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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Eight tales of tongue-in-cheek terror from one of the movies' masters of ballyhoo await classic horror fans in the lavish William Castle Film Collection. The five-disc set represents some of the high points of the producer-director's career at Columbia Pictures, after he'd established himself as a maverick with a taste for eye-popping promotional gimmicks with the Allied Artists hits Macabre (1958) and House on Haunted Hill (1959), neither of which is included here. The set kicks off with the obscure 13 Frightened Girls (1963), a lightweight thriller about espionage at a girls' school, but soon launches into high gear with 13 Ghosts (1960), a terrifically fun chillfest about a family that inherits a haunted mansion and the title gaggle of spooks, which can only be seen (by characters and audience alike) via a special ""Ghost Viewer."" Castle's homages to Psycho--the grisly Homicidal and Strait-Jacket, which stars an unrestrained Joan Crawford in a tale of ax murders penned by Psycho scribe Robert Bloch--are partnered on a second disc, while a third features Castle's team-up with England's Hammer Films for a darkly comic remake of the Boris Karloff classic The Old Dark House (1963) and an adaptation of Ray Russell's grisly Gothic chiller, Mr. Sardonicus (1961). The final double feature pairs one of Castle's most offbeat titles--the fantasy-comedy Zotz! (1962), which, like Old Dark House, stars Tom Poston as a nebbish who discovers a magical coin--with one of his best loved and most outrageous efforts, The Tingler (1959), with Vincent Price as a scientist who discovers a creature that feeds on human fear. While by no means a complete collection of Castle's film output--he continued to direct and produce well into the late '60s and '70s, most notably Rosemary's Baby (1968)--the Film Collection is a fine presentation of some of his most memorable projects, with a few enjoyable oddities thrown in for good measure.
Were the Film Collection simply the movies themselves, it would be a solid addition to any cult collector's treasure vault, but what makes the set truly special is the wealth of extras that accompany the features. Brand-new making-of documentaries are offered for each of the films save Zotz, 13 Frightened Girls, and The Old Dark House; each discusses Castle's elaborate promotional gimmicks in detail, from The Tingler's ""Percepto"" (electrically wired seats) to Sardonicus's ""Punishment Poll"" (cards given to audience members to decide the fate of the title villain). Extensive news clips, photographs, and comments from a host of fans and critics, including David Del Valle, David Skal, Bob Burns, Castle's daughter Terry, Strait-Jacket star Diane Baker, and The Tingler's Darryl Hickman (who seems bemused by the film's favored status), make these featurettes invaluable to Castle completists. The gimmick in 13 Frightened Girls is given plenty of coverage in its extras--its cast of schoolgirls was culled from an international contest, and each was featured in a special intro shot for their respective country--while Strait-Jacket offers Crawford's costume screen test as well as a trial run at lopping off costar George Kennedy's head (!), plus an amusing promo clip in which Castle, Bloch, and their star plot out the perfect murder. There are also two episodes from the Castle-produced supernatural TV anthology Ghost Story (one under its retitle, Circle of Fear), both of which feature the man himself in typically grandiose cameos, as well as original U.S. and some international trailers for each title. And if that's not enough, there's also a fifth disc devoted entirely to the 2007 documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, which details his life and career of making people scream, via archival footage and a who's who of horror and science fiction, including Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman, Fred Olen Ray, the late Forrest J. Ackerman, and countless others, each weighing in on the joys and thrills of William Castle's feature films. --Paul Gaita
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Disc 1 - 13 Frightened Girls - 1963, 87 mins, colour, no subtitles. Extras: 9 alternate openings & trailers
13 Ghosts - 1960, 84 mins, B&W, no subtitles. Extras: featurette - The Magic Of Illusion-O (7:44), original trailer
Disc 2 - Homicidal - 1961, 87 mins, B&W, no subtitles. Extras: featurette - Psychette: William Castle And Homicidal (7:42), premiere footage (5:03), original trailer
