B&W, 1962, 85 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by William Castle
Starring Tom Poston, Julia Meade, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Cecil Kellaway, Margaret Dumont
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 1963, 87 mins. 31 secs. / 88 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by William Castle
Starring Kathy Dunn, Murray Hamilton, Joyce Taylor, Hugh Marlowe, Khigh Dhiegh, Charlie Briggs, Norma Varden, Alexandra Bastedo
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Mill Creek (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color/B&W, 1963, 86 mins. 24 secs. / 83 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by William Castle
Starring Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell, Mervyn Johns, Fenella Fielding, Peter Bull, Danny Green
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Mill Creek (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1963, 92 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by William Castle
Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes, Rochelle Hudson, George Kennedy
(Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Mill Creek (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Sony (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Hot Zotz!on the heels of its spectacular Zotz!four-film set highlighting the horror films of William Castle, U.K. label Indicator returns with the final cinematic quartet Castle made at Columbia Pictures. The studio had been his on and off home for many years with a slew of westerns and thrillers, but it was his gimmicky horror films that really made him immortal and brought out his inner showman. This volume widens the net a bit with only one bona fide horror film in the bunch, though each film is laced with elements of the macabre or fantastic and offers a showcase for Castle at his most playful.

First up is the quirky comedy fantasy Zotz!, which marked the first of two vehicles designed with Tom Poston as an unlikely leading man. Later to achieve TV immortality including a lengthy stint on Newhart, Poston is cast here as Professor Jonathan Jones, who specializes in ancient and often completely forgotten languages. When he gets his hands on a mystical coin, he discovers that saying the titular word and/or pointing his finger in the right combinations can slow down time, inflict pain, or even cause death. Though he tries to keep his discovery under wraps, he soon attracts the attention of academic rival Horatio Kellgore (Backus) and eventually the U.S. Zotz!government. Zotz!Slapstick mayhem ensues with a couple of Russian agents involved for good measure. Anyone who's seen Castle's comedies knows he likes to go broad and play around with elements like film speed and audio manipulation, and you'll find plenty of that in evidence here even if the end result isn't really funny in the conventional sense. In fact this film marked a shift of sorts after the previous year's Mr. Sardonicus, Castle's darkest and moodiest shocker to that point, introducing a broad approach that Castle would return to later in such films as The Spirit Is Willing, The Busy Body, and the very next film he made with Poston the following year. But more on that in a moment.

Zotz! didn't give Castle the opportunity to exploit his penchant for gimmicks much beyond handing out coin replicas to patrons and playing around a bit with the opening Columbia logo, so he decided to go global with his next film, the equally strange 13 Frightened Girls. Originally shot as The Candy Web and released under that title in some territories, this lightweight thriller takes place at a Swiss boarding school, Miss Pittford's Academy, where intrigue ropes in a group of pubescent 13 Frightened Girlsgirls from 13 Frightened Girlsaround the world whose fathers are prominent diplomats. That gave Castle the chance to cast young actresses from a number of countries and give each of them a spotlight, right down to shooting different openings with several of them taking turns driving the bus in the opening scene. The idea was that audiences worldwide would flock to see their own recently discovered local celebrity up on the big screen, though the gambit didn't really pay off much beyond drawing in the reliable number of matinee kiddies. The focus of the story is Candy (Dunn), the love-crazed daughter of a U.S. diplomat (Marlowe) and a truly rotten driver, who stumbles onto a dead body and fancies herself a fledgling spy using the code name Kitten so she can wiggle her way into the heart of another agent, the engaged Wally (Jaws' Hamilton), in her dad's office. Soon the academy is a hotbed of international intrigue as Chinese and Russian agents seem to be crawling out of the woodwork, with our heroine and some of her pals finding themselves in moderately threatening peril. Colorful and kid friendly, this one was obviously designed to ride the rising spy craze at the time (spearheaded by the James Bond phenomenon just breaking) and the spate of live-action Disney films centered around young girls, with The Moon Spinners actually taking 13 Frightened Girlsthis film's lead a couple 13 Frightened Girlsof years later. While Zotz! may have been Castle's gateway to comedy, this one is also significant as the first in a cycle of films about children getting into deadly escapades, followed by I Saw What You Did, Let's Kill Uncle, and (to a stranger and lesser extent) Shanks. Castle had dabbled a little bit with kid-friendly protagonists in 13 Ghosts, but here he really puts them center stage in what would more or less become a template for a while.

