Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Tingler is campy, creepy and scary in spots

Review by Doug Gibson

I love "The Tingler," and it's a staple of mine, and family, to watch every Halloween season. It's campy to the max. Vincent Price has that tongue firmly in his cheek but nevertheless it has a couple of genuinely scary moments. That's not easy to accomplish in deliberately campy films, and director William Castle deserves kudos.

The plot involves Price as a doctor who also serves as a coroner. He's researching how fear can causes changes in the body, particularly a severe arching in the spine. His research leads to the discovery of an organism created by fear, which is dubbed The Tingler. It sort of resembles a very large earwig. It's a credit to Castle's film that the Tingler is both campy and creepy. The Tingler can cause a lot of mayhem to a frightened person, but it can also be neutralized by screaming.

It's designed to stay in the body. When Price's doctor takes it out of a dead woman, a new form of mayhem and thrills develop.

Although there is an entertaining scene where The Tingler gets loose in a movie theater, the film revolves around six characters, two of which are superfluous; with another character less significant than three core characters: Price the doctor, and an unhappily married couple, a kept man (Philip Coolidge) and his deaf and mute wife, very creepily performed by Judith Evelyn. Price's character is married to an adulterous woman scheming to kill him. Other cast members include Price's assistant doctor and Price's sister in law. Those two are dating and in love.

I don't want to give much of the plot so viewers can enjoy the film. However, there are two very scary scenes. The first is one where Evelyn's deaf and mute wife is scared and is overwhelmed by the Tingler because she cannot scream. In this scene Castle adds color to the black and white film by making the blood very red. Later in the film there is another very scary scene involving the corpse of Evelyn's deaf and mute woman ... or is she dead?

As mentioned, the film is very campy. Price, trying to better understand fear, takes LSD and analyzes his reaction to it. (I wonder if this is the first mainstream release film with an LSD scene)? Price deliberately underplays his role; he almost seems bored at times and too conversational for all the bizarre-ness. That provides an over the top change with his LSD journey. Another early scene with Price and Coolidge casually, calmly conversing when Price is doing an autopsy on a recently executed man (in the prison, moments after the execution!) is delicious low-key camp. 

When the Tingler escapes and invades a theater, it allows director Castle to make the audience a part of the film. The screen goes dark and Price solemnly warns the audience that the Tingler is loose in their theater. He urges people to scream. Sixty years ago, Castle had some theater seats wired to provide a small shock or "tingling" to audience members. Others, perhaps theater staff, were asked to scream. It must have been a wild show for many. 

You can watch The Tingler at Amazon Prime or YouTube (for a fee). It's a really fun film to watch, perfect for a good-natured thrill and scare during Halloween season. It's just a great, witty, chilling little tale; the kind that made William Castle famous and the type of film that Vincent Price excelled in.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

13 Ghosts – Ghost Gimmicks Galore!!!

Review by Steve D. Stones

Director William Castle is known for his clever gimmicks used to promote and sell his fright films. In 13 Ghosts (1960), he uses a process known as “Illusion – O,” which is a viewer used by not only the actors in the film, but also audience members, to see appearances of ghosts in the film.

Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods) works at a Paleontology Museum as a curator. His wife Hilda (Rosemary DeCamp) calls him at work to tell him that all their furniture in their house is being repossessed for nonpayments. Cyrus returns home that evening to a nearly empty house.

That evening, the Zorba family has a birthday party on the dining room floor for their 10 year old son Buck (Charles Herbert). Buck blows out the birthday candles on the cake and wishes for a house and furniture that cannot be taken away from his family. A telegram soon arrives at the Zorba house from an attorney named Benjamin Rush. The family is to meet with the attorney the next morning.

While meeting with attorney Rush, Cyrus and Hilda Zorba discover that they have inherited the mansion of their recently deceased uncle – Dr. Plato Zorba. Rush also gives Cyrus a strange package. Inside the package is a set of large glasses. The glasses are used to see ghosts. Rush warns the Zorba couple that the mansion is haunted with ghosts that their uncle had collected over the years. This does not discourage the family from moving into the mansion.

While moving into the mansion, the Zorba family also discover that the house comes with an old, grouchy, recluse house keeper named Elaine (Margaret Hamilton). Buck often refers to her as “the witch.” This seems appropriate, since actress Margaret Hamilton is most famously known for her role as the Wicked Witch of The West in -The Wizard of Oz (1939).

