FEST PICKS: Spine-Tingling, Sperm-Injected Revolution


SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY (2007, directed by Jeffrey Schwartz, 78 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC It’s hard to resist this documentary bio on the B-Movie King, mostly because Castle himself was such an irrepressible character of child-like enthusiasm. His was a story made filmfestogoheadercropped_1.jpgfor Hollywood: A young boy, orphaned by age 11, finds a home in the theater, then bluffs his way into success as a big-screen producer. Castle hooked up with many of the most colorful showbiz characters of the last century, working closely with Orson Welles, Bela Lugosi, Roman Polanski and, in a humorous episode, with the mountain of moxie that was Joan Crawford (who seemed to steamroll every last person on the director’s set).

Castle hung out with such a dynamic crowd because he had as much ambition and drive as any of them. Schooled inspinetingler2_1.jpg all sorts of sideshow trickery, he made sure each of the thrillers he produced had some semi-phony gimmick that set the kids’ imaginations aflame. He dreamed up mysterious processes like “Emergo” or “Illusion-O” or best of all, The Tingler’s “Percepto,” for which he famously had the theater owners place joy buzzers in the seats, a stunt people haven’t stopped talking about in the half-century since.

All these shenanigans made each day’s showing a live theatrical event and the children loved him for it, as now-grown fans John Waters and John Landis testify. Castle’s daughter Terry contributes to the documentary, and you can sense a daughter’s love in this sentimental portrait. It doesn’t sweeten things too much though; despite his success, the restless Castle never quite had the serious career he wanted. If he had, I doubt this career overview would deliver the unabashed fun it does.

Tue., April 8, 9:30 p.m., International House
Sat., April 12, 4:45 p.m., Black Box @ The Prince


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THE SPERM (2007, directed by Taweewat Wantha, 93 minutes, Thailand)

filmfestogoheadercropped_1.jpgIn this Thai “Danger After Dark” entry, a young man named Suthin (Leo Putt) spills his seed while drooling over a picture of the pop star Lammy (the musically-named Pimpaporn Leenutapong). While the title substance drains down the sewer, we witness the same sort of mutation that made cinematic tarantulas grow in the Mojave in the 1950s, leading an army of mutant babies to go on a rampage. I’m sure there is an audience of 14-year-old Thai boys who think The Sperm is the greatest film ever made, but the genre of comedy is notorious for losing something when it moves across cultures. The dopey cast runs around in a state of slack-jawed confusion while this garish Thai pop film roars on like a noisy seaside arcade. Yet for all the outrageousness of its premise, somehow the film maintains a certain icky wholesomeness at its center. I held out hope, searching gamely till the film’s end for my inner Thai teen, yet The Sperm sadly failed to bring him to life. –D.B.

Tue. April 8, 9:30 p.m., The Bridge
Sun. April 13, 9:30 p.m., Ritz Five


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MRS. RATCLIFFE’S REVOLUTION (2007, directed by Bille Eltringham, 103 minutes, Great Britain)

filmfestogoheadercropped_1.jpgIn an unofficial companion piece to the Festival’s documentary of entertainer/U.S. defector Dean Reed, this limp cold war comedy follows the semi-true adventure of a family of Commie sympathizers who give up their citizenship to live the dream that was late-60s East Germany. This is the sort of broad mainstream vehicle that wants to makes sure you’re ready for every joke before it arrives, and sure enough, their dream turns into a mildly unbearable nightmare as jokes about communal toilets and rock-and-roll hating officials assure us that our Capitalist wonderland is too marvelous to ever give up. Shoehorned into the comedy is a spiritual awakening for the family’s put-upon mom (Catherine Tate, currently in the revived Doctor Who), leading to conflicts so easily overcome it is hard to invest much into their too-easy resolution. –D.B.

Tue. April 8, 7 p.m., Bryn Mawr Film Institute


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