety of her unborn child, a child she became mysteriously impregnated with in the first place. John Cassavetes, Elisha Cook Jr, Patsy Kelly, Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer costar.

William Castle had purchased the film rights to Ira Levin’s novel “Rosemary’s Baby” with the intention of directing the film himself but Paramount Studios knew his reputation for low-budget gimmick-laden horror movies and thought it would only harm the film. Hence, Roman Polanski was given the directorial go-ahead.

It seems William Castle’s playful fun with fright films got the best of him in his later years. Although he continued to produce movies up until his death in 1977 none of these films came close to the success he achieved in the 1960s as the kingpin director of the corny Friday-night drive-in flick.

To check out the complete list of contributions to the William Castle Blogathon visit The Last Drive-In or Goregirl's Dungeon. 


  1. You bring a lot of great William Castle films up, ladies. So glad to see Zotz! in there. Saw this at the drive-in and it remains a fun memory.

  2. Zotz! and 13 Ghosts remain our favorite of Castle's films, although all of them are really good...from a horror film standpoint. One that we rarely hear about however is Project X. Hopefully some one will write more in depth about this film during the blogathon!

  3. What a great overview! I got to know much more about Castle with this blogathon, and it has been great so far.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  4. Just needed to stop by here and let you both know that your contribution was such a swell highlight to the blogathon. And the banner was just spectacular. So glad you gave us so much to digest about Mr. Castle and that you cared enough to want to join in and share your witty and wonderful style of writing with us all. Thanks for being part of the shindig it wouldn't have been the same without you there! Cheers Joey (the last drive in)

  5. It's "Strait-Jacket," not "Straight Jacket".

  6. Entertainment 123movies free value was good, but seems to me the general repeated the mistake he'd gotten into trouble for to begin with -- he risked his men's lives b/c he thought he knew better than anyone else how to handle things. I get it, it was about honor, blahbiddy-blah, but people were killed so he could prove his point HIS way vs. just get a compassionate release, then pull some strings to get the warden/colonel ousted through hulu blacklist proper channels. And he DIED, leaving his daughter & grandson alone again, naturally. So, there you have that. Not very satisfying, IMO.