One evening, Buck finds a Ouija board in the house. The family gathers around the Ouija board as Buck asks the board how many ghosts are in the house. The number thirteen is revealed on the board. Buck also asks the board if the ghosts will harm anyone in the family. The board responds Yes and a framed painting in glass falls off the wall above the fireplace, spreading broken glass everywhere.

What follows for the rest of the film is a series of ghost encounters in the mansion by members of the Zorba family. Cyrus encounters floating heads, skeletons and a burning witch in the cellar of the house when he puts on the strange glasses. Hilda encounters the ghost of Emilio the Italian chef in the kitchen who killed his wife and her lover with a meat cleaver. Buck encounters the ghost of a lion and his keeper – Sham Rack the headless lion tamer. Daughter Medea (Jo Morrow) encounters a corpse figure covered in spider webs in her bedroom while sleeping.

Audiences who attended 13 Ghosts in theaters were given glasses with red and blue cellophane filters. 3-D glasses typically used the process of one eye seeing a red filter and the other eye seeing a blue filter. With the “Illusion-O” process used for 13 Ghosts, viewers would look through a single color with both eyes. Choosing to look through the red filter intensified the ghost images on the screen, while the blue filter “diluted” or removed the ghost appearances on screen. This was another clever tactic used by William Castle to get movie patrons into the theater.

Child actor Charles Herbert who played Buck also went on to star in a number of other great cult classics of this era, such as The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price and The Colossus of New York (1958). Buck ends 13 Ghosts perfectly by asking the housekeeper Elaine: “You really are a witch, aren't you?” Elaine replies: “Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.” The Wicked Witch of The West is indeed alive and well! Happy viewing and Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Lesser know scary films to watch for Halloween

Here are a few Halloween films that are more obscure to the average viewer, although cult film films likely know of them. These are not reviews, just capsules. We see lots of films that we have not reviewed. Perhaps we will get around to reviewing these films in the future. However, all are worthy Halloween offerings.

--- El Mundo de Los Vampiros (The World of the Vampires), 1960 -- The. Mexican vampire films of the 1950s and 1960s are an impressive addition to the genre. They are very atmospheric, and owe a lot to the Universal films of a generation earlier. I first saw this film, dubbed in English, as a child. It involves a vampire exacting revenge on a family of vampire hunters. I love the smoky atmosphere. Above is a Spanish-only version of the film.

--- Crowhaven Farm, 1971, is a very creepy TV movie of a couple inheriting a farm and soon having to deal with supernatural forces. It was one of those 1970s original movies of the week that used to be tucked into a 90-minute format, with commercials. John Carradine has a role in it, although it's a minor role. You can rent it on Amazon. You can buy it at Sinister Cinema. Or watch it below via YouTube.

--- Valley of the Zombies, 1946, Ian Keith is a mostly forgotten actor today, but he was one of the finalists to play Dracula in 1931. In this Republic low-budget film, less than an hour, he plays a vampire-like character who forces a doctor to help him murder and get the blood he needs. Keith is creepy in the role and the film is lean and mean, a great, spooky hour to kill. You can watch it at DailyMotion website here.

--- The Monster Walks, 1932 -- Another movie that's under an hour, this creaky low-budget people-gathered-in-a-haunted-house-with-a-killer-loose is a lot of fun. That genre was popular 85 to 90 years ago with films such as The Cat and the Canary and The Old Dark House. It's interesting that in this film old cowboy films star Rex Lease is the hero. Horror genre veterans Mischa Auer and Sheldon Lewis are around for atmosphere. There's also a menacing ape around.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A fun time was had at the Harry Langdon Film Festival

Forgive the selfie-like atmosphere of the photos on the blog. It's me preening for the camera, but I made them for social media. This past weekend, Saturday and Sunday, I was at The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (see photo below) for the Harry Langdon Film Festival. It was great.

