Okay, I've said this before, but some days the film and video gods really do seem to be smiling on us. Case in point: I just discovered that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is about to release (on October 20 -- a day before my birthday, if you're keeping score) The William Castle Film Collection. Which is to say a fabulous box set featuring all eight of the wonderfully imaginative and slightly disreputable producer/director's Columbia horror flicks of the 60s -- 13 Frightened Girls, 13 Ghosts, Homicidal, Strait-Jacket, The Old Dark House, Mr. Sardonicus, The Tingler, and Zotz! Three of these are making their long overdue DVD debuts -- the rest are newly-remastered -- and the package also includes the award-winning documentary Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.
All of the above are genuine exploitation classics, several of which scared the living bejeezus out of the adolescent me in the darkened vastness of the Hackensack Oritani Theater back in the day, and it's hard to decide which is my favorite. Although the premise of Zotz! -- absentminded professor Tom Poston discovers a magical power that enables him to kill people merely by pointing his finger at them and saying the titular word -- is pretty much in an absurdist league of its own.
If I absolutely had to pick however, I'd probably come down in favor of the the 1961 Mr. Sardonicus.Here's Castle himself, in the trailer, to tell you what it's all about.
And here's Castle again, conducting the Punishment Poll he just mentioned.
As you can see, the gimmick here -- Castle was the king of cinematic gimmicks -- was that if the audience voted mercy for Sardonicus, there was a special alternate ending ready in which he's cured and survives. Supposedly, no audience was ever so disposed, so the alternate ending was never screened. Although it's worth noting that co-star Audrey Dalton has claimed it was never even filmed, and I'm inclined to agree.
BTW, in case you were wondering, this is what actor Guy Rolfe looked like as the evil Mr. S.
As you can see, his character concept and makeup were clearly influenced by...
...Conrad Veidt as the title character in Paul Leni's 1928 silent masterpiece The Man Who Laughs. Who is, of course, the acknowledged influence on a certain grinning gargoyle...
...created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger in the very first issue of a certain celebrated and long-running comic book.
In any case, obviously you owe it to yourself to go pre-order The William Castle Film Collection over here ASAP.