Archive for William Castle

Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —


Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.

Khayam the one and only

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2011 by dcairns

The return of the Limerwreck — the Howard Hughes 3D stripperthon SON OF SINBAD is a weird and delightful Arabian Nights entertainment, featuring eighth-century pole-dancing and Vincent Price as tent-maker and aspiring poet Omar Khayam. Just the kind of thing to stir my poetic muse, if that’s what you call it.

Two on SON OF SINBAD, here and here, and one on THE TINGLER. The Vincentennial continues!

The sensation you get in your spine

Is the work of a creature malign

With a horrible crack

It’ll fracture your back

And render you truly supine.

16 carot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 17, 2011 by dcairns

Couldn’t really get on with William Castle’s SERPENT OF THE NILE, a William Castle micro-epic with Rhonda Fleming as Cleopatra, filmed in front of a purple curtain or through a few slightly shoddy glass paintings. Note to FX artists: study perspective! If a ship is actually ON the horizon, you’ve got something which is standing practically AT the vanishing point yet failing to vanish: that redefines BIG.

Speaking of BIG, Raymond Burr is always good for a laugh, but the bulk of this didn’t seem ridiculous enough. Castle directs like a heavily medicated mannequin, as usual.

But the floorshow with a gilded Julie Newmar is something —

Fiona: “These scenes are usually rubbish, but she can really move!”

Me: “Castle used up all the colour (or ‘color’) in North America for this. They had to import more violet from Mexico.”