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Event Report: The Return of William Castle

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If H.G. Lewis is the Godfather of Gore, then William Castle must be horror’s lovable Grandfather … or at least its sneaky uncle. And just like family, we sometimes take him for granted, relegating him to the bowels of schlock cinema – a term that celebrates the gimmickry of niche movie making but not its inherent ingenuity.

The name William Castle has become synonymous with classic horror, but not dared spoken in the same breath as Hitchcock or even Terence Fisher for that matter. No, Castle is the midnight movie madman who elevated audience exploitation to an art form and invented the twist ending decades before M. Night Shyamalan pitched The Sixth Sense to Disney executives. Now, when one name splashes across the screen, it elicits groans from the audience (been in a theater showing the Devil trailer lately?), but when the name William Castle pops up, a sinister smirk creeps onto the faces of moviegoers, and when Castle introduces himself onscreen, you feel as if a dear old friend has just dropped by for a much needed, long overdue visit.

Over the last couple of weeks at the Film Forum in New York City, we were lucky enough to enjoy an extended stay from Mr. Castle in the form of a fourteen-film retrospective, and the seven films below perfectly illustrate the thrill and the skill that were on display every night courtesy of William Castle and Repertory Director Bruce Goldstein.

Event Report: The Return of William Castle

  • Night 1 August 27th

    HOMICIDAL

    The more adventurous among you may remember our previous excursions into the macabre – our visits to haunted hills – to tinglers and to ghosts. This time we have even a stranger tale to unfold … The story of a lovable group of people who just happen to be homicidal.” Hitchcock was always kind of a creep, but when William Castle utters these words at the beginning of HOMICIDAL, you can’t help but think how endearing and lovable the man seems to be – his pleasant demeanor and infectious smile invite the audience to settle in and really enjoy going to the movies.

    This PSYCHO inspired tale probably started shooting before Hitchcock’s masterpiece of suspense even left theaters. HOMICIDAL unabashedly lifts scenes and setups from PSYCHO, but it definitely comes into its own as the film plays on: it’s much more twisted, surprisingly tense during certain moments, and it’s a classic example of why Castle is the “King of Showmanship.”

    At the beginning of the third reel, just as one of our main characters approaches the house that hides unspeakable horrors inside its doors, the “fear clock” pops up on screen. Viewers have 45 seconds to flee the theater and run out to “Coward’s Corner” in the lobby, where they can breathe easy until the film is over. At this very moment inside the theater at Film Forum, a couple leaped up, screaming and throwing popcorn throughout the auditorium. It was the husband that was frightened, as he screamed, “I thought we were seeing NANNY MCPHEE! I just had heart surgery! You people are disgusting!” We laughed at the staged outburst, and the “couple” turned out to be Repertory Director Bruce Goldstein and none other than Terry Castle (William Castle’s daughter) as the accommodating wife. And yes, after the movie ended, you could find both of them sitting patiently in “Coward’s Corner”.

    The ending is shocking and I won’t give it away here, mainly because William Castle appeared on screen at the end of the film and told us not to. Besides, all of you have probably already seen it, right?

    We then took our seats for the second film of the double feature, introduced by Terry Castle herself!

    Event Report: The Return of William Castle

    STRAIT-JACKET

    Whenever his movies would open, he would take me to the theaters and we would count how many people were in the line … $1.50, $3.00 … but it wasn’t so much about the money as it was about the heads.” Terry Castle had a great childhood. She grew up on movie sets, meeting famous actors and actresses, and she is a perfect example of how the wonderfully macabre world of horror can be quite a positive influence on a developing mind. She turned out great!

    Terry was nice enough to share some of her memories involving the making of STRAIT-JACKET. “I am not an actress and Bruce made me act like his wife today (a reference to their antics earlier in the evening) but it wasn’t my very first acting role. My very first acting role came during STRAIT-JACKET, or was actually supposed to come during STRAIT-JACKET because at six years old I really wanted to be an actress.” Seeing how the opening sequence of the film features a young daughter witnessing Crawford butcher her husband and his mistress with an axe, William Castle naturally saw a perfect opportunity for his daughter’s screen debut. “He cast Diane Baker playing Joan Crawford’s daughter and I happened to look a lot like her when she was a little girl,” Terry claims. “So my Dad said, ‘I have the perfect part for you.’ I was going to walk in – and I didn’t know all the details because my Dad wasn’t that perverse – but he said, ‘You’re going to walk in and see your mother chop up your Dad and his mistress into little pieces!’ So my Dad would say ‘Action!’ and I would walk in and he would hit the bed with a baseball bat and my eyes would fill up with fear and terror … I was brilliant.

