#MonsterMovieMonday: Mr. Sardonicus (AKA Happy Birthday, William Castle!)

How do you do, my revolting readers? It’s William Castle’s Birthday, so it’s time once again to ho-nor this master of movie mayhem.
Mr. Castle has no equal when it comes to ghoulish amusements. He was the man who turned theater seats into joy buzzers, unleashed plastic skeletons upon audiences, and gave us the ability to see ghosts through cardboard. Alfred Hitchcock (Castle’s friendly rival) may have made more “prestigious” pictures, but Castle gave us a circus. Castle was the merriest master of the macabre ever to live and he will forever be my “Hitch-cock.” ūüėČ
Of his many triumphs, I think I am most fond of Mr. Sardonicus.¬†Master Castle’s films usually dealt with contemporary terrors, but Mr. Sardonicus was, in the legend’s own words, “an old-fashioned story.” In its essence, this is a Universal Gothic done in Castle’s inimitable idiom. Mr. Sardonicus is a tale of castles and fog, of masks and madmen, and of graves and… ghouls. “Ghoul” is very popular word, but it’s seldom used in its literal sense. Take, for example, William Castle. He’s a “ghoul” in the sense that he revels in the macabre and gruesome, but he certainly didn’t dig up graves and feast on corpses. (It’s not in his autobiography. ;))

Mr. Sardonicus does play with the idea of a figurative ghoul vs. a true ghoul. The truth falls more towards the former, but the latter is alluded to heavily. The fact that the idea of a real ghoul is hinted at all is unusual for a horror picture, and it is fascinating to deal with even the potential of one. The “ghoul” in the film is the tit-ular Sardonicus, though he is less a “Mr.” and more a “Baron.” While digging up his father’s grave to retrieve a winning lottery ticket (if I had a nickle…;)), Baron Sardonicus is so frightened by the sight of his father’s grinning skull that it actual causes his face to freeze in a permanent grin! Because of the grave-robbing and the unnatural deformation that occurs, he refers to himself as a ghoul.

In truth, he owes a little more to The Man Who Laughs and The Phantom of the Opera than a traditional ghoul. Like the unusual gentlemen in those stories, Sardonicus is a mortal man with ghastly visage and a mask. The audience could feel a certain sympathy for The Baron, although he does test one’s capacity for mercy with his habit of torturing girls with leaches, not to mention his cruelty towards his servant. Really, it’s up to the individual to decide if Sardonicus is worthy of redemption or condemnation. Of this, Castle was painfully aware. Not missing the chance for a bit of fun, Castle came up with another ingenious gimmick: The Punishment Poll.
The Punishment Poll was classic Castle. Ostensibly, the audience could decide on whether or not they wanted to show the ghoul mercy by voting on one of two endings. Each theater-goer was given a glow-in-the-dark card featuring a hand with the thumb out. When instructed by Mr. Castle in the film, they voted by holding up the card with either the thumb up or down as to whether Sardonicus would live or die. The gag? There was only one ending filmed! In the film, Castle “tallies” the votes and announces the result immediately, with no break in the continuity of the scene. Like a great magic trick, the act was fake, but the fun was very real. Besides, the ending we got is deliciously nasty! It’s the perfect twisted punchline and I can’t imagine a more fitting way to end the story of Sardonicus. My lips are sealed when it comes to specifics, but it’s a fantastic note to end on.

In ho-nor of Mr. Castle’s birthday, we have provided Mr. Sardonicus in all its ghoulish glory, I cannot recommend this film enough. It represents everything that was fantastic about William Castle and is just about the most fun one could have being repulsed and lied to! ūüėČ For a bit of Castle’s carny brilliance, check out the film below:

Happy Birthday, Mr. Castle!

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#MonsterMovieMonday: “It Came from the Malt Shop” Double Feature in Shock-o-Rama!