Then we hit what may be the most unexpected and peculiar entry in Castle's '60s Columbia output, The Old Dark House, which marks his one and only collaboration with British horror giant Hammer. Adapted from the novel Benighted by J.B. Priestley and lifting its title from the first film version by James Whale, this one retains the idea of focusing on the eccentric and macabre doings of the Femm family on a dark and stormy night The Old Dark House-- but in this case it's also an all-out comic farce complete with a crashing, rib-nudging score that pokes your ribs so hard they could The Old Dark Housebruise. Poston returns here as Tom Penderel, a car salesman who ends up being recruited by the peculiar Casper Femm (Bull) to deliver a car to his family home. Both men share the same apartment (but at different hours of the day), but as it turns out, Casper's nothing compared to the wacko relatives Tom encounters upon his arrival including knitting freak Cecily (Grenfell, great as always), Roderick (Morley), Potiphar (Johns), the sultry Morgiana (Fielding), and the most normal and innocent of the bunch, Cecily (Scott). Oh, and Casper has an identical twin brother, Jasper, who comes into play when Caspar gets bumped off by someone intent on turning the Femm family tree into a body count list. Thanks to its plotline this one has ended up in horror reference books since the '60s, but the execution is almost all comedy with lots of pratfalls and confusion laced with darker humorous elements like great main titles by Charles Addams and the amusingly crazed methods of bumping off some of the characters. Again this one isn't hilarious in any traditional sense, playing more like a cockeyed deconstruction of comedy elements as seen through someone still playing around with all the pieces. The cast The Old Dark Houseis a lot of fun to see in one place though, with old pro Morley in particular giving it his all.

The Old Dark HouseFinally we get to the most beloved film in the set by far, Strait-Jacket, Castle's second Psycho-inspired shocker (following the outrageous Homicidal). This one also found him working for the first of two times with Joan Crawford as his leading lady, cast here in what was obviously a riff on her sympathetic but not entirely sweet character from the recent hit, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? On top of that Castle managed to land Psycho author Robert Bloch, with whom he would reunite soon after for The Night Walker. What's perhaps most surprising is that the end result is actually more like a modernized version of Crawford's popular "women's pictures" from the '40s and early '50s, especially Mildred Pierce, with some axe-swinging horror seasoning sprinkled on op. A night of jukebox socializing turns into a bloodbath when Lucy (Crawford) catches her husband (an uncredited Lee Majors) enjoying a post-coital slumber with his fStrait-Jacketemale companion for the night. Out comes the ax and off goes his head, which lands Lucy in an asylum for two decades. Lucy's sculptor daughter, Carol (Baker), witnessed the whole thing as a young child but has a positive attitude about having her mom back under the same roof, even going so far as to break out her old jewelry to celebrate old times. Soon people in their lives are getting hacked to death, with all Strait-Jacketindications pointing to Lucy... but is there more here than meets the eye? Wildly entertaining, melodramatic, and loaded with peculiar plot twists including a Scooby-Doo-worthy ending you won't believe, Strait-Jacket is roaring good fun from start to finish with Crawford earning every single penny of her paycheck here. It's overripe, sweaty, trashy, and ridiculous, which means it's also prime Castle and very rewarding on multiple viewings.

All of these films have been kept in terrific shape over the years by Sony, so it's no surprise that the Blu-rays look gorgeous as well in the Indicator set. The two color films really pop with that trademark Columbia Pictures intensity and all of them are in mint condition, though Strait-Jacket as always has a grainy and gritty veneer that's a bit different from the usual Castle look. All of them sport LPCM English mono tracks, also pristine, with optional English SDH subtitles. As with the prior set, this one is decked out with a bevy of special features both old and new Strait-Jacketincluding everything from Sony's comprehensive DVD set where these films made their digital debuts. Zotz! features the theatrical trailer, an isolated music and effects track (again a great extra also present on the other discs in the set), and a gallery of stills and Strait-Jacketposters, but more substantially there's also a new commentary by Kat Ellinger touching on differences compared to the darker Walter Karig source novel, Castle's increasing desire to experiment at the time, comedy tactics common at the time, and thoughts on many other Castle films including the, ahem, interesting assertion that I Saw What You Did is more transgressive than Psycho. A video intro by Stephen Laws (6m6s) who enthusiastically recalls falling in love with this film during its initial run in England complete with enthusiastic playground buzz. "The Horror of It All" (24m) features Kim Newman chatting about the career of writer Ray Russell, a pulp writer who shifted to screenwriting with Sardonicus and a handful of Roger Corman productions, with a particular focus on his literary contributions including a unique stab at self parody. 13 Frightened Girls can be played either in its standard theatrical cut, with the alternate The Candy Web title sequence, Zotz!or a fun "William Castle Danger Messages" option with wraparounds for a prize giveaway. An audio commentary by Samm Deighan also takes a tack of going into Castle's career from a broader perspective including his genre hopping, his desire to be appreciated beyond his gimmicks, his claims of tailoring the film to appeal entirely to each country resulting in some odd rumors about the variant Zotz!versions, and the qualities often seen as flaws that add to his charm as a producer and director. Laws pops up again for another appraisal (10m21s) covering the interesting "identity crisis" of the film right down to its confused promotion, the extreme discomfort of seeing the 16-year-old heroine act so sexually aggressive to a far older man, and the often surprising choices in the supporting cast. Castle's danger card bits can also be played separately along with the four alternate openings (British, French, German and Swedish) seen on the earlier DVD with their respective girls also showing off their life-endangering driving methods. Also included is British actress' Alexandra Bastedo introduction to the U.K. trailer, the theatrical trailers under both titles, and a gallery of stills and promotional art trying its damnedest to pass this off as a horror film.

