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