“Today we are concerned with juvenile delinquency ‚Äď its causes ‚Äď and its effects. We are especially concerned when this delinquency boils over into our schools.The scenes and incidents depicted here are fictional. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step towards a remedy for any problem.‚ÄĚ

The previous quote comes from the opening text of 1955’s The Blackboard Jungle.¬†That film features very little in the way of fangs and gore, but it does highlight one of the primary fears of the 1950s: teenagers.

Ho-rrible, ain’t they? The adults of the time thought so.¬† There was a widespread fear of juvenile delinquency, with “experts” claiming that post-WWII children were lazy, spoiled, reckless, disrespectful, violent, and just plain rude. Because of this, teenagers and youth culture were demonized and maligned to an extreme. Horror, being the genre that deals the most with society’s fear and anxiety, took this growing issue to the logical next step and made literal monsters of teenagers.

With the success of I Was a Teenage Werewolf in the summer of 1957, a horde of¬†adolescent abominations invaded cinemas for the next few years. The next two teen terror tales to take the theaters were I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Blood of Dracula, both films being part of a double feature in the November of 1957. While we couldn’t possibly top the drive-in eXXXperience, we are presenting the gruesome twosome here in this very post!
The monsters in both features are among the very best of ’50s schlock. I Was a Teenage Frankenstein‘s tit-ular ghoul looks very much like an apple sculpture shrunken head, and the teen vampire in Blood of Dracula looks like a creation from Dick Smith’s Do It Yourself Monster Make-Up. Both are utterly fantastic.

While Teenage Frankenstein is the clear winner here, both deliver on the teen thrills and chills. ¬†My only complaint with Blood of Dracula is the title. How does the same studio behind the other two I Was a Teenage… miss out on the opportunity to call their vampire film I Was a Teenage Dracula?! Perhaps if they had done that, we’d be listening to Cramps song with that title…

For all you Hepcats and Kittens out there, here’s the double feature:


#MonsterMovieMonday: Hypno-Creature Double Feature Shock Show a Go-Go!

‚ÄúHypnotized! Reincarnated as a monster from hell!‚ÄĚ

I want to give you the opportunity to experience the sensation of hypnosis… to cross the dark, mysterious threshold of your own unconscious mind. And now, if you dare, look into the endless spiral…

Now that you your mind is completely open to suggestion, I want you to picture a film,,, a monster movie from the 1950s. This picture you are now imagining concerns a conniving hypnotist¬†whose ghastly experiments in hypnotic regression transform a fetching young woman into a prehistoric humanoid sea monster. By no means is it perfect, but it’s the sort of chiller-diller that’ll satisfy your appetite for the bizarre. The creature in your mind is a truly gruesome thing that was created by monster suit master¬†Paul Blaisdell, known for his unearthly designs. Blaisdell’s beast is a crustacean nightmare: a large, scaly thing with protruding spikes, wicked claws… and ample bosom. Is this all clear in your mind?

Good, When I snap my fingers, you will awaken to discover that this film is indeed real. It is perhaps strange, but it is no mere product of your suggestible¬†mind. My friend, do you dare come face-to-face with the hideous monster you thought you had imagine. Well, if you are the brave sort, I recommend you click on the box below and subject your nerves to 1956’s The She-Creature!

The film that figured prominently in our last experiment was later remade for television as a, um, interesting film called Creature of Destruction. Schlockmeister Larry Buchanan helmed this fish story about, well, a conniving hypnotist¬†whose ghastly experiments in hypnotic regression transforms a fetching young woman into a prehistoric humanoid sea monster. It certainly gets points for being faithful…

Creature of Destruction never reaches the same heights that The She-Creature did,¬†but it’s worth a watch. If you’re like me and you just want to see a monster with ping pong ball eyes and some weird beach party musical bits, you’ll probably get a crypt-kick out of this creature number. ¬†For added greatness, former Blue Cap Scotty Mckay sings a hot number about Batman that certainly wasn’t in The She-Creature!

Click on the box below for some grand déjà vu:

And now it’s time for me to leave you and your minds, Keep it creepy, creeps!