Friday, October 08, 2010

The Awesome Gimmicks of William Castle

With the resurgence of overly expensive 3-D, I thought it'd be fun to talk about the pre-3D gimmicks of one William Castle. Castle directed many notable horror films with circus-y gimmicks that amplified the experiences for certain audiences.

For you vets, there is no need to explain the brilliance of Castle's gimmicks, but on. All of gimmicks listed are from Wikipedia.

1.) "Insured by Death by Fright"

Macabre (1958): A certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London was given to each customer in case he/she should die of fright during the film

2.) "Emergo"

House on Haunted Hill (1959): Filmed in "Emergo". An inflatable glow in the dark skeleton attached to a wire floated over the audience during the final moments of some showings of the film to parallel the action on the screen when a skeleton arose from a vat of acid and pursued the villainous wife of Vincent Price.[4] The gimmick did not always instill fright; sometimes the skeleton became a target for some audience members who hurled candy boxes, soda cups or any other objects at hand at the skeleton

3.) "Percepto"

The Tingler (1959): Filmed in "Percepto". In the film a docile creature that lives in the spinal cord is activated by fright, and can only be destroyed by screaming. In the film's finale one of the creatures removed from the spine of a mute woman killed by it when she was unable to scream is let loose in a movie theatre. Some seats in theatres showing the Tingler were equipped with larger versions of the hand-held joy buzzers attached to the underside of the seats. When the Tingler in the film attacked the audience the buzzers were activated as a voice encouraged the real audience to "Scream - scream for your lives."

4.) "Illusion-O"

13 Ghosts (1960): Filmed in "Illusion-O". A hand held ghost viewer/remover with strips of red and blue cellophane was given out to use during certain segments of the film. By looking through either the red or blue cellophane the audience was able to either see or remove the ghosts if they were too frightening

5.) "Fright Break"

Homicidal (1961): This film contained a "Fright break" with a 45 second timer overlaid over the film's climax as the heroine approached a house harboring a sadistic killer. A voiceover advised the audience of the time remaining in which they could leave the theatre and receive a full refund if they were too frightened to see the remainder of the film. To ensure the more wily patrons did not simply stay for a second showing and leave during the finale Castle had different color tickets printed for each show.[8] In a trailer for the film, Castle explained the use of the Coward's Certificate and admonished the viewer to not reveal the ending of the film to friends, "or they will kill you. If they don't, I will."

6.) "The Punishment Poll"

Mr. Sardonicus (1961): In this gothic tale set in 1880 London a baron's face is frozen into a permanent grotesque hideous smile after digging up his father's grave to retrieve a lottery ticket left in the pocket of his father's jacket. The audiences were allowed to vote in a "punishment poll" during the climax of the film - Castle himself appears on screen to explain to the audience their options. Each member of the audience was given a card with a glow in the dark thumb they could hold either up or down to decide if Mr. Sardonicus would be cured or die during the end of the film. Supposedly, no audience ever offered mercy so the alternate ending was never screened.

Castle had other gimmicks but these seemed to be the best of the bunch. Castle's filmography is filled with a variety of films ranging from horror to drama. But he is ever known as the PT Barnum of movies.

3-D may be the gimmick of today but the past was indeed the golden age of gimmicky cinema.

Which William Castle gimmick is your favorite?


  1. Haha, William Castle was a fucking awesome dude. I've read about these famous gimmicks of his a while back and imagine how great it would have been to be able to watch some of his films like that.

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  3. Man, wouldn't it be great if those old gimmicks came back. Gotta make going to the movies an event again, ya know?

    Did you ever see Spine Tingler? It's a really good documentary about Castle. I recommend it!

    Great post about one of my heroes!

  4. Excellent post idea, and a timely one at that! I have the WC box set coming in a couple of weeks, cant wait, although I wish I could travel back and time and experience them in the good ol ticket selling days of yore

  5. Atroxion - Seriously...I can't believe they haven't rebooted Castle's gimmicks. Hollywood would so milk the shit out of this.

    Chris - Thanks. I'll try to get my hands on Spine Tingler. Sounds like an awesome doc.

    Carl - Me too. I did go to a showing of the Tingler back in the day complete with Percepto. It was uber cool.

  6. Hi there, do you know William Castle is back from the grave and is on the twitter and Facebook?

    Got a full website going, in which there's blog regularly updated (not bad from someone who died in 1977) and a currently ongoing horror story , written by a different author a day, thats at www,

    I had the great opportunity to see The Tingler, Mr Sardonicus, Homicidal and House on Haunted Hill in New York City, gimmicks in tact. Had a great time.

    if you haven't, be sure to stop by Castle's site and be sure 'he' sees this, its a very well done article!


  7. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the heads up. I dropped them a line about this article. I too saw The Tingler in a NYC showing with full Percepto. It was awesome.

  8. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. I'll post this on my website and on facebook. I love your name: The Jaded Viewer! That's why we need gimmicks more today than ever.