Here’s a first for CreepyLA: an interview with a dead man. Fittingly, that dead man is the legendary film producer William Castle, known for horror classics “The House on Haunted Hill,” “13 Ghosts,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Castle’s cinematic efforts are often remembered less for what appeared on screen than the promotional gimmicks he devised to fill the theatres: during screenings of “The Tingler” some audience members would feel the tingler with the help of a buzzer rigged in their seats. In “The House on Haunted Hill” a skeleton would emerge from the screen and float into the audience in an effect called “Emerg-O.” Ticket holders for “Macabre” were given life insurance policies in case they died of fright during the film.
And in what may be his greatest stunt yet, last week he released a novel thirty-four years after he was buried. As he explains in our interview below, “From the Grave: The Prayer,” a horror novel for kids was, quite literally, ghostwritten. Later this month he’s also releasing “The House on Haunted Hill: An Annotated Screamplay,” that features his own handwritten notes in the margins, an introduction by director Joe Dante, and, somehow, a pop-out version of Emerg-O.
Clearly, William Castle does not want to be forgotten. In addition to the book, an annotated Carrying on the family tradition, his daughter Terry Castle will be releasing her own horror novel for young adults, “Fear Maker: Family Matters” on October 17th.
Terry will also be signing copies of the “House on Haunted Hill” screamplay on October 22nd before a screening of the filming at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, and on October 27th at 7:30pm will be reading and signing copies of her and her father’s new novels.
Finally, Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre will be showing “The Tingler” on Halloween night (on a historical note, this is the same theatre used in the movie!)
As for that interview with the deceased, everyone please welcome William Castle.
How are you writing from the beyond? Ouija board? Internet?
I write in my home in Gordes, France, the one I bought in 1959. I was driving around the countryside of France with my wife, Ellen, and we stumbled upon this house. It looked haunted. I turned to my wife and told her that I wanted to buy the house. She looked at me like I had gone mad. But I explained that I thought the house could be used as a fantastic promotional gimmick, I would have millions of keys made and give them away at my next haunted house film. One lucky winner would win a haunted house. That afternoon I put an offer in on the house on Rue St. Angeline, and in a few weeks it was mine. Unfortunately, I died before I was able to use the gimmick. But here I sit, in Southern France, in my very own haunted house, with my old typewriter, and write. Aleck Lambert takes care of the rest.
On May 31, 2011, the dark Saint—Saint Sarah, the Patron Saint of the Gypsies—put me on a collision course with 15-year-old Aleck Lambert, exactly thirty-four years after my own death. Aleck is from Hollywood, California. Through him I have learned your ways. I can use Facebook and Twitter and even Skype. You can read more about this in my latest novel, From the Grave: The Prayer.
Have there been any non-Castle promotional gimmicks that have impressed you in recent years?
I was very impressed with the marketing campaign for “Paranormal Activity.” It was brilliant. The story itself, much like The Blair Witch Project, is a wonderful gimmick to begin with—found footage! How delightfully menacing. And to let audiences at home have a say in the distribution of the movie is sheer brilliance. I only know one other film that tops this—my film, Mr. Sardonicus. We shot two endings and the audience could vote, Mercy or No Mercy. I bet you would have voted for No Mercy. Am I correct Mr. Markland?
The “tweet your scream’ gimmick for “Paranormal Activity” was great fun as well. And it seems that they capitalized on the poor souls who fainted during the film—something they picked up from me, no doubt. I always had nurses in attendance at my theatres, just in case the film was too scary and someone would faint from sheer fright.
What were your favorite creepy Los Angeles spots before your passing?
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is wonderfully creepy, perhaps that is because my old boss, Harry Cohn is buried there. He was the President of Columbia Pictures for many years and not an easy man to please. I also loved the Old Witches House on Walden Drive in Beverly Hills—it always reminded me of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale gone awry.
Those are creepy. But if you want ‘scare a dead man out of his own grave’ scary, then I would have to say 10050 Cielo Drive, Beverly Hills. The home of Sharon Tate and the site where she was living when members of the Charles Manson family slaughtered her and 5 others on the 9th of August 1969. This came just one year after the release of “Rosemary’s Baby,” a film I produced and Roman Polanski directed. And, of course, Sharon was married to Roman. The one thing that freaks me out more than anything is the devil. Nothing but misfortune and tragedy fell on all of us who were associated with that film.
You’re buried near Walt Disney and Michael Jackson. What are they up to? Any chance of a collaboration?
Like I said, I am in Gordes, France. You can’t keep a good man down. Especially one who has so much more to say. Although my tomb is near Mr. Jackson and Mr. Disney, I do not see them. Pity, it would be quite a fun collaboration.
Clearly you have no intent to rest in peace – what inspired you to start writing after death?
I had a story to tell and the Dark Saint sent me on a collision course with Aleck Lambert and two other teenagers. The prayer I had left at the foot of Saint Sarah thirty-four years ago was answered, but it was horribly misconstrued. You can learn all about this in my novel.
What’s next for “From the Grave?” Film or TV adaptations? More books?
As I wrote “From the Grave: The Prayer” I seemed to write it in scenes instead of chapters. As a storyteller, I see things visually. I would love to see a film adaption of the novel. In the meantime, this is just the first in the From the Grave series.
To keep up with William Castle, keep an eye on his blog at WilliamCastle.com