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WRITTEN REVIEW: Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story

It Seems that gimmicks in movies are a thing of the past. Aside from 3D, which seems more of a means to increase the price of tickets, every movie is made in exactly the same way these days. But there was a time when gimmicks ruled movies as a way to compete with the new kid on the block: television. And in those days, the great William Castle ruled the screen. Spine Tingler!: the William Castle Story takes us back to those halcyon days when going to the movies felt like a day at the funhouse.

Featuring Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Forrest J. Ackerman, Leonard Maltin and of course, John Waters, the film is a love letter to Castle, showmanship in film and the joys of seeing a skeleton fly over your head during a movie. The documentary follows Castle's career and filmography as well as all the great gimmicks that dominated his movies including "Percepto", "Illusion-O", "The Fright Break", "The Coward's Corner" and even having audiences sign an insurance policy absolving the theater in case they died of fright!

The most interesting thing about this documentary is that it is so unlike any other story of a famous celebrity. There is no meteoric rise to fame, no dark times involving drugs and alcohol, culminating in some tragic downfall. For the most part, Castle's career remained exactly the same throughout his entire life and he continued to make the films he wanted to make in an era that was still dominated by the Hollywood studio system. The film doesn't indulge in hyperbole, saying that Castle was some misunderstood genius on the same level as Hitchcock (although, in a way, he was considered the "poor man's Hitchcock"). All it says is that critics hated him, kids loved him and when you went to his movies you didn't know what to expect, but you were guaranteed to have a great time.

In the end, the film laments the loss of showmanship in the movies. In today's era of film making when everything is pre-approved by lawyers and focus groups, the idea of rigging seats with electric buzzers seems completely foreign to us. But thanks to a movie like Spine Tingler!, we can look back fondly to a time when movies seemed a little more wild, and frankly, a little more fun.


★ ★ ★




Gex said...

Amen to that.