Cast & Crew
In a small Eastern town, mortician Ed Guigley informs Sheriff Jim Tyloe of the theft of a child's casket from his funeral parlor. Skeptical about Ed's motives, Jim wonders if the theft is a ruse for Ed to collect an insurance claim. Offended by Jim's accusation, Ed wonders why wealthy Jode Wetherby has scheduled the funeral for his grown daughter Nancy for that night at midnight. When town doctor Rodney Barrett arrives at his nearby office, Jim chastises him for being responsible for the deaths of Nancy and that of her sister Alice. That afternoon, Rod returns to his office despondent over the continued rumors linking him to the Wetherby sisters' deaths as Alice was his wife and Nancy, his sister-in-law. Rod's devoted nurse, Polly Baron, reminds him that the rumors arose because Rod was with attractive young widow Sylvia Stevens, when his wife went into labor. Rod insists the meeting was innocent, then suggests that he and Polly take Rod's three-year-old daughter Marge on a picnic. Rod discovers that Marge is not at home, when longtime Wetherby family assistant Miss Kushins tells him that Marge has gone to spend the day with Sylvia. Believing that Marge may still be with Sylvia, Rod goes to Sylvia's home, but Marge is not there. Alarmed, Rod returns home just as Polly answers a telephone call from a mysterious stranger that causes her to faint. When revived, Polly reveals that the caller has stated that he has just attended Marge's funeral and that she is now with the dead. Distraught, Polly relays that the man claimed Marge was inside a coffin and had only a few hours to live. When Miss Kushins starts to telephone the sheriff, Rod intervenes, insisting that because Jim dislikes him, he will be unhelpful. Miss Kushins wants to inform Jode, but Rod reminds her of the elderly man's weak heart and advises against it. As Rod and Polly leave the house, they find Marge's teddy bear on the porch covered with clay, persuading Rod that Marge may be buried in the town cemetery. As soon as Rod and Polly depart, Miss Kushins hastens next door to inform Jode of Marge's disappearance. Rod and Polly arrive at the cemetery as night falls and dig through several sites of loose dirt without result. When the couple hear strange noises, they hide in an open grave. Moments later, the grave is covered with a tarp by caretaker Hummel. Hearing noises, Hummel grabs his shotgun, uncovers the opening and orders the couple to step out. Just then, Hummel is struck down by an unseen assailant. As Rod examines Hummel, a hand grabs Polly from behind a tombstone. Jode then stumbles out from behind the tomb to admit he attacked Hummel believing that he was Marge's abductor. Jode pleads with Rod to find Marge, all he has left after the death of his beloved but self-destructive daughter Nancy. In flashback both Jode and Rod recall Nancy's attractive, vivacious nature with which she covered her despondency over being blind since birth: Despite visits to European physicians, Nancy's vision cannot be restored and so she lives cavalierly, romancing several men, including Jim, although knowing that he has always loved Alice. On an office visit, Rod confirms Nancy's pregnancy, but refuses her request for an abortion. Nancy will not consider bearing a child who may be blind and soon thereafter dies mysteriously. In the present, Rod tells the others that Hummel is dead and orders Polly to take Jode to his house without reporting the incident to Jim. Rod later telephones Polly to suggest that the mysterious caller's message might mean Marge is in the funeral parlor. Jode insists upon meeting Rod there and helps look inside several caskets without results. As Nancy's funeral approaches, Rod and Polly return to the cemetery where they wonder who might have stolen a casket. Polly suddenly accuses Rod of bringing the dreadful event upon himself by getting involved with the status-conscious Sylvia. In flashback Polly recalls Alice, who had been ordered to bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy, making a surprise visit to Rod's office while Sylvia is consulting with him. Alice pleads to be allowed to get out of bed, but Rod orders her home. That evening when Alice goes into labor, Miss Kushins summons Polly, as Rod cannot be found. At Sylvia's apartment, meanwhile, Rod confesses his gratitude to her for allowing him time to escape the pressure of his work and Alice's confinement. When Rod returns to his office later that night, Jim is waiting to report Marge's birth and Alice's death, then beats Rod savagely. In the present, Polly laments that Rod has allowed Sylvia's influence to corrupt him. Rod angrily accuses Polly of Marge's abduction but the quarrel is interrupted by Jim, who dryly reminds them of Nancy's service. On the way, Polly spots a mausoleum and on impulse wonders if Marge might be there. Inside, she is horrified to find Hummel's body. Jim promises to investigate after the burial. After the service as Rod and the other men begin shoveling dirt onto Nancy's grave, Rod strikes an object that turns out to be a child's coffin. Rod collapses upon opening the coffin and when Jode rushes to look, he suffers a violent heart attack and drops dead. Inside is a gruesome dummy of a partially decomposed child's body. When Rod slowly rises, he is suddenly shot by one of the mourners. Ed then hurls money at Rod and confesses that Rod is behind the fabrication of Marge's abduction. Ed states that Rod offered him money to lie about the theft of the casket and to create the hideous dummy, all as the last part of his plan to gain the Wetherby estate. Jim orders Rod taken to the hospital but insists that they first stop at his office, where he shows Polly the tape recording of the kidnapping message then gives her the key to his rear office. Rod collapses and dies as Polly finds Marge in the office safely asleep.
