Archive for the ‘William Castle’ Tag

House on Haunted Hill (1959)   8 comments

aaahohh

Vincent Price invites you to a party. Are there balloons and noisemakers and a clown? Gee, I hope not. No, but Price does invite a bunch of total strangers, a creepy housemaid, and a scaaaaary skeleton. Ahhhhh!!

aaacrone
Avon lady!

Millionaire, Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) holds a birthday party for his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) in a spooky mansion. For those of you playing at home, that mansion is Ennis House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. If his guests can stomach a night in the spooky house, Loren will pay each of them $10,000. That’s about $81K in 2015 dollars. A nice payday. It sounds simple enough until we learn that several people, including Watson Pritchard’s (Elisha Cook, Jr.) brother were murdered in the house. Funny thing though, they never found his head.

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A building from Wright’s pueblo pyramid period.

Just when we think we’re watching a straight haunted house film, Loren and his wife go at it. The couple do their version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and it’s clear this party will end badly. Loren, you see, has had three wives before Annabelle and each has expired under mysterious circumstances. Hmmm. Annabelle confides in guest, Lance Schroeder (Richard Long) that she fears for her life. Her husband, she says, wants to kill her and he’ll stop at nothing. When the servants leave prematurely, locking the party-goers in for the night, they’ll have to contend with ghosts and spirits and a possible murderer among them.

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Vincent has the coolest party favors.

Robb White, frequent William Castle collaborator, wrote the screenplays for House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, The Tingler, and others for the great showman.  Castle directed this movie and filled it with piercing screams, an active skeleton, and a rolling old lady. Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock saw Castle’s big box office returns and decided to make Psycho. Then, Castle saw Psycho and decided to make Homicidal. I hope that’s true. Anyway, we win. All three films are horror classics.

aaaeat
“There’s no food at this party.”

Oozing charm and menace, Vincent Price does his best Vincent Price. The rest of the cast hold their own, but are nothing to write home about with the exception of Elisha Cook, Jr. His crazed, drunken ramblings about ghosts and unseen forces are appropriately over the top. Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, who might win an Una for screaming artistry, and Robert Mitchum’s big sister, Julie round out the players. Julie Mitchum’s claim to fame in this film is that when offered a drink, she always asks for a scotch and… A scotch and what? Motor oil? Drain cleaner? Mare sweat? It’s an odd thing, but it always strikes me as funny.

aaaacook
“Aaahoooo Werewolves of London!”

Ever the marketing genius, William Castle used this tagline for House on Haunted Hill. ‘First film with the amazing new wonder EMERGO: The thrills fly right into the audience!’ I wish I had been around to see a Castle film in the theatre. Flying skeletons, fright insurance, cowards’ corner…such fun. By the way, does anyone know a good acid vat installer?

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“I’m not touching you!”

haunty

 

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Homicidal (1961)   5 comments

homicidalposter

A little girl plays happily with her doll.  As she pours an imaginary cup of tea, a boy enters the room, steals the doll, and walks out of the room leaving the girl in tears.

Twenty years later, when a justice of the peace is stabbed violently after performing a wedding ceremony, police hunt for his killer.

marion crane
“Marion Crane said it was just off the highway.”

William Castle’s answer to PSYCHO, HOMICIDAL, tells a neat story of family expectation, mental illness, and murder.  Without giving too much away, I’ll say that HOMICIDAL is a fun film and the first to include a fright break.  One of Castle’s legendary gimmicks, the fright break guaranteed the film-goer a refund if he was too scared to stay until the end.  A forty-five second timer appeared onscreen right before the climax of the film allowing the faint of heart time to exit the theatre.  When Castle found that one percent of the patrons were asking for refunds, he instituted a Coward’s Corner, a yellow kiosk in the theatre lobby.  To get there, scaredy-cats had to walk up the aisle lit in yellow while a recording bellowed, “Watch the chicken!”  At the Coward’s Corner they had to sign a card that read ‘I am a bona fide coward.’  The combination of the audience’s ridicule and the signing of the coward card put an end to Castle’s refund troubles.

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“Watch the chicken!”

As gimmick-ridden as this film and many other William Castle films are, they’re still well made and entertaining as hell.  The black and white cinematography by Oscar winner Burnett Guffey looks wonderfully sharp and Hugo Friedhofer, another Academy Award winner enhances the mood with his score.  Patricia Breslin and Glenn Corbett lead a tight cast of character actors and it’s fun to guess what will happen next.

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“When Shat and I left that diner, I though all our troubles were over.”

HOMICIDAL’s charm lies in its over-the-top story told with a straight face.  The actors don’t smirk at you like Dean Martin does in a Matt Helm vehicle.  They’re serious.  I like HOMICIDAL more than I probably should.  Catch it if you can.

