SHOWMANSHIP: THE CINEMA OF WILLIAM CASTLE by Joe Jordan

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9781593935849

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William Castle was cinema’s Abominable Showman – the marketing genius who thought “outside the coffin” to dream up outrageous public relations gimmicks, such as PERCEPTO! and EMERGO! He was also the talented director of fifty-six feature films, from the Film Noir When Strangers Marry and the Whistler mysteries to Westerns, swashbucklers, and – his fearsome forte – celebrated shockers, such as House on Haunted Hill, Strait-Jacket, Homicidal, and The Tingler.
 
Author Joe Jordan provides exhaustive scholarly analysis of each of Castle’s directorial efforts, as well as production background, little-known anecdotes, and succinct plot synopses.

“Joe Jordan dissects the films of William Castle with delicious abandon, as if he wields the razor edge of Joan Crawford’s axe from Strait-Jacket. Like slicing tendons from marrow, he carves into the masterful showman’s work with surgical precision and pulls the mask from the myths. A genuine thriller from A-Z. Hardly a shadow misses his myopic scrutiny. Every page keeps you on the edge of your seat.” – David W. Menefee, Pulitzer nominated author of Wally: The True Wallace Reid Story.

“Fills in the missing ‘Fright Break’ in every horror aficionado’s film library!” – Lucy Chase Williams, author of The Complete Films of Vincent Price.


"Although William Castle (1914-1977) essentially defined filmic schlock—he has been cited as an influence by John Waters and Joe Dante—his films are little known today. There is correspondingly sparse critique of his work, and that which does exist focuses mainly on the colorful gimmicks Castle used to promote his movies (placing buzzers underneath seats to startle filmgoers at key points during 1959’s The Tingler, for example). Joe Jordan’s Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle offers detailed commentary on each of Castle’s fifty-six films. The bulk of this consists of plot synopses, which, although necessary, get tedious (as with many midcentury thrillers, the narratives are convoluted enough when viewed, much less outlined). This structure also devotes equal space to Castle’s earlier films—mostly cumbersome, hammy postwar thrillers—as to his exuberant horror flicks of the 1960s. Hence, Showmanship is most useful as a reference work. However, fans will be intrigued by Jordan’s ingenious connections. These include both the down-to-earth (side-by-side comparison of stills from different films, for example) and the outlandish (speculations about in-film references to Castle’s astrological sign; the “strikingly similar” name of a character to that of publishing company Merriam-Webster). In spite of its flaws, Showmanship provides needed background on a vastly underappreciated filmmaker. And what would Castle think of this studious, solemn analysis? If nothing else, he would appreciate it as a great gimmick."
- Rain Taxi


Review by David C. Tucker

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