William Castle gave me another mid-1950s awful horror delight with this one. A doctor in a small town has just learned his daughter was kidnapped and buried alive! Can he rescue her in five hours before she runs out of air and suffocates? Unfortunately, while the film starts with a great premise, as time whittles away and events unfold, it leads up to an ending that A) is ridiculous, B) is poorly written, and C) makes little sense when watching the first half, because there is little foreshadowing to how slap dash the whole thing will be wrapped up.
I’d spoil the ending, but the film specifically asked me not to. Instead, I’ll tell you that the acting is generally poor, the dialogue will make you cringe, and while the film actually does rack up some tension and despair, it then utterly wastes the vast majority of it. Much of the plot is revealed through flashback to intentionally throw off the viewer, but when the end comes around, the twist absolutely ruins things. This is followed by an end credit sequence that looks like a funeral march in a Rocky & Bullwinkle episode.
Ok, so Macabre is a bad movie, but it does offer a unique piece of cinematic history as the first of William Castle’s independent films, and the first of his gimmick movies. Castle eventually became famous for his gimmicks to attract an audience, such as letting audience members vote on the ending, giving out special glasses to see the ghosts in the film, wired seats with buzzers to scare the audience, taking out a million dollar life insurance policy on a cockroach, and always imploring audience members to not give away the ending. For Macabre, Castle gave each customer a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in case they died of fright during the movie, dressed ushers in surgical garb, and paid to have an ambulance parked outside certain movie theaters. It worked, Macabre was a huge success that recouped 50 times its small budget, and Castle continued doing promotional gimmicks for many of his later movies. As awful as the movie is, it’s delightful knowing that this helped launch the career high point of one of the greatest B-movie producers in film history.
Now did anyone actually use that life insurance policy? Well, no. But Castle did show up at the premier in a coffin and pretending to be as dead as the movie.