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145 Celebrating Master Showman William Castle

June 22, 2018 8:30 a.m.

Episode 145: Celebrating Master Showman William Castle

If you do not know the name William Castle then it's time for you to discover the master showman who invented Illusion-O, Fright Break, Coward's Corner, Percepto, Emergo and much more. And if you already know this cinematic genius then come share some love with his daughter on this 50th anniversary of "Rosemary's Baby," a film he produced.

Plus a quick topper with Malcolm Mays about the Blaxploitation collection just added to FilmStruck.

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Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Welcome back to another edition of listener supported PBS cinema Junkie podcast on Baff I Comando.

To start the show. I want to make a quick mention of the blaxploitation films film struck just added to its programming last Friday. Film struck is showcasing eight classics of blaxploitation cinema. So I want to remind people to revisit cinema Junkie podcast 60 featuring David Walker writer of The Schaff comic books. Walker talks about his love for blaxploitation films of the 70s and says were due for blaxploitation 2.0. This month film struck added the titles of SCHAFT Sweet Sweetback's bad ass song Cleopatra Jones SUperfly the Mac blackbelt Jones dolomite and Peetie wheat straw. The films will be presented by Malcolm Mays of snowfall and the upcoming Flint. Michael J White of Black Dynamite and Scott Sanders also of Black Dynamite as well as thick as thieves. Mays was too young to have seen those films on their first run. But he discovered them through his parents who spent their youth ingesting those films. He said there was a tradition on Sundays of going to church and then watching an oldie for what he calls soul cinema Sundays. He saw films such as SCHAFT which impressed him as being unapologetically black. Thanks to photographer turned filmmaker Gordon Parks Maise prefers the term soul cinema to blaxploitation. But he loves all the films in the collection that will be available on film struck for the next six months. We spoke briefly about the films in the collection alone.

I can't lie.

What I would say is the one that was most of the one that is always with me the most interesting is that Sweetback's that as someone simply just for different reasons that will affect me for that reason shaft because it was like a studio picture that was really dope and it's Sweetback's Sweetback bad ass song because it's just like audacious and raw. Ingrid and Erwin invited godly and then dolomite because Larry's hilarious to me like just hilarious. They say there's different reasons that I'm in love with them. Crime posted.

What do you think the legacy of these films are or I mean do you see that there's an impact from those films on films being made today or some filmmakers today.

Absolutely. A swagger. Not just like people of color like on movie making. I mean independent cinema during that time period was a big big big thing. How movies were being made. It was a big thing. It was unapologetic it was daring it was dashing having music be so intertwined in the cinema itself. Big deal of the black experience as it stands that as it should as it's conceptualized through another person's lens. Every minority in America has taken a little bit of that spirit. I would say not just minorities but every independent filmmaker has taken that spirit from those types of roles. Because without Malcolm we don't fight outside. We don't have John AMAA we don't have like Hoover and the like. And you know it's just this. And without those filmmakers we don't have all those actors we don't have those social topics highlighted on a part the cultural Gygax they're not the same.

If you had to tell someone who's never experienced any of these films never tried them what would you tell them to kind of entice someone to come watch these.

It depends on a remote outpost. Do you like dancing. Yes. Do you want to know where you got his word. One of the main sources of his work. Sure. Then you need to watch Foxy Brown and you actually don't need a watch. You know that he will for years that I want you to live by the end of watch every piece of globalization because it's going to provide you with an experience that you've never had.

That was Malcolm Mays one of the CO presenters a film Strax blaxploitation collection.

Now to the podcast I wanted to pull out of the archives in honor of a special anniversary fifty years ago this month a horror classic was born.

Pictures presents Mia Farrow in a William Castle production Rosemary's Baby.

Most people remember that the film was directed by Roman Polanski but the man who got billed above him in the trailer and the first person whose name appears in the opening credits is that of William Castle Castle. Not Polanski is the man I want to talk about today because his unique brand of showmanship is something that deserves being celebrated. Ironically Rosemary's Baby is the one prestige picture. The castle is associated with. But it's his other films that defined his distinctive approach to filmmaking an approach that included audacious gimmicks to lure people into the cinema. William Castle. I feel obligated to warn you about you will say this that picture is the Chengyi which I direct.

And for the first time in motion picture history. Members of the audience including you. Will actually play a part in the picture. You will feel some of the physical reactions the shocking sensations experienced by the actors on the screen. I guarantee that the Tingler has more shots per minute. And my last film my house on haunted hill. Don't belong. You can protect yourself. When you see the picture. You will be told. And remember the instructions how you can guard your self from attack.