Strait-Jacket - 1963, 93 mins, B&W, no subtitles. Extras: featurette - Battle-Axe: The Making Of Strait-Jacket (14:40), Joan Crawford wardrobe tests & Axe Test, How To Plan A Movie Murder (4:36), trailer & TV spots
Disc 3 - The Old Dark House - 1962, 86 mins, colour, no subtitles. Extras: original trailer
Mr. Sardonicus - 1961, 90 mins, B&W, no subtiitles. Extras: featurette - Taking The Punishment Poll (7:37), pilot episode of Ghost Story (47:49), trailer
Disc 4 - The Tingler - 1959, 81 mins, B&W, no subtitles. Extras: featurette - Scream For Your Lives (15:38), 2 alternate sequences, another episode of Ghost Story (50:15), original trailer
Zotz! - 1962, 86 mins, B&W, no subtitles. Extras: original trailer
Disc 5 - Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story - 2007, 82 mins, letterbox 1.78:1, no subtitles. English Dolby Digital 5.1. Extra: commentary by Jeffrey Schwarz & Terry Castle
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Homicidal (1961), begins with a woman paying a hotel bellhop to marry her and murdering the justice of the peace who performs the ceremony. She sucessfully flees the scene. She also just happens to work in a large mysterious house where there seem to be a multitude of family secrets, dominated by the late owner's obsession with obtaining a male heir.
Mr. Sardonicus (1961) is the tale of a 19th-century villager who obtained a fortune by retrieving a lottery ticket from the pocket of his dead father's vest pocket. Problem is, dad had been dead for some time and the sight of him shocked Sardonicus into having the same death grin himself. Now he'll stop at nothing to retrieve his normal facial expression.
Zotz! (1962) - A mild-mannered college professor finds an ancient amulet that can make people move in slow motion, and when enemy spies learn about it, a hilarious chase ensues.
The Old Dark House (1963), is Castle's version of the J.B. Priestley novel. It follows an American car salesman to a spooky old Welsh estate where the members of an eccentric family begin to get picked off one by one.
The Tingler has Vincent Price as a scientist looking for a live creature that he thinks is the basis for all fright and also has the power to frighten people to death.
13 Ghosts (1960) - Has a penniless man inheriting a mansion from his late uncle. It turn out that it is inhabited by 12 ghosts which special glasses enable the family to see. It also turns out that Uncle Cyrus left his fortune somewhere in the house.
13 Frightened Girls! (1963) - A bunch of priveleged teenagers at a boarding school intersect with a tale of espionage. Silly but fun stuff.
Strait-Jacket (1964) - Twenty years ago Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) found her husband with another woman and did them both in with an ax. After being locked up for twenty years she is now free and supposedly sane. However, strange occurances begin that make it look like Lucy has gone over the edge again. Joan gives a great performance here. Well, let's face it, she never gave a bad one regardless of the movie itself.
Several of these films have been on DVD before, and when they were released several came with featurettes, so I'm hoping at least that much gets carried over into the new boxed set. Specifically there were short featurettes on the original Sardonicus, Homicidal, 13 Ghosts, Tingler, and Strait-Jacket.
Now if only whoever it was who owned the rights to the 1958 Castle film Macabre would issue a DVD release.
This collection may not include all of his films but it does include a number of his better pictures as well as several never before released to DVD. And those that have already been released are given a well deserved treatment here by including them in this collection. So what's in it? Eight movies for young and old.
First off is 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS. The catch here was Castle's search for girls from around the world to portray the members of an all girl boarding school who get involved in spy shenanigans. Light on scares and big on chuckles, the film is a low dose of Castle.
13 GHOSTS tells the story of down on his luck father who inherits a house from a rich uncle, only if he stays there. Too bad that this same uncle made a habit of collecting ghosts, 12 of which can be found there now. And the 13th? Watch to find out. The trick here was a set of glasses with blue and red lenses, one to allow you to see the ghosts, the other to block them out.
