Classics of the Corn: Macabre (1958)

A note from Lindsey: This is my third time viewing Macabre. I decided to give it another watch in honor of The William Castle blogathon, which I am contributing to every day until August 2, in tribute to one of my absolute favorite directors!

William Castle heads to the Hollywood premiere of his film in a hearse. (Image via Greenbriar Picture Shows)

William Castle heads to the Hollywood premiere of his film in a hearse. (Image via Greenbriar Picture Shows)

“Ladies and gentlemen, for the next hour and fifteen minutes, you will be shown things so terrifying that the management of this theater is deeply concerned for your welfare.”

So begins the famous warning that is announced to the audience of William Castle’s Macabre just before the action begins. Macabre marked Castle’s first foray into the world of cinema gimmicks. No stranger to B movies or corn prior to producing and directing Macabre, Castle took this one a step further by warning the audience of the negative effects that the film’s thrills may have on them. Life insurance policies and nurses serving as theater ushers stirred up a whole lot of press for the film and turned it into a hit. (More on Castle’s gimmicks at the end of this merry blogathon, when I post my full tribute to his work.)

The film itself, publicity stunts aside, follows one Dr. Rodney Barrett (William Prince), a small-town physician who has faced criticism after the death of one of his patients.

When his daughter is kidnapped, Dr. Barrett has only a few hours to find her. She’s been buried alive and will suffocate if he doesn’t find her quickly. At the same time, he struggles to uncover who is responsible for his daughter’s kidnapping. Is it someone who wants revenge for the death of the patient? Is it someone who has tried to ruin the doctor’s life before?

Macabre is based on a novel by Theo Durrant. Filmed in only nine days, this mysterious little slice of cheese fits Castle’s formula of very quick production time, very small budget and very big success.

(Image via Wrong Side of the Art)

(Image via Wrong Side of the Art)

William Castle’s flair for the most exuberant press coverage possible aside, Macabre is a great little watch.

The level of corn here is not as high as some of the other films I’ve placed in this series. There’s actually quite a bit of true suspense throughout the film, and a wonderful twist ending. The characters are racing against time to save a young woman’s life, and in combination with the film’s relatively short running time, naturally the pace is a bit frenzied. The film doesn’t allow the viewer’s attention to lapse for a second, and though I obviously know the ending now that I’ve seen the film a few times over, I remain overjoyed by the element of surprise it brings.

Also working in favor of the film’s serious merit is some very striking cinematography. There’s a great scene which takes place in a room full of caskets — a light flashes on and off, leaving the room completely in shadow every few seconds, as the gang checks the caskets to see if Dr. Barrett’s daughter is inside.

The performances bring some corn, the score is sometimes over-the-top and there are a couple of laughable scenes, but Macabre is no Wicker Man in terms of riotous laughter caused by cheese. Still, I think this film will delight fans of the CotC series. Technically you can spell “William Castle” without “camp,” but I really can’t think of a film where he doesn’t bring at least a little bit of the fun camp value.

Macabre is a film that kind of falls in the middle-ground between corn and truly Tingler-summoning thriller. It walks the line between the two ends of the spectrum, teetering slightly closer to the “thrills” side than to the pool of queso dip. That being said, it’s a consistently entertaining film. Though particularly a great watch for fans of Castle’s work, I’d really recommend this to any fan of mysteries. It’s a grave-diggin’ good time.

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