By the tick. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of two wildly divergent films in Cassell's catalogue one The Prestige film Rosemary's Baby that he produced and the other the bee movie he directed called Project X. For today's podcast I'll dig back into the archives for a 2011 interview I did with William Cassell's delightful daughter Terry Castle.

First of all I just want to ask you were fairly young when your dad was kind of in the prime of his filmmaking. What kind of memories do you have of his work.

Well I was on the set of probably all of my dad's pictures now house of Haunted Hill and the cob I was really little so I have very little memory although I do remember going over to Vincent Price's house and having turtle soup I still don't know what I want to know what's in the turtle soup but it was it was delicious and Vincent Price was so elegant and wonderful but I do remember so many things about his skill set. I think the most striking thing I remember is how much of a family it felt like on each of the sets that created an audience where everybody felt like they were part of it and people would be a band Rafter say hey what about this shot or the cameramen would be running up to him and there is scurry of activity. It was quite something I do remember the set for all that you did and the set for straight jacket because I was a little bit older I remember both those sets were freezing cold and I remember asking my father why are these sets so horrible. It's like I said it's like being in the Arctic chill and it was because Joan Crawford who was 18 wanted her skin to be really hot. So they kept that temperature down really really low.

This is Joan Crawford.

I urge you to see my new motion picture straight jacket from the beginning. Don't.

Surprise shock and don't reveal surprise shock when you were young.

Did any of this stuff on the set scare you.

You know it's actually really really funny. I was supposed to be in a bad movie that was actually supposed to be in straight jacket that I was supposed to actually see. I was at a play Diane Baker as a little girl and I was supposed to walk in and see my mother hacked to death my father and my father's lover. OK. That didn't scare me at all. Well I actually got to the set and was prepared to play the part. What scared me was being on set and beat on stage. And then I freaked out and I didn't play the part but the actual filming of the movies they didn't actually scare me. I guess corn must be in my blood.

Let me ask is like what were the films scary like if you went to see the film in the theater did you feel scared by that. As opposed to being on the set where it's kind of like you're in the process of making the film.

Yeah I mean when I went to see homicidal and and in fact you know some homicidal really freaks me out.

I think that was really scary for the first time screen history a special interview you be provided during the picture Barbie funding your mission. If you're able to stand the almost the. Almost paralyzing shock of side.

With all of that and actually appreciate how scary it was.

Same with Rosemary's Baby but Rosemary's Baby was scary for lots of different reasons. But yeah the films themselves were scary especially as I grew up like you said I was pretty young when the earlier ones were made. But when I was you know 10 or 11 or 12 watching those films Yeah I was I was I was I was I was scared in the movie theaters but I had probably seen enough of what had gone on on the set. And my father father probably talked about it enough that I wasn't terrified or traumatized. Well maybe I was. Maybe that's the explanation for all my troubles today. If homicide is your hop may I recommend a surgical knife for a nice clean quiet.

Murder. I'm with him castle in wheelchairs just to rest my tired nerves after producing a picture like this one. We are so sure you will find it such a shocking and startling experience that we are offering a money back guarantee when you come to see almost 5. At the height of the suspense there will be a break. Interval during which you can quiet Your Honor if you are too frightened to see the end of the picture. Your admission price will be refunded. Time to go downstairs. Got a date the car a.

What do you remember of the gimmicks and stuff that your dad set up for actually screening the films in the theater.

Well I think that dad made this picture. He started out with a movie called niqab and I think he made it for ninety thousand dollars. They probably shot it in a week. I think Housatonic Hill you shot in 13 days. But I think he made the films and then I think he was frightened that nobody would come and so he decided you'd have to create a reason for people to come. He was from he was a showman and I mean he knew how to promote a film. So with the cop he went to Lloyd's of London and he got insurance policies and ensured moviegoers against death by fight. Donor.

Attention please. During every suspenseful moment of the running of the Motion Picture Macapa. The life of everyone in the theater will be insured by Lloyd's of London one thousand dollars against death by French. However even the lights of London will not grant coverage for any person with a known heart condition or suicide by any member of the audience.

It has that haunted hill.

He came up with the murga well aware of skeletons flew through the audience on a pulley at that exact moment when Vincent Price is digging a skeleton out of a vat of acid and I love the gimmick he did. There goes the illusion though to me as one of my favorite come. William Castle.

The producer of this motion picture has a question for you.

Do you believe in ghosts. Some people believe in them. Others do not. Personally I do. And I feel sure that when you leave this sphere you too will believe in ghosts.

