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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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07 November, 2010

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: I SAW WHAT YOU DID


Year of Release—Film:  1965

Teens Libby (Andy Garrett) and Kit (Sara Lane) are alone in a remote house, babysitting Libby's younger sister, when they decide to play phone pranks.  After several calls, they reach a Steve Marek (John Ireland); little knowing that he's just murdered his trampy wife in the shower ala PSYCHO.  When he hears the girls whisper, "I saw what you did and I know who you are,” he panics, quickly burying his dead wife's body in the woods.  Desperate to find out who'd seen his uxoricide (look it up!), little does he realize his amorous neighbor, Amy Nelson (Joan Crawford) did witness the murder.  And Amy is not above using that information to force Steve into marriage.

Libby decides to phone Steve again and he desperately begs to see her.  Amy, over-hearing the conversation, angrily confronts Steve, warning him against playing games with her.  Libby, deciding that Steve has a sexy voice, persuades Kit and her sister into going along for a quick peek at Steve.  Once there, Libby is attacked by Amy who angrily tears the car's registration off the steering column and warns Libby to stay away from her man.  Amy, entering the house, is confronted by Steve who knifes her to death before discovering the car's registration in her hand.  Steve now knows who saw what he did and, wanting to silence Libby forever, goes to the house where the frightened teens are hiding.  Will multiple-murderer Steve claim more victims?  Will the girls pay a heavy penalty for a silly prank?

I SAW WHAT YOU DID is a moody little low-budget gem with some effective scenes and appropriate spooky lighting and effects.  Joan, fresh from STRAIT-JACKET, another Castle film, has more a cameo role in this but plays her small part to the hilt.  A savvy William Castle allegedly paid Joan $50,000 for four days work so he could prominently display her name on the posters.  John Ireland is his typical wooden self.  The two teen girls are awful actresses which probably explains why this is their only credit.  The opening and closing beach-movie theme music didn't fit the mood of this at all but must have been a hit among teens.
William Castle made a name for himself featuring films that had over-the-top gimmicks and promotions.  He began working with Orson Wells in radio and directed his first stage play at age 18.  In the early 40's, he went to Hollywood where directed mostly low-budget pot-boilers and Westerns for Columbia Studios but it wasn't until 1959 that he directed his first gimmick-laden film, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.  Filmed in "Emergo,” an inflated glow-in-the-dark skeleton would fly over the audience's heads.  While this didn't have the audience reaction Castle hoped it would (causing members to throw candy boxes and soft-drink cups at the skeleton rather than being frightened), it became a hit and, later that year Castle followed it up with TINGLER starring Vincent Price.  TINGLER was filmed in "Percepto" and during the final scene, the audience members were instructed to "Scream!  Scream for your lives!" as certain seats equipped with large joy-buzzers that would startle selected audience members.  (John Goodman used a similar gimmick in the movie MATINEE, a movie loosely based on Castle's life.)

13 GHOSTS, released in 1960, was filmed in "Illusion-O.”  Audience members were handed strips of red and blue cellophane and could look through the strips to see frightening images...or, if too cowardly, could refrain.  1961 saw HOMICIDAL in which Castle used a "Fright break" with a 45 second timer that enabled frightened audience members time to leave the theater with a full money-back guarantee.  In order to make sure no one would see the finish, then come back and demand their refund, Castle had different colored tickets printed for each show.  MR. SARDONICUS was Castle's next offering.  Near the end if this film, a short insert would be shown in which Castle would ask the audience to vote on whether or not the villain would die.  Each member was given a thumb card to hold up for life or down for death.  Then the ending was shown.  However, as no participant ever voted for mercy, he filmed only one ending.

ZOTZ was Castle's next film and audience members were given a gold "coin" which did absolutely nothing.  To publicize 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS, he held a world-wide search for the 13 girls who appeared in the film.  Advised by his financial advisors to lose the gimmicks, he instead chose star Joan Crawford for STRAIT-JACKET (1964).  However, a showman to the bitter end, shortly before the film's release, Castle had cardboard axes made and handed out with each ticket sold.  I SAW WHAT YOU DID featured giant plastic telephones but the gimmick was quickly quashed when the telephone company complained about a rash of prank calls.  Instead, seat belts were attached to the theater seats to keep patrons from bolting in fear.  In his final gimmick movie, BUG, he had a million dollar life insurance policy written up for the movie's star, "Hercules" the cockroach.

But, showman William Castle shouldn't just be remembered for his gimmick movies.  PROJECT X made in 1968, is a sci-fi movie that predicts events such as China becoming a super-power on par with the USA and electronic cigarettes, which have become a reality.  SHANKS (1974), a fantasy film and Castle's final film, stars famous mime Marcel Marceau in a duel-role, one of which is a speaking part.  But, the film for which Castle will be best remembered is ROSEMARY'S BABY.  Filmed in 1968, it won a Best Supporting Oscar for Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet, a member of a Devil-worshipping cult whose members terrorize and victimize pregnant neighbor Rosemary.  William Castle owned the rights to Ira Levin's popular book of the same title and wanted to direct it.  However, Roman Polanski was ultimately handed the reins and Castle had to settle for Producer credits.  Castle also coveted the Dr. Sapirstein role but lost out to veteran actor Ralph Bellamy.  Castle was offered a small, non-speaking role as "man outside phone booth.”  Tony Curtis, who died Sept. 29, 2010, has an off-screen role as the voice of blinded actor Donald Baumgart.  If Mia Farrow seems confused during the scene where she phones Donald, that's not good acting!  She was trying to figure out why she recognized the voice.  She had not been let in on the gag!

William Castle died at age 63 in Los Angeles, CA, on May 31, 1977 after a long career spanning four decades.  We should all be thankful for and give thanks to America's "King of Gimmicks.”  Without his sense of gentle humor, horror movies just wouldn't be the same.


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