J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IFP: The Spine Tingler


How can you turn down a screening that offers you a $1,000 insurance policy should you die of fright? Hip viewers will recognize this homage to horror movie director-showman William Castle, and indeed Spine Tingler is a biographical documentary of that Hollywood legend, which was screened in its entirety at IFP yesterday.

Castle is actually fondly remembered by many for his promotional gimmicks, like issuing insurance policies in theater lobbies, or installing electric buzzers in select seats for the Vincent Price film The Tingler. John Goodman’s character in Matinee is almost wholly modeled on Castle, and its director Joe Dante is one of those paying tribute to the master in Spine Tingler. Producer director Jeffrey Schwarz also covers lesser known, but no less colorful incidents, in what was a darn interesting life.

We learn of the early William Castle, who built a successful publicity campaign for a summer stock play by ostensibly standing up to Hitler, when his German émigré leading lady was invited (but hardly expected) to a reunion in Nazi Germany. Throughout his career, Castle did have an eye for the commercial, buying the rights to Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. Due to studio machinations, he would not actually direct the Roman Polanski classic, but it was a William Castle Production.

Schwarz clearly has a love of the material, creating an entertaining looking film, through retro graphics and clever use of vintage film. He was able to obtain clearance for all of the important works in the Castle canon, and had the cooperation of the family and many of those who worked with Castle, including Marcel Marceau. This is a film for film-lovers, not just goofy horror movie cultists, as it captures a unique filmmaker’s love for his craft. It deserves distribution (and it will be screening at the upcoming AFI Film Festival.)

The film is complete (trailer here), except for a little color correction, according to Schwarz (actually, it would have been totally appropriate if someone had turned up in the film with a green head, but it all looked right at the screening). Castle’s films enjoy a revival life, so this film should have a market, and despite the Tingler footage, I obviously did not die of fright (and Mother Spins will not be collecting $1,000), so the uninitiated can safely attend.

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