Back in 2007, I reviewed “Spine Tingler!” for the Slamdance Film Festival, a yearly event that’s much more entertaining and fulfilling than its counterpart Sundance. “Spine Tingler!” is quite possibly one of the best horror documentaries and film documentaries of all time ranking with “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and “The Shark is Still Working” as the account of a Hollywood mogul and his attempts to make filmmaking so much more fun not only for the man behind the camera, but for the folks watching in the audience.
The godfather of viral marketing, William Castle was without a doubt one of the most visionary B movie directors striving to be the next Hitchcock, but never quite getting to his level of respectability and skill. While Castle did falter in measuring to Hitchcock’s own level, he did bring with him a vast array of fine Hollywood gimmicks including Illusion-O, Percepto, and even engaged his audience in gags like offering death certificates, having ambulances on stand by. Who Castle essentially was was a student of PT Barnum a man who believed in making films an event, and “Spine Tingler!” brilliant chronicles the man’s wild ideas and his own wrangles with the Hollywood studio system, one recounting includes him nearly destroying his blossoming film career after interrupting a take on “Penny Serenade” as the dialogue director.
As well we’re given glimpses in to his own turmoil’s with actresses like Joan Crawford and his views on horror in which Castle viewed the genre as something more suitable for entertainment fodder rather than self-important commentary mean to make audiences think. Of course Castle’s gimmicks didn’t always work as he offered audiences a money back guarantee on his film “Homicidal” and suffice it to say it worked too well, and nearly left the poor man broke. There’s also the journey of Castle to direct the now landmark horror film “Rosemary’s Baby” that was eventually taken from him by the studios and handed to a then newcomer director named Roman Polanski. In spite of his evident disappointment and aims to be taken seriously, “Spine Tingler!” is certainly not a sad affair as it keeps its tongue firmly planted in cheek.
All the while folks like Forry Ackerman, Stuart Gordon, Leonard Maltin and Castle’s daughter Terry fondly recall some wonderful memories with the man who took pride in indulging audiences with his visions for horror and horror theatrics that were lost on future generations who became much more cynical and close-minded as the seventies introduced themselves. Castle is one of the many role models of independent cinema, a man who worked within the confines of low budgets and offered up new gags for audiences to grab on to like Emergo and “Fright Break” for anyone too scared during one of his films.
While there is the slight undertone of sadness for Castle who was ultimately a schlock director struggling to be viewed as one of the greats, especially in his own mind, “Spine Tingler!” confirms for all that he certainly has lived up to his goals and his tactics are not lost on the internet age where viral marketing would have made the man swell with pride. If you’re able to catch a screening of it at your local festival, I highly suggest it. For any horror buffs looking to recall a time where horror was innocent, fun, and much more based around theatrics instead of taking our money, “Spine Tingler!” will remind audiences that the genre can be fun first and important second. William Castle believed that and his legacy lives on through this stellar biographical documentary. And if anyone wants to send me a Ghost Viewer, we’ll be most thankful.