HOMICIDAL was Castle's answer to Hitchcock's PSYCHO. The film opens with a brutal murder of a justice of the peace by a young woman who returns home to care for an invalid woman. Hateful to her employer's sister as well as the woman she watches over, what is the secret that is revealed only in the last minutes of the film? For those too afraid to find out we have the countdown clock that permitted patrons to leave the theater and retreat to the coward's corner in the lobby.
STRAIGHT JACKET features an aging Joan Crawford as a woman sent to prison 20 years earlier for the axe murder of her husband and his lover. Now free, some strange goings on are affecting her life and those of the people around her. Has she gone insane?
THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a remake of a classic Universal horror film, here played for laughs. Tom Posten is the flat mate of a man now deceased, invited to spend the weekend at the family retreat. Too bad this family is far from normal and one after the other gets bumped off as the night progresses.
MR. SARDONICUS, my favorite, tells the story of a doctor who receives a note from his ex-fiancé. Now married to a cruel landowner, she requests he come to her husband's aide in a cure for what it the most terrifying case of paralysis ever seen. If he succeeds, she is free to leave. If not? The face of Mr. Sardonicus gave me nightmares for years!
THE TINGLER features Vincent Price in a role that gives him a chance to make even some of the lamest dialogue sound Shakespearean. As a scientists who discovers that fear gives birth to a creature that literally squeezes your spine unless you release that fear by screaming, Price is fantastic. The great gimmick here was in select theaters that had certain seats with vibrating mechanisms placed under chairs. At one point in the film, in a theater, the screen goes black and Price calls out that the Tingler is lose in the theater you are in! If you feel it you should scream, scream for your life! Of course this was when the mechanisms would buzz, scaring theater patrons.
Lastly is ZOTZ! again starring Tom Posten. This time around Posten is a language professor whose niece receives a medallion from her boyfriend on an archeological dig. An ancient language is found on the medallion and Posten deciphers it to discover that by pointing at someone he can cause internal pain, by saying zotz he can make them move slowly and by doing the two together he can cause death! When the government doesn't pay attention to him the Russians do and attempt a kidnapping.
Included in this collection are several episodes of Castle produced TV shows, behind the scenes featurettes on the movies and a great documentary about Castle himself. The master showman took to appearing in most of his films and getting a kick out of the fans reactions to them all. Many fans have gone on to become star film directors in their own right.
This collection might be a bit pricy, but to purchase each film on its own would cost more. If you love good old fashioned scare films, if you have fond memories of these titles, then you'll want to add this boxed set to your collection. And what better time to give these movies a viewing than now at Halloween? Anyone up for a good scare?
The documentary features interviews with Castle's daughter, as well as Leonard Maltin, John Waters, John Landis, and others who provide intelligent commentary and insight.
It's not surprising to learn that Castle admired Hitchcock, and there was a bit of professional jealousy on Hitchcock's part as Castle became increasingly famous and was ultimately proclaimed the "master" of horror.
It's also interesting learn about the making of _Rosemary's Baby_.
On the other disks, aside from the films, there are documentaries about the making of _The Tingler_ and _Straight Jacket_. There are also a couple episodes of _Ghost Story_, a TV series which Castle produced in the early 70's. One, featuring John Astin as a security guard at a horror movie studio, has a great cameo by Castle as--what else?--a horror film producer. There was always something so great about seeing Csatle himself on the screen. He had such a presence.
I can find only two flaws in this collection. The first--unavoidable, I suppose--is that the films are only the ones made for Columbia. _House on Haunted Hill_ and _Macabre_ are conspicuously missing.
The second flaw is a bit of a soundtrack synchronization problem at the beginning of _Homicidal_. But it only lasts for a couple of minutes.
One thing I realized when watching these films again is that Castle was technically an excellent director. His use of light and shadow, framing of scenes, and camera work is really good--not "B" at all. And Von Dexter's music is perfect--I guess he was Castle's Bernard Hermann.
Overall, this is a must-have for fans of the man who "scared the pants off America."
Again the folks at Columbia (Sony) are asleep at the wheel.Buyer beware....otherwise this set DOES have movies that were NOT available.Also check out Warner Archive as they have a few earlier William Castle movies!