Those delightfully goofy William Castle promotional gimmicks

posted by CSWalczak on November 2, 2009 at 3:45 pm

SEATTLE, WA — A recent article in the online Seattle P-I notes that while the internet has been used to promote the success of low budget films such as “Paranormal Activity” and the “The Blair Witch Project,” those of us “of a certain age” fondly recall how schlockmeister William Castle used memorable “promotional innovations” as effectively to create buzz around movies such as “House on Haunted Hill” and “The Tingler”. Many will recall the theaters – many, if not most, themselves now just memories – where we experienced “Emergo,” “Percepto,” and “Illusion-0”

William Castle didn’t just produce scary movies, he PRODUCED scary movies. To him, filming the movie was one thing, but marketing it was quite another. His promotional innovations (or “gimmicks” for you less romantic souls) earned him the title “The Schlockmeister” and he reveled in his reputation. Like a carnie barker, Castle would appear in a filmed segment before the start of each of his movies to hype the special “icing” associated with that particular film.

Read the whole article at Seattle Pi.

Comments (12)

raysson on November 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I know some of you have seen all of William Castle’s movies,but wasn’t there a gimmick for a promotional theatrical trailer of his 1965 horror classic “I Saw What You Did!”,where the gimmick was during the theatrical trailer where the audience was given seat belts during the picture for their own safety where the audience fastened them during several scenes of the picture?

raysson on November 2, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Check out the 1961 thriller Mr. Sardontics too where the audience was given a card to vote whether the villain would live(thumbs up),or suffer at the hands of his own fate(thumbs down).

CSWalczak on November 3, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Regarding “Mr. Sardonicus” – yes, the patrons were given a card which had glow-in-the-dark thumbprints which they could supposedly use to “vote” on what would happen to the villain. Castle would then appear, announce that the votes had been “counted” and then the ending would roll. There was however only one ending shown, and I am sure you know which one it was.

There was though an interesting cinema attraction at both the Montreal Expo ‘67 and San Antonio Hemisfair '68 presented by Czechoslovakia called the KinoAutomat. Each audience member could vote using two buttons built into the seat arms at several points in the film as to what a character should do next with votes tallied on a panel on one side of the screen. These votes did count and as a result the film could appear to be different if seen more than once. I saw it three or four times and the outcomes were never the same.

alknobloch on November 5, 2009 at 11:56 pm

They made a really interesting film about William Castle that is quite hard to find today called “MATINEE”. While it never mentions Castle by name and is totally fabricated in terms of his films and promotions, there is no question about whom they are alluding to.

This is a feature film (1993), directed by Joe Dante — so get ready for a fun and wacky ride if you can find a copy.

Nunzienick on November 6, 2009 at 5:08 am

I was standing in line for “I Saw What You Did” when the theatre manager came out carrying dozens of seatbelts. He walked down the line giving one to each person. I still have mine! They were paper belts with plastic buckles stapled to the end with “I Saw What You Did” starring Joan Crawford and buckle up for terror! printed across the belt.

The idea was to keep you from being jolted out of your seat during the film’s suspensful moments. It was simply another of Castle’s ploys to draw attention to the film. It was a nice souvenier to remember the film though — gotta love Bill Castle!! I still have my “13 Ghosts” viewer as well.

His films usually frightened me but in a fun way. His more serious efforts like “Homicidal” and “Mr. Sardonicus” are masterpieces of unease and tension despite their limited budget.

I’ve seen “Matinee” several times. I always thought John Goodman was an excellent choice to portray the Castle-like moviemaker.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on November 7, 2009 at 4:22 am

NICK, wasn’t MATINEE filmed in Lakeland,Fla.The girls still talk about Charlie’s movie theatre in his house.those 16mm movies were great i wish we could have stayed another night.

Nunzienick on November 8, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Mike, MATINEE was actually filmed at Universal Studios Orlando. I remember reading an article explaining how the filming of the kids in the theatre auditorium was done.

