As the old adage goes, “There’s no business like show business.” There’s also no man like a showman — and in all the annals of cinema, there was no one quite like William Castle. While his films were never regarded as much more than B-movies, his masterful method of luring audiences in via ingenious gimmicks has become the stuff of legend. Thus, producer/director Castle himself has become a cultural icon as the unofficial “King of Gimmicks.” And now, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has unleashed a box set containing eight of Castle’s latter-day films, all of which were made during his heyday of gimmickry.
Presented in no specific order whatsoever, The William Castle Film Collection starts out with 1963’s 13 Frightened Girls! Originally entitled The Candy Web, the campy ‘60s tale of espionage opens at a Swiss boarding school for girls — and all of the multinational students are the daughters of ambassadors and diplomats. Sixteen-year-old Candice (Kathy Dunn) has a crush on her father’s top spy (Murray Hamilton), and, after accidentally spying on the Red Chinese uncle (the great Khigh Dhiegh, whom all faithful Hawaii Five-O fans will recognize), she creates the alter ego of “Kitten” — and quickly becomes one of the world’s top spies by eavesdropping on her classmates. Hugh Marlowe co-stars as Candy’s oblivious father, and Three Stooges alumni Emil Sitka (who performed with every incarnation of the comedy trio and is even referred to as the seventh Stooge sometimes) has a small part as the boarding school’s handyman/bus driver.
Also on Disc One is Castle’s 13 Ghosts (1960), a “spooktacular” follow-up to Castle’s earlier Vincent Price vehicles, The Tingler and House On Haunted Hill. The story here involves a bookworm museum employee named Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), who, on the eve of losing all of his family’s furniture to creditors, learns he’s inherited his late uncle’s house. And so, Cyrus packs up his family (Rosemary DeCamp, Jo Morrow, and Charles Herbert) and moves in — only to find that the house is filled with malevolent ghosts. Castle’s gimmick for 13 Ghosts was “Illusion-O,” wherein patrons were given a “Ghost Viewer” (a cardboard viewer with a red cellophane filter to see the ghosts and a blue one to not see them). Route 66 star Martin Milner co-starred, along with Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard Of Oz).
Disc Two’s features are Homicidal and Strait-Jacket. As the story goes, Alfred Hitchcock was rather impressed with the grosses Castle’s House On Haunted Hill had made in 1959, and so he released Psycho — his own low-budget horror film — a year later. Castle then tipped his hat to the great director in 1961 with Homicidal, a similar kind of thriller in which an obviously psychotic woman (Jean Arless) commits a few murders in and around the sleepy-headed town of Ventura, California. Like Hitchcock’s film, Homicidal has a great twist ending. The gimmick here was a “Fright Break,” in which an onscreen clock appeared, giving timid viewers only 45 seconds to leave the auditorium so as not to subject their nerves to the horrifying conclusion.