    Of course, all this fake killing on set started to have an effect on Terry, and she wound up being a little frightened by Crawford as the days went on. “I remember one day coming on the set and it was absolutely freezing cold because Joan had to have the set cold because it made her skin tighter. Then Joan called me over and I sat on her lap, and I started to cry and I ran out of that set. And I never, ever acted again … until tonight!” She later regretted the decision to not appear once she saw the film. “My Dad did take me to see STRAIT-JACKET in the movie theaters, and when the little girl who played my part came on, I told my Dad that I could have played that much better.

    For those who don’t know, Joan Crawford’s husband owned Pepsi, and if you pay attention you can definitely see some strategically placed six-packs of the classic soda pop in various scenes throughout STRAIT-JACKET. Interestingly, Terry also mentioned a gift that Joan Crawford had bestowed upon the Castle family. “Joan Crawford gave us this really cool Pepsi machine that was a refrigerator. It was like an ice box almost with a silver lid that you would put Pepsi’s in. But instead, we used it for our milkman who would deliver milk and eggs, and he never knew he was placing our milk inside a Pepsi machine given to us by a Hollywood legend!

    STRAIT-JACKET features Crawford in one of her last roles, and just like many older actresses she turned to horror and William Castle in her late years. She gives an incredible performance here, and my only complaint while watching it was the fact that some people in the audience felt they were still watching HOMICIDAL and chose to be above the movie instead of being respectful. It might have played better if STRAIT-JACKET played first and then HOMICIDAL in retrospect. A fantastic film that is available on Netflix Instant by the way …

    Terry also went on to say how impressed she was with what the Film Forum had put together to pay homage to her father. “I had the honor to see what Bruce has in store for you for the rest of the week, and I think I have to stay. It’s unbelievable. It’s everything my Dad did, but a little bit better.

  • Night 2

    MR. SARDONICUS

    The “Punishment Poll” is the gimmick here – a card that is passed out to each member of the audience, to be used at some point in the film so that a vote can be taken to give “mercy” or “no mercy” to the heartless, tortured Mr. Sardonicus. The man who shares the film’s title must wear a wax mask (a mask that looks suspiciously like the filmmaker) because he has been horribly disfigured after seeing the face of his dead father after defiling the man’s grave to retrieve a lottery ticket – a ticket that is wholly responsible for the status and wealth that Mr. Sardonicus now enjoys.

    Through a combination of psychological experiments (and rigorous massage), Sardonicus’ features have returned to normal, but he finds himself unable to speak or eat. He winds up alone, with only his minion to keep him company and the film fades to black … or does it?

    Event Report: The Return of William Castle

    Castle appears on the screen and asks us if Sardonicus has been punished adequately. Ushers fill the room with flashlights and ask us all to hold our cards high … higher! Higher! Everyone giggles and no one votes to give poor Sardonicus a reprieve. In fact, it is unclear if an alternate ending showing the “mercy” ending was ever shot in the first place. Castle knows his audience!

    The film starts up again, and we see Sardonicus sitting at his massive dining room table, desperately stuffing food into his face, unable to open his mouth and gain sustenance. His unappreciated minion watches with quiet pleasure as he dines …

    HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

    We had turtle soup. He was a great chef.” Terry Castle had turtle soup with Vincent Price. I never dined with the man myself unfortunately, but I did see HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in bone-chilling Emergo! Towards the end of the film, a skeleton rises from the grave and begins to stalk the conniving Annabelle Loren, who is suddenly in danger of being frightened to death. At that moment, inside the theater a skeleton emerges from the right side of the screen and floats towards the audience via a rigged pulley system. We screamed. We laughed. We … Emergo’d. In one of the best reveals in horror history, Price appears controlling the skeleton with the intent on giving his wife – who has been trying to kill him the entire movie – a taste of her own medicine. The combination of what was happening inside the theater and simultaneously up on the screen made for one of the most memorable moments we’ve ever had at the movies, bar none.

  • Night 3

    NIGHT WALKER

    No gimmicks tonight. Just great filmmaking. NIGHT WALKER features Barbara Stanwyck in her final film role. She went on to work in Television but this film was her send off, and it is definitely a career highlight in my opinion. Almost playing like some kind of black and white precursor to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, Stanwyck’s Irene Trent is haunted by her dead husband’s ghost, whose corpse is horribly burned after expiring in an accidental explosion at the couple’s home. Like nearly all of Castle’s movies, the reveal is classic detective exposition that pulls the curtain back on what you thought you were viewing for the last hour and a half. Great stuff and highly recommended viewing.

