STEP RIGHT UP!…I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America, the autobiography of William Castle, is either packed with bull or Castle led the best life ever. I’d like to think its the latter, as I’m a big fan of the old-fashioned ballyhoo that was lost with Castle’s death.
From his first film, The Chance of a Lifetime to his last, the near-insane pairing of mime Marcel Marceau and horror Shanks, William Castle did things his way, worrying every step of the way, gambling his house several times as he went from a B-movie director to the feature attraction of his own brand of horror films.
The majority of Castle’s films had a gimmick and ad campaign that went along with them — that way, if Castle’s direction wasn’t the best, at least the audience had the gimmick to remember his films by.
House on Haunted Hill featured Emergo, where an inflatable skeleton with glowing eyes would rise from the screen to fly over the audience. The Tingler, filmed in Percepto, had moments where the titular monster would escape into the theater that you were sitting in and everyone had to scream to keep it from attacking them. Several seats in each theater would be hooked up to joy buzzes that would simulate an attack of the Tinger. 13 Ghosts had Illusion-O and Homicidal didn’t just rip off Psycho, it also had a fright break where the audience could get their money back if they were willing to walk to Coward’s Corner. Mr. Sardonicus gave audiences the chance to see if the movie’s villain lived or died, with two different endings (only the ending where he dies was actually filmed). Zotz! gave a gold coin, 13 Frightening Girls had a different version made for multiple countries after a beauty pageant selected 15 girls (Castle couldn’t be bothered with logic), I Saw What You Did had seatbelts installed to keep audiences from being knocked out of their seats, Bug had an insurance policy on its hero bug and Strait-Jacket had the best gimmick of all — Joan Crawford.
Despite all this, Castle dreamed of being a serious director and Rosemary’s Baby was to be his big movie. However, Robert Evans bought the film and convinced him that only Roman Polanski could bring it to the screen. Sadly, he was right.
I learned about Castle from his biggest fan, John Waters, who once wrote, “William Castle was my idol. His films made me want to make films. William Castle was God.” He even got the chance to play Castle in the FX series Feud: Bette vs. Joan.
He appears in this film, along with Joe Dante, John Landis, Roger Corman, Leonard Maltin and many more icons, all telling the story of how there really wasn’t anyone quite like Castle, the only director to have a fan club with 250,000 members.
This is a way to fall in love with the power of movies all over again. You can find it on Vimeo.
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