All posts by Shane Wilson

CAPSULE: OBLIVION (1994)

DIRECTED BY: Sam Irvin

FEATURING: Richard Joseph Paul, Andrew Divoff, Jimmie F. Skaggs, a parade of C-list all-stars

PLOT:  Many years from now, on a faraway planet, a one-eyed alien villain comes to the frontier outpost of Oblivion to raise a ruckus and murder the sheriff in cold blood.  It’s up to the sheriff’s empathic, violence-shunning son to assume his father’s mantle and save the day.

Still from Oblivion (1994)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A sci-fi/Western mashup has an inherent level of oddity, and the casting is genuinely off-the-wall, but in the end, Oblivion is really just a Western rehash dressed up with some futuristic elements in an effort to make it seem more unusual than it is.

COMMENTS: Years before Cowboys and Aliens would take up the task of blending, um, cowboys and aliens, Oblivion would stake its claim, opening with a magnificent beauty shot of a familiar looking Western landscape, into which zips a nifty flying saucer. Once a snake-skinned alien emerges and kills a creature that looks like the furball from Captain EO just to make a point, we’re well on our way.

The town this villain stalks into sure looks like the Wild West: dusty streets, men in long coats and Stetsons, a stockade in the middle of town. Make no mistake, it’s the future, with such touches as a robot deputy, laser pistols, a rare and powerful substance called draconium which has reduced gold to a pittance, and giant scorpions roaming on the outskirts of town. Oh, and ATMs. ATMs of the Old West.

Exploring one genre through the conventions of another is a time-honored tradition, but that’s not what Oblivion is up to. This movie is really just a Western with science fiction elements pasted on to make it feel different. But having done that, all the clichés are still the same. For example, when the sheriff lays down his poker hand before a showdown, it can only be aces and eights–a dead man’s hand. The fact that you’re seeing the cards on a handheld LCD screen doesn’t reinvigorate the cliché. It merely dresses it up in new clothes. Much of Oblivion is like this: something outwardly strange, but quickly revealing itself to be something quite ordinary.

If the movie’s not as weird as it wants to be, that’s not to say it isn’t odd. It’s just that the bulk of the strangeness seems to have originated in the office of the casting director, where a Continue reading CAPSULE: OBLIVION (1994)

READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)

Submission for the reader review writing contest #4 by Shane Wilson

“In the final count, I think we must have buzzed 20,000,000 behinds.” – William Castle

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman (the older brother of “Dobie Gillis” star Dwyane Hickman)

PLOT: There are two plots running simultaneously in The Tingler. In the first, Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) frees the parasite that lives in the human spine and grows when the host experiences fear, and must save the unsuspecting public from the menace he’s unleashed by stressing the importance of screaming.  In the other plot, film director William Castle raises his penchant for outrageous gimmicks to new heights by running shocks of electricity through auditorium seats.

Still from The Tingler (1959)

BACKGROUND:

  • As was his wont, director/producer Castle supported the release of The Tingler with several gimmicks, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture.  His piece de resistance was called “Percepto.”  For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric vibrators.  At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting viewers (or eagerly-hoping viewers) with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
  • William Castle earned his reputation for his attention-getting publicity stunts. Beneath his huckster’s heart, however, lays a surprising credibility. Castle served as assistant director on Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, and produced the horror classic Rosemary’s Baby.
  • Directors Stuart Gordon and John Waters both included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for “Sight and Sound”‘s 2002 Top 10 poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of faux audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: William Castle always dabbles in oddness. The Tingler’s means of engaging the audience certainly ups the ante in this regard. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons, The Tingler was now actively complicit in harming the audience, by attempting to electrocute select viewers.  On another level, though, The Tingler represents a fascinating metatextual experience. On the one hand, Percepto pushes the film beyond the boundaries of the screen by affecting the audience physically, rather than through the usual avenues of picture and soundtrack.  The movie not only breaks the fourth wall, but actually rebuilds it behind the audience. Consider Price’s admonition: “The Tingler is loose in this theater!”  He means the very theater we are sitting in.  We have suddenly assumed the role of the audience in the film-inside-the-film, and for a moment, we are actually part of the action, not merely in front of it.  Castle’s prank destroys the proscenium.  Many films play games with the insurmountable distance between the screen and the seats.  Castle is happy to throw it away entirely.

COMMENTS: Vincent Price’s legend is built on a reputation for portraying elegant, velvet- Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: THE TINGLER (1959)