As someone who’s been a fan of director William Castle literally for half my life, it’s been a long, long, long wait for me to be able to see the one that started his career-defining string as warmed-over Hitchcock: 1958’s “Macabre.” Even if no film is worth that long a wait, I thank the DVD-burning obscurity-savers of Warner Archive for making it happen.
Oh, it’s still good. I just wouldn’t put it alongside Castle’s best efforts, being “13 Ghosts,” “The Tingler” and “House on Haunted Hill.” It may, however, have the most killer concept, a tad ahead of its time.
Rodney Barrett (William Prince) is a doctor, but he’s not exactly well-respected in the small town in which he practices, because he was unable to save the daughter of the richest “ and blindest “ man in town. On the day of the young woman’s funeral, Dr. Barrett gets a parental shock as well: His own little girl has been kidnapped and buried alive, and he has exactly five hours to find her before her air runs out.
Who’s behind it? The grieving Mr. Moneybags? The prickly sheriff (Jim Backus of “Gilligan’s Island“)? Barrett’s own nurse? Guessing is the fun in a lean, mean 71 minutes that tantalizes with flashbacks as Castle peels back the layers of his characters. It may not be genius, but Castle knew what he was doing, making “Macabre” effective.
Castle never gets enough credit for being as good a filmmaker as he was. That’s probably due to the gimmicks he so often employed to get butts in the theater seats; while that made moviegoing fun, certainly critics weren’t able to see beyond the tip of their upturned noses.
Here, the gimmick was a $1,000 life insurance policy to protect against “death by fright,” but the ticking clock Castle forever cuts away to throughout the film could count as another. Regardless, both work toward making “Macabre” special; after all, here we are, more than half a century later, still talking about it. “Rod Lott