Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, William Castle produced and directed a series of horror films marked by their outrageous audience participation gimmicks. Castle treated moviegoers to buzzing seats, flying skeletons, luminescent ghosts and life insurance policies — and they loved every minute of it.
William Castle Story was perhaps last great American showman. His was a rags to riches, a master of self-promotion, yet privately plagued by a fear of failure and a desperate desire to be respected.
Starting as a contract director for Columbia Pictures’ notorious Harry Cohn, Castle solidified his place as a brand name in horror in 1958 with Macabre. After mortgaging his house to make the film and haunted by the thought of audience indifference, Castle developed a surefire publicity stunt to attract a crowd: Every patron would be insured by Lloyd’s of London in case of “death by fright.” Although nobody collected, audiences flocked to the theaters and Castle knew he had something he could take to the bank.
William Castle became a household name – an immensely popular master of ceremonies, with fan clubs and hoards of adoring fans at each town he visited. But despite his success, Castle craved the respect and accolades given to contemporaries like Alfred Hitchcock. He strived his whole career for a property that would prove his merit as an artist, which would finally come with his production of Rosemary’s Baby.
Join us as we recreate the experiences of Illusion-O, the Fright Break, Coward’s Corner and the Punishment Poll!
William Castle | USA | 1959 | 81 minutes
The inimitable Vincent Price plays a coroner, Dr Warren Chapin, who discovers a weird creature that grows on people’s spines when they experience extreme fear. The only way to stop the creature is by screaming very loudly but if this action is not taken then the creature can snap a person’s spine and kill them. But then what happens if, like the wife of onf Chapin’s colleague’s, you are mute?!
“I am William Castle, the director of the motion picture you are about to see. I feel obligated to warn you that some of the sensations– some of the physical reactions which the actors on the screen will feel– will also be experienced, for the first time in motion picture history, by certain members of this audience. I say ‘certain members’ because some people are more sensitive to these mysterious electronic impulses than others. These unfortunate, sensitive people will at times feel a strange, tingling sensation; other people will feel it less strongly. But don’t be alarmed– you can protect yourself. At any time you are conscious of a tingling sensation, you may obtain immediate relief by screaming. Don’t be embarrassed about opening your mouth and letting rip with all you’ve got, because the person in the seat right next to you will probably be screaming too. And remember– a scream at the right time may save your life.”
William Castle | USA | 1960 | 84 minutes
Cyrus Zorba, inherits a big old house from his strange, rich, recently deceased uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba. As most of their furniture has just been repossessed, Cyrus and his family are keen to move into their new abode, which even comes complete with a creepy house keeper. Unfortunately the house is haunted by various vengeful ghosts and it is not long before they start appearing to Cyrus and his family — but are the ghosts actually real?
Through the wonders of Illusion-O, the brave amongst you can don your red lenses and see the ghosts while the not so brave can put on the blue lenses and have them removed!
William Castle | USA | 1961 | 87 minutes
A blonde woman checks into a hotel offers hotel porter Jim $2000 if he will marry her the next day; the marriage will immediately be annulled after the ceremony. Jim agrees to the deal, but as soon as the Justice of the Peace has performed the ceremony the woman pulls out a knife, repeatedly stabs him, flees and speeds off in Jim’s car. Thus the scene is set for this intriguing, twisty-turny, psycho-thriller which owes more than a little to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
At the climax there is a 45 second “Fright Break”, giving those of you who cannot stand the tension at the climax the option of standing in the “Coward’s Corner” to be shamed and humiliated by your more courageous peers before receiving a refund on your ticket.
William Castle | USA | 1961 | 89 minutes
This fiendishly twisted tale involves an eminent London doctor called Sir Robert Cargrave who receives a letter from his old flame, Maude, and travels to Central Europe to visit her. Maude is now married to the mysterious Baron Sardonicus, a candidate for the unluckiest ever lottery winner ever, who has an ulterior motive for inviting Sir Robert…
Here, Castle invites you to participate in the “Punishment Poll”: By holding up your card thumbs-up or thumbs-down you can collectively decide what happens to Mr Sardonicus!
William Castle | USA | 1963 | 89 minutes
A jealous woman carries out her revenge on her unfaithful husband and his mistress by chopping them up with a handy axe. She is sent to an asylum for 20 years. Upon her release, more brutal axe murders occur. Are these events purely coincidental, is the woman still crazy or is someone else trying to frame her?
Advised by his backers to eliminate the gimmicks, Castle initially relied upon the presence of Joan Crawford, fresh from the Grand Dame Guignol of What Happened to Baby Jane?, to bring in the audiences. But old habits died hard and Castle was soon having cardboard axes handed out to patrons!
I Saw What You Did / I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are
William Castle | 1965 | USA | 82 minutes
To relieve their boredom, two teenage babysitters decide to make some prank calls, telling some random people from the phone book “I saw what you did, and I know who you are”. The problem is that one of those they choose did just do something — murder his wife!