    LET’S KILL UNCLE

    Featuring a cameo from William Castle dying in a car wreck during the first scene, LET’S KILL UNCLE is the closest thing the director ever came to a black comedy. Nigel Green’s brilliant performance as the calculating Uncle hellbent on killing his nephew for a hefty inheritance is actually reason enough to watch this forgotten gem. Green tries everything from hypnotism to a pool of sharks (well, one shark) to kill the kid Barnaby, but Barnaby has his friend Chrissie to help thwart his evil Uncle, and the two conspire to turn the tables and take out the diabolical grown up before it’s too late.

  • Night 4

    THE TINGLER

    Spine-tingling Percepto! The far-out miracle of Psychedelorama! I’m going to level with you … Seeing THE TINGLER in the theater will always be a disappointment. It’s been built up in the minds of horror fans to the point where we envision everyone being electrocuted and the screen catching fire as giant mechanical spine-attaching creatures run loose in the theater. No one gets electrocuted (not all the chairs are rigged and if they are, you’ll get a small vibration from a suped-up hand-buzzer); the screen does not go up in flames (although the original blood-splattered color sequence and Vincent Price’s very first acid trip is pretty exciting); and there’s only one Tingler let loose to terrorize the audience (but it is quite thrilling when someone gets attacked).

    The Psychedelorama (patent pending), I assume, was when the film stopped and the Film Forum staff demanded that we scream for our lives. We did. And it was glorious fun. We did notice a wire tubing running down the length of the theater, but none of us felt a “shock” and we took up an entire row that night. A man a few rows ahead of is suddenly attacked! He turns to face us, and the Tingler – at least two feet long and terribly slimy – has seized him! He couldn’t scream at first, and we all feared for his life, but we all managed to let out a yelp to help. It wasn’t enough to loosen the grip of the fright-feeder, and the man rushed out into the lobby to seek medical attention most likely.

    Event Report: The Return of William Castle

    It was still a blast, just don’t let your expectations run wild. Frankly, the Film Forum and ultimately William Castle are the ones to blame for turning up the level of excitement to eleven. I saw THE TINGLER at the historic Paramount theater in Austin, TX years ago, and I can say that the experience here in NYC was much more intimate, more thought out, and better executed albeit still somewhat of a letdown.

    I had a charm bracelet and after every film, instead of other girls who would get little Eiffel towers and cute little golden gate bridges, I would get axes, devils, coffins, and skeletons but no tingler!” Why couldn’t all of us grow up like Terry Castle did?

    In a time where cinema chains across the country are desperately trying to keep butts in seats, it’s this kind of theatricality that is sorely lacking in today’s movie going experience: instead of feeling involved, giddy and connected to one another, we’re actually getting more removed, irritable and annoyed when the lights go down in our local cineplex. We need the lighthearted craftsmanship of William Castle now more than ever. At times, his films played to the lowest common denominator, but they never undermined the audiences enjoyment; Castle never talked down to the moviegoer and that respect permeates down from the projector to the seats below. The Film Forum was packed every night I attended, filled to the brim with horror fans that were thrilled to be at a venue determined to keep Castle’s vision alive – a spirit of filmmaking that wants to laugh with the audience instead of laugh at them. A statue of William Castle basks in the moonlight inside the pantheon of B-movie auteurs, and his legend continues to grow with each passing year.

    But thank you guys so much for coming. It’s a real honor for my family. He died thinking he was incredibly unsuccessful and look thirty three years later you guys are here and you’re laughing!” -Terry Castle

    Drew Tinnin

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    New Insidious: The Last Key Trailer Speaks Softly But Carries a Big Whistle

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    The last word we brought you guys on the fourth installment in the Insidious franchise was when we let you know the new film had snagged a PG-13 rating from the MPAA for “disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language”.

    Today we have a new trailer/TV spot for Insidious: The Last Key, and if you aren’t already on board for a fourth round of spooky shite courtesy of screenwriter Leigh Whannel, maybe this quick trailer will do the trick.

    You can check out the new trailer below; then let us know how excited you are for Insidious: The Last Key!

    I’m digging what I’ve seen from the new film thus far, and this new trailer only strengthens that. Plus I’m excited to see what director Adam Robitel can do with this series after his fucking terrifying previous film The Taking of Deborah Logan.

    The film is directed by Adam Robitel from a script by Leigh Whannell and stars Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, Kirk Acevedo, Javier Botet, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, and Marcus Henderson.

