Sunday, October 21, 2018

WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA, VOLUME ONE (1959-1961) (Indicator Blu-ray Review)


Renowned for his imaginative and eccentric marketing ploys, William Castle became synonymous with delivering lurid horror films backed-up by his trademark publicity gimmicks (‘Illusion-O’, ‘Percepto’, the ‘Punishment Poll’, ‘Fright Breaks’, etc.). WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA, VOLUME ONE features four classic fright films from the outrageous showman’s illustrious career with Columbia Pictures and presented on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including Jeffrey Schwarz’s acclaimed feature-length documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, newly filmed introductions and appreciations, exclusive new audio commentaries, interviews with actor Pamela Lincoln and publicists Barry Lorie and Richard Kahn, archival featurettes, and much more – this stunning Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set is strictly limited to 6,000 copies.


Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator

Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Cert. 15 
Duration: 82 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: William Castle
Cast: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln, Philip Coolidge

Following the success of The House On Haunted Hill (1959) Columbia Pictures and director William Castle again teamed-up for the spine-chiller The Tingler (1959), again starring horror-star Vincent Price (Witchfinfder General) - this time as a pathologist Dr. Warren Chapin who through his experience performing autopsies on the recently deceased discovers a curious little thing, that the spines of those who have experienced extreme fear before their death have been crushed from the inside. He theorizes that some sort of parasitic fear-creature is the culprit, something he comes to refer as "the tingler". 

The doc is assisted by his acquaintance David (Darryl Hickman, Network), who is engaged to Isabel's younger sister, Lucy (Pamela Lincoln, Anatomy of a Psycho). Chapin continues his research looking for physical evidence of this fear-induced parasite, to that end he stages a fake-murder of his cheating wife, pretending to shoot her over her dalliances with other men. Bu this means he gives her a proper fright and is able to take an x-ray of her while she's incapacitated, long enough to get an x-ray of the creature growing on her spine, proving his theory. 

Along the way Warren befriends the co-owner of a silent movie theater Oliver Higgins (Phillip Coolidge, North by Northwest) who operates the cinema with his deaf-mute wife Martha (Judith Evelyn, Rear Window). It turns out that the wife has an extreme fear of blood and cannot scream in fright because she is mute, her only release is to straight-out faint, which we discover when the doc cuts himself  and she drops in fright, planting a devious seed. Not long after she dies of fright in a turn of foul play, scared to death by an elaborate fear-inducing scheme by her murderous hubby! The guy seemed so nice earlier, I found it really hard to dislike the guy, even though he murdered his innocent wife, but fear not, he gets his proper comeuppance. 

Price's theory that when you suffer an extreme case of fear the parasitic creatures begins to grow at the base of the spine is awfully science-dumb, but I like the premise and credit to the screenwriter Robb White (The House on Haunted Hill) for the delightfully macxanre idea, which I will admit, as a kid I firmly beleived. It's good stuff and comes off fantastically in this black and white slice of schlock & shock cinema.

The husband brings his wife's corpse to Dr. Chapin who performs an autopsy upon her immediately, managing to extract the the still living parasite from her corpse, looking like an elongated rubber lobster/centipede, and then the real fun begins. A trip back to the the couples apartment above the cinema allows the creature an opportunity to escape into a crowded cinema below. It runs amok in the darkened theater causing Price's character to issue a warning to the audience, that to save their lives they each must scream like they've never screamed before. The Tingler is a classic, known as much for William Castle's gimmick he devised for this film than for the actual film, it's one of his best, he called it "Percepto", and it was basically a buzzer placed under random seats throughout the theater. I am sure this must have caused quite a stir when they started going off on cue during the movie-within-a-movie premise, it's wonderfully fun stuff. 

Aside from the great premise the film has a few other standout scenes, like when Price's character in an attempt to study fear doses himself with lab-grade LSD (a cinema first!) and the hallucinatory fright-scene, having a freak-out in the lab as the walls appear to close in on him.  Another good scene comes the deaf-mute woman is scared to death, an elaborate set-up with a short color-tinted sequence depicting blood pouring from a faucet and filling a bathtub as well as some hokey monster special effects. There's lots of good stuff crammed into this goofy screamer, it's definitely spine-tingling fun of the highest order.

