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ReFocus: The Films of William Castle

Edited by Murray Leeder

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The first collection of essays devoted to Hollywood director William Castle

Often described as ‘the Master of Gimmicks’, William Castle is best known for the outrageous publicity stunts that characterised his genre films in the 1950s and ‘60s, including offers for an insurance policy against death by fright, vibrating seats, a skeleton that flew over the audience, and a ‘punishment poll’ to determine a film’s conclusion. But far from being ‘the world’s craziest filmmaker’, Castle was also a dependable studio director who made more than 50 films between 1944 and 1974, and who produced films for Orson Welles and Roman Polanski. ReFocus: The Films of William Castle assembles fourteen essays on the full sweep of Castle’s career, including his horror films, westerns, film noirs and more. With an influence felt on directors like Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis and John Waters, this volume reappraises Castle’s legacy as an innovator as much as a showman.

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Introduction: The Many Castles

Section 1: The Early Castle

Hugh S. Manon, "When Strangers Marry: Film Noir as Mediated Gothic"

Zachary Rearick, "Gender in William Castle’s Westerns"

Section 2: The Gimmick Cycle

Anthony Thomas McKenna, "He Earned Our Forgiveness: William Castle and American Movie Showmanship"

Murray Leeder, "Collective Screams: William Castle and the Gimmick Film"

Beth Kattelman, "Dying to See It: Death by Fright and William Castle’s Macabre"

Eliot Bessette, "How to View 13 Ghosts"

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, "The Face of Horror: Mr. Sardonicus and the Mask as Technological Interface"

Section 3: Castle, Authorship and Genre

Steffen Hantke, "A Sick Mind in Search of a Monstrous Body: William Castle and the Emergence of Psychological Horror in the 1960s"

Michael Brodski and Caroline Langhorst, "‘What a Wicked Game to Play?’: Playfulness, Generic Hybridity, and Cult Appeal in Castle’s 1960s Films"

Michael Petitti, “Where Did Our Love Go?” The Case of William Castle’s The Night Walker

Section 4: Castle’s Legacy

Peter Marra, "Homo/cidal: William Castle’s 1960s Killer Queers"

Kate J. Russell, "The Cinematic Pandemonium of William Castle and John Waters"

About the Author

Murray Leeder is Instructor in Film Studies at the University of Calgary.


'It's often forgotten that before redefining himself as the King of the Gimmicks William Castle directed over forty motion pictures in virtually every genre. Accounts of his career are traditionally lightweight and bemused, but Murray Leeder has produced what must be the definitive analysis of the colorful showman's diverse ouvre in the form of collected essays. I never thought I'd ever see words like diegetic and epistimetic applied to Castle's work, but hey, why not? Really, it's about time.'

- Joe Dante, director of Gremlins and The Howling

'Fans of William Castle will delight in this celebration of one of the 20th century's great showmen. There's more to Castle's films than meets the eye, and this collection makes a compelling case for the schlockmeister as auteur.'

- Jeffrey Schwarz, director of SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY

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