    Insidious: The Last Key hits theaters January 5, 2018.

    Synopsis:

    Parapsychologist Elise Rainier and her team travel to Five Keys, N.M., to investigate a man’s claim of a haunting. Terror soon strikes when Rainier realizes that the house he lives in was her family’s old home.

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    Luke Genton’s The Bone Box Trailer Proves Not All Graves Are Quiet

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    Sometimes a fright flick comes along that sells me on the logline itself. And writer-director Luke Genton’s upcoming supernatural horror movie The Bone Box has just such a premise.

    The film follows the story of a grave robber who comes to believe he’s being haunted by those he stole from. And if that premise doesn’t sell you on at least checking out the film’s trailer, I don’t know what to do for you.

    Speaking of the trailer, you can check it out below. Then let us know what you think below!

    The film stars Gareth Koorzen (The Black That Follows), Michelle Krusiec (The Invitation), and Maria Olsen (Starry Eyes), Jamie Bernadette (I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu), David Chokachi (Baywatch), Aaron Schwartz (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), and Tess Bellomo (Liked).

    Look for updates on Facebook HERE and the Director’s Instagram: @lukegenton.

    The Bone Box is currently in post-production. It is scheduled to be completed by November 2017 and is seeking distribution.

    Synopsis:

    Depressed and reeling from the recent death of his wife, Tom (Koorzen) has built up quite a gambling debt. He goes to stay with his wealthy Aunt Florence (Olsen) in hopes that she will write him into her will. When a nasty creditor makes it clear that Tom is out of time, he devises a plan with Elodie (Krusiec), the undertaker’s daughter, to rob the graves of the rich townspeople buried in the cemetery across the road. After plundering the graves, Tom begins hearing and seeing strange things that seem to coincide with the deaths of the people he robbed. Even more disconcerting… he appears to be the only one sensing the occurrences. One question lingers: Is Tom’s conscience playing a trick on him… or is he really being haunted by those he stole from?

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    H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game, Overview and Review – Last Meeple Standing

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    Yeah, I know. I’ve said it before, and I will scream it to the heavens again: There is an abysmal glut of Lovecraft Mythos games out there (and still streaming into the market). For a while there, it was vampire games (wanna take a sparkly guess why?). Then, it was zombie games (only Robert Kirkman knows why). Now it is Lovecraft games, and it is a LOT of them. Shambling, fish-headed masses of them, weighing down the game shop shelves like heavily laden buckets of freshly shorn tentacles (calm down, hentai fans). It’s true, and a lot of them seem to be sad doppelgangers of other games, just skinned with a rotting coat of Elder God goo.

    Photo Credit: Tiffany Hahn

    For that reason, it is nice to run across a Lovecraft-themed game that is GOOD. H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game is one of those… it’s good, but it’s not great (for ONE painful reason). But, for our nefarious purposes today, that’s good enough. The stars are PARTIALLY in alignment. There is one little detail to get out of the way before we wade into the spawn-infested miasma of this game: it is the hellish offspring of an earlier, more complex game called (you guessed it) H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival the board game. Much has been said about the relationship between these two games and many comparisons have been made, but since I neither own the board game nor have I played it, let’s leave it to fester in cold, barren space all by its lonesome for now. I’m sure its time will come…when the stars are right (rolling his eyes).

    COMPONENTS:
    It is RARE (like fresh Deep One filets) that the components of a game are as nice as the gameplay, but there are two elements of Kingsport Festival: TCG that really make it shine. The first is the titular cards that make up the bulk of the game. The artwork on the tarot-sized cards depicting the various gods, lesser gods, demons, and evil corgis (I kid) from the Mythos is dark and shows off the creatures to good/evil effect. I have to admit that these are some of my favorite depictions of the creatures from Lovecraft’s mind I’ve seen. They really look threatening here. The portraits on the cards presenting the investigators/evil cultists look dignified, a little creepy, and mysterious, as is only right for nogoodniks taking on Cthulhu’s worst. The graphic design is really classy with easily interpreted iconography and border artwork. Equal care has been taken with the backs of the cards, which have appropriately aged and Victorian elements. The only parts to this game are the cards and the dice. Wait, this is a card game, right?

    Well, yes and no.

    Although cards make up the lion’s share of the game, there is a heavy dice aspect as well, and these are some NICE dice. I’m a SUCKER for custom dice, and Kingsport Festival: TCG comes loaded with them. There are three types of dice: a white d10 with a clock icon on one face, brain-pink (a nice touch) d12 dice representing the player’s sanity with a Sanity icon on one face, and grey Domain d6 dice with three types of domain faces: purple Evil, black Death, and red Destruction. All of the dice are high-quality and engraved, not printed, with easily recognizable faces for ease of play and match up nicely with the icons on the game’s cards. Squee! Wonderfully evil custom dice!