William T. Cline
Jack T. Collis
George J. Eppich
Carl E. Guthrie
John F. Schreyer
Published by Knopf in 1951, The Marble Forest was signed by one Theo Durrant but true authorship belonged to a dozen members of the Northern California branch of the Mystery Writers of America, each of whom wrote a chapter, with editor and critic William White (who signed much of his writing "Anthony Boucher") shaping the text so that it maintained a consistent tone from cover to cover. Though the name Theo Durrant would ring few bells beyond San Francisco city limits, residents of the Bay area at the turn of the century would have recognized the moniker as belonging to a Sunday school teacher/convicted murderer (dubbed "The Monster in the Belfry") hanged at San Quentin in 1898 for the mutilation killing of two young women. (White occasionally signed his work with the alternative pseudonym H. H. Holmes, a reference to the notorious Chicago serial killer hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.) Begun in 1948, The Marble Forest would survive at least one of its contributors (novelist Virginia Rath died at age 45 in 1950) and inspire its own publicity stunt. A contest engineered by White/Bouchard and the MWA asked mystery lovers to name the author responsible for each chapter. The campaign drew just one response - from William White's father-in-law.
All but forgotten by 1957, The Marble Forest was an affordable acquisition for freshman producers William Castle and Robb White, helping to keep their investment to the bare minimum. (Castle and his wife Ellen had mortgaged their Beverly Hills home to raise the shooting budget.) With exteriors captured beyond Hollywood in downtown Chino, California, and interiors (including a spooky graveyard set) mocked up on a soundstage at ZIV Studios in Santa Monica, principal photography for Macabre took only nine days, with Castle culling his cast from the roster of industry character players - among them William Prince, Ellen Corby, Philip Tonge, and a pre-Gilligan's Island Jim Backus - familiar faces all but no household names. Turned down for distribution by Columbia and rejecting a bid from Warner Brothers that would have covered only half of his production expenses, Castle stuck to his guns and later threatened to sue Warners when the studio attempted to cadge his insurance policy campaign for one of their own releases. Screening Macabre for Allied Artists head Steve Broidy, Castle inflated his production cost to $250,000, prompting the skeptical but intrigued Broidy to offer $125,000.
As if the Lloyd's of London policy were not enough, Castle sweetened the deal by hiring nurses to attend select exhibitions of Macabre and having himself sealed inside a casket for a showing in Minneapolis - during which he was accidentally locked inside the coffin while the picture unreeled inside the cinema. When the film grossed $5,000,000, Allied Artists ordered more of the same from Castle: a horror picture and a gimmick to go with it. Castle was able to rope in a ringer with Vincent Price, then experiencing career doldrums. For House on Haunted Hill (1959), Castle and Robb White cooked up a twice-baked old dark house thriller tricked out with "Emergo," a gimmick in which a plastic skeleton flew on a wire over the heads of moviegoers during a key moment in the film. "Emergo" yielded to "Percepto" for The Tingler (1959), which shocked patrons in their seats as they watched Price delve into the origins of human fear. Ghost viewers, fright breaks, punishment polls, magic coins, cardboard hatchets, and beauty contests particularized Castle's later output but his biggest gotcha was wiggling his way to a producer's credit for Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), in which he also popped up, Emergo-like, in an amusing cameo.