Included in the article was a photo showing all these kids seated in theatre seats on a huge platform surrounded by breakaway walls in the middle of a soundstage. One side wall was missing allowing for camera setups. Fascinating stuff!

Yes, Charlie’s theatre is a must-see for film fans. A real theatre experience at home!

GaryCohen on March 7, 2010 at 2:05 am

I saw virtually all of Castle’s horror films in the movies with the exception of “Homicidal.” I received the little piece of cardboard advising me that I was insured by Lloyds of London in case I died of fright during his first horror film: “Macabre.” (I survived.) I saw “The Tingler” in the movies but was not lucky enough to sit in one of the wired seats. I saw “House on Haunted Hill,” my favorite Castle, and saw the skeleton coming down from the balcony. The kids threw soda cups and other junk at it. For “13 Ghosts” there was the ghost viewer and “Mr Sardonicus,” the punishment poll. (Poor Sardonicus never got a break, he was always suitably punished for being such a bad guy.) Finally, for Joan Crawford in “Strait Jacket,” they gave out a little cardboard axe.

Along with so many others like Ray Harryhausen and Vincent Price, I tried to see all of Castle’s films. He was the greatest showman ever. I read his autobiography many years ago and enjoyed it greatly. I thought John Goodman did a very nice job of playing a Castle-like character in “Matinee,” a very enjoyable film that not many people saw.

GaryCohen on September 7, 2010 at 12:00 am

All last week, the Film Forum in New York City did a tribute to William Castle, showing his films including the gimmicks. I went twice seeing a double feature of “House on Haunted Hill” and “Mr. Sardonicus” last Sunday and “The Tingler” yesterday. I originally saw House on Haunted Hill with my father in 1958. I remember when that skeleton came down from the ceiling, the kids pummeled it with soda cups and popcorn boxes. It was a thrill to see it revived last week. (The skeleton made a reappearance during “The Tingler” yesterday when it was lowered again during Vincent Price’s LSD sequence.)
The audience was made up primarily of film buffs, many of whom remembered seeing these films in the theaters as children, as I did.
However there were some children with their parents and some younger film buffs, like some young woman from Ohio who could not possibly have seen these films in the theater, but loved old black and white horror films.
The interesting thing was to hear the chuckles and laughs from the audience during more of the more preposterous scenes (that probably terrifed them as children.
I had a great time.

Nunzienick on September 8, 2010 at 1:27 am

Gary, Thanks for your story! How lucky you were to see Castle’s films on a big theatre screen again and with the gimmicks no less! Any idea if they ran 35mm prints or DVD projection? I missed seeing “House on Haunted Hill” and “The Tingler” on their first run. The first Castle film I saw in a theatre was “13 Ghosts” and later “Homicidal” “Straight-Jacket” and “I Saw What You Did.” Kids pummeling the skeleton with cups & boxes must have happened in nearly every city the film played. A friend who saw it locally in 1959 told me the kids were throwing popcorn boxes and one landed upside down on the skeleton’s head.

It’s great whenever we see today’s young people enjoy the same films we did as kids, and to see them again in a theatre makes it extra special. Sounds like everyone young and old had a great time which is nice to hear. My only disappointment is that I wasn’t there! Thanks again for sharing.

GaryCohen on September 11, 2010 at 6:24 am

N. Dimaggio, I’m not sure what the print was. I assume 35mm. My only disappointment was that,for the second time in the last 50 years, I missed sitting in the wired seats for “The Tingler.” I really thought I had it this time, but it was the woman 2 seats away that wound up getting buzzed. Oh well, perhaps I’ll see it in the movies again in another 50 years. (Only kidding.)
The biggest laugh was when the skeleton from “Haunted Hill” was lowered again during the LSD scene in “The Tingler.” Seeing the skeleton twice in 1 week was a riot. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see Castle’s first horror film “Macabre” again. This film is not out of DVD and never shown on tv.
Once again, everyone had a great time.

GaryCohen on November 12, 2010 at 11:33 pm

In response to my own last comment, “Macabre” is now available on DVD from

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