I don’t think I’ve probably stressed enough in the last 10 years that I am the polar opposite of horror geek and best friend, The Mike. He fills the pages of From Midnight With Love with pages upon pages of horror and genre cinema. I can probably list on my fingers the amount of horror films I have watched without curling up in the fetal position and covering my eyes. Despite that however, I found myself enthralled with a 2007 documentary on director, producer and promoter William Castle.
Castle may be best known by some as the producer of Rosemary’s Baby, the Roman Polanski horror film that is always near the top of the average horror fan’s list of scary flicks. But Castle was known through out the 50’s and 60’s as the B movie Hitchcock. He was a master showman of his time coming up with the strangest of ways to get his films on the map. From installing buzzers under people’s chairs to offering free admissions to “cowards” who were too scared to watch the ends of his films, Castle was a showman master in the golden days of the cinema. Castle carved his films for a niche audience that would line up around the block for his next gimmick and film. The documentary, Spinetingler: The William Castle Story, gives us a brief insight into the life of this eccentric hollywood show man.
As far as documentaries go, the film travels from point to point in a stale chronological history of Castle’s life as told by fans, friends and his own daughter. Some of the stories are so fantastic that you question their credibility; but then again that was part of the charm of William Castle. Just having you talk about him or his events was his entire goal.
What makes this film so much fun was the gimmicks that were tried and Castle’s attempt at taking a B movie and making them successes. Critically his films were panned, but audiences loved them. During his time Castle was one of the biggest names is B movies. His budgets were tight and his pictures provided audiences with cheap frights and memorable experiences. Castle was a master of publicity and loved exhibiting his movies as much as he enjoyed making them. His fans responded accordingly, making a William Castle Production to be a film to be seen in the horror world.
Along the backdrop of seeing Castle’s work and the gimmicks around them being displayed on screen we get an insight into who the man is behind the scenes. Castle was a hard working family man who always wanted to build off every new thing he learned or saw being done. His relentless attempt at trying to be recognized and respected by his peers led him to being not only a pioneer of horror but also hindered his success at the same time. Spinetingler is the story of a man who backed himself into a corner. It was a corner that made him very sucessful both during his time and posthumously but it also kept him from being the A list star that he so desperately wanted to be.
Where Spinetingler seems to fail as a film is too many dry, chopped together montages of various fans and friends saying the same thing alongside the back drop of clips from his actual films. I had wished the director had let the camera linger on his subjects a bit longer. You could tell they loved Castle and could tell tales of him for days. Instead the director chose to jump cut around to various tales giving us a lot of facts and narrations that lacked real heart.
Spinetingler however reminds me of a time when going to the movies used to be special and how people like Castle knew that. Customers weren’t herded in and out of theaters, the lines would be around the block for weeks because it wasn’t playing on 15 screens at the same time. The promotion around the film was just as big or bigger than the film itself. Theaters took care in making the experience a sight to behold and audiences flocked to be a part of it all. Theatrical movies were an entire experience; now they are looked at as a typical Saturday night by many. Spinetingler made me look back and wish that promotions and promoters like Castle still existed today. Spinetingler was probably one of my last little red envelope DVD’s by mail, but what a wonderful way to end it for me. If you get a chance, check it out.