|Directed by||William Castle|
|Produced by||William Castle|
|Written by||Robb White|
|Based on||The Marble Forest|
by Theo Durrant[a]
|Music by||Les Baxter|
|Cinematography||Carl E. Guthrie|
|Edited by||John F. Schreyer|
|Distributed by||Allied Artists|
|Box office||$5,000,000 (USA) (January 1970) (sub-total)|
Macabre is a 1958 horror film directed by William Castle, written by Robb White, and starring William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White, Jacqueline Scott, and Susan Morrow. The film falls into both the horror and suspense genres.
It involved one of Castle's first forays into using the promotional gimmicks that later made him famous. A certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London was given to each customer in case they should die of fright during the film.
The film is set in the small town of Thornton. The plot consists of a frame story set in the present (c.1958), an extended flashback to 1955, and an extended flashback set months before the present story. Below the events are given in chronological order.
Before 1955, Jode Wetherby is the wealthiest man in town. His two daughters, Alice and Nancy Wetherby, are the heiresses to his large fortune. Alice dates police chief Jim Tyloe, but eventually marries Rodney Barrett. This starts an enmity between Tyloe and Barrett. Meanwhile Nancy, a blind woman, is enjoying a life consisting of casual sexual relationships, fast cars, and voyages abroad.
In 1955, Alice Barrett has a difficult pregnancy. Her husband keeps her isolated at their home, while he spends time with his girlfriend, the young widow Sylvia Stevenson. When Alice is about to give birth, Barrett is out drinking with Sylvia and does not answer a phone call for help. Alice dies in childbirth, while giving birth to their daughter Marge Barrett. Tyloe later meets with Barrett, to inform him of both the birth and then death. He then beats up Barrett, swearing that he will pay for Alice's death.
Months before the present, Nancy retuns to town. She has a secret affair with her new chauffeur Nick, and a casual fling with Tyloe. She turns down a marriage proposal by Tyloe. Shortly after, Nancy learns that she is pregnant. She does not want to be a mother or a wife, and begs her brother-in-law Barrett for an abortion. He declines. Days before the present, Nancy dies in either a suicide or a botched abortion. Barrett is not available to get her proper medical treatment.
Present. Barrett lives with his 3-year-old daughter Marge, and loyal nanny Miss Kushins. The town has lost trust in him, and only a single patient remains loyal to him. His nurse assistant Polly Baron attempts to convince him that they should move out of town, but Barrett is looking forward to marry Sylvia. At some point, Marge disappears from home, where she was last seen playing with her teddy bear. Polly receives a mysterious phone call, where the caller claims that he has kidnapped Marge and buried her alive. The caller also implies that Marge is in the company of the dead.
Barrett and Baron theorize that Marge has been buried in a used grave, and search for clues at the local graveyard. They also search the funeral parlor of Ed Quigley, where a child's coffin was recently stolen. The Weatherby family has a midnight funeral for Nancy, and during the funeral the lost child's coffin is discovered. Within is the seemingly decayed corpse of Marge. Her grandfather Jode has a heart condition, and seeing Marge like this shocks him to death.
Quigley shoots Barrett, and reveals that the child "corpse" is actually a mannequin. Barrett had set up a fake kidnapping plot, and forced Quigley to help him. But Quigley had regrets. The wounded Barrett is allowed to return to his office, where he explains to Baron the details of his scheme. He was after the Weatherby inheritance for years, and had allowed Alice and Nancy to die to eliminate the heiresses. He orchestrated the fake kidnapping to scare his father-in-law to death. The mysterious phone call was a prerecorded message to give him an alibi. Barrett dies before explaining where Marge is. Polly discovers the little girl sleeping safely in a secret room at the doctor's office.
- William Prince as Rodney Barrett
- Jim Backus as Jim Tyloe, the town police chief
- Christine White as Nancy Wetherby
- Jacqueline Scott as Polly Baron, Barrett's assistant
- Susan Morrow as Sylvia Stevenson
- Jonathan Kidd as Ed Quigley
- Philip Tonge as Jode Wetherby
- Dorothy Morris as Alice Barrett
- Howard Hoffman as Hummel
- Ellen Corby as Miss Kushins
- Linda Guderman as Marge Barrett
- Voltaire Perkins as Preacher
- Robert Colbert as Nick (Uncredited)
In July 1957, William Castle formed the production company Susina Associates with Robb White and announced their intention to make five films over the following sixteen months, the first of which would be Macabre. Castle mortgaged his Beverly Hills house to finance the film. He pitched his insurance policy gimmick to Howard Koch, and interested Koch and Aubrey Schenck enough to invest in the project as well. According to Macabre assistant director Paul Wurtzel, Koch helped Castle by letting him use Bel-Air Productions[b] staff and its facilities at American National for cost plus a percentage.
Sources differ as to how much the film cost to make, putting it anywhere from $80,000 to $150,000 with $90,000 often cited. Production occurred from 29 July through 12 August 1957. Exteriors were filmed in Chino, California and interior shooting took place at Ziv Studios.[c] Castle marketed Macabre to several distributors before Allied Artists picked it up for $125,000.
Castle employed a method he called "barnstorming" which involved following the film to different markets and promoting it along the way. In addition to the ads touting the $1,000 insurance policy,[d] methods used for Macabre included hiring fake nurses to stand by in the lobby and parking hearses outside theaters. Castle arrived at the premiere by emerging from a coffin; at a Minneapolis theater he also sealed himself in a coffin like the kidnapped child of the story. The promotions proved successful and Macabre grossed as much as $5 million.
- "Theo Durrant" is a pseudonym for the group of twelve authors who each contributed one chapter to the novel; the pseudonym was taken from a San Francisco murderer executed in 1898.
- Koch's production company along with Schenck and Edwin Zabel; Wurtzel was regularly assistant director to Koch.
- Ziv had purchased American National Studios in 1955.
- Lloyd's stipulated its name could not be used on printed marketing materials.
- Richard Harland Smith. "Article: Macabre (1958)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
- "Macabre". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
- "Macabre (1958) – Genre". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
- Richard Von Busack (12–15 October 1995). "Patrons Reading This Article Must Be Insured in Case of Death by Fright!!!". Metroactive. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
- Greg Merritt (2000). Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-56025-232-0.
- "Susina Associates Set; Plan 5 in 16 Months". Motion Picture Daily. 82 (3): 2. 3 July 1957. Retrieved 20 September 2015 – via Internet Archive.
- Tom Weaver (2006). Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers. McFarland. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-7864-2858-8.
- Tom Weaver (2010). A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews with 62 Filmmakers. McFarland. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-7864-5831-8.
- Thomas Doherty (2010). Teenagers And Teenpics: Juvenilization of American Movies. Temple University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-59213-787-9.
- Joe Jordan (2014). Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle. BearManor Media. p. 188.
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