    SETUP:
    Set up is pretty basic. All of the cards depicting the horrid gods are displayed in order of their power in six rows within reach of all of the players. The total number of copies of each type of god card is dictated by how many people are playing, so the number varies. Each player gets one of the brain-ilicious d12s with which to track their sanity and sets it to 10. All players white timer die, with the high roller taking the role of the starting player. Then each player sets their Sanity die to 10 (yes, the value can be increased up to 12 through game effects. That player takes the white d10 and sets it to the clock face. Players can pick an investigator card, but I suggest dealing them out at random to each player to liven things up (before they get driven insane, of course).

    GAMEPLAY:
    Gameplay is equally simple, yet strangely engaging. The first player takes the white timer d10, passes it to the next player to their left, who turns it to the number 1, effectively creating a timer that will count up from 1 to 10, ending the game. That player becomes the starting player. Once the white die is passed, the passing player increases their Sanity by one, as will be the mechanic throughout the rest of the game.

    At the start of a game, the players will have no cards in their hands. They acquire them throughout the game, but we’ll talk about a general turn. The starting player rolls one of the domain dice and notes the resultant face. If they have cards to play, now is when they would play them. The card effects are varied. They might instruct the player to roll more dice, add specified domains to their pool of domains, change rolled die faces, etc. There are many possibilities. After the player has played all the cards they wish to and resolved the card effects, the player may spend the resources/domains gained through the dice they’ve rolled and the cards they have played to buy ONE god from the displayed cards and add it to their hand. It should be noted that players are limited to one and only one copy of each available god.

    Once the player has completed their turn, they check to see if the round indicator on the white d10 matches one of the Raid rounds shown on the investigator card at the very bottom. If the numbers match, the player must compare the Gun icons on his cards to the strength of the raid indicated on his character card. If the Cultist’s strength is greater, he gains the difference in Sanity points. If the Cultist’s strength matches the Raid strength, they neither gain nor lose Sanity. If the Cultist’s strength is less than the Raid strength, they lose the difference in Sanity points. After this, the next player to the left will take their turn.

    WINNING:
    The game ends at the end of the ninth round, unless a Cultist is able to invoke the Elder God Azathoth, which results in dogs and cats sleeping together (no, not really). The cultists look at all of their god cards and add up the Elder God symbols at the bottom of each card. The Cultist with the most Elder God symbols/points at the end of the game WINS!

    FINAL THOUGHTS:
    So, there you have it: an epic battle between creepy Cultists and ghoulish Gods in one rather small box. I’ll get to the point. I really like H.P. Lovecraft’s Kingsport Festival: The Card Game. I happen to be fond of little filler games like this. The box lists the playtime for this game as 30 min, but once the players know the rules, you can cut playtime down to 20 min, easy. It lists the age limit at 13+, which I think is absurd. There is nothing in the theme or artwork that would preclude players 10 and up from playing, other than rule complexity. Between the awesome art, the devilish dice, and the rad rules (ugh…), there is not much to dislike about this game… other than the hellish rules. You may be asking what I mean. The rules seem easy. They ARE. It’s the rulebook that is a pain in the neck. For some reason, the graphic designer (I’m looking at you, Savini -no, not Tom-) decided to print all of the rule examples in the book in a nearly unreadable “old-timey” font that is TINY. I think they thought they were adding flavor. If so, that flavor is YUCKY. When learning a new game, you want crystal-clear rules, not something you have to squint and struggle over, like this sad, arcane tome. The same hellish font appears on the cards in places, as well, making me one unhappy game collector. You may look past it, but I had a hard time doing so. Other than that, though, the game is great fun, a nice way to fill in time between bigger games, and beautiful to look at. You make your own judgement.

    PRODUCT DETAILS:
    Designer: Gianluca Santopietro
    Artist: Maichol Quinto and Demis Savini
    Publisher: Passport Games/ Giochi Uniti
    Published: 2016
    Players/Playtime/Age Rating: 3 -5 players/30 min/13+ (seriously?)

    RATING:
    3/5


    Last Meeple Standing is brought to you by Villainous Lair Comics & Games, the ultimate destination for board game fanatics in Southern California. For more information visit the official Villainous Lair Comics & Games website, “Like” the Villainous Lair Facebook page and be sure to follow Villainous Lair on Twitter and Instagram.

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