#2. Not for Children and the Fake Nazi Hate Crime
OK, so this one's not actually tied into a movie, but I'm including it here for the sheer, unmitigated moxie of it. Before he got into films, Castle got his start leasing a theater in Connecticut from Orson Welles. He wanted to produce plays, and in 1939, he set his sights on actress Ellen Schwanneke, who had recently fled Nazi Germany, and offered her a starring role in a play called Not for Children.
There were two slight snags. One was that Not for Children did not, technically, exist. Castle had yet to actually write it, and while that's a pretty big snag when it comes to putting on a play, it's relatively minor in the scheme of things. The second problem was that Schwanneke had just received an invitation from Adolf Hitler to return to Munich for a reunion tour of her most famous play. If she had returned, there's very little possibility that the Nazis would have allowed her to return to America.
But Castle was never one to miss an opportunity, so he decided to intervene on Schwanneke's behalf. He wrote a telegram to Hitler vowing that she would never return to Germany to "grease the wheels of the Nazi war machine," because, incidentally, she was busy starring in Not for Children, the new play at the Stony Creek Theatre. There's a lot of speculation on whether he actually sent the telegram or just leaked it to the press, but it got attention. The day after it ran, the theater was vandalized, with the box office smashed up and swastikas painted on the walls.
Here's the twist: Castle did the vandalism himself as a publicity stunt. And it worked. Not for Children was a guaranteed success ... after he took a weekend to write it.
#1. The Tingler and Percepto!
In Spine Tingler!, filmmaker John Waters calls 1960's The Tingler "the greatest movie ever made." It's certainly one of Castle's biggest hits and features the most brilliant gimmick of his entire career.
Here's the plot: Vincent Price plays a scientist who discovers The Tingler, a creature that lives in your spine and feeds on fear. The more scared you are, the more it grows, until it crushes your spine and you die of fright. But! The creature can be weakened by screaming, so if you just scream whenever you get scared, you'll be fine. Price, as Dr. Warren Chapin, extracts a Tingler for study, but of course it escapes and causes all manner of trouble before the film.
The advertised gimmick was called "Percepto!" and it basically amounted to theaters wiring a few chairs with giant joy buzzers so that audience members would feel a "tingling" during the climax of the film. But that's only part of it.
The real genius comes from how it actually works in the film. The Tingler doesn't just get loose, it gets loose in a movie theater, and when it does, the screen goes dark, and Vincent Price's voice booms over the speakers, telling both the theatergoers in the movie and the audience watching them, "Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in the theater!" As goofy as those sentences might be, Price sells the hell out of it, and in a pitch-black theater where you start feeling your seat buzzing and hearing the screams of theater employees planted in the audience, that's a hell of an experience.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think anybody actually thought a crazy fear monster was crushing their spine, but you can't tell me that's not a thousand times more fun than, say, anything that happened in Avatar.