I'm kneeling in front of a re-creation of the backdrop of Harry's famous vaudeville routine, Johnny's New Car, which was done by the very talented Nicole Arciola, a leader in the Harry fan societies. Nicole, Tim Greer, Frances Anchenta Becker, and Langdon  biographer Gabriella Oldham, were all at the museum for the film festival. Also, I was able to meet persons I knew only from social media, Trav SD, Bill Cassara, and Paul F. Etcheverry. Many others were there enjoying a weekend of Langdon films, from several early silents including "Smile Please" "All Night Long," and "Saturday Afternoon," two silent features, "Tramp Tramp Tramp," and "The Strong Man," a couple of his Roach sound shorts, including "The Shrimp," several of his Educational Shorts, including "The Hitch Hiker,' and a sample of later Columbia shorts.

Trav SD spoke of Langdon's vaudeville days. Oldham did an excellent recap of his life. Cassara introduced a couple of films. The Vernon Dent biographer also provided interesting details on Langdon's frequent co-star, Dent. Genre experts who introduced films included James Neibaur, Steve Massa, Langdon biographer Michael Hayde and Ben Model.

I spoke at the festival on Langdon's final film, "Pistol Packin' Nitwits." My address was not captured in video or audio. In order to preserve it, I am presenting it below. It was my final working draft. I improvised some but all the details in it were addressed.

Finally, the wonderful staff at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum were wonderful, and hard working, particularly Rena Kiehn and Paul Mular, both of whom seem to have an unlimited source of positive energy!


Here are my remarks:

“Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” is my favorite Harry Langdon comedy short. I know it’s not his best comedy short, but it has such a delirious, chaotic completeness to it. And I love the co-stars, El Brendel, Christine McIntyre, Dick Curtis as the villain, Rawhide Pete, Brad King as the hero.

And it’s bittersweet to watch. This is the last work on film Harry Langdon performed. Returning from the studio, he complained of a headache, and eventually was diagnosed with the cerebral hemorrhage that killed him. At times I have tears in my eyes watching Harry dance in the film.

“Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” still has a healthy dose of the old vaudeville. Semi-scrupulous salesmen Harry and El Brendel pitch “high-quality” soap to clean tough stains like “axle grease.” Christine McIntryre sings. And there’s the soft-shoe dance routine with Langdon and Brendel.

“Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” blends several film genres to create something unique. In literature, there’s a term called slipstream. It’s defined as non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries to create a new piece of art.

This applies to film as well. Gary Rhodes and Robert Guffey, in their book “Bela Lugosi and the Monogram Nine,” argue that the hastily made, deadline-intensive, low-budget film world created chaotic, unique slipstream film art. The result often created surrealism.
One description of surrealism, as described by the scholar Andre Breton, cited in the book, is to “write quickly, … fast enough that you will not remember what you’re writing …”

Many of the Columbia comedy shorts are examples of slipstream plots with surrealism. “Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” as noted, is part vaudeville. It’s also part western film. It is also an old “’penny-dreadful” film of a young lovely, the saloon keeper, being terrorized by a boorish, threatening villain. It is also part musical, with McIntyre belting out the weepy song, “Father, Dear Father.” Finally, “Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” is part superhero film with the cowboy hero smiling as bullets fired by the villain bounce off his chest.
“Pistol Packin’ Nitwits” was released in 1945. The Captain America serial was released in 1944. No coincidence there, I’m sure.

Let’s talk more about surrealism. Andre Breton also described surrealism as the real meeting the fantastic to create an alternate reality. There’s a lot of alternate reality in “Pistol Packin’ Nitwits.” In one scene a cowboy is moved to tears by the song “Father, Dear Father.” But his tears fall in bizarre fashion, more as a stream than drops. Another alternate reality: villain Dick Curtis shoots constantly into our hero’s chest. Despite the impossibility of bullets bouncing of a chest, Curtis doesn’t seem surprised that his gun doesn’t work like it should.

And I consider surreal a sequence of quick-cut scenes where the hero is on his horse, racing back to the saloon to the tune of the William Tell Overture. Each interlude is brief to the point of surreal absurdity, lasting about a second.

Finally, in closing, let me stress that director Harry Edwards, the writers, and Harry Langdon and cast didn’t huddle together and say, ‘hey, let’s blend genres to create a work of art that’s both unique and surreal!’

Just like a cult film can’t be intentionally planned and crafted as such, neither was “Pistol Packin’ Nitwits.” They made a film. They had to do it quickly. They were on very tight budgets. They had to be super creative and super innovative. The creators used all their talents, genre knowledge and experience. To get the film finished on time, they threw everything into the pot, and created something unique and wonderful.