The ending has a fun EC Comics-esque comeuppance that I just love with Price's character giving a final warning about the Tingler to audience before coming to a proper close with a delightful wink and a nod to the movie goers. This is probably Vincent Price at his most deliciously overwrought, the scene of him in the lab tripping on acid is amazing, screaming about the walls closing in on him, it's real square version of a bad trip, I love it. 

Audio/Video: The Tingler (1959) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films as part of their Indicator Series, the 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) presentation looks excellent. Grain is finely managed, the black and white contrast looks good with deep blacks throughout. The film is black and white but does offer a few inserted colors scenes with blood pouring out of faucets and filling tubs, those scenes look a bit rougher than the non-color stuff, I am assuming because of the colorization process. Audio comes by way of an English LPCM 1.0 mono track that's clean and solid, there's a lot of a shrieking throughout and it handles it without breaking-up into distortion, optional English subtitles are provided. We get the option to view the film with three audio options; mono, mono the Vincent Price "scream" audio sequence, and mono with the drive-in version with William Castle narrated "headlights" version, this is just another case of Powerhouse/Indicator going all out for the extras, which is much appreciated. 

I also own the region-A locked Scream Factory Blu-ray release of The Tingler, it shares a few of the extras but Indicator go above and beyond with a wealth of bonus content that Scream Factory just cannot complete with! The extras shared with the Scream Factory release include the vintage 4-minute interview with Pamela Lincoln, a 3-minute interview with publicist Barry Lorie, the 16-min 'Scream For Your Lives!' extra.

New stuff exclusive to the Indicator release begin with an audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of American Gothic: Six Decades of Classic Horror Cinema, and Kevin Lyons, editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television. He shows up on a lot of the Indicator releases, it's a well-researched and thorough commentary. We also get a 16-minute  appreciation by British film writer Kim Newman, commenting on the cutting-edge LSD sequence, and other aspects of the deliciously fun spine-tingler. Pointing out that much is made of the Percept-o gimmick, but the film is astonishing enough on it's own to enjoy without the electrified cinema seats, he also points out how ridiculous the premise is. 

The extras are buttoned-up with an isolated music and effects audio track, a theatrical trailer for the film, a theatre lobby spot,  image gallery and a Trailers from Hell commentary with Joe Dante, who speaks about researching the films of William Castle for his film Matinee which is a love-letter to Castle. The image gallery contains both promotional materials and the entire Percepto Instruction Manual, which is a pretty neat addition, it's pretty involved for a gimmick that involved a lot of work. 

Special Features: 

- The Tingler audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of American Gothic: Six Decades of Classic Horror Cinema, and Kevin Lyons, editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television 
- Kim Newman on 'The Tingler' (2018): an appreciation by the critic and author of Nightmare Movies  (16 min) 
- Scream for Your Lives!: William Castle and 'The Tingler' (16 min)  
- I Survived ‘The Tingler’ (2007): an interview with actor Pamela Lincoln (4 min) 
- Unleashing Percepto (2007): an interview with publicist Barry Lorie (3 min) 
- Theatre Lobby Spot (3 min) 
- Isolated Music & Effects Track 
- Original Theatrical Trailers (2 min) 
- Trailers From Hell Commentary with Joe Dante (3 min) 
- Promotional Materials Gallery (34 Images) 
- Percepto Instruction Manual (26 Images) 

13 GHOSTS (1960) 

Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Cert. 15 
Duration: 84 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: William Catle 
Cast: Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Martin Milner, Rosemary DeCamp. Donald Woods, Margaret Hamilton

Second up on this William Castle extravaganza is the supernatural scare-film 13 Ghosts (1960), here we find a down on his luck Museum employee named Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods, True Grit) who is on the verge of being evicted from his home, alongside his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp Saturday the 14th), teen daughter Medea (Jo Morrow, Dr. Death) and adolescent son Buck (Charles Herbert, The Fly). His run of bad luck seems to have changed when from out of nowhere he inherits a creepy old house that belonged to his occultist uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba (Roy Jenson, The Car), which seems legit, right? The house comes with a creepy housekeeper, Elaine, played by Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the classic Wizard of Oz (1939), a role that is referenced throughout the film in a wink-wink sort of way.

