Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle

ShowmanshipCover-500x500Joe Jordan
BearManor Media ($26.95)

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.

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