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October 29, 2011

Terry Castle talks ‘House on Haunted Hill,’ ‘The Tingler’

Posted in: Books,It's Alive,Movies

Vincent Price, left, plays Dr. Warren Chapin in a scene from "The Tingler," and William Castle, the film's director. (Alex Film Society and Los Angeles Times archives)

Producer/director William Castle, who died in 1977 at the age of 63, may not have been the greatest horror filmmaker, but he was one of its most ingenious. A master showman who would appear in the trailers for his own films boasting a cigar, wide grin and a tongue-in-cheek demeanor, Castle would invite audiences to enjoy the chills and thrill of his films such as 1959’s “House on Haunted Hill” and “The Tingler,” and 1964’s “Strait-Jacket.”

And a lot of his films had a gimmick: “House on Haunted Hill” came with “Emergo,” which was a fancy rigging system that allowed a plastic skeleton to fly over the audience at certain times in the movie. “The Tingler,” which screens on Halloween at the Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre, had Percepto, which featured buzzers wired to the audiences’ seats that would give them a shock at appropriately scary moments.

A movie poster for "The Tingler." (Alex Film Society)

Other films in Castle’s canon include 1958’s “Macabre,” 1960’s “13 Ghosts” and 1961’s “Homicidal.” He also was the producer of Roman Polanksi’s 1968 classic horror film, “Rosemary’s Baby.”

Producer/writer Terry Castle recently published “House on Haunted Hill: A William Castle Annotated Screamplay,” as well as revved up her father’s William Castle Productions. She’s also written a young adult novel, “Fear Maker: Family Matters.”

Castle is also a showman in the tradition of her father because she says her late father has also written a new book, “From the Grave: The Prayer,” for young adults. So that makes William Castle his own ghost writer!

Terry Castle will be in town on Nov. 11 at Larry Edmunds to sign copies of the books and talk about her famous father.

She recently chatted with Hero Complex contributor Susan King over the phone from her home in Marin County.

SK: Do you think your father’s films have remained popular over the decades because he was such a showman?

TC: I think for the people who saw them originally they remember the specific experience. They say I was in Youngstown, Ohio, and I was wearing this outfit and my mother dropped me off at the theater. This is what their childhood was and my father went to all of these places and opened all of these films. And [they enjoyed] the experiences he created whether it was Emergo or Percepto or Illusion-o. A lot of people likened him to the poor man’s Alfred Hitchcock. But I do have to say that my father adored Alfred Hitchcock. I think they had this wonderful little rivalry.

SK: Your father’s films are just so delightfully over the top.

TC: They are so much fun to see. I think at the time they were scary and now they are really entertaining. I believe horror films reflect the time we lived in. in 1968, horror films and the world changed. I think today new audiences and my father’s fans would love to go back to that time of innocence. I can’t tell you how many hard-core horror fans I talk to want to go see “House on Haunted Hill” or ‘The Tingler.”

Vincent Price in a scene from "House on Haunted Hill." (American Cinematheque)

SK: Why do you think horror films changed in 1968?

TC: I believe they did change after “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Night of the Living Dead.” You had the Tet offensive and Robert Kennedy’s assassination and you had Martin Luther King’s assassination. I think after “Rosemary’s Baby,” I think my dad lost footing because the world did change.

SK: He produced but didn’t get a chance to direct “Rosemary’s Baby.”

TC: That was tough for him but he did really love how Roman directed the film. It was a hard film for my dad to produce because he was used to doing an entire movie in the amount of set-ups that Roman had in one shot.

SK: It was more hard-core than what your dad had done. It was condemned by the Catholic Church.

TC: That really affected my father. I have a healthy fear of the devil because of “Rosemary’s Baby.” I was Jewish, but my father didn’t believe in organized religion. But he had so much hate mail from the Catholic Church and it really upset him. Dad thought maybe he had unleashed evil unto the world because then he got really really sick. The fabulous composer Krzysztof Komeda [died] and then a year later we were driving up to San Francisco and we heard that Sharon Tate was butchered. My dad had major surgery after the film and I remember him going under and when he came out, he thought in his mind that he saw the devil’s eyes in the surgeon’s knife.

SK: Your poor dad.

TC: He was such a sensitive guy and it really bothered him. In fact, we had a humidor that Mia Farrow gave my dad that said “To Bill, Love Mia,” and it was a gold devil with ruby red eyes and I left it in the storage locker in Hollywood. I didn’t want to give it to anybody. I didn’t want to sell it.

William Castle in 1973. (Mary Frampton / Los Angeles Times)

SK: You have also resurrected William Castle Productions.

TC: It is kind of exciting. There was a book that he optioned — and there’s a bunch of properties that he optioned — that I am looking at called “The Mind Thing” by Fredric Brown ,which I absolutely love. I just re-optioned it and it’s a fabulous horror/sci-fi story. I am looking forward to getting that made. So I am looking forward to resurrecting his brand.

SK: Will you be bringing out any more of your dad’s annotated scripts?

TC: We hope to bring out more. You know my father is back from the grave. I don’t know if you know this. My dad has written a new novel called “From the Grave: The Prayer.” It’s a young adult novel.

SK: Now, how did he do that?

TC: He did that from his home in Gordes, France. In 1959, in my dad’s autobiography he talks about driving in southern France — I don’t remember this because I was really little — but him and my mom were in southern France. They came upon this house and my dad said, “This looks haunted. Isn’t it great?” My mom said, “It’s really, really creepy.” He said, “No it’s fantastic. I want to buy this.” The next day my dad bought the house. What he wanted to do is make millions of keys and in his next haunted house film he wanted to give away keys to this haunted house and one lucky person would win a haunted house. But he never got to use the  gimmick, so that’s where he is, haunting that house.

SK: Is he planning to do write more books?

TC: I don’t talk to him.

SK: Who is he talking to?

TC: It’s interesting. He talks to the world via Facebook, so I am a friend of his. He also tweets from the grave. It’s hard to keep a good man down.

– Susan King

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