Dr. Zorba, who as mentioned dabbled in the occult, is said to have hid away a fortune somewhere within the home, which also happens to be haunted by twelve horrifying ghosts. These spirits can only be seen when someone in the film is wearing a pair of special-made goggles created by Dr. Zorba, which is where the infamous Illusion-O gimmick comes into play. 

At the cinema when the movie would play the audience where given special viewers with which to watch the film, there was a blue filter and a red filter. If you were brave enough you would watch it through the red lens it would make the ghosts stand out. If you were a coward you chose the blue lens which would remove the ghostly images. As gimmicks go this is a pretty good one, though I am unsure how effective it was. That is a kind of showmanship and interactivity sorely missing from today's cinemas, this is why William Castle was so awesome. We need more b-movie schlock like this in the cinemas today, and I don't mean the current 3-D technology which for my hard-earned money is not gimmicky enough, I don't want to be immersed, I want to have stuff popping off the screen into my face! 

The film is not scary in the least but it is fun, the young kid Buck who was the kid in The Fly, reaklly steals the show as an the wide-eyed adolescent boy fascinated by the supernatural, and ultimately the one who solves the puzzle of the missing fortune.

Audio/Video: 13 Ghosts (1960) gets region-free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films via their Indicator Series, the 1080p presentation looks solid the source looks well preserved or restored, with only some minor white speckling. The black and white presentation looks great with decent contrast and black levels, it's not the sharpest of images but looks solid and well-managed throughout. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono with optional English subtitles, everything sounding proper and clean. 

Looking at the extras we begin with three options for viewing the film! We get the original ‘Illusion-O’ presentation, the 'ghost viewer' mode with the option to remove the ghosts for you scaredy cats, and the alternative black-and-white version without the color inserts. I prefer the Illusion=O version but I love that Indicator went all in on the versions.

The big extra here for me is the 2007 doc 'Spine-Tinger! The William Castle Story' from director Jeffery Schwarz, this doc is jam-packed with interviews with directors, authors and talkingh heads that you want to hear talk about these movies. We get input from John Landis (An American Werewolf In London), Joe Dante (Matinee), Roger Corman, Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), Leonard Maltin, Budd Boetticher, Bob Burns, David Del Valle, Fred Olen Ray and John Waters (Serial Mom) just to name a few! This also includes an optional audio commentary from the doc with the director and the William Castle's daughter Terry Castle, plus an eight-minute making of featurette. So you're getting a doc about the movie which has it's own making of extra and a commentary on top of that, whoah! 

As if that were not enough we get a 12-minute introduction by author Stephen Law, 'The Magic of Illusion-O', plus an eight-minute appreciation with Michael Schlessinger of Columbia Pictures, film historians Don Glut, director Fred Olen Ray, and Bob Burns. Extras are finished up with an isolated music and effects tracks, the pre-recorded theatre lobby spot that played during the film's initial run, the theatrical trailer and a Trailers From Hell commentary with Sam Hamm, plus an extensive image gallery. 

Special Features: 

- Two presentations of 13 Ghosts: the original ‘Illusion-O’ presentation and the alternative black-and-white version 
- Spine-Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007, 82 mins): Jeffrey Schwarz’s acclaimed documentary on Castle, featuring interviews with John Landis, Joe Dante, Roger Corman, Stuart Gordon, Leonard Maltin, Budd Boetticher, Bob Burns, David Del Valle, Fred Olen Ray and John Waters among others, with Optional Audio Commentary with Jeffrey Schwarz and Terry Castle  (82 min) 
- Larger Than Life: The Making of 'Spine-Tingler' (2007) (8 min) 
- Stephen Laws Introduces ‘13 Ghosts’ (2018): an appreciations by the acclaimed horror author (12 min) 
- The Magic of 'Illusion-O': William Castle and '13 Ghosts' (8 min) 
- Isolated Music & Effects Track (DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono) 
- Theatre Lobby Spot (2 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Trailer From Hell Commentaries with Sam Hamm (3 min)
- Image Gallery (45 Images)  


Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Cert. 15
Duration: 87 Minutes
Audio: English PCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: William Castle 
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Patricia Breslin, Eugenie Leontovich, Alan Bunce, Richard Rust, James Westerfield

THere's no way around it, Homicidal (1961) is William Castle's spin on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), but that's okay, because it is awesome. At the top of the movie a pretty blond checks into a hotel and comes on strong to a bellboy, offering him cash to marry her, which he oddly accepts. They arrive at the justice of the peace for a quick wedding and as soon as the nuptials are finished she pulls a kitchen knife from her purse and stabs the justice to death! I was bowled over by this one, the amount of violence is pretty shocking for the time, Castle was definitely trying to one-up Hitchcock with a knockout blond and some amped up violence and bloodshed.