Well not only will describe what the gimmick was I will describe to you how my father got the idea for the gimmick which is fabulous. So this is really funny. So it's called delusional and bad dad went to the doctor once and I don't know if you've ever been to the doctor they put this contraption on your eyes and they show you all different you know can you see this. Can you see this. And you know all these knobs and all these you know buttons are pressed. And dad had this brilliant idea for illusion though and basically he created ghost viewers or ghost removers. And it was not 3-D. It was a strip of cellophane of red cellophane and a scope a strip of blue cellophane and if you look through the red cellophane you were able to see the ghost if he looked through the blue cellophane. The ghosts were taken away. So if you were too afraid you would look to the blue. But if you are brave you could see the look through the red light. Of course everybody had to try it all out. But of course you wanted to see the ghost because you were there to see a hearse. All right.

When you came in you were given a special ghost. You were like this. And here's how it works. Would you please change the color of the screen. Thank you. You must only use it when the screen changes so this kind of a bluish color. Then you raise the view what your eyes. And you look at the screen through it. If you believe in ghosts. You look through the. Red part of the viewer. If you do not believe in ghosts. You look through the blue part. Would you please change the color again. Thank you. Now when the screen resumes its normal color like this. Remove the viewer from in front of your eyes until the next time the screen becomes blue. Oh one more thing. If someone sits down next to you during the picture. It would be helpful if you would show him or her. How the view will should be used. And remember if you believe in ghosts. Look through the red part. If you don't believe in ghosts. Look through the blue. Happy haunting. Goodbye for now.

Did your dad kind of get as much fun or put as much energy into kind of the showmanship aspect of the film as he did into the filmmaking.

Yes he put he put so much into the showmanship of each and every film. And he went to every theater and every opening and he was there and there was nurses taking your blood pressure and there were you know you know there were ambulances waiting in case people died from fright and interviewed people. He just got to he just he connected with the audience. He loved the audience and I think I mean he was a showman. And I think that's why he's back from the grave today. I mean you know he is back. Right.

Yes I've heard the stories stories you say some people just won't state. No. Yeah exactly. And he is one of those people.

And it's fitting it's completely fitting if anybody could come back from the grave it would be.

My father was your father's someone who I've been talking to a lot of horror filmmakers and stuff they always seemed like the most well-adjusted kind gracious people. It seemed like if you met them at a cocktail party or something you'd never guess that that's what they did. Is that kind of like what your father was or was he kind of obsessed with horror or did he have a lot of nightmares I mean what kind of a person was he.

He was the gentlest most wonderful man. Like you said I mean a lot of a lot of people are in the horror genre. You think oh my god they're going to be completely creepy and scary but my dad happened to be a champion for the underdog. He was kind he was compassionate. He he was he was like I couldn't. I was the luckiest person in the world to have had him as a dad. And he was just dad. I mean he wasn't even you know it wasn't even like when he would get people you know swarm around him for autographs. I'd be like why do they want his autograph. He's just dad. And he was he was just he was just the nicest kindest person.

Do you have any memories of the making of 13 ghosts at all.

I remember going to see it. I was really young I think it came out in 1960. And so I was only a couple years old so I don't have really vivid memories. Unfortunately I wish I did. But I do remember I do remember you know stories about it and I do remember the wonderful wonderful. You know Rob White's script and the great cast 13 ghosts I think it just had chills and thrills for everybody in the family. I wish there were more movies like that today because that was a horror film that a kid could see you know if you were if you were 12 years old you could have gone to see 13 ghosts. I just wish there were more films like that today because 13 year olds don't get to see horror films really.

Well some of the stuff on TV there's a little bit Scooby Doo. To me is like the entry the gateway drug for kids you want to go in.

I can't wait to see Paranormal Activity 3. You know my dad would have loved that and love that marketing campaign too.

Do you see anybody today who's got that kind of showmanship like your dad.

Well John Waters can I well I think John Waters you know he speaks so fondly of my dad but he's definitely all about. He's definitely all about a definitely from a ship. I think there's been some fans. I don't know if there's a showman like my dad but there's definitely been some fantastic marketing campaigns and I do think Paranormal Activity The first one and the second they had fabulous marketing campaigns. I think those have been stunning.

What do you think the legacy your dad left behind as well.

Interesting that you asked me what legacy my father has left behind because my dad died thinking he was terribly unsuccessful because he was relegated to making B horror films and then he made Rosemary's Baby which wasn't a film but he produced it and didn't get to direct it. Roman Polanski did after Rosemary's Baby he actually got quite ill and he was never actually able to rebound into combat with another film. And the times changed. So dad died when he was unsuccessful. And I think his legacy is just so so wonderful for me to see all these incredible fans that still remember him and remember him so vividly and so fondly. I'm constantly approached by people who say oh my goodness. I remember when I saw 13 ghosts. I was in Louisville and I saw at this theater and I was wearing this outfit and they remember what they were wearing. My sister dropped me off at the theater and you know when Margaret Hamilton the Wicked Witch of the West when she appeared on The I it terrified me. People remember it. This is the moment that they still have their ghost viewers. I can't tell you how many people still have their ghost Earth from 13 ghosts.

