Sunday, July 25, 2010

October 20, 2009: Psychobabble recommends The William Castle Film Collection

Step right up for what may be the finest DVD box set release of 2009. Classic horror buffs know William Castle well as the maestro of gimmicks: the “Percepto” seat buzzers that zapped kids in the ass while watching The Tingler, the “Illusion-O” lens that caused sketchy apparitions to appear in 13 Ghosts, the ticket-refunds offered to audience members too chicken to withstand the horrors of Homicidal (as well as the “Coward’s Corner” section of the cinema in which those filmgoers were forced to stand in the event they decided to take advantage of this particular gimmick). Of course, if William Castle was nothing more than a purveyor of schlocky promotional gags that could not exist beyond his films’ initial theater runs, he would not still be as beloved as he is. Castle infused his B-pictures with so much personality and creativity that they hardly seem as though they were made on threadbare budgets and skintight schedules. Most important of all, by personally presenting his films in utterly charming prologues, William Castle endeared himself to a generation of kids that probably couldn’t name another film director aside from, perhaps, Alfred Hitchcock. These young grue-enthusiasts adored Castle as much for his grandfatherly smile as they did for his refusal to bowdlerize his films for their age group: many William Castle flicks had as much blood, gore, and beheadings as the average E.C. comic book.

William Castle digs into Hitchcock’s head



Released today, The William Castle Film Collection gathers eight of the horror pictures Castle made for Columbia Pictures, three of which (Zotz!, The Old Dark House, and 13 Frightened Girls) are making their DVD debuts here. This is a collection produced with all the adoration of a true fan. The films look gorgeous, with Castle’s rich, high-contrast black & white photography looking bolder than ever. I was particularly knocked out by the powerful sound. Older films often seem to be mastered at lower levels than more recent ones, most likely because such films contain a greater degree of audio noise. But the movies on “The William Castle Film Collection” sound loud, nervy, and clean.

Castle freaks will surely appreciate the striking sound and picture, but what will really get them shelling out their lunch money to purchase this set is the extras. Doubtlessly, the jewel is Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, Jeffrey Schwarz’s feature-length 2007 documentary that presents a complete portrait of Castle, from his troubled childhood to his frustrated attempt to become a “serious” filmmaker to his role as the Hitchcock of the short-pants set. It’s a lively film with plenty of terrific testimonies from people like John Landis, John Waters, Roger Corman, and especially Castle’s daughter Terry, who clearly inherited her dad’s effusive charm.

Elsewhere there are two episodes of Castle’s early-‘70s TV horror anthology series “Ghost Story” (later “Circle of Fear”) which is kind of like “Night Gallery” meets “Tales from the Crypt”. There are short featurettes about Homicidal, The Tingler, Mr. Sardonicus, and Straight-Jacket, although the feature-length doc basically renders them redundant. There are also plenty of trailers, commentaries, screen tests, alternate sequences, and the like to keep viewers busy for hours. The William Castle Film Collection is a lovely tribute to the man, and really makes one long for theatrical re-releases of some of these films complete with their original gimmicks. When do I get to have my ass zapped by a Percepto buzzer, dammit?!?

Buy it here: The William Castle Film Collection (13 Frightened Girls / 13 Ghosts / Homicidal / Strait-Jacket / The Old Dark House / Mr. Sardonicus / The Tingler / Zotz!)
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