Looked at with fresh eyes, Macabre seems closer kin to Peyton Place than The Fall of the House of Usher. True to its title, White's screenplay brokers in subjects of questionable taste, opening with a street corner discussion of the theft of a child's coffin from the local mortuary before the onset of the inciting incident: the abduction of a young child who is then buried alive, forcing the principals into a race against time to find the girl before she asphyxiates. Flashbacks fold in premarital sex, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion (a major character dies of a presumed back alley or possible bathroom sink procedure), all bracketed by the context of small town life in Eisenhower America. Castle keeps his setpieces persuasively claustrophobic, even when shifting the action to the local cemetery. Cinematographer Carl Guthrie limns the proceedings in black coffee shadows, adding incalculable production value to the film whose gabby script often approaches radio play prolixity. Macabre concludes with a surprise reversal and a rapid-paced declamation of the facts that would not be out of place in an episode of Perry Mason -- no surprise then that Robb White went on to write several episodes of that popular courtroom drama.
Additional research: C. Courtney Joyner
Producer: William Castle, Robb White, Howard Koch (uncredited), Aubrey Schenck (uncredited)
Director: William Castle
Screenplay: Robb White, based on the novel The Marble Forest by Theo Durrant
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Music: Les Baxter
Editing: John F. Schreyer
Art Direction: Jack T. Collis, Robert Kinoshita
Special Effects: Irving Block, Louis DeWitt, Jack Rabin
Cast: William Prince (Dr. Rodney Barrett), Jim Backus (Sheriff Jim Tyloe), Jacqueline Scott (Polly), Susan Morrow (Sylvia), Christine White (Nancy), Dorothy Morris (Alice), Ellen Corby (Miss Kushins), Philip Tonge (Jode Wetherby), Robert Colbert (Nick the Chauffeur), Linda Guderman (Marge), Jonathan Kidd (Ed Quigley), Howard Hoffman (Hummel).
by Richard Harland Smith
Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul by William Castle (Putnam, 1976)
Anthony Boucher: A Bibliobiography by Jeffrey Alan Marks (McFarland Publishing, Inc., 2008)
William Castle obituary, The New York Times, June 1977
The first of William Castle's "gimmick" films. In this one, admission included an insurance policy against "death by fright" issued by Lloyds of London.
During its initial theatrical release, attendees were given a small badge that said, "I'm no chicken. I saw Macabre."
Theo Durrant, the credited author of the novel The Marble Forest, upon which Macabre is based, is a pseudonym for twelve mystery writers who composed the novel. Those writers are: Terry Adler, Anthony Boucher, Eunice Mays Boyd, Florence Ostern Faulkner, Allen Hymson, Cary Lucas, Dana Lyon, Lenore Glen Offord, Virginia Rath, Richard Shattuck, Darwin L. Teilhet and William Worley. The New York Times review notes that the film's opening features a British narrator; however, the narration was not included in the print viewed. Christine White's character, "Nancy Wetherby," was incorrectly listed in the credits as "Nancy Tyloe." The closing credits featured animated horse-drawn hearses with each of the characters killed in the story listed as "The Dead," and the remaining cast listed as "The Living," as mourners. following the hearses. Mortician "Ed Guigley" was listed with "The Dead" although his character is alive at the picture's close. Technical credits featured cartoon drawings of executions, skeletons and ghosts.
Although a August 12, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the film was made "in cooperation with" Bel-Air Productions, Inc., only Susina Associates is listed by contemporary sources as the production company. An exploitation feature of the distribution of the film was the offer of a $1,000 life insurance policy for all patrons, payable in the event of death by fright during the performance of Macabre. According to a contemporary Los Angeles Times article, the only stipulation by the insurance company was that the name of the insurer, Lloyd's of London, not be used in print advertising.
Released in United States Spring March 1958
Theo Durrant is a pseudonym for Terry Adler, Anthony Boucher, Eunice Mays Boyd, Florence Ostern Faulkner, Allen Hymson, Cary Lucas, Dana Lyon, Lenore Glen Offord, Virginia Rath, Richard Shattuck, Darwin L Teilhet, and William Worley - all writers involved in writing the novel.
Theatre patrons received a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyds of London, payable in the event of death by fright.
Released in United States Spring March 1958