Likewise, The Old Dark House is presented in multiple versions - three! - including its U.K. (in color, as originally shot, albeit slimmed down by almost three minutes to get a kid-friendly Zotz!A certificate) and U.S. (uncut but black-and-white for some reason) along with the uncut color version that's been the standard on home video. The monochrome option actually works a lot better than you might expect, actually boasting a bit more atmosphere in some shots Zotz!even if it's a bastardization of the intended look. A new audio commentary with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones takes a classic "horror kid" approach as they go into the state of Hammer at the time, the preponderance of British stage talent involved, the maddening unavailability of the original James Whale film at the time, Castle's complete overlooking of this film in his autobiography, the peculiar double bill play with Hammer's Maniac, and plenty more. They also tie in to Tyler Perry's Medea films, believe it or not. (Also, both of the Poston-themed commentaries have a very English way of pronouncing his last time that may throw American listeners for a moment.) Classic horror scholar Jonathan Rigby tackles the film in "Not Too Spooky" (28m37s) with a thorough sketch of how the film came together with Castle and Hammer joining forces at key junctures in both of their histories with British cinema in particular becoming quite a player on the world stage. He even has some nice things to say about Benjamin Franklel's flopsweat-drenched score, which is a big stumbling block for some viewers. "House and Castle" (7m22s) with Dr. Paul Frith switches The Old Dark Housethe focus to the film's Eastmancolor lensing and the likely cost-saving measures that led to its switch in format in the U.S. In this case the gallery is split in two between stills, lobby cards and posters and then press books and promotional material.

13 Frightened GirlsThe new commentary for Strait-Jacket with Lee Gambin and Emma Westwood goes for a much funnier take than the other tracks here as they delve into all things Joan (including the decision to cast her as a 29-year-old woman in the prologue), the foreshadowing dotted throughout the story, Crawford's demands on the set, the empowering aspects of "hag horror," the story behind that sculpture, and much more. "Mirror Images" (27m19s) brings back Rigby for an analysis of how Castle was shifting gears again by this point in the latter days of his Columbia association, the original idea to have a fat suit be a major plot point, the original casting of Joan Blondell, and the connections to Lizzie Borden. "Joan Had Me Fired" (6m45s) with Ann Helm is a short but fascinating chat with the actress originally cast in Baker's role before the "cold" Crawford stepped in and demanded a change over timing issues. "On the Road with Joan Crawford" (6m33s) features publicist Richard Kahn recalling the impetus of how Castle and Crawford ended up being put together, the shift to making the star the gimmick this time complete with a national tour, and the amenities she required en route. Ported over from the earlier 2007 DVD is "Battle-Axe: The Making of Strait-Jacket" (14m39s) with Baker, Columbia's Michael Schlesinger, and film historians Don Glut and David Del Valle sketching The Old Dark Houseout the confluence of talents involved who came together for the first time to generate a famously macabre box office hit. "How to Plan a Movie Murder" The Old Dark House(4m34s) is a great little promotional featurette from the original release with Castle, Crawford, and Bloch explaining how stepping into the mind of a cunning killer allows them to pull off a murder done with "taste and style." You also get separate Crawford screen tests for wardrobe (3m27s) and axing (37s), a Super 8 condensed version (19m35s), a theatrical trailer (the rare full one), two TV spots, and a Trailers from Hell version presented by David DeCoteau. The image gallery is great as well with choice shots of Crawford in full axing action. In a weird twist, this film also appeared on U.S. Blu-ray almost simultaneously, either no frills from Mill Creek paired up with Berserk or a special edition from Scream Factory containing the original featurette, the Helm and Kahn interviews, trailer, and screen tests, plus a different audio commentary featuring Steve Haberman, David J. Schow, and Constantine Nasr. Each film in the Indicator box comes in a separate case featuring insert booklets, this time with standout pieces including an essay by Joe Jordan (on Zotz! including a comparison study with the novel), a bio of Karig, a vintage newspaper piece on Poston, a "William Castle on Tour" article, relevant pieces of Castle's autobiography, a "Legacy of William Castle" overview by Jeff Billington, a 13 Frightened Girls essay by Rachael Nisbet, newspaper coverage of the promotional tour for the film with its young stars, a text interview with associate producer Dona Holloway, an Old Dark House essay by James Oliver, a brief Priestley bit about his book and its two adaptations, an Anthony Nield look at the BBFC and The Old Dark House, a John Oliver essay on Strait-Jacket, press coverage of Crawford on tour, and sample critical responses from the films' initial releases.

Reviewed on December 19 2018.