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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'Shanks'

Dennis King Published: May 27, 2013

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“Shanks”

For most of his colorful, eccentric career William Castle was known as a master of gimmickry and director of scores of low-budget thrillers. But at the tail end of his career, the director, actor and producer (known for such trickery as “The Tingler” and such high-gloss horror as “Rosemary’s Baby,” which he produced) closed things out with a truly unique, quasi-silent film called “Shanks” (due out on DVD Tuesday).

Released in 1974, it was the last directing credit of his florid career and featured an unlikely teaming with French actor/mime Marcel Marceau.

Marceau appears in the title role as Malcolm Shanks, a deaf-mute puppeteer who ekes out a living staging shows for children, while his money-grubbing brother and sister-in-law (played by renowned mimes Philippe Clay and Tsilla Chelton) abuse him at home and filch most of his money.

But one day, an elderly professor and inventor (also played by Marceau in a dual role) takes Shanks under his wing and trains the sad puppeteer to become his assistant. Then, with the sudden death of the inventor, the downtrodden Shanks suddenly discovers that he has the knowledge to re-animate the dead with electrodes and manipulate them like marionettes.

As the director of such minor horror classics as “The House on Haunted Hill” and “Strait-Jacket,” Castle possessed a well-tuned sense of the macabre. But he was enough of a populist showman to know how to shock without wallowing in gore.

“Shanks” could well have been a lot more gruesome and bloody, and with Marceau’s elegant sadness powering this fantasy the director comes very close to turning this artful story of re-animation and redemption into a pure art movie.

“Shanks” is rated PG and runs 94 minutes. It’s being released by Olive Films.

- Dennis King