Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story review

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Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story is a documentary based around the producer and director William Castle. He earned a great reputation for low-budget thrillers which sold millions due to a gimmick/publicity stunt tagged onto the film. The documentary interviews family, friends, fans and fellow filmmakers on Castle's promoted gimmicks, films and his struggle from breaking away from them in effort of becoming an A film director.

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After an unhappy childhood Castle worked in Broadway in jobs ranging from set-building to acting. Due to many moments of luck Castle was acquinted with Orson Welles working as an assistant for him and began directing before he was thirty. Castle was well known for his gimmicks and in todays cinema the re-introduction of 3D cinema is considered to be a gimmick where big budget movies are cashing in through the advertisement of 3D. Most of these films are not technically shot in 3D and therefore are just tacked on to entice audiences in and spend more money as these 3D projectors are expensive. There can be no such thing as a 3D-only experience as it wouldn't make anywhere near the same amount of money a 2D film would, 'Movies...rely on the aftermarket of satellite, broadcast and cable licenses, of home DVD releases and releases to airline entertainment systems and hotel room video-on-demand services, none of which are in 3D. If the movie couldn't be properly enjoyed in boring old 2D, the economics of filmmaking would collapse.' (Doctorow, 2009)

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In the documentary we are told that Castle knew his films weren't great as a standalone however with the help of something extra his films would go on to make millions because of his 'ingenious' publicity stunts. These gimmicks became a key part of Castle's films beginning with his film Macabre, the story of a doctor who races against time to rescue his daughter from a maniac who has buried her alive. The gimmick played in this film was that a certificate of $1,000 life insurance policy was handed to each customer in case they died of fright during the film. Nurses and ambulances were also seen outside of the theatre to increase the authenticity of the gimmick. This publicity stunt worked extremely well in enticing viewers because of the belief that the film was so scary that they/or someone could die from watching it. His interest in gimmicks was in effort to please the audience as he felt that theatre owners weren't doing their part 'We can no longer expect the distributor to create the excitement needed to sell tickets...We must do it ourselves' (Castle)

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Even though the film focuses mainly how happy Castle was, towards the end it deals with his struggle to break free from the gimmicks which define his filmmaking. He had always wanted to create an A film and had bought the rights to Rosemary's Baby which he thought would be the film to make him a respected director. However the studio had other ideas and insisted that up and coming Roman Polanski would direct the film leaving him to only produce it. '...but the fact remains that Rosemary’s Baby was something he always wanted to be his, and when it wasn’t, I think it changed something fundamental in the man.' (Butane, 2008) But despite this sadness Castle pops up in the movie itself when Rosemary thinks that the man outside the booth is her stalker but turns out to actually be a smiling William Castle. Castle recognised the talent in Polanski eventually and let his dream go but the scene just shows his cheery comedic self which is raved about by the interviewees which definitely deserves respect.

Much like Castle's gimmicks the way the documentary is presented is extremely gimmicky and comedic it mirrors the characteristics of the man himself. The interviewees know of the cheap tricks used by Castle but they were their inspiration and they all thought highly of the man even though towards the end of his life he believed no-one did. All these mixes in to become a fun and heartwarming watch being a fitting tribute to the 'Gimmick Man' and his showmanship

'Spine Tingler is now probably the definitive doco piece on a horror flick trailblazer who might not have been the finest filmmaker -- but he sure did love his horror movies. And that counts for a whole lot.' (Weinberg, 2008)


Text -
Butane, Johnny (2008) Spine Tingler: The Willaim Castle Story review accessed on 13/10/2011
Doctorow, Cory (2009) Why economics condemns 3D to be no more than a blockbuster gimmick accessed on 13/10/2011
Heffernan, Kevin (2004) - William Castles speaks to Variety Magazine - Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business 1953-1968 page 98 accessed on 13/10/2011
Weinberg, Scott (2008) Slamdance review - Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story accessed on 13/10/2011

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