Friday, 13 January 2012

Macabre (1958)

If there is one filmmaker in the world I would have liked to have been it’s William Castle, who seemed to have a genuine love of his audiences and most of all wanted them to have a good time. His string of successful horror films included HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, THE TINGLER, HOMICIDAL and MR SARDONICUS, all made with a twinkle in the eye and a gimmick hidden somewhere in the picture. Whether it was a plastic skeleton floating over the audience, electric buzzers wired into the seats, or just the thumbs up / thumbs down poll cards for the villain’s fate at the end Castle fans knew they weren’t just paying their ticket price for a movie but an entertainment experience that might include something along the lines of the above. And it all started with MACABRE. Admittedly the gimmick here isn’t anywhere as near as ambitious as some of his other films. A stern announcement at the beginning tells us that the management is concerned for its audience’s health and if anyone should display signs of undue fright would the person next to them please alert cinema staff in case of emergency. I understand that while nobody actually died of fright and thus was able to cash in on the life insurance policy offered by Lloyds of London, actors would sometimes be employed to sit in the audience of Castle pictures to play the gibbering wreck who couldn’t take any more of the terrors being doled out on screen. Then the film proper starts, and what an odd little picture it is. Veering between film noir and lurid melodrama we begin at a funeral parlour where a child’s coffin has been stolen. Then the nurse who assists the local doctor receives a telephone call to say his six year old daughter has been kidnapped, buried underground, and they only have until midnight to find her. What follows is the most convoluted of plotlines and the most ludicrous of outcomes, but Castle keeps everything moving along breezily so the movie is never boring. There are quite a few flashbacks as well, detailing the reprehensible nature of much of the townsfolk until it gets to the point where you wonder if there’s a single decent person in the script. Much of the film takes place in a graveyard that’s actually remarkably atmospheric for such a low budget picture, and wouldn’t look out of place in a Universal film  made fifteen years earlier. Once the plot has been wrapped up, the villain has died horribly and the world has been set to rights we are treated to an animated end title sequence led by Mr Castle himself and writer / coproducer Robb White driving a hearse as the cast is divided into ‘The Dead’ and ‘The Living’. Stephen King wrote about this film in Danse Macabre (he called it McBare as a child) and said when he finally got to see it he was unimpressed. So I have him to thank for lowering my expectations and providing me with an unexpectedly entertaining evening’s viewing.

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