Made in 1968, Project X was William Castle’s penultimate film as a director. In that same year, Castle produced another film he was desperate to direct until a little Polish man became interested in the property—Rosemary’s Baby. Project X is a science-fiction film, not what you really expect from Castle, who had more of a reputation as a “horror film” director. At this point, Castle was known for having all these gimmicks that jazzed up his film showings, like The House on Haunted Hill, where a skeleton came out of the side of the screen, and The Tingler, where when “The Tingler” is loose in the theatre, some people in the cinema got a quick electric shock. He was trying to move away from that, so the only thing close to a gimmick in this one was these very trippy animated sequences from Hanna-Barbera. Why Hanna-Barbera? They had a record label, and two years earlier Castle had done a highly dramatic reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
Project X has a very good premise, but the execution of it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s the 60s, so there’s a spy in the centre, Hagan Arnold (Christopher Gorge, best known for his role in the TV show The Rat Patrol). He is brought back to life from cryogenic suspension in the year 2118. He had been in a plane crash while trying to learn about a new weapon that could destroy civilisation, but his memories are being repressed so the future government scientists have to get inside his mind. Then there’s a whole sub-plot where he thinks he’s a gangster in 1968…
It’s loosely based on two novels by a British writer, L.P. Davies—the most famous film based on his work would be The Groundstar Conspiracy, a 70s sci fi-tinged conspiracy thrilled. Project X’s sources was The Artificial Man and Psychogeist.
An odd late-60s sci-fi with some special effects that definitely recall the original Star Trek, if not quite as cheesy, Project X also has sound effects that fans of Star Trek may recognise—they used the same stock sound-effects library. There are some cool effects, though nothing especially memorable, but the movie drags along at not the best place. The plot is all over the place, which is not surprising as it looks like Castle put it together super-fast alongside his work on Rosemary’s Baby. The cast is filled out with numerous character actors. It’s certainly one of Castle’s lesser films, but a nice addition to the two box sets now available of his Columbia films.
Extras are a featurette with two critics talking about Castle’s career with a little more focus on Project X, plus a commentary track with film writers Allan Bryce and David Flynt.