Macabre (1958 film)

Macabre is a 1958 horror film directed by William Castle, written by Robb White, and starring William Prince, Jim Backus, Christine White, Jacqueline Scott, and Susan Morrow. The film falls into both the horror and suspense genres.[3]

Directed byWilliam Castle
Produced byWilliam Castle
Written byRobb White
Based onThe Marble Forest
by Theo Durrant[lower-alpha 1]
Music byLes Baxter
CinematographyCarl E. Guthrie
Edited byJohn F. Schreyer
Distributed byAllied Artists
Release date
  • March 1958 (1958-03)[2]
Running time
73 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$90,000 (estimated)
Box office$5,000,000 (USA) (January 1970) (sub-total)

It involved one of Castle's first forays into using the promotional gimmicks that later made him famous.[4] A certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London was given to each customer in case they should die of fright during the film.[5]


Dr. Rod Barrett's (William Prince) young daughter has been kidnapped by a mysterious maniac who has buried her alive "in a large coffin". The doctor has five hours in which to find and rescue her before her air runs out and she suffocates. The maniacal killer apparently also murdered Barrett's wife and her sister.

Various family members and friends become potential suspects as they help in the search, wandering through dark graveyards, crypts, thunder and lightning, and red herrings. The somewhat muddy plot leads to a surprise conclusion that reveals the guilty party is Doctor Barnett himself, having buried his own daughter alive and murdered his wife and sister years prior.



In July 1957, William Castle formed the production company Susina Associates with Robb White and announced their intention to make five films over the following sixteen months, the first of which would be Macabre.[6] Castle mortgaged his Beverly Hills house to finance the movie.[1] He pitched his insurance policy gimmick to Howard Koch, and interested Koch and Aubrey Schenck enough to invest in the project as well.[1][7] According to Macabre assistant director Paul Wurtzel, Koch helped Castle by letting him use Bel-Air Productions[lower-alpha 2] staff and its facilities at American National for cost plus a percentage.[8]

Sources differ as to how much the film cost to make, putting it anywhere from $80,000[9] to $150,000[5] with $90,000 often cited.[1][10] Production occurred from July 29 through August 12, 1957.[2] Exteriors were filmed in Chino, California and interior shooting took place at Ziv Studios.[lower-alpha 3] Castle marketed Macabre to several distributors before Allied Artists picked it up for $125,000.[1]


Castle employed a method he called "barnstorming" which involved following the film to different markets and promoting it along the way.[6] In addition to the ads touting the $1,000 insurance policy,[lower-alpha 4] methods used for Macabre included hiring fake nurses to stand by in the lobby and parking hearses outside theaters.[5] Castle arrived at the premiere by emerging from a coffin;[10] at a Minneapolis theater he also sealed himself in a coffin like the kidnapped child of the story.[1] The promotions proved successful and Macabre grossed as much as $5 million.[10]


  1. "Theo Durrant" is a pseudonym for the group of twelve authors who each contributed one chapter to the novel; the pseudonym was taken from a San Francisco murderer executed in 1898.[1]
  2. Koch's production company along with Schenck and Edwin Zabel; Wurtzel was regularly assistant director to Koch.
  3. Ziv had purchased American National Studios in 1955.
  4. Lloyd's stipulated its name could not be used on printed marketing materials.[2]


  1. Richard Harland Smith. "Article: Macabre (1958)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  2. "Macabre". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  3. "Macabre (1958) – Genre". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  4. Richard Von Busack (12–15 October 1995). "Patrons Reading This Article Must Be Insured in Case of Death by Fright!!!". Metroactive. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  5. Greg Merritt (2000). Celluloid Mavericks: The History of American Independent Film. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-1-56025-232-0.
  6. "Susina Associates Set; Plan 5 in 16 Months". Motion Picture Daily. 82 (3): 2. 3 July 1957. Retrieved 20 September 2015 via Internet Archive.
  7. Tom Weaver (2006). Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers. McFarland. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-7864-2858-8.
  8. Tom Weaver (2010). A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews with 62 Filmmakers. McFarland. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-7864-5831-8.
  9. Thomas Doherty (2010). Teenagers And Teenpics: Juvenilization Of American Movies. Temple University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-59213-787-9.
  10. Joe Jordan (2014). Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle. BearManor Media. p. 188.

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