Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (Jeffrey Schwarz, 2007) is a heartfelt ode to showman extraordinaire, William Castle. Born 1914 as William Schloss in New York City, Castle was the genius behind The Tingler (1959), House on Haunted Hill (1959) and Macabre (1958), among many other B-Grade horror films that were released with sales gimmicks that garnered mass attention for their bravado and “ballyhoo”.
John Waters is among those who remembers receiving a life insurance policy on his ticket purchase for Macabre, valid should he die of fright during the screening. Castle's gimmick was marketed as C.O.D (Collection on Death). He even hired nurses in full garb to guard the theatre and be ready for any emergency. With House on Haunted Hill, Castle launched “Emergo” with monsters emerging from the screen in the shape of a glowing skeleton that made its way across the audience. The Tingler (1959) brought with it “Perceptio” which involved your “butt being buzzed” with moments that coincided with the action on screen. 13 Ghosts (1960) was filmed in “Illusion-o” and required the audience to watch the film through a hand held, blue and red cellophane device and choose whether ghosts appear, and Homicidal (1961) had an embedded 45-second “fright-break” and the offer of a full refund if you were a “coward” and were too scared to stay until the end of the film. Those too afraid were made to stand in the “Coward's Corner” for all to see.
The strength of the documentary is this wonderful archival material and the interviews that make you wish that you, like Waters, were there. There are no hidden secrets revealed in this portrait, only warm and funny recollections of the man and his movies which continue to attract devotees. Joe Dante is interviewed, as well as former colleagues and Castle's daughter, Terry, who muses that her father was a doting family man who, having been orphaned at a young age, craved the security that family provided. Perhaps the most poignant professional moment revolves around Castle's desire to be taken seriously as an A-Grade director. He believed his ticket to this form of respect would be Rosemary's Baby—Castle had secured the rights to Ira Levin's horror novel. While Paramount head Robert Evans initially promised him the job of director, it was ultimately assigned to Roman Polanski and the rest is history. When the reception to the film shifted from adulation to abhorrence on the back of extreme protests from religious groups, it left Castle heartbroken.
Marwencol is a fictional town, created by Mark Hogancamp in the backyard of his New Jersey home. The documentary, of the same name, shot over four years, is an entirely gripping and beautifully executed film by Jeff Malmberg that is both a portrait of a man recovering from a violent attack and a revelation of an artist that explores the process of identity and of finding a way to be yourself without fear.
The town is populated by alter egos of Mark's friends and family members, as well as fictional characters, in the form of dolls. In this singular, miniature world, epically woven narratives of a Belgian town under siege from SS Officers during WWII are played out in immense and unfathomable detail, with the Nazis defeated and defied by Mark's alter ego, Captain Hogancamp, the victorious hero.
The documentary, which has been scooping international independent film awards, from the Grand Jury Award at SXSW Film Festival to winning the Judge's Award at Comic Con, uses Mark's photography of the town as a central source of archival material. This is a unique documentary and subject—with Mark's fictional world both helping him recall his forgotten past and enabling him to create a new world where he is protected, strong, in control, and loved. You can see Mark's work here.
The Invention of Dr. Nakamats is a 57-minute Danish production directed by visual artist Kaspar Astrup Schröder, with music composed by frequent Wes Anderson collaborator and Devo co-founder, Mark Mothersbaugh. For those of us who had never heard of Tokyo resident Dr. Nakamats, he holds the world record number of patents, 3357 at the time of the documentary shoot. He believes that life can be extended and, at the age of 80, that he is at the mid point of his life (and career). The inventor of the floppy disc and Nobel Prize for nutrition is one “flawed genius” that must be seen to be believed.