The woman runs off and a search begins for the blond murderess, meanwhile the woman, revealed to be Emily (Jean Arliss, Shampoo) returns to her home where she cares for a mute, wheelchair-bound old lady (Eugenie Leontovitch, The Rains of Ranchipur) whom she abuses at every turn for reasons unknown at first. Also in the picture are the old woman's niece Miriam (Patricia Breslin, I Saw What You Did) and her brother Warren, all of whom become suspicious of Emily as her behavior becomes more and more wildly erratic. Arliss is fantastic as the nut-job murderess, and the reveal at the end is a riotous shocker that I did not see coming, I knew something was up from the beginning, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was - good job Mr Castle, you got me! 

Audio/Video: Homicidal (1961) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films as part of the Indicator Series, presented in 1080p HD widescreen, framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. The monochromatic cinematography looks solid, the print is clean and free of blemishes, the contrast is generally good. It's not razor sharp, but it looks mighty fine in motion. Audio comes by way of an English LPCM Mono with optional English subtitles, everything sounds clean and distinct.  

Extras for Homicidal begin with an eight-minute introduction from horror novelist Stephen Laws, plus a spirited commentary from author and film historian Lee Gambin whose enthusiasm for this Psycho-riff drips right off the screen, it's a fun and informative listen. We also get the 8-minute Psychette: William Castle and 'Homicidal' directed by Spine-Tingler! The William Castle Story director Jason Schwarz, which look to be interview excerpts from his doc with David Del Valle, Michael Schlessinger of Columbia Pictures, film historians Don Glut and Bob Burns, all waxing nostalgic about the film.

We also get eight-minutes of black and white newsreel footage from the Youngtown, Ohio Premiere for the film with William Castle performing exit polls on audience members as they leave the cinema, great to see him being the showman we knew him as, what a riot! There's a brief 4-min interview with journalist Bob Thomas who recalls interviewing William Castle during the time of Homicidal, reading from an article he based on the interview. He blows dust off the copy before he reads it, it having apparently been tucked away for sometime, which might have been done for effect, not sure, but wither way it's a nice touch

Special Features: 

- Homicidal audio commentary by author and film historian Lee Gambin 
- Psychette: William Castle and 'Homicidal' (8 min) 
- Stephen Laws Introduces 'Homicidal' (2018) (5 min) 
- Ballyhoo!: Bob Thomas recalls the time he interviewed William Castle (4 min) 
- Isolated Music & Effects Track (LPCM Mono 1.0)
- Youngtown, Ohio Premiere (8 min) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Image Gallery  (41 Images) 


Label: Powerhouse Films/Indicator Series

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Cert.15
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English LPCM Mono 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: William Castle
Cast: Ronald Lewis, Audrey Dalton, Guy Rolfe

The capper to this William Castle love-fest is the Gothic thriller Mr. Sardonicus (1961), which standa out as Castle films were usually contemporary and not period pieces. Opening with a great foggy London-set intro from William Castle, ever the showman he comes off as the schlocky Hitchcock he was. We're introduced to a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis, Scream of Fear) whom receives a letter from an old flame, Maude (Audrey Dalton, The Monster That Challenged the World) imploring him to visit her, apparently it's a matter of life and death. Once he arrives via - ship in a scene that brings to mind Dracula (1931) - it's revealed she was coerced into summoning him by her husband Baron Sardonicus, a real bastard played to perfection by Guy Rolfe (Toulon from Puppet Master III). The Baron wishes for Dr. Cargrave to cure him of a horrible affliction the Baron suffered after unearthing his father's corpse from the grave to obtain a winning lottery ticket tucked away in his dad's coat pocket. This act of morbid graverobbery having stricken him with a perversely grotesque smile plastered across his face, looking a bit like The Man Who Smiles (1939). If the doctor should refuse or fail to succeed in devising a treatment Maude's life hangs in the balance.

