FEARNET Movie Review - Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story


William Castle, was not just a writer / director / producer / horror fan. He was also a larger-than-life showman in the same league as P.T. Barnum (or Harold Hill). Mr. Castle felt that a simple scary movie was not enough; each of his flicks came with its very own 'in-cinema' gimmick. When audiences saw The Tingler, they also felt some goofy joy-buzzers from underneath their seats. When the ghosts showed up on Haunted Hill, inflatable skeletons would sometimes pass through the audience. That sort of thing would never dazzle today's audiences, but back in the early 1960's William Castle was one of the horror fan's most admired flick-makers.

Now comes a long overdue and very entertaining documentary called Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story, which is every bit the thorough, colorful, informative, and affectionate bio-piece that Castle's fans have been waiting for. It's great that Ed Wood has enjoyed such a lengthy posthumous shelf-life, so why not throw some love towards a considerably better schlock-slinger? Heck, I'm ready for Paul Giamatti to play William Castle in a big-budget bio-pic!

Very well constructed by the folks at Automat Pictures (one of the leading companies in high-end DVD documentaries and featurettes), Spine Tingler gives us the whole colorful story in just about 80 minutes: From Mr. Castle's rather unhappy childhood to his early successes (and a few visits visits from lady luck), from his horror hits to his late-career stumblings. Ah, and let's not forget; Castle is best known for churning out the simple-style horror stuff, but if it weren't for him, we'd have never met Rosemary's Baby.

Stocked with several excellent interviews* and a ton of photographs, stills, and posters from the filmmaker's colorful career, Spine Tingler is a great little documentary about a filmmaker whose impact deserves to be remembered. If the movie skips over a few of the man's lesser works (no mention of The Old Dark House?), the omissions can easily be forgiven. I'm also a bit curious as to why director / Castle fan Joe Dante was interviewed ... but nobody bothers to mention Matinee, Dante's own cinematic love letter to William Castle. Another minor gripe, really, considering that Spine Tingler is now probably the definitive doco piece on a horror flick trailblazer who might not have been the finest filmmaker -- but he sure did love his horror movies. And that counts for a whole lot.

* Director Jeffrey Schwarz went out and grabbed a really eclectic collection of interviewees. From close friends and family members to esteemed film critics and historians to fans / filmmakers like Joe Dante, Roger Corman, John Landis, John Waters, and Stuart Gordon. By working from such a wide array of people, we get to see several different angles of William Castle. And all of them are cool.