William Castle Film Collection (Disc 1 of 5) 13 Frightened Girls / 13 Ghosts (1960)
13 Frightened Girls
A diplomat's daughter gets mixed up in international intrigue and murder.
Gimmick-loving producer William Castle strikes again with this fun haunted-house thriller which invited audiences to find the hidden ghosts roaming about a haunted house through a special process called "Illusion-O" by which patrons could employ a special pair of red-and-blue-colored glasses to detect ghosts on the screen during the film's color-tinted sequences. The story is set in the mansion of the deceased occult scientist Dr. Zorba, whose nephew Cyrus and his family occupy the creepy estate and discover that they are not the only tenants. It seems the Doctor has been harboring 12 elusive specters on the premises, the appearance of which can only be detected through his final invention: a special pair of ghost-viewing goggles. To further complicate matters, it is learned that Zorba has stashed a small fortune somewhere in the house, and someone -- or something -- is determined to stop Cyrus and family from finding it. This film's original release featured an introduction from Castle, describing the "Illusion-O" process and demonstrating the proper use of the tinted glasses; he also appears in an epilogue stating that the glasses can be used to detect ghosts outside the theater! ~ Cavett Binion, All Movie Guide
William Castle Film Collection (Disc 2 of 5) Homicidal / Strait-Jacket (1961)
Homicidal represents producer/director William Castle's slant on Hitchcock's Psycho. The film concerns a young woman named Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin) who seemingly has everything a girl could want - including a successful flower shop business, and a handsome beau, Karl (Glenn Corbett), who works as a pharmacist. Events take a turn for the worse, however, when Miriam's half-brother, Warren, returns from Europe - with a rather unpleasant friend in-tow: a blonde named Emily (Jean Arless). Emily promptly sets about destroying Miriam's life: the newcomer attempts to wheedle Karl away from Miriam, then rips the flower shop to pieces, then ultimately reveals a little taste for knife-wielding that directly threatens Miriam's safety. Like The Tingler and other Castle outings, this one originally featured a gimmick, preserved in the video release: a "fright-break" just prior to the climax, which allowed terrified audience members approximately 45 seconds to get out of their seats and leave the theater - to avoid the prospect of being "frightened to death." One look at Jean Arless's credit in the cast listing betrays the final twist in this one, directly (and unapologetically) lifted by Castle from Psycho. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
In this chilling blood-tale in "Psycho" style, Robert Bloch modernizes the Lizzy Borden story. A wife (Joan Crawford) literally axes her cheating husband and his lover, witnessed by her three-year-old daughter. Mom is packed off to the insane asylum for 20 years before reuniting with the daughter (Diane Baker). From this point, the axe murders continue along a contrived plot intended to lead the audience astray until the mystery is solved. Crawford's strong performance and the excellently constructed suspense are the best elements of the film -- and the chopping saves the show when the plot tends to slow. ~ Lucinda Ramsey, All Movie Guide
William Castle Film Collection (Disc 3 of 5) The Old Dark House / Mr. Sardonicus (1932)
The Old Dark House
It's a wildly varied group that takes shelter from a raging English storm in the forbidding mansion of the Femm family. Among the reluctant guests are stuffed-shirt Philip Waverton (Raymond Massey): Philip's sensitive wife Margaret (Gloria Stuart); their mutual friend, disillusioned war veteran Roger Penderell (Melvyn Douglas); vulgar self-made millionaire Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton); and Porterhouse's no-better-than-she-ought-to-be lady friend Gladys DuCane (Lillian Bond). Under the baleful eyes of ungracious, atheistic host Horace Femm (Ernst Thesiger) and Horace's religious-zealot sister Rebecca (Eva Moore), the group sits around conversing, slowly coming to the realization that first impressions are most deceiving. Normally, that would be the whole story-except that the old dark house houses a deep dark secret involving 101-year-old Sir Roderick Femm (played by "John Dudgeon", actually an actress named Elspeth Dudgeon) and pyromaniac Saul Femm (Brember Wills). Lumbering ominously throughout the proceedings is top-billed Boris Karloff, playing Morgan, the mute, alcoholic family butler (the opening credits felt obligated to tell 1932 filmgoers that yes, this was the same Karloff who'd portrayed the Monster in the previous season's Frankenstein). Directed with sinister verve by James Whale and brimming with unforgettable dialogue ("No beds! They can't have beds!" "Have some gin--it's my only weakness," "That's fine stuff too, but it'll rot!" etc.), The Old Dark House is one of the most enjoyable and least formularized of the Universal "scare" pictures of the early 1930s. The film was based on J. B. Priestly's Benighted, though Priestly's hero dies in the book and does not in the film (this appears to have been a last-minute decision--and a wise one). Long thought lost, The Old Dark House was rediscovered in the early 1970s; copyright problems with the lukewarm 1963 remake kept it off television until 1994, at which time a sparkling new print was struck, replacing the washed-out dupes with which film buffs were all too familiar. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
In this 1961 William Castle film based on Ray Russell's novel Sardonicus, Guy Rolfe stars as the wicked Sardonicus, a wealthy count who wears a mask because his face is frozen in a horrifying death grimace. Ronald Lewis stars as Sir Richard, a brilliant doctor who is at the top of his field in the early 20th century. A curious letter from his former love, Maude (Audrey Dalton), draws him to Europe where she lives in a remote castle with her brooding husband, his badly scarred, but dedicated man-servant, Krull (Oscar Homolka), and a frightened housekeeper whom Sir Richard finds tied up and covered with leeches. The good doctor soon discovers the truth behind the leeches...and the true nature of his visit when Sardonicus reveals his terrible story: He dug up his father's grave in search of a winning lottery ticket, and upon seeing the corpse, his face muscles froze leaving him looking like a living skull. Dangling Maude as his ransom, Sardonicus forces Sir Richard into attempting a radical treatment to make his face normal again, but even when it is a success, the evil Sardonicus can find no cure from the curse of his father's desecrated corpse. Castle appears in the climax to offer viewers an opportunity to afford additional punishment on Sardonicus which leads to a satisfying conclusion. ~ Patrick Legare, All Movie Guide
William Castle Film Collection (Disc 4 of 5) The Tingler/ Zotz! (1959 / 1962)
As famous for the gimmick with which the film was shown as for its genuinely spine-tingling story, The Tingler follows a pathologist (Vincent Price) as he searches for the cause of a series of deaths and discovers that the victims have a large insect-like creature growing on their spinal chords. The creature attacks when the people are frightened and is only killed when the host emits a blood-curdling primal scream. This is coupled with a subplot to scare the deaf-mute owner of a silent movie house to death. Along the way, a couple of characters are injected with LSD and begin hallucinating like mad. When one of the nasty monsters "escaped" into a movie theater, the film's gimmick would begin. In order to further frighten audiences, director William Castle had certain theater seats rigged with small Army surplus devices that would deliver a mild electric shock to the spine in hopes of inducing terrified screams. Castle also planted audience members who would scream and faint. The house lights would go up, the film would stop and ushers would carry the unconscious person out of the theater. ~ Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide
TV actor Tom Poston stars as Prof. Jonathan Jones in this early feature-film appearance, a standard comedy-fantasy oriented to the youngsters. The good professor has come into possession of "zotz," a coin that has three magical properties. It can either cause intense pain if its bearer points an accusing finger at an intended victim or it can make things move in slow-motion, with the right command. If the accusatory finger and the command are used simultaneously, the victim dies. Naturally, just about everyone wants this coin. The hapless professor is soon involved in problems at school, at the Pentagon, and worse yet, with a group of commie agents who have their own designs on the coin.
William Castle Film Collection (Disc 5 of 5) Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007)
Spine Tingler! traces how an obscure director for hire reinvented himself as a pop-culture icon. From his first job as Bela Lugosi's assistant to butting heads with Robert Evans, this jaw-dropping tale is told through revealing interviews with daughter Terry Castle, John Waters, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Roger Corman, John Badham, Diane Baker, Marcel Marceau, and many more. Spine Tingler! brings back those days when movies were pure fun and spine tingling excitement, when a producer could ride on a "smile and a shoeshine," and when ballyhoo was as American as apple pie. William Castle's story is an inspiration to dreamers everywhere, and this film is an affectionate portrait of the man and the showman.