I was wondering what do you think it is about these kind of horror films that do have such a lasting appeal. And that people remember them so fondly.

It's really interesting. It's complicated. I think that that there was an innocence in the 50s and 60s. And I think that that made the experience a theater. This is really a theater going experience. So it wasn't just going to see a movie with an entire experience because of all the gimmicks. And I think that the movies had a nice Ivete towards them. People are craving that time again. In 1968 the same year as the night of the Living Dead came out Rosemary's Baby came out. We had the Tet offensive. We had the Robert Kennedy assassination and then we had the Martin Luther King assassination. And our world changed and also Horsens changed forever. And I really think the Horsell reflect the times we live in. And I think right now there is a huge desire to go back to that that that that innocence their place of innocence. But our audiences are so sophisticated. So it's it's sort of difficult. I think the Harry Potter series sort of captured some of that in the books and the movies there's a certain innocence there. Yet it appeals to a more sophisticated audience. But I think it's tricky.

Is there a new book coming I know there was a reissue of his biography but is there also a new book coming out as well.

Yes. My dad like I said is back from the grave and he has written a book called The Prayer. It's called from the grave the prayer and it's narrated by my dad as a dead man. And it tells his story what it's like for him to be dead in his encounter with three teenage kids as they go on a quest for an ancient manuscript through southern France. What's really interesting about this story is that in his autobiography. But you said this came out as well. That talks about driving through the countryside of southern France in 1918 58 with my mom and they stopped at a house that looked like haunted and my dad said to my mom look at this house. It looks like it's haunted. My mom said yes. Kind of creepy and my father said Well I'm going to buy it. And my mother said what are you out of your mind. And my dad no I'm going to make ten million he's going to give away my next haunted house film and some is going to win a house in southern France a haunted house. And so my dad bought the house the very next day but he never got to use the gimmick. And that's the house he haunts today. That's where my dad I think is is is living or is dead. Thing is this house in southern France that he bought in 1959.

I was wondering when you were a kid did your dad tell you scary stories also. Like did you like to read scary books or you know recount scary tales to my dad absolutely loved Roald Dahl.

So he guess like I think my father pulled me like totally related to the misunderstood kid. And I think that's why there's these misunderstood kids in his book because my dad was orphaned when he was 11 and raised by his older sister and I think that he totally related to that. But he was such a great great storyteller and you asked me earlier what you said you know what kind of you know bubble kind. What was he like. My dad was the sweetest kindness man. Like I said that he was so charismatic like you would be at a party and everybody would go right to him. I don't know why he just had this unbelievable charisma. When we had bonfires at our beach house I mean he would tell it scary story and all the kids eyes would be like you'd be dilated fixated their eyeballs fixated on my dad as he spun a tale of terror. It was just fantastic. But he he used to dream a lot of his movies and then he'd wake up and he would have breakfast with my sister and I and you know over orange juice and Cheerios he would tell us. He would tell us a tale and some of them actually made on the big screen.

I was wondering did your dad like to go in the theater and watch the audience.

Oh my god yes my dad. Yes. He would love to go we would go to every single movie. I have the sweetest story though about my father. I remember when Rosemary's Baby came out it played in Westwood Village in Los Angeles and there were lines around the block and it played for a long time and it did phenomenally well. And my dad would go all the time we'd go all the time and sit in the theater and watch people and you know he would just get the biggest kick and I would be terrified that you know that the people wouldn't scream at the right places. And you know I was always the one that was nervous but he would have a big cigar and be very excited about the whole thing. But my dad went to every single person who worked at the theater the concessions people the people who sold the tickets. Every single person and he gave them a tip at the end of the run of the movie.

So that's the way that's something that I doubt ever happens today.

I can remember him doing that. But I have to get them some day and they took care of all these people and keep it up.

I want to thank you for your time and for being available on such short notice. I really appreciate it.

I really like to talk about my father. He's back from the grave you know.

Most films are just delightful. There's so much fun things that.

That was Terry Castle from a 2011 interview I did about her father and consummate showman William Castle. Thanks for listening to another episode of listener supported PBS cinema Junkie podcast. The podcast comes out every other Friday with an occasional break for the holidays. Check out the archives for interviews with Sir Ian McKellen Clive Barker and David Cronenberg as well as discussions of film noir horror musicals and much more. If you enjoy the show please leave a review on iTunes. It just takes a minute of your time and it's a huge help in getting the show out to more listeners till our next film fix Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.