Shanks (William Castle, 1974)
[note: review originally published 13Sep2010]
I’m normally a big fan of William Castle and his one-trick-pony movies. The Tingler is one of the great guilty pleasures of filmdom. Dr. Sardonicus should have been called Dr. Hystericus. 13 Ghosts is one of the great haunted-house pictures of all time, and I can’t even tell you what’s so great about Homicidal because it’ll give the game away, but trust me on this one. Short answer, as far as I’m concerned, Bill Castle’s reputation as a B-film schlockmeister is pretty much undeserved; a number of his movies deserve the same A-list status that some of Hitch’s more minor films got. Shanks, Castle’s final directorial effort, is not one of those films.
This is the story of Malcolm Shanks (celebrated mime Marcel Marceau), whose only friend in the world is Old Walker (also played by Marceau), a mad scientist who has invented a way to reanimate and control the dead thanks to a machine he’s built. When Walker keels over, Shanks learns to use the machine by experimenting on him. From there, he realizes that he can use the dead to make the living bend to his will…or to eliminate them when they get too uppity, like his shrewish sister and milquetoast brother-in-law. Meanwhile, Shanks, who’s not the world’s most well-socialized guy, is trying to figure out how to get involved with Celia (The Waltons’ Cynthia Eilbacher), a lovely young pigtailed thing he thinks is hot. Things come to a head when a motorcycle gang invade Old Walker’s house…
This is… um. How shall I say it? “A pile of elephant dung” will probably suffice. I find it very hard to believe that the same guy who made the movies I mentioned in the first paragraph made this (and I often wonder if he actually did; after all, “Lamberto Bava” directed Demons, but anyone with half a brain who’s watched the sequel, which Bava actually DID direct, knows Dario Argento did a lot more than write and produce Demons). It’s dull and plodding and hitchy and while it’s possible to believe that this was simply a case where Castle’s trademark gimmick simply failed, there’s too much wrong with it to leave that as the only explanation for this mess. For example, Castle always had a way with actors, bringing out their best even in the silliest roles; here, there’s actually a halfway decent cast, and no one, from Eilbacher to the glorious Helena Kallianiotes (Five Easy Pieces), has any clue what they’re doing here from first frame to last. This can’t be William Castle. It certainly can’t be his last movie. Too much of my childhood is riding on that. *
The movie has (justifiably) faded enough into obscurity that it can’t be found on YouTube so: a compilation of three trailers for much better Castle films.