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William Castle made unique, gimmicky movies. I've seen the bulk of his films, but unquestionably the most unique is "Shanks," Castle's final film, which was a vehicle for mime Marcel Marceau. To be honest, "Shanks" doesn't completely work and it's so slow, mind-numbingly weird and thoroughly unbelievable that a lot of people hated it. But I liked it and for 20 years I've been haunted by images of creepy corpses (not zombies, but dead bodies) robotically walking around, much like Shields and Yarnell's characters "The Clinkers." And I've just really dated myself by drawing that comparison...

"Shanks" is the story of Malcolm Shanks (Marceau), a mild-mannered, deaf and mute street puppeteer who lives with the Bartons, his shrewish, widowed sister-in-law (Tsilla Chelton) and her boozehound second husband (Phillippe Clay). Malcolm remains calm in the face of their outlandish histrionics, and has developed an unusual friendship (which was intended innocently enough but seems a bit pedophilic by today's standards) with Celia (Cindy Eilbacher), an adoring young girl on the verge of her 16th birthday. Life seems to be turning around for Malcolm when he gets a call from aging scientist Mr. Walker (also played by Marceau), who wants Malcolm to assist in experiments reanimating dead animals. Unfortunately, old man Walker abruptly dies, so Malcolm carries on his work using the scientists' own body... and then more bodies begin to pile up.

There's a warped Grimm's Fairy Tale/Frankenstein vibe and the film is an unmitigated exercise in style over substance. Although there is occasional dialogue, the flick plays out like a silent film, complete with title cards during scene transitions. There's a minuscule amount of bloodshed (during the film's weirdest death, which I won't spoil), but no gore or signs of decay in the rotting marionettes. And as the movie approaches its climax the whole story takes a bizarre turn when a gang of bikers (it was the early '70s!) appear out of nowhere to bring some conflict to the film.  And therein is the problem.  Clearly Castle got his way by bringing in a pack of violent bikers into this story.  The ending is also a bit of a letdown, though it doubtlessly seemed like less of a cliche in 1973.

Marceau battled Castle for creative control over the movie, from the casting to the staging to the musical score. Castle refused to hand over the picture but allowed Marceau to hire friends and fellow mimes Chelton and Clay, and to choreograph the corpses' movements. More about the conflicts is available at TCM and in Castle's long out of print autobiography, "Step Right Up!: I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off America!" (a book which I don't have and can't afford). As a result, although there's elements of Castle from beginning to end, this is really the Marcel Marceau film -- it's a mime picture with traces of Castle's patented cheeseball '60s horror showmanship.  A memorable note for Castle's career to end pn.

Sadly, as of early 2012 the film has never officially released on home video in any format, and late-night / Sci-Fi Channel / TCM airings have been few and far between.  However, the movie is one of several Paramount William Castle titles that's shown up on Olive Films' roster of forthcoming DVD/Blu-Ray releases, so perhaps this oddity will soon get the recognition it deserves.

Marcel Marceau meets Marcel Marceau

HEALTH ADVISORY!  When reanimating dead bodies, please bear in mind that they won't last forever.  I mean, you'd think after a day or two in the heat, the stench would be overpowering.  And how is it that in movies nobody ever soils themselves when they die?