A Word from the Doctor
Since we just started our sixth season with Midnight Monster Movies with Dr. Bob, I would like to tell you about the man that we owe a huge debt to: William Castle! No, it's not a monetary debt but it's a spiritual and inspirational one. We have borrowed much from this man's legacy of shameless promotion and inventive marketing.
When he was 13, William Castle saw the stage play of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi (the Universal classic film was based on this play); he later wrote about the experience, saying "I knew then what I wanted to do with my life – I wanted to scare the pants off audiences." He dropped out of high school at age 15 to work in theatre. He worked all the jobs he could, from acting to set building. In 1939, he showed the world the kind of incredible promoter he would be the rest of his life; he landed a German actress who had fled Nazi Germany, Ellen Schwanneke, for a play called Not For Children. There was a small snag of not actually having a play, but Castle wrote it himself over a weekend. Schwanneke was then invited by the Nazis to come to Munich for the revival of her most famous play. There was no way Schwanneke was going to return to Nazi Germany, but this is where Castle's marketing genius began. He wrote a telegram on her behalf that claimed she would never return to Nazi Germany and that she was 'too busy starring in Not For Children at the Stony Creek Theatre!' Castle then leaked the telegram to the press (it was probably never sent in the first place) and billed Schwanneke as "the girl who said no to Hitler!" The theatre was then vandalized with painted swastikas and other minor damage that added to the sensationalism and kept the story alive in the press. Of course, the vandalism was done quietly by Castle himself just for that reason! It worked, and the gimmick resulted in the play being a huge success.
When William Castle moved into filmmaking, his knack for promotion and gimmick ensured demand for his brand of B-movies. He also had the reputation that he would get a movie made on-time and under-budget! While he never became one of the big names in Hollywood, he lived life on his own terms. He made the movies he wanted to make and how he wanted to make them. His gimmicks became the stuff of legend. From the inflatable skeleton hovering over the audience in House On Haunted Hill (Emergo) to the ghost viewer of Thirteen Ghosts (Illusion-O) to the infamous (and probably non-existent) seat buzzers of The Tingler (Percepto), this was a man who knew how to get an audience to say 'I need to see that!' If some of you younger fans think he sounds familiar, even though you never heard of him, you may be thinking of the character of Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) in Joe Dante's Matinee, which was based extremely heavily on Castle's persona! From the gimmicks to the quick-talking promotion to the staged 'controversy,' Matinee might as well been made as a William Castle biopic instead of a young adult romance story against a Cold War backdrop. I would have seen it multiple times ... and taken notes. That brings us to his influence on our show.
I like to think of William Castle as the patron saint of Midnight Monster Movies, and I really hope that if he could see us from the great viewing room in the beyond, he would smile on us for trying hard to carry on his tradition. We've used gimmicks lifted directly from his bag o' tricks to ones simply inspired by the master. From pie plate flying saucers zooming over the audience to monsters popping up in the seats, from giant spiders causing shrieks to the audience voting on the version of the movie we were showing (when, in reality, we only had one version), from tentacles reaching into the audience to having them shoot down a Nazi drone, we try everything we can to bring the audience into the movie and give them a unique experience they won't get anywhere else. We also try to do it all on a shoe-string budget! We can't always pull off the huge gimmicks we want to on our budget but we try (if you want to help us make bigger gimmicks happen, consider buying a fan club membership over at our online store or becoming a Patron over on our Patreon page!) and we'll keep trying to live up to William Castle's legacy.