I loved Guy Rolfe in the Puppet Master films he did for Full Moon so it was a blast to see him here as a younger man years earlier. Early on in the film the Baron's face is hidden away, shrouded in mystery beneath as mask, once the hideous affliction is revealed it's a whole new level of weird. He's a creepy villain and he comes with a one-eyed man servant named Krull (Oskar Homolka, The Seven Year Itch) who threatens to steal most of the scenes he appears in, it's all great stuff. As great as Homolka is though it's Guy Rolfe who definitely steals the show with his maniacal charisma, and we also get a strong performance from Ronald Lewis as our hero and the attractive Audrey Dalton as a sympathetic heroin. 

Mr. Sardonicus is a fun watch, but it can draga a bit from time to time, so your mileage may vary depending on your temperance for Gothic chillers that burn slowly. It's a William Castle production so you just know that there's a gimmick, this time out it's a choose-your-own-ending gag that was known as "the punishment poll", by which audience members were given a pre-printed card, on cue Castle would appear onscreen and ask the audience members to hold it up to indicate a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", which would decide the fate of the villain. Unfortunately we don't get zapped in our asses with an electric shock but this is still an entertaining watch in the tradition of a twisty Twilight Zone episode. 

Audio/Video: Mr. Sardonicus gets a region-free presentation from Powerhouse Films via the Indicator Series, presented in 1080p HD widescreen (1.85:1) looking solid, the black and white lensing is attractive, though a few stock footage inserts do detract from the overall appearance. There's a natural looking layer of film grain, contrast is good,  fine textures and details aer nicely resolved in the close-ups. Audio comes by way of English LPCM Mono 1.0 with optional English subtitles.

Extras for Mr. Sardonicus kick off with a cracking commentary from Daughters of Darkness’ Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who turn up on a lot of Indicator titles in one form or another, Ellinger speaks about her disdain for people referring to the director as a schlock-master, going onto to celebrate his body of work, and in particular this Gothic classic. \

Publicist Richard Kahn shows up or a six-minute piece, opening with how Hitchcock's TV show influenced William Castle to do introductions for his films in the cinema, and the idea of the punishment poll and how the illusion of a choice of the villain's fate was just that, an illusion, there was no alternate ending ever filmed, despite Castle indicating that there had been. 

'Taking the Punishment Poll' brings in David Del Valle and director  and Michael Schlessinger of Columbia Pictures, film historians Don Glut, Fred Olen Ray, and Bob Burns speaking about Castle's Gothic terror film and the punishment poll gimmick. Del Valle is funny as usual, describing William Castle as "more fun that fright" and crediting this film with "putting leeches on the map", and pointing out the excellent work of character actor Oskar Homolka as man-servant Krull.

Exras on the disc are buttoned up with a Trailers From Hell commentary with Director Stuart Gordon giving an appreciation for the fim, a theatrical trailer, an isolated score and effects track, plus and image gallery. 

Special Features: 
- Mr Sardonicus audio commentary with Daughters of Darkness’ Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
- The Punishment Poll (2007): an interview with publicist Richard Kahn (6 min) 
- Taking the Punishment Poll: William Castle and 'Mr Sardonicus'
(8 min) 
- Jonathan Rigby meets 'Mr Sardonicus' (2018): an appreciation by the film historian
- Isolated Music & Effects TRack (LPCM Mono 1.0) 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (4 min) 
- Trailers From Hell Commentary with Stuart Gordon (4 min) 
- Image Gallery (52 Images) 
- Limited Edition box set exclusive booklets with new essays by Kat Ellinger, Dan Whitehead, Rebecca Nicole Williams and Jo Botting, archival interview materials, contemporary reviews, and  film credits 

William Castle at Columbia, Volume 1 is jam-packed with top-notch A/V presentations and all sorts of goodies for all four films, this is highly recomended. We've seen these films arrive on Blu-ray from other U.S. distributors, but like pretty much every release I've ever seen from Powerhouse Films/Indicator this release blows away all the releases that have come before it, so it's great news that they've already announced volume two of the series with ZOTZ! (1962), 13 Frightened Girls, (1963), The Old Dark House (1963) and Strait-Jacket (1964) coming in December!