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William Castle Horror Collection

    Ian Jane

  • William Castle Horror Collection

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: August 18th, 2015.
    Director: William Castle
    Cast: Rosemary DeCamp, Glenn Corbett, Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Murray Hamilton
    Year: 1960 /1961/1963
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    Mill Creek offers up five classic William Castle titles in this new two-disc set. It doesn't add anything new to previously released editions, but it does give you a chance to own a bunch of top quality horror and suspense films for about the same price as a meal at Arby's.


    13 Ghosts (1960):

    The first movie tells the tale of Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods) and his family - his wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp), their son Buck (Charles Herbert) and daughter Medea (Jo Morrow). They're broke as broke can be and about to be evicted so when Cyrus' wealthy uncle Plato passes away and leaves them his massive old home complete with all of his ornate furniture, they're keen to make the move. The late Plato Zorba's attorney, Ben (Martin Milner) informs them, however, that the place comes complete with a maid (Margaret Hamilton), but so too does it come with an assortment of ghosts. It seems that in all of his worldly travels, Zorba amassed a bit of a collection!

    While Medea crushes a bit on Ben, soon after a Ouija Board session indicates she'll be the first to go -the ghosts are anxious for their next victim. Buck, however, can not only see the ghosts (using a special viewer - an audience interaction gimmick that Castle came up with for the film's theatrical run) but he seems to be getting along with them as well. As the family gets used to their new digs, they learn that there just might be a massive stash of cash hidden away in the home that Plato had squirreled away, but as they set out to find where it's hidden, the ghosts begin to get restless.

    Although this one starts off like the typical haunted house story it sounds like it is, things take some interesting turns as this one plays out. The characters evolve in strange ways and the plot makes some great twists and turns. The way that the ghosts appear and disappear in the film is fun, and there's actually quite a bit of legitimate atmosphere. Some of that atmosphere comes from the setting - the bulk of the movie does take place inside a creeky, creepy, spooky old house that makes for the perfect setting, while some of it comes from the scenes in which the spirits manifest. Nicely directly, tightly paced and made up of some fun performances, 13 Ghosts holds up really well.

    Note: this version includes Castle's intro as well as the tinted scenes presented as they were on the last DVD release (properly) with the Illusion-O sequences.

    13 Frightened Girls (1963):

    Directed by Castle in 1963 and written by Robert Dillon, 13 Frightened Girls (which was originally titled Candy Web) takes place primarily at Miss Pittford's Academy, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in Switzerland, obviously run by Miss Pittford (Norma Varden). Here, the daughters of wealthy socialites and elitist politicians from the world over are given a top notch education. Here we meet a student named Candy (Kathy Dunn), an American. When the class heads into town to visit their fathers, all of whom seem to work at various embassies, Candy and her friend Mai-Ling (Lynne Sue Moon) discover that a secret agent has been murdered.

    No normally you'd think Candy would run to Miss Pittford but no, instead she reports the murder to the authorities using the name 'Kitten' to keep her true identity hidden. This brings 'Kitten' to the attention of the different diplomats working in the area, and when a Russian spy also turns up dead, various players on the scene start to wonder who this 'Kitten' really is and what she's really up to. Candy, on the other hand, is determined to uncover the truth behind the killing, and she gets some help from a spy named Wally Sanders (Murray Hamilton), who is connected to her father (Hugh Marlowe). What she doesn't realize is just how much real danger she is going to find herself in the more she keeps sticking her nose into this…

    This is an entertaining enough picture if you're in the right frame of mind for it but don't go into 13 Frightened Girls expecting much of anything in the way of scares. The title implies a lot more than the movie actually delivers and then only time we actually get thirteen frightened girls all at once in the movie is when Candy winds up driving the different international attendees of the school in a bus. That's about it, and there's actually fifteen girls, not thirteen. This is not a horror movie by anyone's standards, it's an espionage picture starring a bunch of teenybopper girls. If you're in the right frame of mind for it though, and go in with the proper expectations, you'll probably get a kick out of it even if it's unlikely to ever make anyone's 'best of' list. This is disposable, light, fluffy entertainment.

    Castle keeps things moving at a decent enough pace and the photography in the movie is nice. Here he makes good use of color, the girls' uniforms sometimes contrasting in interesting ways with the sets and locations used throughout the duration of the picture. At times this feels like an older live action Disney adventure movie with some spy related hijinks thrown in to keep things interesting. The cast are okay, Kathy Dunn is likeable enough as the primary lead, she plays her part with enough confidence that despite the improbability of the concept as a whole, she makes for a decent enough 'junior spy.' The movie also deals in some interesting ways with the Cold War that was obviously still going on at the time, which dates the picture and maybe adds a layer of predictability to it for those of us old enough or well versed in history enough to be familiar with the politics of the era.