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I have the same sampler in my kitchen.

haunty

Strait-Jacket (1964)   6 comments

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Lee Majors picks up a woman in a bar and brings her back to his house. The two lovers sleep soundly after their tryst until Majors’ wife Lucy (Joan Crawford) arrives and spoils everything. Things go poorly for the couple after that. Caught ranting at the scene of the double murder, Joan is shipped off to an asylum wearing…you guessed it.

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This is not an original!

Twenty years later, Joan, cured of being insane, heads home to her family’s farm where her grown daughter Carol (Diane Baker), Joan’s brother Bill (Leif Erickson), and his wife Emily (Rochelle Hudson) have promised to care for Joan. If it sounds ideal, think again. Even the tour Carol gives Lucy when she first arrives at the farm has a sinister vibe. Lucy is thrust into her former life twenty years after she left it. She dresses as if she’s a 28 year old floozy and even tries to suck face with her daughter’s beau Michael (John Anthony Hayes). It doesn’t go well. All of Lucy’s personal crises come to a head as people start losing theirs. Will heads continue to roll? Will Michael’s snotty parents approve of their future daughter-in-law’s nutjob mother? Will Pepsi work more product placement into the film? Will Joan continue to wear those annoying charm bracelets? Strait-Jacket’s worth watching to see the story’s unpredictable conclusion.

axy
You only serve Coke?!

Full of director/producer William Castle’s neat little touches, and writer Robert Bloch’s flair for psychopaths, Strait-Jacket has it all. Decapitations, insanity, and more sharp knives and slaughterhouse references than an Upton Sinclair novel. Joan even gets to slap someone. We also see one of George Kennedy’s early film roles as creepy farmhand Leo Krause.

george paint
I’ll use a different brush for the tires.

I recommend Strait-Jacket. It’s a well-made thriller with solid performances that keeps you guessing. If you’ve read any of my reviews you know I’m a big fan of B horror films and this one’s a gem.
Goofy trivia: Mitchell Cox, vice-president of PepsiCo played the part of Lucy’s doctor. Joan Crawford was on the board of directors of the soft drink company at the time.

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Teehee.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)   6 comments

rosemary title

Location Location Location.

A young, upwardly mobile couple move into an apartment building with a reputation. Over the years, the Bramford has hosted child killers, Dr. Mengele wannabes, and devil worshippers. That history does not dissuade Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse from taking the apartment, of course. They’re modern and immune to local folklore. Guy (John Cassavetes), a self-centered actor, waits for that one part to lift him out of supporting roles and commercials. Rosemary (Mia Farrow), a midwestern housewife, longs for children and a happy family life. Moving into the über fashionable Bramford (New York City’s Dakota) is step one for both of them. While Rosemary changes shelf paper and orders furniture, Guy auditions unsuccessfully for a part that could jumpstart his career. Feeling low and put upon, Guy gets an offer he can’t refuse. That offer and its source make up the central plot point of Rosemary’s Baby. The audience learns of the offer and its maker early on. We have a feeling about where we’re headed. The fun in Rosemary’s Baby is the journey and the characters we meet along the way.
Great character actors Maurice Evans, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Charles Grodin elevate Rosemary’s Baby above B-horror movie status, but it’s Ruth Gordon who hits it out of the park. Nosy and gauche, with her bangles and charm bracelets clanking with every movement, Gordon steals every scene. Whether she’s asking the price of their furniture or bringing the couple her specialty dessert, the comically mispronounced chocolate mouse, Gordon commands your attention. The tacky old lady next door lacks the social graces of the up and coming Woodhouses so it’s easy for them to underestimate her. That’s a big mistake as both Rosemary and the audience come to find out.

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Rosemary’s Baby, along with Shadow of a Doubt, Blue Velvet, and The Stepford Wives helps make up the ‘seamy underbelly’ category of film. These films show that under the veneer of small town innocence or big city sophistication lurks something sinister. As Hamlet put it “the devil hath power t’ assume a pleasing shape.”
Paranoia and misogyny play a big part in the film as well. Rosemary’s pregnancy makes her more easily victimized and more protective of her unborn child. Is her fear and suspicion justified or is she another silly, hormone crazed mother-to-be? Will she discover the threats against her and her child in time or will her claims be dismissed by outsiders as the ramblings of an unhinged woman? Writer Ira Levin and director Roman Polanski ramp up the suspense throughout Rosemary’s Baby. We know who the baddies are and root for Rosemary as she slowly comes to understand the danger she faces. The real mystery is the true nature of that danger. Polanski infuses the film with religious imagery, modern cynicism, and Catholic guilt
Filled with quirky characters, wonderful performances, and a frightening concept, Rosemary’s Baby entertains and alarms. The haunting score by Krzysztof Komeda and sung by Mia Farrow sets the tone for this atmospheric film even as the beginning credits roll. I love this film. It’s a horror film made, not in a dark dungeon, but in a chic Manhattan apartment building in broad daylight. That makes it all the more chilling.

Look and listen for cameos by producer William Castle and Tony Curtis.

I watched this on the Criterion DVD which looked phenomenal. It’s worth every penny.

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