WILLIAM CASTLE


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William Castle was born William Schloss in New York City in 1914 (he would change his name to Castle when he became an actor, and "schloss" is German for "castle", so it was a natural choice!) He got some minor behind the scenes jobs on Broadway while a teen, and when he was 23, he moved to Hollywood. He got a few bit parts as an actor, but he mostly worked behind the scenes, and he worked his way up over six years time until he got the chance to direct some B-movies. He stayed busy in the 1940s and 1950s, directing around 45 in all, including some big budget ones. He was the assistant director to Orson Welles on The Lady from Shanghai in 1947. In 1958, he produced two minor TV series, and he apparently liked having more control over his work, and he both decided to produce the movies he directed, and he had the wonderful idea to add a "gimmick" to each of his films. The first of these was Macabre in 1958, and the gimmick for that was a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London that was given to each customer in case he/she should "die of fright during the film"! Castle asked theaters to have "nurses" in uniform in attendence, and to park a hearse outside the theater. The gimmick worked to pump up the box office, and for his next movie, House on Haunted Hill, Castle asked theaters to have a glow in the dark skeleton suspended over the audience during the skeleton scene in the movie! His gimmicks grew more wacky. The Tingler was fimed in "Percepto" and some seats had wires attached them so they shook and made noise. 13 Ghosts was filmed in "Illusion-O", which required 3-D-like glasses. Homicidal had a "Fright Break", where those who couldn't watch the "terrifying" ending could leave the theater (while being jeered by the audience) and get a refund. Castle also injected himself in the advertising for his movies (a la Alfred Hitchcock), and also took cameos in them. While the movies were successful, many theaters hated booking them, because the gimmicks were complicated and sometimes didn't work, and caused problems with customers (for a hilarious parody of this, see the movie Matinee, where John Goodman's character is based on William Castle). In 1968, Castle bought the rights to to Ira Levin's novel "Rosemary's Baby", and tried to get Paramount Pictures to finance it, but they would only do so if he DIDN'T direct, because they were afraid his "low budget" reputation would harm the box office. Roman Polanski was hired, and Castle was the producer (and had a cameo), and the film was a huge success. In 1974, Castle directed his final movie, Shanks, a weird movie starred mime Marcel Marceau in a dual role both as a deaf puppet maker and an old Caligari-like scientist, and while the movie was not successful at the box office, it has a cult following, and is somewhat like Eraserhead, in that it is not very coherent, but it stays in your head long after you watch it. The following year, Castle produced his last movie, Bug, and true to form, he advertised that he had a million-dollar life insurance policy taken out on the film's star, Hercules the cockroach! Castle passed away in 1977 at the age of 63.
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