    This is obviously something that was geared towards a younger audience when first released, so keep that in mind. Tween girls will probably get more out of it than anyone else, and that would seem to be the target Castle was going for here, but if you enjoy family friendly adventure stories crammed with some appealing sixties kitsch and some goofy spy movie trappings, this is an easy, breezy and completely disposable slice of entertainment.


    Mr. Sardonicus (1961):

    This one stands as a pretty decent slice of gothic horror, done in Castle's inimitable style. The story follows Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe), a bit of a bastard who blackmails another man into handing over his hot, Maude (Audrey Dalton), so that he can have her hand in marriage. She's not particularly stoked by this idea and the fact that Sardonicus wears a strange mask doesn't help matters much, but soon she realizes she doesn't have much of a choice and she agrees to the marriage to help her dad out.

    In reality, however, Maude is in love with a London doctor named Sir Robert Cargrave (Ronald Lewis). In fact, she speaks so highly of him that Sardonicus soon coerces his new bride into coaxing her flame into visiting. Why? Because underneath Sardonicus' mask lies a visage so terrifying that not even an evil man such as he can be comfortable with it. You see, when he was younger he found out that his departed father had been buried with winning lottery ticket stashed inside the pocket of his burial clothes. Having a need for the cash, Sardonicus dug up dear old dad's corpse and, after seeing his decomposed rotting body, was given such a fright that he was marked by the terror he witnessed! Though his man servant, Krull (Oskar Homolka) does all that his master asks of him, Sardonicus knows that he needs the aid of a master surgeon such as Cargrave if he ever wants to live a normal life. Cargrave, however, is far slyer than Sardonicus realizes…

    Tightly paced from the get go and loaded with sinister atmosphere and impressive, shadowy cinematography, Mr. Sardonicus is a surprisingly effective film. While the masked Sardonicus looks eerie and ominous, mysterious even, once that mask comes off the makeup job, which paralyzes his face in a mixture of terror and insane glee, makes him an even weirder looking antagonist. The battle of wits that ensues between he and Cargrave makes for an interesting conflict and subplots involving Krull and a female frequently 'treated' with leeches adds further bizarre depth to the story.

    Performances are excellent across the board. Lewis is a fine, dashing hero and he gives his lead role enough charisma to work in the part. Dalton is beautiful and a fine leading lady, though her character doesn't have quite as much to do as some of the others. Rolfe is in fine form here, obviously throwing a lot of himself into the role and having a good time playing the villain, while Homolka, made up with a bum eye and looking all the weirder for it, steals every scene that he's in. The movie is good enough that it doesn't need the patented 'William Castle gimmick' but of course, it gets one anyway. We won't spoil it here for those who haven't seen the movie, however.

    Homicidal (1961):

    Directed by Castle and written by his frequent collaborator Robb White, 1961's Homicidal doesn't get as much attention as some of Castle's better known horror pictures, The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts and The Tingler being the most obvious examples, but it provides just as much enjoyment as those more famous films do. It's also a bit less gimmicky and more focused in terms of storytelling. While it might be more of a 'thriller' than an out and out horror film, it's still a picture that finds Castle working at the top of his game. It's also geared more towards an adult audience than many of his other pictures.

    Castle himself offers up an amusing introduction to the picture and from there we meet an attractive if slightly odd blonde woman named Emily (Jean Arless). She checks into a hotel room and then offers the bellhop some money if he'll marry her. He's understandably confused but she reassures him that their marriage won't last, in fact, she'll have it annulled right after the ceremony. He accepts, he meets her at the right location on the right date and after the ceremony is finished he witnesses his now legally wedded wife stab the justice of the peace to death.

    From here we see Emily more or less go underground and reemerge as a caregiver to an elderly woman named Helga Swenson (Eugenie Leontovitch) who is confined to a wheelchair. Helga's niece, Miriam (Patricia Breslin), who works as a florist just around the corner and dates a pharmacist named Karl (Glenn Corbett), is almost instantly suspicious of Emily. When the cops let her know that someone suspected of murder has used her name to check into a nearby hotel, Miriam's suspicions are confirmed. Around this time, Miriam's brother Warren returns from a trip that took him to Europe. The story is that he hired her in his absence to care for aging Helga, but Miriam isn't so sure that this is actually true. When one of these characters winds up dead, the motive would seem to be a sizeable inheritance…

    If you think of this as 'William Castle does Psycho' you're not too far off the mark. There are definitely some easy comparisons to make here between Hitchcock's masterpiece and this faster, cheaper picture. At just shy of ninety minutes Castle keeps this one moving fast and throws in a pretty great twist that, if obvious by the standards of the day, was probably pretty shocking when it hit theaters over a half a century ago. Some great makeup work and a truly effective bit of acting from Jean Arless make this one work a lot better than it might sound, while some nice photography helps to ensure that things always look nicely framed and at times quite atmospheric.

