Thirteen homicidal, macabre ghostly tinglers and William Castle

William Castle

William Castle Fan Club membership cardWe just watched the excellent documentary “Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story” on TCM, and it inspired a cascade of memories of my preteen fascination with horror and sci-fi films and fiction. I was an avid reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland and member of the National William Castle Fan Club, where I was invited to recite the mantra, “William Castle is the master of movie horror.”

Castle was like Roger Corman, but with a big personality and personal brand. He produced and directed tight low-budget horror films, always with a gimmick. For “Macabre,” a film he mortgaged his house to make, he offered a $1,000 life insurance policy for any audience member who died of fright during the film – he had actual nurses on hand at some screenings. “House on Haunted Hill” had “Emergo,” a plastic skeleton that “emerged” seemingly from nowhere to the right of the screen and flew (actually rode a wire) across the audience. For “The Tingler,” Castle installed vibrators on some seats throughout a threatre so that random audience members felt the creepy tingle as the tingler in the film, a parasite that looked like a prehistoric centipede, was activated. These films were pretty good – Castle had worked with Orson Welles, was involved in shooting the great “Lady from Shanghai,” and knew his craft pretty well. He made most of his films in a matter of days with very low budgets.

But what was great about Castle’s films was that they were weird fun; I think this was an effect of his disposition and charisma. He became a brand, appearing in previews and introductions to his film, often selling the gimmick to his growing audience. He was a great salesman.

There’s a darker story that comes later, involving his involvement as producer of “Rosemary’s Baby.” I won’t get into that here, but follow the link if you’re interested.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.