    The movie benefits from a couple of remarkably twisted set pieces and a pretty lurid subject matter for its time, while Castle is able to get good performances out of all involved. Arless definitely steals the show but Leontovitch is quite sympathetic as the elder woman and both Breslin and Corbett are decent in their roles. They interact well and are believable as a couple and Breslin in particular has an appreciable wholesomeness to her that suits the character. All in all, yeah, this might borrow just a tiny bit more from Hitch than it needed to, but judged on its own merits it works and it works well. It's twisted, tense and just sick enough to hit all the right notes at all the right moments. Oh, and of course, it contains one of Castle's trademark gimmicks, in this case a 'fright break' where a ticking clock indicates when the more cowardly viewers might want to leave to prevent being subjected to absolute shocking terror!

    The Old Dark House (1963):

    The Old Dark House, directed by Castle for Hammer (and essentially a kinda-sorta remake of the 1932 film of the same name) tells the story of a man named Tom Penderel (Tom Poston), a car salesman from The United States who is now living in London where he shares with flat with a strange guy named Casper Femm (Peter Bull). The arrangement that the two men have together is rather unorthodox - Casper gets free run of the place during the day, and Tom gets it at night while Casper heads off to spend the midnight hours at, as the title implies, an old dark house.

    Soon enough, Casper asks Tom to deliver a new car to the aforementioned nocturnal abode. He obliges, and upon arriving he gets the chance to meet Casper's family - Roderick (Robert Morely), Cecily (Janette Scott), Agatha (Joyce Grenfell), Potiphar (Mervyn Johns), Morgana (Fenella Fielding), Morgan (Danny Green) and Casper's identical twin brother, Jasper (also played by Bull). When Casper turns up dead, Tom is understandably concerned, and things only get stranger from here on out when the rest of the Femm family start dropping like flies leaving those left alive to wonder if a one of their own isn't responsible for the killings… and then there's the matter of building the ark.

    This one doesn't feature a gimmick the way that a lot of Castle's other horror pictures did but it does do a pretty solid job of mixing in some decent humor along with some effective moments of legitimate suspense. Once again we get an old house (and it's a dark one too!) as our central location and Castle once again exploits this location nicely. The humor is charming and morbid but it works in the context of this and the film plays out more like a series of Addams Family gags than anything associated with James Whale's take on the original film.

    The typical Hammer production values keep this one looking good. Some of the interior scenes might have been creepier if they weren't as bright as they are but outside of that this is quite an attractive looking film with good lighting and atmosphere. The cast all make the most of their respective roles, with Robert Morely as the gun collecting uncle and Janette Scott as the sexy Cecily really standing out here. Each cast member is quirky in his or her own way, which adds to the fun while Tom Poston is fine if not all that remarkable as the straight man. Not Castle's best or most memorable but a fun watch.


    The films are presented as follows:

    13 Ghosts: 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, black and white.
    Mr. Sardonicus: 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen, black and white.
    Homicidal: 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, black and white.
    The Old Dark House: 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, color.
    13 Frightened Girls: 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen, color.

    All of the films are in decent enough shape, there's only minor print damage to note. For the three black and white film, contrast looks pretty good. Black levels aren't reference quality but they're certainly acceptable and detail is alright. The color films are a bit soft in spots, which would appear to stem back to the original photography, but colors are fairly vivid and well produced. There are no issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction and print damage is held firmly in check. Not mind blowing picture quality here, some room is left for improvement, but certainly acceptable, if slightly outdated, transfers of older pictures made on a modest budget. Each transfer, however, is unfortunately not flagged for progressive scan playback.

    Each film is presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono. Clarity is generally fine here, with Return sounding a little more stagey and flat than the other movies but only because it's quite a bit older. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and when hiss or distortion pops up, it's never a serious problem and not particularly distracting.

    There are no extras here, just static menus and chapter selection. Past releases (be they as part of the boxed set or single disc offerings) of some of these films have included various supplements over the years but none of those supplements were carried over to this release.

    The Final Word:

    Mill Creek's two-disc William Castle Horror Collection is a great way to affordably add some classic American horror pictures to your collection at a very fair price. The movie themselves are all a lot of fun and the presentations here are fine. There are those that will quite fairly lament the absence of a Blu-ray set (I'm one of them) but this offers a lot of entertainment value for the price.

    • John Bernhard
      John Bernhard
      Senior Member
      John Bernhard commented
      Editing a comment
      Homicidal: 1.33.1 fullframe, black and white? Caps look 1:85.Look for Judy Pace & Alexandra Bastedo as 2 of the 13 Frightened Girls ( at least you can have fun spotting them, the movie itself is a hard slog).

    • Ian Jane
      Ian Jane
      Ian Jane commented
      Editing a comment
      Obviously a typo (now corrected).
    Posting comments is disabled.

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